More on 8Gb vs 16GB M1

This set of articles makes an intriguing case for high performance with “only” 8Gb RAM in an M1 Mac.

While it is compelling, I wonder why Apple limits the number of supported external displays. And I wonder if more RAM will be needed particularly for those with 3 or more monitors.

That said, it is impressive performance data.


Those are excellent blog posts that make some very good points. Thank you for sharing them!

I think that if you need more than 8GB RAM, you probably already know it, so if it’s in question for someone, that’s probably a good indication that 8GB would be sufficient.

I do think that both posts are a tiny bit too dismissive of the idea of future proofing (I hate that term), though. If the cost to upgrade is relatively low for a person, then little is lost by upgrading and there is the potential for benefit.

One could counter argue that for such people the cost to replace the whole machine might also be relatively low and a better plan, but then one could counter counter argue that with the observation that using a computer for as long as possible is more environmentally friendly. I’m sure that there are counter counter counter arguments to be made as well.

It’s probably also worth noting that people unsure if 8GB of RAM is enough may be better served by investing in more storage instead of RAM.

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Nice to see someone living their username!


This is why I got 16gb for my macbook pro 4 years ago and I would do the same this time around as well. I agree, 8gb may just be sufficient but I tend to keep my macs for a while so extra ram is always useful.


I’ve never understood this argument. If I have large files that I want to store, I can use an external hard drive, but if I want more RAM, I have nowhere to go. If I’m not sure, why would I choose storage over RAM?

I am indeed completely unsure on what to get. I was thinking the 512GB 8x8 GPU with 16GB of RAM but I’m not sure what I’m basing my decisions on other than the longevity of the machine - I don’t really do anything intense on my personal computer.

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So this is a generalization and everyone is different. (And for the record, I ordered exactly the configuration that you’re considering.)

My assertion that people who need lots of RAM already know is mostly just a rule of thumb based on experience in dealing with people who have wildly varying needs; people who’s work has been impacted by a lack of RAM really know what that’s like. It’s a reasonable heuristic, but not foolproof.

If you work with multi-gigabyte data structures that have to be completely loaded into RAM, you may want to look at having more of it (for reference, a 12 megapixel image is around 48 megabytes, give or take). Fast SSDs have eased the pain of swapping, but they’re no match for RAM when it’s truly needed.

As for storage: At least for a notebook, one of primary characteristics is portability and external storage is a hindrance to portability. It also consumes the (relatively) scarce resource of available ports. A lot of people seem to dislike the idea of using external storage on a notebook as a matter of course, but you may feel differently.

I think the best thing to do is to look at your current usage and make your choice based on that. Reboot your computer and if, after a typical day of use, you have used more than (let’s say) a couple of gigabytes of swap then maybe that’s an indication that you would benefit from more RAM. If your SSD is consistently full enough that you have to clear it out or shuffle things back and forth between drives (and if you’re unhappy about having to always use external storage) then maybe the SSD is the better place to spend your money.

All indications right now are that 8GB RAM is fine for the new Macs for light/“typical” use for now.

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Especially on laptops, being dependent on external storage is annoying. There are also certain things that can only be done on internal storage (you can’t move your iCloud Drive folder to an external drive, for instance).

I think the other element of this is that generally speaking, most people’s data storage requirements seem to be growing faster than their RAM requirements.


I think the biggest question for us to learn is what a given computer is simply incapable of doing. If we knew that then we could more easily answer the question of whether to upgrade.

For example suppose we knew that an 8Gb M1 machine

– Cannot run more than two 4K monitors

– Cannot run one 8K monitor

– Cannot run more than 2 Thunderbolt daisy chains or more than 4 total Thunderbolt devices

– Cannot smoothly handle data files over 12 Gb

– Cannot smoothly use more than 10 apps simultaneously loaded

Those are just “what if” examples - if we knew that sort of limitation then it would be a lot easier to decide when it is OK to buy a Mac Air 8Gb, when to buy a Mac Mini, when to buy a MBP, etc.

Right now Apple basically just tells us that “any M1 computer is the best computer ever invented” so that really is not very useful. Tell me honestly when it will hit performance limits and that will help with the decision of what machine to buy.


30 odd years ago I was stoked to get a 20 MB hard drive to add to my (ahem, ARM powered!) Acorn Archimedes which rocked 4 MB of RAM. Fast forward those 30 years and I have my new ARM powered computer with 4,000x the RAM and 50,000x the storage.


On the latest episode of MPU @macsparky talks some about getting memory warnings on his 8gb M1 MacBook Pro.

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Jason Snell has a great current article about how M1 memory is packaged, I thought this was an interesting read.

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A relative’s new M1 Air w/ 8GB was frequently reporting out of system memory errors with Safari taking up around 50GB each time.

It might have been a result of them having several memory hog sites (Facebook, Yahoo mail, multiple Gmail/Gsuite tabs) open or might have been a bad cache from when the account was migrated.

They made some workflow adjustments plus I installed an ad blocker and cleared cache/cookie which either has mitigated the issue or they just don’t complain any more.

For me, the problem was a bunch of memory hog apps that I like to run. I can babysit them, but I’d really just prefer more RAM.

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I’m a little surprised that physical RAM + swap wasn’t enough to keep an out of memory error from showing up.

Apple does mention this on the MBA Tech Specs: