MB Pro - what to upgrade? Or not? help me spend money ;)

Hi there,

I’m tempted to buy a new MB Pro 14", and I am a little confused as to what (if any) upgrades would make sense, so would appreciate your help!

I’m the kind who uses their computer until it more or less dies (I’m replacing my 2013 iMac that is finally slowing down…). Apple won’t even take it anymore to trade in. In other words, I’d like a computer that will last at least 5 years.

  • When do you need/want a higher end CPU (more cores, or M1 Pro vs Max, etc)? What’s the benefit?
  • When do you want/need more RAM?

So, essentially which one should I prioritise, if my most demanding needs are photo editing (Lightroom, occasionally Photoshop) and the occasional video, lots of complex Powerpoints, and having a gazillion websites open, and probably running about at least 5 programs at the same time.

I am pretty sure I will upgrade to at least 2TB hard drive, if not 4TB. Since that is costing me an arm and a leg, I’d rather like to economise where it’s possible, without compromising the performance too much (e.g. I do not want to wait for my Lightroom previews to render…)

Any thoughts?

I would go with (at least, and probably at most) 32GB RAM if this is a machine that you’ll keep for a long time.

This is a very generic advice, because it is really difficult to imagine the application and computing landscape after 8 years. But if you ask me, I’d set a budget and try to go as high as possible on the following upgrades in that priority list:

  1. Memory: from your description with many apps and websites running, memory needs for you is high (again I am considering the future not the performance today)
  2. Hard drive: you are already upgrading to 2 TB, but I won’t go to 4TB before I upgrade some RAM. Again storage needs is the one thing that is not technical. For me for example, I never go beyond 250GB, so a 1TB is so spacious.
  3. CPU/GPU: if you can get some upgrades here, that will help future proofing.

I know others will have other insights. That’s my 2 cents though.


My usual order of upgrades is memory, SSD, then processor. It generally takes a 20% or more increase in processor speed to notice a difference. My 2015 MacBook Air only has 8gb and it is a limiting factor. That’s why I got my M1 iMac with 16gb. While I could probably get by with a 512gb SSD, I went with 1tb just so I don’t have to worry about managing space all the time. Look at how much disk space you’re currently using, how much more you would use if there weren’t constraints, then double that.

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Through a weird series of events, I’ve had the chance to use multiple different configurations of the new MBPs for several days each. I’ve used the highest spec 16" CPU/GPU/RAM combo, the cheapest 14" spec, and one in-between.

Now that I’ve placed the order for my “final” machine, I went with the lowest CPU/GPU option but did upgrade to 32GB of RAM. Just my 2 cents.

Thanks all, this is very helpful! I wasn’t sure which upgrade would have an impact on which scenario!

If I’m replacing the iMac where I’ve had to clean up a few times to get back to under the 2TB, I think if I’m not going to go broke it’ll be the 4TB. Starting with an almost full disk seems wrong.

And then up 32 Ram and not worry about the processor.

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One of the things to consider: can you offload any of your files to long term, cold storage? Meaning of the files you think you need to keep on the 4TB SSD, can you put them on an external? Or a more permanent cloud storage option? Might be worth looking into if you wanted.


I think you’ll be fine with a Pro, but I would get 32gb ram as well - you’re a multitasker, just like me.

To be frank, for your current usage 16" M1 mini or MBP will be just fine.

If you do want to get a more powerful future-proof machine though, this is the config I recommend:

16" M1 Pro chip with 10-c CPU, 16-c GPU, 32 GB RAM and 2 TB SSD.

Thank you for this thread. I am myself due a new Mac (paid partly by employer partly by my own research funding; I will be entitled again to a new one in 7 years, though I may obtain something of my own in the meantime). I am an academic lawyer; I work with office applications but for the past two years I have had to use a lot of videoconferencing and have recorded lectures and other events. I do have to work harder with databases and we have a lot of PDFs (which must significantly expand). But it seems I am ok so far with less than half a TB in my Macs.

At present, my set-up is suboptimal. I use a 2013 iMac (1TB, 16 GB). I also have my 15" 2016 MacBook Pro (16GB, 1/2 TB), which I connect to an LG Ultra 27" screen. I will miss touch (a bit), but I can see the defficiences in these laptops (part of my screen seems to have this different light though it does not hinder my work so far). I appreciate the screen space but two macs is not optimal. I thought of replacing my iMac with a 24" iMac, I was encouraged to look for a laptop and I thought of going instead for a new MacBook Pro.

  • 32 GB I assume is a priority
  • does Max in lieu of Pro make sense? (I am not a big video producer or consumer, but this a long-term investment). Should I invest instead into a 2 TB SSD, rather than 1 TB or use this extra money for something else?
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A lot of the traditional advice re: RAM has been made somewhat obsolete by the new M1 unified memory architecture. Here is an article on the first iteration of M1 that came out in late 2020. It specifically addresses how M1 needs less RAM to do more:

The newer Pro and Max iterations of M1 increase available cores and maximum RAM and SSD available. They also have much higher memory bandwidth.

If you want to read a lot of people doing some seriously detailed analysis of RAM usage and analyzing their needs for the new MacBooks, check out this thread:

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In a photography specific environment I found these 2 videos useful:

Long story short: Adobe suite (Lightroom Classic, CC) are cpu bound, Capture One is more GPU bound, and ram matters at the end of the day.