Why You Don’t Need the 16GB MacBook RAM Upgrade

If you’re buying a new MacBook Pro and thinking about getting the 16GB RAM upgrade, it may be wise to think twice about that.

The entry-level MacBook Pro comes with 8GB of RAM, which is new compared to what it used to be. The MacBook Pro used to come with only 4GB of RAM as the standard option for the entry-level model. This is certainly good news for buyers, as they’re getting more for their money and they might even be tempted to get the 16GB MacBook RAM upgrade for the same as what it used to be to upgrade to only 8GB of RAM. It seems like a no-brainer at that point.

However, it might be best to hold off on that upgrade and just go with the stock 8GB of RAM instead, especially if you won’t be doing any intense work on your MacBook.

This is mostly because 8GB of RAM is usually the sweet spot for the best performance. While 4GB of RAM can certainly get the job done for most extra-casual users with laptops, the bump to 8GB of RAM can be quite noticeable, so that’s certainly recommended and it’s something I did myself when I bought my late-2013 MacBook Pro. However, once you go over 8GB of RAM, the average user won’t be able to tell much of a difference in performance.

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To test this out, TechSpot did a performance test comparing a system with 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB of RAM. The results were fairly surprising, mostly because while there was a significant jump in performance between 4GB and 8GB of RAM, the difference between 8GB and 16GB of RAM was fairly negligible during most of the tests, including gaming.

Granted, while the tests were run on a Windows 10 desktop machine and not a MacBook, the results can easily be transferred over to OS X. TechSpot ran all sorts of test too, like the classic web browser test where dozens of tabs were open, as well as tests involving Photoshop, Microsoft Office, Dropbox, and even a handful of the latest games.

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One thing to note is that when you have enough RAM for all your apps and games to run smoothly, more RAM won’t make it all magically run faster, and most casual users probably have enough RAM anyway, even with 4GB of RAM and definitely with 8GB of RAM.

Even when your system needs 12GB of RAM and you only have 8GB of RAM, the performance hit isn’t huge, as shown in TechSpot‘s performance tests where there was minimal effect during a test that needed 12GB of RAM on a system with only 8GB of it.

So when does the 16GB RAM upgrade actually perform way better than 8GB? Compressing large files mostly, which is something that most casual users will hardly ever do, if ever. So while that’s one thing where users can benefit from 16GB of RAM, it’s something that you probably don’t do anyway.

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Essentially, the only reason you’d want to get 16GB of RAM is if you’re a professional running some sort of CAD software or other super-intensive program that requires a lot of performance. Otherwise, a 16GB RAM upgrade is merely just for show and would most likely burn a hole in your pocket, unless you have the money to blow.

In the end, TechSpot says that “for general usage and gaming there is no advantage to be had by using 16GB of RAM.” Especially considering that a RAM upgrade to 16GB costs $200 on Apple’s website, it might be best to save that money for other uses and just be happy with 8GB of RAM.

17 Comments

  1. Connor

    09/18/2015 at 2:01 pm

    excellent advice, if it had been written three years ago.

    Reply

  2. hanspoot

    09/22/2015 at 7:07 am

    Not to place 16 GB is a stupid advice. You can buy 16 GB (2x 8 GB) at a third party (not Apple) for less than the Apple price of 2 x 4 GB, so why not? AND… what has the comparison of the performance of a Windows desktop to do with an Apple MacBook???

    Reply

    • ha21

      03/05/2016 at 6:21 pm

      Nope you can’t upgrade your RAM, for the newer version the MacBook pro’s RAM is being soldered . Unless you have mad soldering skills and wiling to risk everything , then by all means

      Reply

  3. naomiswan

    05/11/2016 at 4:21 pm

    I’m a writer and don’t need to run a bunch of fancy programs, I just need a laptop to write on. The reason I considered getting a Mac with 16 gb instead of 8 was because I’m currently using an old imac from 2007, which only has 2 gb and hence can’t upgrade t o a newer version of OSX, So I was afraid that once it would happen with my new laptop as well, that I’d be stuck with an old OS because I didn’t have enough ram to run anything newer. The OS I’m using on my iMac currently is no longer supported by my browsers. Won’t it be better in the long run to get 16 gb?

    Reply

    • Utku Birkan

      06/16/2016 at 5:07 am

      It’s very very unlikely. Apple drops the support for it’s devices regardless of hardware upgrades. Let’s say you have a macbook 13″ pro from mid 2015 (which is 12,1 I guess). You may have one with 16 GB ram, 256gb storage or with 2.9ghz processor. After a certain amount of time like 5 years or something, when apple decides that the base model can no longer operate properly with the new os, they drop the support for all that model, in this case for all 12,1 devices

      Reply

    • David Thomas

      11/06/2016 at 9:39 am

      If you are a writer then you only need a macbook air. The macbook pro used to be designed for Photographers, Designers, and Video Editing. These new machines can’t do that anymore and come out of the box obsolete. If you are a writer save your money and don’t get a pro. If you do get a pro unlike macs old laptops the new ones are designed only to last a couple of years so don’t spend the extra money for 16 gbs of ram when the logic board will burn up on you in 2018 anyway. The new macbook pros are designed to be disposable don’t spend anymore then you need into it.

      Reply

  4. Alex Vallejo

    06/21/2016 at 12:32 pm

    As a web developer running a VM, having PHPStorm, Spotify, Skype, Chrome with ~15 tabs open, and SourceTree, I am using 7 GB of RAM. 2.77 GB of Swap used. I’ll take the 16GB and not worry about it.

    Reply

    • Amr Hamza

      07/07/2017 at 12:06 pm

      i am a web developer too i was going thinking about get rid of the 16 and save the 200$ but your comment really helped me to decide

      Reply

  5. Thewhokid

    06/26/2016 at 7:46 am

    First let me say I inherently agree with your caution. People are always jumping at more despite not actually needing it. But what your saying is just misleading. First ram is shared by all programs running not just the one you are testing and more importantly you always want head room. Even for people just running email web and similar programs having them running concurrently can bog down 8 gb. Most professional machines run a min of 32 gb and many new professional programs will use as
    much ram as your computer can offer. Finally until recently many CAD programs were hilariously capped at 8 gb so the ram usage so your assessment would be fine but the CPU and lack of a decent graphics card or in the Macobooks case any graphics card would make them basically unusable.

    Reply

  6. Yamaha Storms

    07/21/2016 at 11:05 pm

    A well-meant, but stupid advice for these two reasons:

    – going for a memory configuration which is ‘enough’ today, but might be a little short in say, 2 years from now… is not the way to go with Apple machines, as they tend to last a VERY long time
    – when you have 16gb, you can very easily run Parallels or VMware when you happen to need Windows for some task… you can forget about running it smoothly with only 8gb

    Reply

  7. Brompton Brompton

    08/28/2016 at 3:46 am

    Yamaha Storms you nailed it. Windows 10 running on a Parallels VM takes 4GB of RAM resources and while it is useable to some degree, things do become less responsive on a Macbook 12. The CPU resources are fine but the RAM resources are not. 16GB would improve this.

    Reply

  8. Ben Brandon

    11/02/2016 at 5:41 pm

    This is such a relief omg. I ordered the new 2016 MacBook with the touch bar with the base 8GB and I was so worried that I needed to cancel my order spend the extra 200 because upgrading the RAM later on is impossible because of how everything is glued together inside the laptop. I hate how they took away that feature ugh. but now I know I wouldn’t need to upgrade :) yay

    Reply

  9. Brett Schulte

    11/20/2016 at 1:45 am

    Here’s my take. The cost differential of 16Gb is a relatively low, adds versatility, and increases resale value. If you can afford it, do it.

    The other point no one has really made is that with memory compression and swap files on SSD 8Gb is more than adequate for almost all scenarios. So as mentioned above, if you’re running a VM you’ll use the RAM, if not, you probably won’t.

    Reply

  10. Mikel

    11/22/2016 at 5:11 am

    How about system requirements in future times? Will 16GB become minimium standart with new OS’s?
    I remember my old System from 2007, which is not longer possible to update due to RAM shortage of 2 GB.

    Reply

  11. Marco Santana

    02/06/2017 at 5:33 pm

    My thoughts against this article go as following:

    The average normal Office, Chrome, iTunes, iWhatever stuff user will benefit from a longer use without having to upgrade. MacBook Pro lasts a lot. I have one from Mid 2010 and it is still a great laptop to work with. I have made the upgrade to 8gb, which is as far as it goes, but it is fast and reliable, supporting easily the newest Mac OS named Sierra and with a still good original battery of 3:30hrs

    They say new machines can’t be tuned on anymore, another reason for having it ordered with the upgrade.

    Even if you could upgrade afterwards, and even with the possibility of selling your former 8gb, one will need to buy the whole 16gb pack, and not only 8gb. Another point for putting those USS$ 200 to this good use at purchase time.

    And finally, if one works with IT or not, having a 16gb RAM machine allows the user to have several parallel virtual machines, with Windows or even another Mac or Linux distros.

    Just like Yamaha Storms has said, well-meant, but this article does not contain a good advice.

    Reply

  12. Marco Santana

    02/06/2017 at 5:41 pm

  13. Eashwar

    10/06/2017 at 9:37 pm

    I have to do some data processing on Cloudera VM and for running SPARK programs on the VM. So will i be okay with 8GB or should i go for 16G MAC

    Reply

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