Does the new MacBook Pro really need 32GB of RAM?

By , Nov 10, 2016

MacBook Pro 2016 No Touch Bar lid removed

Much has been said about the limits of the new MacBook Pro and the fact that its memory is capped at 16GB, presumably to preserve battery. Some users see this as a terrible limitation that could slow them down when performing memory-intensive tasks. But does the new MacBook Pro really need 32GB of RAM? Robin Harris, writing for ZDNet doesn’t believe so:

First, Apple has pushed SSD performance to the max, writing at over 2GB/s and reading at over 3GB/s. That’s important because the faster the storage is, the more fluid moving pages from DRAM to a drive becomes. The storage is literally an extension of the memory, and fast storage reduces paging overhead.

Second, macOS does memory compression, and has since Mavericks was released in 2013. Memory compression has two important benefits: 1) it expands the effective RAM capacity by 50 to 75 percent, and 2) and shrinks the page file, freeing up more DRAM capacity.

But what about video editing, you may ask? Harris points us to a series of tests carried out by pro video editor Max Yuryev who performed various tasks using Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro on his iMac with 8GB of RAM, 16GB, 24GB, and 32GB. What Yuryev found is that RAM doesn’t make that much of a difference, especially once you go over 16GB of RAM.

Harris concludes that the combination of the fast SSD performance coupled with memory compression makes 16GB of RAM plenty for most users, including those with video needs above average. Of course, these tests aren’t necessarily representative of all potential use cases for more RAM, but they do paint an interesting picture that doesn’t seem as dooming for the new MacBook Pro.

Sources: ZDNet and Max Yuryev

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  • triggerhappypunk

    The first sentence should read 16GB.

  • Its not an “need” question is a “i want” question. Pay $1500-1800 for a laptap is huge, so i want this laptop to be an high end laptop for the longer possible.

    • actually, Iago, that’s a need.. not a want.

      just like you i NEED more ram to do pro work

      • leart

        NO

      • Can you explain why it’s a need? What pro work requires 32GB of memory on a mac in a way that suffers without it? And how widespread is this scenario in terms of user base?

      • app_farmer

        Software development with multiple VMs, including Windows for cross platform development.

        I don’t know how widespread the user base is, but Mac is the only development platform for iOS and many developers also have projects in MS-land

  • malhal

    Yep my MBP has 16GB and I have 7GB swap with 30 apps running, which is annoying to lose that space given that SSDs generally have smaller capacities. 24GB would suit me but would be much happier with 32GB.

    • Rolf Bause

      Who needs 30 apps running?

      • who are you to decide what people need?

        you work at apple don’t you?

      • leart

        how about you? where have you been and why do you care so much

      • Rolf Bause

        No, I just think it’s terribly untidy…

      • Wow that’s an aggressive response… I’m also curious as to what running 30 apps looks like as I max out at around 10. Wanting to know what workflow requires 30 apps I think is a fair question. If for no other reason than out of curiosity.

  • John Smith

    The question isn’t do we need it now, it’s will we need it in the near future? The answer is yes. As software grows more complex, we need better hardware in order to be able to support the software. Technology is never a one-solution for everyone, some people are fine with lesser because of their usage, and others need much more because of their usage. Graphical design, film production, massive game development, these are just a few examples of how more RAM will be beneficial in the long run. It’s not the only factor, CPU and GPU need to be torqued up too, but RAM will always be the limiting factor if the hardware can’t handle all the software at once.

    • Jack Wong

      Then buy a new one in the future, this is from their point of view.

      I also believe Apple should give us the option for 32GB in this case, I know some people would buy it.

    • As someone who does graphic design on the side, edits training videos and runs virtualization and server software on a 3 year old 8GB Ram MacBook Air I don’t understand this argument.

      I see compressed memory getting swapped out periodically but I don’t notice any big lags or performance issues that have ever made me want to upgrade. Right now doing all these things at 8GB is smooth enough that doubling RAM to 16GB makes me question if I would really get enough boost to justify the cost. Currently the answer is no. Maybe I’ll need to in a few years, but for now 8GB satisfies my Pro needs. So telling me I need to quadruple my memory or risk being unable to work in the future seems laughable. I would get far more use out of a new logic board and processor than I would out of more RAM in 2 years time.

      But what I notice is that lots of people are complaining that the “Pros” need 32GB+ to work. Funny that I haven’t seen 1 pro come out yet and say that they can’t upgrade because their setup requires it. Heck my iMac has 2GB of Ram and I still use it for editing photos. Sorry but until I see the real work use case for 32GB and not just theoretical speculation I’ll remain unconvinced.

  • Bacillus

    OK, we all understand that swapping has become faster but simply isn’t as fast as NOT having to swap. Especially with the so, so mediocre CPU that (as we experience) gets easily completely absorbed by I/O of its USB-C ports.
    Contrary to every perceived situation not needing 16+ Gb RAM, there are the examples of multiple VM’s and other I/O intensive applications that DO need that.

    • Can you please name the specifics? These types of articles are becoming flooded with comments about theoretical “pros” that have needs which will be limited by this choice. As far as I can tell anyone who needs more than 16GB at the moment is either running very poorly coded apps or is doing stuff that should be running on a desktop.

      Case in point? In wanting to know what it would take to get the Mac to start paging out RAM to the SSD Zdziarski tried opening tons of apps to see what it would take and watched the memory manager carefully. Here is the list it took to start swapping:

      VMwarei Fusion: Three running virtual machines (Windows 10, macOS Sierra, Debian Linux)
      Adobe Photoshop CC: Four 1+gb 36 MP professional, multi-layer photos
      Adobe InDesign CC: A 22 page photography-intensive project
      Adobe Bridge CC: Browsing a folder with 163GB photos (307 images total)
      DxO Optics Pro: (Pro-photography workflow software) Editing a folder of images
      Xcode: Five production Objective-C projects, all cleaned and rebuilt
      Microsoft PowerPoint: A slide deck presentation
      Microsoft Word: Fifteen different chapters (separate .doc files) from my last book
      Microsoft Excel: A single workbook
      MachOView: Analyzing a daemon binary
      Mozilla FireFox: Four different websites, each in a separate window
      Safari: Eleven different websites, each in a separate window
      Preview: Three PDF books, including one very graphic intensive book
      Hopper Disassembler: Performing an analysis on a binary
      WireShark: Performing a live network capture as I do all of this
      IDA Pro 64-bit: Analyzing a 64-bit intel binary
      Apple Mail: Viewing four mailboxes
      Tweetbot: Reading all the flames and trolls in my mentions
      iBooks: Currently viewing an ebook I paid for
      Skype: Logged in and idling
      Terminal: A few sessions idling
      iTunes
      Little Flocker
      Little Snitch
      OverSight
      Finder
      Messages
      FaceTime
      Calendar
      Contacts
      Photos
      Veracrypt
      Activity Monitor
      Path Finder
      Console
      Probably a lot I’ve missed

      All of this had to be running simultaneously to max out the RAM and start paging. Am I crazy here to think that this is an unusual daily usage pattern? What exactly is the NEED for computers that can do double this list? Who are these “pros” that will be so limited by not being able to run almost 70 apps and 6 virtual machines simultaneously that they will be forced onto other hardware?

      • Bacillus

        Think of apps that handle multi-Gb data in statistics, resource planning, distributed databases, BPM, EMR, EMS – a different world from what you specify.
        I wonder what your virtual systems config is if you run it in a 8 Gb RAM partition

      • True… But aren’t many of those types of apps geared towards PCs anyways? Even still, what I know having worked on massive Databases before is that I often don’t need much memory as the database isn’t held entirely in RAM. There are some that are but you would want special hardware and servers for that setup and a laptop with mobile series low power chips is not that environment.

        Also, if you read that list it included 3 virtual systems all running separate OSs along side 4 photoshop documents all 1GB or larger, and many many many more apps several of which deal with graphics and data in very large quantities (Adobe Bridge alone was cataloguing over 136GB of photos at the time). So yes, perhaps if you run known apps with memory leaks such as Chrome or you configure all of your virtual machines to use most of the memory and then allow Windows to eat all of it up you’ll have problems. But wouldn’t part of being a pro include knowing this?

        Finally as with most of these arguments, once you get to the point where you are doing such intense activities with so much sheer data that it is consistently overwhelming 16GB of ram wouldn’t you be far better served by a desktop anyways? Saying your a Pro and then putting low power mobile chipsets under immense load instead of getting RAM, CPUs and GPUs that are actually performance optimized and properly cooled and powered for the task at hand seems a bit weird to me.

        I’m still looking for the specific real world scenario that would indicate that there are users that need this that would not be better served by a desktop. Pixar for instance is never going to render their movies on laptops because as professionally they know that this would be stupid. But might they take a model or scene they are working on into a meeting on a laptop? Sure. As a pro though it’s knowing what tool is right for the job and doubling the RAM in a laptop doesn’t overcome the low power barriers.

      • Bacillus

        The Pro label is marketed/geared towards Pro use. It is not an MBAir.
        Referring to a better suited desktop does not help…
        Apple seems confused – so are you ?

      • My point is this. No matter how “pro” a laptop is, you run into inherent limitations due to miniaturization of components, the low power requirements and cooling capabilities. At some point (no matter how much RAM it has) tasks would be better and far more efficiently performed on a desktop.

        So the question then is where is that point? If you are continually maxing out 16GB of RAM despite Apple’s memory compression and other optimizations then why are you using underpowered equipment to push so much data to RAM? It takes a shocking amount of apps running side by side to max it out to the point where these scenarios often become ridiculous. Look at that list above and tell me how often you suspect people need to do that all simultaneously.

        Apple’s MacBook Pro is a great tool for professionals. But as any professional would also know, running massive database analysis queries to stress test systems on a dozen virtual machines all side by side would not be a scenario well suited for a laptop.

        Why does anyone NEED 32GB on a laptop? I have 8GB and have never had an issue – and I do video capture, editing, VOIP Calls, gaming, programming and run a web server from here. So instead of just saying its a pro device it needs more, and that pros need more why not tell me what exactly these pros need to do on a laptop to justify more memory?

      • Bacillus

        I am afraid your nomenclature is slightly irregular.
        If you consider your specific use the ultimate Pro use, the many Pro’s out in the field that are currently complaining about the 2016 MBP and its specific 16Gb RAM limit are all wrong. That’s fine for me (but I doubt they are)

  • czbird

    No 32GB, no Pro 🙂

    • exactly

      • leart

        NO

    • So are you saying that if I get by on 8GB of RAM I’m not a pro user? Or that I should sell my business and go work for someone else because I’m clearly not up to the level I should be at? What in your mind constitutes a pro?

  • raulortiz318

    But hasn’t it already been shown that the mobile intel chips that do support 32GB ram are not available in four-core yet?

    I can’t imagine they would go KabyLake on the 13 inch but not the 15. So this is sort of a moot discussion.

  • MaRz Franco

    Just an idea. If there was an issue adding 32GB because of battery life, wouldn’t it have been a good idea for Apple to create built in software that reduces 32 to 16 while using the Macbook on the Go. Kind of like they did with Graphics Switching. We would have a choice to use 32 or 16 whenever we wanted so we could conserve battery.

    • The problem with this approach is that memory is always in demand. If you had 32 TB of memory it would eventually fill up given enough time browsing the web alone. What mechanism would determine when extra ram modules should be powered up? Is that up to developers? MacOS? the user?

      Furthermore this could cause worse performance issues as powering down that ram at the end of some tasks would result in the immediate need to dump up to 16GB of memory potentially generating a big lag spike every time it shut down.

  • oo.p

    this is a PRO (you know for PROFFESIONAL) model. Now we’re writing articles to justify why proffesionals don’t need proffesional grade hardware.mmm okay.

    • iGuru

      Oh? All this time I thought pro was for “professional”.
      Thanks for clarifying.

    • you’re exactly correct.

      ignore iGuru’s ridiculous need to spew sarcasm at your misspelling.

      • leart

        why poeple just should ignore you, you’re spreading comments like your god hahaha
        dont like this product? thats ok, bye

    • Here’s the thing, there are lots of misconceptions out there that are held by lots of people. Sometimes articles that defend these types of positions are actually necessary to shoot down wrong info.

      Macs need far less memory than PCs do and since PCs are far more popular than Macs there is a lot of assumptions that come over. Most people don’t need 32GB of memory and those that do are in a very tiny minority or are using poorly optimized software.

      • oo.p

        You’re totally right with all your points. But the fact that if i’m paying thousands of $$$ i better be getting the best of the best and that includes hardware to future proof everything.

      • Oh I absolutely agree about the price! That’s a lot of money and I also want to make sure that if I’m paying that much I’m getting something as perceptively valuable in return.

        I’m still rocking 8GB or RAM on my daily machine and do everything from video capture/editing to virtualization and most of the other “pro” tasks I apparently “need” 4x the memory for. What I’m not seeing is the crippling performance everyone seems to theorize people in my camp will have. Currently my laptop works well enough that I actually have no reason to upgrade other than to get ahold of a retina screen for testing certain retina graphics on. But is that worth $$$? Not to me at this point…

        Personally I’m surprised the big topic is memory and not pricing. That’s one expensive machine 🙁

      • oo.p

        yh, for most people once they cross the $1000’s of dollars for paying for a product a few $100’s more don;t matter.

  • Felipe Queiroz Drumond

    If having a fast SSD is enough to justify the lack of a 32GB version, Apple could say that memory RAM is not necessary anymore because the whole system could use its SSD to mock memory RAM. That’s bullshit, after all MB’s memory RAM is much faster than any MBP SSD.

    • exactly. someone just said something similar above, but yes.

      • leart

        NOO your wrong

    • That’s not correct. RAM is significantly faster than SSDs to read from. NO ONE is making that argument. Apple works with memory a bit differently. First of all they compress any memory that isn’t being used to over 50% on the fly to avoid swaps. This means that effectively a PC with 20GB of memory and a Mac with 16GB are going to have the same about of accessible RAM. Second, the data that’s written off to the SDD is this compressed RAM that’s not currently being used. Since it’s half the size it would have been without being compressed this means that transfer speeds are essentially 2x as fast as they would be on a PC too.

      Furthermore Apple gives app developers tools to optimize all these processes further. An app can specify which parts of memory are essential to hold onto and which parts can be let go. If your system starts to run low on RAM, parts of it can be intelligently compressed by order of priority or even let go entirely in certain scenarios.

      TL;DR the resources that are built into MacOS allow Apple to stretch RAM further than you’d think and optimizations in apps allow significant optimization in swaps boosting overall performance.

      • Felipe Queiroz Drumond

        JohnS, I didn’t say that someone was using that argument.

        Does compressing the idle memory used by apps and swap like that make the swap any faster? This process is not magical, there is CPU and perhaps even more memory in the process since is necessary to compress and decompress it. At the end of the day this is just a strategy to virtually enlarge the memory ram by compressing part of it and/or saving it on SSD. This strategy finds its limitations easily, otherwise we could have much less RAM and solve any problem using… that strategy.

        Furthermore, Apple simply cannot rely on developers to perfectly manage the memory use. Many applications will stress that strategy almost all the time. For those who don’t need to stress the machine, 4GB + swap with SSD is way far good, really! But for those who pays around $3000 on a machine to use it professionally, 16GB of RAM, a fast SDD and a swap strategy is not enough the majority of the time when you need to run a virtual machine plus develop software, database and stress test them.

        I think Apple should give us the option, and let us decide which configuration suits our needs.

      • Nope, but you used that argument.

        And yes, compressing memory does speed up transmission. For the simple fact that it takes half the time to copy 2GB instead of 4GB… Obviously any strategy like this is going to have limitations, but the point I’m trying to make is that the limitations aren’t going to be in the way of most people or most professionals.

        I’m do enjoy how this conversation thread has not produced one tangible example of someone who isn’t able to work on 16GB of memory for their professionally job. Yes is it theoretically possible that someone who is running multiple virtual machines, developing software, and stress testing could max out 16 GB? Yeah… But are you honestly going to argue that 16GB is more limiting than mobile series, low power; Ram, CPU, and GPUs?

        From all the tests I’ve seen, from those I’ve done myself and from what I can see spec wise, if you are a pro who consistently need to go beyond 16GB of memory and is running into issues with constant Page Swap you’d be far better served not trying to do what you’re doing on a laptop which is inherently under speed due to power, size and heat restraints. If someone calls themselves a pro and uses an underpowered tool and complains when it’s not up to the job I have to question their “pro” title…

  • You can’t sell something as “Pro” if you do not give an Option for more RAM.

    • correct

      • leart

        your wrong

    • Why not? Can you tell me the exact scenario or people that are suffering over this? I do video editing, screen recording, photo editing, digital painting, coding, virtualization and web hosting from my MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM. Currently the amount lag due to memory swaps is so little and infrequent I see no reason to upgrade.

      On a PC I can understand this need due to unoptimized software/hardware pairings, OS bloat, cheaper components and lack of advanced memory management, but on a Mac? Please enlighten me as to why I am not a Pro or why Apple needs to offer me the option of 4x+ the memory I use now when the performance difference would be minimal compared to the cost.

  • always a hilarious venture to watch fan boys defend apple’s nanny state control issues by asking the exact wrong question.

    it’s not whether the MACBOOK needs more ram, it’s whether the USERS need more.

    This post, as well as so many others like it, totally ignore apple’s long history of removing basic/necessary features only to return them later and charge for them because it’s “new” and “improved”.

    how did apple get away with almost completely removing proper multi-screen/dual monitor features in mountain lion only to re-introduce a horrid version of it 2 operating system cycles later… to cheering fan boys that forgot that we used to actually have something better a few years ago. it was stunning to watch people cheer apple re-introduce a basic feature like this… and even though it wasn’t something they charged for,

    how do you not see they are doing with macbooks what they’ve done with the iphone. they know you’re stuck in their eco system, so they find one of the cheapest components (ram) and make it impossible for you to modify it in any way… then, over time, convince you this cheap component has far more value than it actually does… this way, when the next iteration comes out, you cheer as they add more ram… something every pc & mobile device on planet earth already has.

    Apple totally hoodwinked you… and when the next iteration comes out with 32gb you’re going to cheer as if it’s something refreshing and new…

    here’s how the headline to this article would read if it were about cars:

    NEWS FLASH: Does your car really need all 4 seats and a glove box?

    then it would go on to fan boy it up by defending it by saying “most people can get by with 2 seats and no glove box…”

    how dumb would car owners look for cheering for a basic feature that’s been around in cars since the day they were invented?

    good Lord, how do you people not see the mindless drones you’ve become…

    • BenjamimDaniel

      You made good points, and I totally agree with you! I was thinking of buying a macbook pro 13″ around mar-2017, but I’m not happy with what they release. I think I’m going to try to buy and old version of macbook pro 13″, just like I did with the iMac 27″ I have: when I bought it, there was the iMac retina available, but I opted to buy the 2013 version, with maximum specs (except RAM, which I could upgrade later). I was much cheaper (costed me 1.999.00€ for the i7 version, with the 4gb graphic card and 16gb RAM). Happy with my choice of sticking up with an older model!

    • Rave Farid

      I think what you have said should be the subject of the article, you made it clear for all fanboy that still defending Apple commercial profit vision towards its products without caring about it’s customer satisfaction,their needs and expectations.
      apple confidence in the loyalty of their customers and the grip of their ecosystem need to be shaking by it’s fanboys and loyals customers to get best juice from the whole apple not just a little bit

    • margus1000

      It’s really interesting as you, haters, never talk about Apple products but just insult Apple users. I think there’s equal amount of envy and low self-esteem, so you have to find people who can afford something you can’t or can but barely and tell them that they are “fan boys, mindless drones” and so on. Everybody who doesn’t agree with you is stupid and ALL THOSE STUPID FAN BOYS WHO CAN AFFORD APPLE PRODUCTS ARE JUST HORRIBLE. HORRIBLE AND STUPID !!! Anyway, as it’s less about Apple and their products and more about insulting Apple users, it’s clearly manifestation of some personal problem or disorder.
      I pity you. Poor little fella. You should care less about other people and concentrate on your own problems, this way your life could turn better.

      • perhaps – except i was a fanboy for 30 years. i’m still a high level apple certified tech with a multiplicity of certifications over decades over releases.

        the problem isn’t apple.. it’s those who enable apple’s behavior unchecked and excuse it. hence the comments.

      • As a high level apple certified tech, can you tell me please the scenario in which a “pro” would need to be able to use more than 16GB of ram on a regular basis? Apple’s ability to compress memory on the fly is so efficient that it takes an incredible amount of apps running simultaneously to max out the memory.

        Things like 3 VMWare Fusion OSs, 4 1GB+ multilayered photoshop files, 22 page graphic intensive InDesign Projects, Bridge browsing 160+ GB of files, 5 x-Code projects, all of the Microsoft Office apps, Firefox and Safari each with multiple windows and websites, multiple VOIP clients, iTunes and over a dozen other apps all running at the same time…

        Who works like this day in and day out? And while I’m sure there are a small amount of people like this, is it really inexcusable to not cater to them? What exactly (aside from poorly coded apps) does a person need to run that uses so much memory? And wouldn’t such task flows be better served by a desktop with better memory, CPU and GPU specs anyways?

        There are a number of things to complain about when it comes to Apple. Defending the theorized “pro” users that no one seems to be able to produce in real life examples seems like a very strange focus to me. If 32GB of memory is such a big complaint then I think that’s a testament to how well they are doing…

      • margus1000

        So this isn’t about Apple, it’s about relentless need to hate somebody for something and Apple is excuse to hate Apple users? You should seek some professional help, this is clearly a medical condition and if you don’t treat it, you clearly can become threat to other people or to yourself.

    • I’m having trouble with this post due to the misrepresentations here. Mountain lion didn’t take away any multiple screen support that existed prior to it. It introduced a problem for sure with the newly introduced full screen apps. If you took an app fullscreen it essentially killed your other monitors. This was completely fixed however in the very next OS that came out not 2 years later. But either way, having a new feature that didn’t work out of the gate with multiple screens isn’t the same as taking away support for multiple screens altogether.

      Also extendable RAM in phones is something that has been the source of headaches for many people over the years. The situation has gotten significantly better but it’s not the pie in the sky model that solves all user problems. Sure I’d like to see as much memory as possible in a phone but to some degree the situation was made by expectations. Remember when Google announced that they didn’t think anyone would ever need more than 16GB of memory in a phone? A lot has changed in smartphone expectations in just the last 4 years alone and it leaves others shambling for better offerings and solutions. Saying technology adapts isn’t necessarily a sign of a bad thing. Nor does it have anything to do with your point that Apple takes out features…

      Finally are you saying that cars with only 2 seats are simply the result of greedy out of control corporations that are simply money grabbing with 0 plausible excuses for their actions? Because there are a lot of 2 seat sports cars out there and they have a decent market. By that logic why would anyone sell you a car with 4 seats when we can make busses with 60? I fail to see how this sort of line of thought weighs in on the discussion at hand which should be proving with performance benchmarks that there are pro setups that do require 32GB+ of memory and that Apple is wrong to offer less. Odd argumentation lines, weird parallels and referrals to a nebulous theoretical group out there known as pros who inherently have WAY more system requirements than all of us is a weird way to go about it if you ask me.