The most successful piece of content I’ve ever written in terms of views and engagement is my guide to choosing between 8GB and 16GB on an M1 MacBook.
To this day, my website receives thousands of hits every week for that article. Clearly, people are still having a hard time choosing between the two configurations for what is now Apple’s base-level homemade Mac chip.
This brings me to the next conundrum. How on earth do you choose between the unified memory (we have to call it that rather than ‘RAM’ now, apparently) options on the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips?
My first piece of advice is to start with the chip itself. That’ll dictate what you can and can’t do with the unified memory, after all. So, if you haven’t read it yet, head over to my M1 Pro vs M1 Max guide and then drop back here to continue your purchasing decision.
Ready? Let’s get into it.
Who is the 16GB MacBook Pro for?
The 16GB option is only available if you plump for the M1 Pro. So, if the M1 Max just felt far too expensive and capable for your requirements, the next decision you’ll need to make rests between 16GB and 32GB of unified memory.
There’s a $400 difference between the two, which makes this a significant decision. And, as you’d expect, Apple does its best to tempt you to upgrade.
“The more memory your MacBook Pro has, the more apps you can run simultaneously, and the better they will perform,” says the memory guide pop-up on Apple’s website.
But how does this translate to real-world usage?
A case in point: I’m confident that for my workflow – which involves 4K video editing, minor audio production, and all the normal ‘office work’ type stuff – I never push the limits of the 16GB memory in my M1 Mac mini.
So, if your use case matches mine and you don’t want to stretch your wallet any further, get the 16GB. The performance of the M1 Pro alone will see you sailing through everything else.
If you think you need more, keep reading.
Who is the 32GB MacBook Pro for?
For a great many people, straying beyond 16GB will make lots of sense. Indeed, I suspect it is what a significant number of MacBook Pro buyers have been waiting for since the launch of the M1 chip last year.
Put simply, if you work with very large files or spend most of your day in Xcode, the 32GB option will result in a machine you can rely on to easily sail through the day.
The same goes for music producers; large sample libraries and certain software instruments are notorious memory hogs, and, quite simply, the more memory you have, the more enjoyable time you’ll have going about your work.
If the $400 upgrade to 32GB of RAM feels as though it will offer a meaningful return on your investment in terms of productivity or uninterrupted joy, go for it.
If you’re worried about future-proofing your investment and have zero interest in spending a boatload of cash on another MacBook Pro in three years’ time, keep reading.
Who is the 64GB MacBook Pro for?
You can only spec the new MacBook Pro up to 64GB of unified memory if you opt for the M1 Max chip. This means, at that point, you’re already spending a metric tonne of cash on this laptop.
So, what’s another 32GB on top of the base-spec M1 Max? Well, it’s another $400, which will make an already stratospherically expensive laptop astronomically expensive.
If your palms are starting to sweat a little at this stage – stop, leave the selected 32GB as it is, and check out. That’s what I did. I edit video, therefore the only large files I work with are of the MP4 variety, and Final Cut Pro is pretty good at managing that process without relying too heavily on memory.
For me, spending more money on additional GPU cores made far more sense than increasing the unified memory. You might be in the same boat – if so, spend your pennies elsewhere.
But if you want the absolute maximum memory headroom in your MacBook Pro either for peace of mind or because you suspect your incredibly intensive workload with very large files is going to push it to the limit – go for it. All of these MacBook configurations will last a very long time, but the specced-out 64GB model will outlive most of them.
Hands-up – I haven’t got my hands on any of these configurations yet.
But I don’t need to.
My reports on real-world performance will of course follow, but my considerable experience running both the 8GB and 16GB configurations of the M1 chip gives me plenty of confidence in offering the advice above.
We’re living in a totally different world when it comes to Mac memory. My 8GB M1 MacBook Air and 24” iMac feel like they have 16GB. The 16GB Mac mini feels like it has far more in the memory tank.
Can you imagine what 32GB and 64GB of this new unified memory is going to be capable of within the highly optimised world of macOS Monterey? It’s so exciting. But it also means that you can save your pennies far more easily than you could during the Intel days.
What are you going for? What’s your opinion on the M1 Pro and M1 Max memory debate? Get involved in the comments!