If you’re going to be buying a Mac soon, please make sure you equip it with enough memory (RAM) when you buy it. Increasingly, Apple is soldering memory into the computer. The advantage of doing this is that computer cases can be thinner and one can get a bit better performance. The disadvantage is that it will no longer be possible to add more memory at a later date, which used to be a very common upgrade. Consequently, I increasingly recommend buying a custom-configured Mac that has enough storage space and memory instead of a pre-configured, off-the-shelf Mac.
Let’s start by making sure that everybody is clear on the difference between memory and storage. Applications, like Excel, Safari and iTunes, as well as your data files, like email messages, your resume, your budget, your photos and song files, are all permanently stored in the computer’s storage. Until a few years ago, a computer’s storage was with a hard drive. Increasingly, hard drives are being supplanted by flash storage. When you open an application, like Safari, or play a song file, then you are temporarily copying the application or data file from storage into your Mac’s memory. Thus, memory is your computer’s working space or temporary storage. If you like to have a handful of applications open at the same time then you should have at least 8 GB of memory in your Mac. Personally, I have about a dozen applications open most of the time and I equipped my laptop with 16 GB of memory. Graphic artists and others who use memory-intensive applications like Adobe Photoshop should also consider equipping their Macs with 16 GB, or more, even if they are only using a handful of applications at a time. The more memory your Mac has the better it’ll perform when you have numerous applications open concurrently.
[Please also consider reading my other Tech Tip about how to equip your Mac with enough storage space.]
Since Apple solders memory into many Macintosh models you’ll need to guess how much memory you’ll need over the lifespan of the computer. Let me illustrate this with an example of a person who has a 4 or 5 year old MacBook Pro or iMac. Now that Apple makes new versions of the Mac operating system, OS X, available for free, users are inclined to install these updates even on their older Mac. The advantage of doing this is that the user gets access to all of the latest bells and whistles. The disadvantage of doing this is that these newer versions of the operating system require more memory than older versions and are optimized to run well on today’s brand-new computers. Thus, older Macs run slower with current versions of OS X, like Yosemite. To improve an older Mac’s performance a little bit, one can install more memory. Since installing more memory on a Mac that has its memory soldered in-place is not possible, a user has to try to anticipate if she will be installing future versions of OS X, Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and other applications and consequently equip the Mac she buys today with enough memory to meet her future needs.
Let’s look at specific Mac models. As of March 2015, Apple solders memory into the following Macs: MacBook, MacBook Air, 13″ and 15″ Retina MacBook Pros, 21″ iMac (but not the 27″ iMac) and the Mac mini. That’s most Macintosh models. The only two models that do not have their memory soldered in-place are the 27″ iMac and the MacPro. Curiously, Apple installs varying amounts of memory in computers with soldered in-place memory.
All 11″ and 13″ MacBook Airs are equipped with 4 GB of memory. In my opinion, this is not enough even to meet today’s needs. This model maxes out at 8 GB. I think everybody who is buying an Air should equip it with 8 GB of memory. Hopefully, Apple will soon update the design of the Air so it supports up to 16 GB since I think users might want this much in a few years.
Apple’s newly introduced MacBook comes equipped with 8 GB of memory and this cannot be increased. This is an additional reason why I don’t see myself recommending this over-priced and under-powered laptop very often.
All of the 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display models come with 8 GB of memory which is a reasonable amount of memory for today and the next few years for most people. However, this model can be custom-configured with 16 GB which is good future-proofing.
Apple equips all models of the 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display with 16 GB of memory which is the most that they can handle. I would guess that we’ll see a future version that’ll support 32 GB of memory.
The 21″ iMac comes equipped with 8 GB of memory. This model can be custom-configured with 16 GB which is good future-proofing.
The entry-level Mac mini comes configured with 4 GB while the next two levels are equipped with 8 GB. All 3 models can be custom configured with as much as 16 GB of memory. Personally, I’m disappointed to see that Apple started to solder memory into the Mac mini. The same case has been used for several years and has been able to accommodate non-solder memory so this change is a curious choice.
Hopefully, the information presented in this article will help you to ensure that your next Mac will have enough memory even if it means that you have to order a custom configuration.