The price difference between 8GB and 16GB on the new M1 MacBooks is £200. It’s a choice you need to get right first time, too, because there’s no user upgradability.
What a head-scratcher, right? Imagine if you bought the 8GB version only to find out later that you should have spent that extra £200…
But who needs 16GB of RAM in an M1 Mac?
If your finger is hovering over the ‘buy it now’ button for a new M1 Mac but you’re totally confused about which RAM option to opt for, I’ve got some real-world experiences that’ll help you with your decision.
What the experts say
If you’ve read or watched me before, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of benchmarks or spec deep-dives.
This is partly because I’m not smart enough to understand what all of those numbers mean, but mainly because I’m far more interested in how devices feel during everyday tasks.
I genuinely don’t care how high a computer’s Geek Bench score is if it helps me become more profitable as a creator.
The RAM debate for M1 Macs is interesting, though. And it has drawn a raft of opinion from people who really know their onions when it comes to specs, benchmarks and really putting these machines through their paces.
For instance, YouTuber, Max Tech, recently conducted a 20-minute deep-dive into the difference in performance between 8GB and 16GB of RAM on an M1 MacBook Pro:
His experiments focused on Xcode, video exporting and Lightroom. In all three tests, the 8GB version lagged behind its 16GB big brother, but it was only the 8K export to 4K in which it was comprehensively crushed.
In that scenario (which is, incidentally, pretty niche), the 8GB M1 took eight minutes longer to complete the task than the 16GB model. Clearly, if you’re into heavy video editing work, 8GB is going to cause you issues. But, then, would you really opt for anything less than 16GB if that kind of video work is your bread and butter?
Over on 9to5Mac, Stephen Hall pushed the 8GB M1 MacBook Air to “the absolute limits of my normal workload”. He was “actively reckless” during the test, leaving multiple apps open and opening as many Safari tabs as he fancied.
The result was not a “single sign of sluggishness”, and he was only able to slow the Air down after opening 12 apps, 24 Safari tabs and six Safari windows (all of which were playing 2160p YouTube videos).
Once again, that’s probably not an everyday use case, but it does demonstrate how far you can push this new configuration of 8GB of RAM. It is mightily, mightily impressive for most people.
My day-to-day experiences with 8GB on the M1 MacBook Air
My first week with the 8GB base-spec M1 MacBook Air revealed the following:
- the battery life is legitimately amazing;
- I ran into zero software problems;
- the lack of a single core of graphics power didn’t seem to matter; and
- I missed the four ports I have on the 16” MacBook Pro.
You can read the full report here.
Since then, I’ve used the laptop extensively and pretty much as my only device. It has all but replaced my 12.9” iPad Pro (more on that in a future article), and is the first thing I use while sitting on the couch during my early morning routine.
Hands up, I’m still using the 16” MacBook Pro for video editing, but that’s mainly because of the screen size. But the M1 Air does everything else, including Lightroom and Photoshop work. It basically runs my entire business.
It never ever misses a beat. I’ve never experienced any form of sluggishness and it hasn’t crashed, misfired or beach-balled me once.
I’ve reached the stage where I don’t think about memory at all. A case in point: I’ve not bothered installing iStat Menus simply because I don’t need to know what the computer’s doing; it just works.
For me, 8GB doesn’t feel like a constraint – it feels like just another number attributed to the system-on-a-chip that is the M1. I don’t really know what’s going on beneath the hood to make RAM such a non-issue, but Apple really has done a fantastic job at abstracting it away from my particular workflow.
‘RAM’ just isn’t’ a thing for me anymore with this MacBook Air. That’s game-changing.
The Final Cut Pro test
A massive part of what I do involves video editing. For the last year, my trusty 16” MacBook Pro has been a video production workhorse. Despite all of the heat and fan noise during intense rendering and exporting, it’s an absolute monster, performance-wise.
That’s why I was so interested to see how the 8GB M1 MacBook Air would stack up against it. So, I ran a little Final Cut Pro test.
The 16” MacBook Pro destroyed the Air when it came to the export test, but that was the only potential hint that 8GB of RAM is a bit dicey if you’re running concurrent, heavy-duty tasks.
It’s for this reason (and that screen size) that I have reverted back to the Intel MacBook Pro for video editing, but the fact the M1 Air beat it during the render test gets me incredibly excited about my future Mac lineup.
I need computing speed to be as productive as possible. I don’t want to wait around for renders or exports. The fast they happen, the faster I can get paid – it’s that simple.
However, if my 32GB, top-of-the-line-graphics-card 16” MacBook Pro bit the dust, I wouldn’t feel particularly hamstrung by turning to the 8GB M1 MacBook Air to get some heavy tasks done. And doesn’t that say an awful lot about this new platform?
Can you really get away with 8GB?
Yes. In fact, “get away with it” is a bit misleading, because, for me, 8GB never feels like a constraint – until it’s really pushed under sustained load.
Unless you’re doing seriously heavy lifting in terms of video, audio or coding work, 8GB will do you proud, and I have a feeling it’ll be future-proof, too.
So, if you want to save yourself £200/$200 on that new laptop and fall into the ‘normal’ user category, I wouldn’t think twice about going for the 8GB option.
Oh, and if you’re going for the MacBook Air, you don’t need that 8th graphics core, either.