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APPLE SILICON

Who Really Needs 16GB In Their M1 Mac?

Not me, and probably not you.

Dan Hansen
Dec 1, 2020 · 4 min read

Rene Ritchie’s YouTube video 8GB vs 16GB for M1 Mac — The TRUTH About RAM! takes 10 minutes to say that virtually everyone should pay the $200 upgrade price for 16GB of RAM when buying a new M1 Mac. From the video:

…Those benchmarks and tests can maybe help us figure out what we need, but maybe also hurt us into thinking we can just squeak buy under the line of what we’ll eventually require.

All that to say, and to explain, that my recommendation is this: get 16 gigabytes if you can possibly afford it.

…It really is called future-proofing for a reason. So unlike a lot of things where I will tell you that if you need higher-end machines, if you need pro-level specs, you’ll know it. In this specific case, I’m doing the exact opposite.

Rene’s premise is that computer RAM has always been a major performance bottleneck, so it must also be true for M1 Macs. He provides no meaningful analysis, relying on the fact that since this is the way we’ve always done things (buying computers with as much RAM as possible), we should continue to follow this pattern with Apple silicon Macs. By that logic, doctors should still be applying leeches (which, fun fact, were used in Western medicine until at least the 1950s).

Times Change

While Renee seems to think benchmarks hurt more than they help, they show a significant difference in RAM results between the M1 Macs and prior models. A search for “Mac mini (Late 2018)” on the Geekbench website shows 8GB multi-core scores reaching 5270, while 16GB scores top out at 6187, a 17% performance increase. The best M1 Mac mini scores are almost identical across RAM sizes, with a score of 7730 for 8GB and 7729 for 16GB. While these benchmarks clearly don’t tell the whole story, they do provide evidence that the memory in Apple silicon behaves differently than the combination of external DRAM and graphics memory it replaces.

Real-World Application Testing

Fortunately, some M1 Mac RAM videos do more than make unsupported pronouncements.

Created Labs

In their The NEW M1 Macs — Should You Get The 8GB or 16GB Version? video, Created Labs puts an 8GB M1 Macbook Air through a series of tests including 4K video editing and rendering, productivity application, multitasking, gaming, and photo editing:

… moving on to multitasking, 8 gigabytes is more than enough for all your needs. Even if you are a hardcore Chrome user who often has 50+tabs open, the Mac will handle it easily. …I opened 20 to 30 tabs in Chrome while using Photoshop, Word, Excel, playing Spotify and 4K videos in the background, and the 8 gigabyte Macs don’t even bat an eye.

Max Tech

Max Tech’s 8GB vs 16GB M1 MacBook Pro — How much RAM do you NEED?! starts with Geekbench and Cinebench tests, and then moves on to Logic Pro, Xcode, Lightroom, and Final Cut video editing of 4K, 10bit HEVC, and 8K R3D RAW videos. The only test where the 16GB model won handily over the 8GB Mac was editing 8K R3D RAW videos:

…for anything else, for regular 4K video editing, HEVC, things like that, there really isn’t a difference. So, 8 gigs is surprisingly totally fine and it’s performing so well compared to the previous Intel MacBooks, even the 16-inch model. So in my personal opinion, most people should be fine going with the base 8 gig model.

Future-proof? Really?

Rene Ritchie’s future-proofing rationale is based on the belief that people upgrading to M1 Macs will be using them for years to come, helping to amortize the cost of RAM (and SSD) upgrades. However, the above Geekbench scores suggest that Apple will quickly follow the M1 SoC with a much more powerful version. A likelier scenario than the one suggested by Rene is that we will continue to see massive Apple silicon performance improvements for at least the next several years and that a strategy of frequent lower cost upgrades will provide better value than a single highly spec’d upgrade now.

Conclusion

Practicing what I preach, I upgraded from a 16GB 2018 Mac mini to an 8GB 2020 M1 Mac Mini. The cost after trade-in was $270.98, the lowest amount by far that I’ve ever paid for a computer upgrade. Yes, I will likely come across the occasional workload where I would benefit from an extra 8GB of RAM, but in day-to-day use, the performance impact will be negligible. And without having paid the higher price for RAM and SSD upgrades I can upgrade again as soon as the next Apple silicon becomes available without the nagging feeling that I haven’t gotten my money’s worth from my current Mac.

For anyone still on the fence, we are currently within the window of Apple’s extended holiday return policy. That means you have until January 8, 2021, to determine if an 8GB M1 Mac mini, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro meets your specific needs.

Mac O’Clock

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