How Much RAM to Get in Your Macbook Air or Macbook Pro

There are a lot of choices to make when buying a new Macbook laptop. Among those is the amount of RAM to purchase. While the Macbook Pro’s RAM can be upgraded after your purchase your laptop, the Macbook Air’s RAM modules are soldered onto the logic board. In other words– you cannot upgrade the RAM of a Macbook Air.

The new Macbook Air laptops can have up to 8 GB of RAM installed, while the Macbook Pro laptops can have up to 32 GB. However, the current maximum installable RAM in a Macbook Pro is 16 GB because the larger RAM sticks required to use 32 GB of RAM are not currently for sale by any manufacturer.

How Much RAM to Get in Your Macbook Air or Macbook Pro

How Much RAM Should I Get?

Because you cannot upgrade the RAM in a Macbook Air, it is critical you choose the right amount of RAM when you initially buy your computer. This mainly depends on two factors:

– How you use your computer
– How long you plan to keep your computer

This makes more sense when you know what RAM is. Essentially, RAM is temporary storage on your computer and is managed by OS X. When you run a program, it is loaded off of your hard drive or solid state disk and into RAM. RAM is extremely fast– much faster than a hard drive or SSD.

Because of this, having more RAM in your computer may make your experience seem faster since OS X will keep applications in RAM until more free memory is needed. Then, the application is loaded from fast RAM rather than your slow hard drive. This is why after launching and quitting iTunes, the second time you start it up again iTunes will load much faster– it’s loaded from RAM rather than your hard drive.

Computer Usage and its Effect on RAM Usage

For most people, 4 GB of RAM will be “enough,” and it is the default amount of RAM in the new 2012 Macbook Pro and Macbook Air models. This will allow for fast web browsing, word processing, basic photo editing, and even using iMovie to edit home videos.

Many people ask whether 2 GB of RAM is sufficient for light use, such as using the computer as a web browsing and email machine. With basic tasks such as this, 2 GB is sufficient, but there may be occasional, noticeable slow downs as your computer tries to clean RAM and make room for the new application you launched. Because of this, you should strongly consider whether the discount you are receiving on the refurbished or older model Mac you are purchasing will be worth it in the long term (see section below about owning a computer long term and the effect on RAM to buy).

Note that because new operating systems are designed for modern computers with higher amounts of RAM, having less than 2 GB will likely severely impact performance. In a few years, it’ll likely be similar in that 4 GB will be considered a “minimum,” but it is impossible to say until that day has arrived.

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s often asked whether to go for the higher end MacBooks with 8 GB of RAM. Generally, if you are unsure whether you need 8 GB of RAM, you probably don’t need it. Having that much RAM is good for more intensive tasks such as the following:

– Editing large photos
– Editing videos
– Running virtual machines
– Having a large number of applications open

If you don’t do any of the above and don’t want to spend the extra $100 or more for the RAM upgrade, you will most likely be satisfied with the standard 4 GB. But also remember, if you are buying a Macbook Air, you cannot upgrade this later. If you have a Macbook Pro, if you find that the initial amount of RAM is too little, you have the option of upgrading your RAM at a later point in time.

Note for those wondering about 16 GB of RAM: Even more so than the 8 GB– if you have to ask, you may want to consider waiting until you determine you will use 16 GB. 16 GB of RAM is a lot, even by today’s standards.

How Much RAM to Get if you Keep Your Computer For a Long Time

Over time, operating systems become more advanced and eventually will require more RAM. However, it’s also important to realize that your computer will not magically get slower over time. In other words, if you choose to stay on Mac OS X Mountain Lion, in four years 4 GB of RAM may still be enough: you may not need to “future proof” your Mac with 8 GB of RAM. It is difficult to predict what the minimum amount of RAM required will be in four years, but it will likely not be significantly higher than today.

But if you keep up with OS X updates as they are released every year, you may want to consider starting with a higher amount of RAM in your Macbook Air, or upgrading your RAM over time in a Macbook Pro.

For the Macbook Pro, if you are considering upgrading over time, note that RAM prices are decreasing rapidly. A year or two ago, 16 GB of RAM for the Macbook Pro was well over $1000. Now, 16 GB of RAM can be found for $100 or less easily. Waiting may save you a significant amount of money


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