Average user never taps majority of Mac hardware specs

This is more of a gut instinct versus hard facts thing, but I have to wonder what percent of users actually utilize even 80% of the Mac hardware specs? Specifically, RAM, CPU, GPU, etc. Let’s leave out the Pro models for now and focus on MacBook Airs and iPhones. Maybe we’re talking about the Pareto principle here, 80% of the users only use 20% of the device capabilities?

I recently had a Lenovo Chromebook Duet come across my radar. Screen size is the same or larger than my MacBook Air M1 and is OLED! Priced around $400. I was suitably impressed so I started analyzing all the apps I use on my Mac. So far I have found replacements for all of them, either on Chrome, Android or Linux subsystem.

So I’ll probably take one of these for a test spin soon. In the meantime, what are your thoughts about utilization? I mean, if I’m not using half of my MBA specs, what else can I do inside the Apple ecosystem? There are no lower-end laptops for me unless I go outside Apple. I’m paying for high-end specs and not using a lot of them and that feels very wasteful…

Mainly, I pay Apple for their OS’s.
From my point of view, there is of course other hardware with similar specs, and also for a lot of people hardware, that fits their lower needs maybe better, but from my point of view, there is no other OS, that has a similar level regarding security, and a similar level of User-friendly GUI like macOS, and iOS/iPadOS.
So, while Apple can keep this level, I will stay within this Ecosystem.

I can attest… I have the Last of the Intel MacBook Air, and I maxed out the specs as much as I could within my budget, but I know for a fact that I don’t use the specs for all they are worth…


I think there’s a benefit to high-spec devices in the form of quickness in use that most people perceive even if they’re not aware of the reasons. Fast memory and processors mean that loading and switching between apps, taking and processing photos, and voice-to-text all work better and faster.

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I’m not sure this is the best way to think about computers (and especially Macs).

First, like @Ulli suggested, many people use Apple devices for the operating system. I’d extend that to the whole Apple ecosystem. Many of my recreational/personal Mac users feel this way. They’ve used Windows throughout their careers, so they’re familiar with the main competition. And they choose Macs because of the integration that designing the hardware and the software brings — and if they want a tablet, the iPad is the only thing worth considering.

Second, people don’t buy a computer because 80% of the hardware fits their needs. Usually, its one or two things that they consider a requirement, and everything else either comes along with it or they go with the cheapest option.

For example, some people want an all-in-one desktop. So, that means an iMac. A cheaper MacBook Air with lower specs is irrelevant. Some people want the largest screen they can get, which might mean an iMac or a Mac Mini with a non-Apple display.

Other people want a laptop, but they have an extensive photograph collection. They will be best served by a hard drive that’s large enough to hold all of their images, with room to grow. If they’re a hobbyist photographer, they will increase the RAM because they’re in the Adobe ecosystem for data processing. Large hard drives are often available only on the higher-spec machines.

And don’t forget the perils of running old hardware! Many of my clients don’t care about keeping their Mac updated, but they do keep their iPhone updated. If they use an Apple ID on that Mac (I’ve yet to come across someone who doesn’t), they will inevitably experience problems keeping the data in sync if the Mac falls far behind in updates. And once a Mac stops receiving major OS updates, its days are numbered. That usually takes 7 years or so, and quite a few of my clients prefer that. When they replace a Mac, they will slightly overbuy, so they feel they can get another 7 years out of it.

You could argue that this “overbuying” is a result of Apple’s limited hardware choices, and you’d be right. But I think it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Apple keeps its hardware line limited so it can continue to be profitable in the Mac sector. They tried licensing to create an ecosystem like Windows, and they couldn’t do it any better. I had a PowerComputing Mac, and while it was great to be able to get all of that power for cheap, it was not a reliable computer.

As for Chromebooks, they’re not equivalent to a full computer. They rely on a connection to the internet for everything (computing and storage). For example, there is no iCloud for Chrome (like there is iCloud for Windows). That’s a deal killer for my clients when I explain that there’s no easy way to automatically have all of their (iCloud) photographs synced to a Chromebook at full resolution (to act as a backup in case iCloud ever has a serious problem).


I’ve believed for years that most people overbuy, perhaps in fear of hitting a limitation, or perhaps for bragging rights.

For decades I’ve bought storage to be 2x what I’m currently using. This has always worked out fine (I’ve had hard disk or SSD storage for 35+ years now).

RAM is tougher. The “memory pressure” display is probably the best indicator. macOS effectively swaps out apps that aren’t active, I don’t think anyone who uses Safari and office type apps will ever have a problem even with minimum RAM.

CPU – while more always seems better, what is really needed? I don’t do number crunching any more and I don’t play games other than simple puzzle games that don’t stress any system.

GPU – I don’t think this is an issue for most Mac uses. It certainly is for gamers, but they run Windows.

Minimal systems, except possibly for storage, will work fine for most people. Those people who need more know who they are.

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This is perhaps not a good analogy but I “spec up” my computers like I do my SUV and truck. I’m an empty nester so I seldom need three rows. But, I bought a three-row SUV just in case I need it. Same with my truck. I have a large Tundra. I seldom need all that truck but when I do, it is nice to have. Likewise, I seldom if ever come close to using the capabilities of my 14" M1 MBP–but if I ever need those specs, they are there.

For perspective I’ve used Windows (IT career) and linux and Mac - in all that time I’ve never had any major security problem. In my view, that problem has largely been solved and isn’t part of my criteria.

I don’t do any major gaming or video editing, or voice-to-text, so I’m not sure I’d see any difference in any of the upper 50% of modern CPU’s. It’s been a long time since I felt like I had a slow PC, not counting the Intel Atom unit that is currently handling media center duties w/ Emby. Video playback is fine, moving around on the desktop really crawls…

Seems like there are a lot of Chrome apps that work offline. As far as storage goes, they do have this thing called Google Drive - you may have heard of it? haha I switched all my file and media storage over to Drive and Google Photos several months ago. Works from all MacOS/iOS/iPadOS devices. It’s cross-platform.

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I guess I’ve determined that my needs do not and will not rise that high. Side effect of retirement…

I’m sure that if/when I retire I’ll downgrade–probably to an MBA. I bought my wife a new one a few weeks ago and I like the form factor, though the screen is a bit small for my taste. :slightly_smiling_face: OR, I’ll just get a robust mini, connect it to a Studio Display and rely on an iPad for my mobile device. Time will tell … :slightly_smiling_face:

Premium chromebooks (like Lenovo’s) definitely sit at a nice price-to-value intersection. I like the ChromeOS initiative to create a lightweight OS that gives old computers a second life, too.

Not fully using the specs of a more powerful computer could mean a few different things. If everything loads and works better, and nicer software is supported, and the hardware has more longevity, is that using the specs? That’s happening for the typical low end Macbook Air customer.

not me. I switched from Windows to Mac for the independent developers that were making apps that were only available for the Mac… Had they been available for Windows, I may not have left until much later…

not meant to challenge you on this but curious to know , do you find the Windows , Chrome OS, Android alternatives (not equivalent) to the following apps. I also owe a Chromebook (the old Google Pexel)

  • DEVONthink
  • Ulysses
  • Reeder
  • Craft Doc

I agree, Windows isn’t the security nightmare it once was. I’ve used Windows and a handful of other OSs over the years and I prefer macOS. But trying to keep any OS secure is a full time job. Since 1999 Apple products have logged 5677 vulnerabilities vs 8839 for Microsoft. When it comes to computers, eternal vigilance is the price of security.

Apple : Products and vulnerabilities (cvedetails.com)

Microsoft : Products and vulnerabilities (cvedetails.com)

Well, I don’t actually use any of those apps so I haven’t looked.

While I’ve cleaned up plenty of enterprise workstations over the years I have never actually been infected, either on Windows, Linux or Mac. On Windows I ended up using basic Defender for years, and never anything at all on Linux or Mac. Sometimes just knowing what sites and links to avoid goes a long way. I worry even less about Chrome devices. But that’s me.

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I guess I wasn’t clear. I meant it’s a full time job for Apple and Microsoft (and every other OS maker)

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I don’t use my M1 MBA often but 8GB has never been a problem for me. (That’s all I had on my last company Mac, a 2013 MBP) It stays on 24x7 running Arqbackup, Hazel, Google Drive, 1PW, Drafts, Due, Microsoft Edge, and Google Chrome. And Activity Monitor shows Swap Used is 0 bytes.