There was, let’s say, some controversy over the launch of the M3 MacBook Pro. People were/are perplexed as to why Apple still launches base-level MacBooks with only 8GB unified memory. Surely for the high price we pay they could chuck us an extra 8GB?
At release, if commentators were to be believed, the 8GB M3 MacBook was going to be completely useless for the majority of users. People were being advised to pay the extra $200/£200 for the 16GB version or else face a sluggish, low-life-span MacBook.
But were these fears well-founded? Do you need an 8GB or 16GB M3 MacBook Pro? Well, after waiting a few months for the dust to settle, we have an answer…
Understanding the M3 MacBook Pro
To understand this debate, you need to contextualise the latest Mac release amongst the M3 chips.
The M3 chips are like nothing we have seen before. 3nm technology means Apple can fit far more transistors on a processor chip than in previous years. More transistors means that more tasks can be performed simultaneously and faster.
This alone means the M3 chips, even at the base level, are incredibly efficient and powerful processors. Most users, that is those of us who use Macs to do things like write, make spreadsheets and watch movies, will find no issue with the lowest-end models.
8GB of extra memory won’t make a difference. But what about everyone else? The so-called ‘power users’?
The Benefits Of 16GB – What Does Unified Memory Even Do?
Memory is where your device stores data related to the tasks it performs. Apple uses unified memory, meaning the CPU and GPU can access the same memory pool at the same time. This eliminates the need for data to be communicated across multiple locations and therefore saves time.
In theory, more unified memory means a more efficient laptop.
If you frequently engage in resource-intensive tasks, that means heavy rendering or multitasking, 16GB unified memory is the safe bet. Buying the extra 8GB means you have more headroom. You are less likely to run into slowdowns.
But is this actually true out in the wild? Some benchmarks say yes.
Tests performed by Max Tech showed that the 16GB M3 MacBook Pro was four minutes faster at Lightroom exports and 15 minutes faster at Final Cut Pro exports. That latter difference is pretty huge in terms of workflow and warrants spending the extra to get more memory.
But our tests show a less clear picture.
8GB M3 vs 64GB M3 Max MacBook Pro Test
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Our test, which you can watch here, involved rendering and exporting a piece of 10-minute 4K footage in Final Cut Pro. Whilst this is entirely unscientific and shouldn’t be the only thing used to inform your purchase, it is worth considering.
A base-level M3 MacBook Pro with 8GB unified memory performed the test in 06:36. That’s quick, quick enough for most users.
Our 64GB M3 Max MacBook Pro, which is almost completely specced out by the way, took 04:10. That is eight times the unified memory for less than a two-and-a-half minute saving.
Again, this isn’t scientific in any way. But it demonstrates that unified memory isn’t as completely pivotal as some would have you believe.
In reality, there are many things that make a difference in MacBook performance; the amount of GPU cores, media encoders, and whether apps are optimised or not just as a start.
But this doesn’t really help you when choosing between the 8GB and 16GB M3 MacBook Pro, does it?
How To Decide
There is a very easy way to decide which memory configuration you should buy.
Will you use your M3 MacBook for anything more than light video editing, word processing and using the internet? If not, then you don’t need more than 8GB of unified memory. For you, 16GB of unified memory is just a ‘nice to have’.
If you know you’ll be demanding more of your MacBook, especially graphically, then 16GB of unified memory (or more if needed) makes complete sense. You will find that extra $200/£200 worth the outlay.
If you just have that extra $200/£200 to spare then upgrading to 16GB is a no-brainer. You will get a laptop that performs better. Whether you actually notice that or not depends on your workload.
Either way, more memory means your laptop will remain more relevant for a longer time. A bit of future-proofing if you will. Equally, if you can’t afford it, the base-level 8GB M3 MacBook Pro will provide you with an excellent laptop for at least the next 5/6 years and more.
Hopefully, you are now much more confident about which MacBook you should buy. The 8GB machine is excellent and far better than its nearest non-Apple competitors.
As for the wider debate about Apple still releasing base-level models with only 8GB unified memory, I agree it’s weird, stingy some might say. It wouldn’t cost Apple millions to offer 16GB of memory in their cheapest MacBooks.
But whilst they can still get away with keeping the memory at 8GB, and not sacrifice performance, Apple will. For now, we can just about let them off. Let’s hope things change for the M4 generation!
What M3 MacBook would you buy? Let me know below!