Apple’s M1 MacBook Air: 8GB of RAM is plenty

For other than all-day, heads-down Pro users, ZDNet’s Robin Harris found that 8GB of RAM is plenty for most Apple’s M1 MacBook Air users. If you’re using the MacBook Air to make money, Harris advises to splurge on 16GB.

MacBook Air with M1 is an absolute powerhouse of performance and thin-and-light portability.
Apple’s current 13-inch M1 MacBook Air is an absolute powerhouse of performance and thin-and-light portability.

Robin Harris for ZDNet:

I had a 64GB 12.9″ iPad Pro with Magic keyboard as my mobile workstation for over a year. Performance and battery life was great, no fan noise, and it ran almost every app I needed.

But the MacBook Air does all that and more, in a lighter and less costly package. Better performance. Two times the memory and 4x the storage. Dead quiet. Great battery life. Larger trackpad and display. Flexible multitasking and window layout. Excellent I/O options with Thunderbolt 3 and USB 4…

Apple charges an exorbitant $25/GB for RAM. However, the excellent performance of the 4GB iPad Pro gave me the confidence to buy the 8GB MacBook Air.

One day I wanted to see what it would take to overwhelm 8GB of RAM, so I left every app, window, and tab open all day. Safari and Firefox each with a dozen tabs open, Mail, Messages, Preview, Calendar, one or more Notes apps, Scrivener, and Final Cut Pro, and utilities including Copyclip, iStat Menus, Magnet, Default Folder, Typinator, Thesaurus, and a VPN.

After several hours of adding load I started seeing beach balls. I killed a few unused apps and all was good. I interpret this casual test to mean that for other than all-day, heads-down Pro users, 8GB of RAM is plenty. If you’re using the MacBook Air to make money, then splurge on 16GB. Everyone else, save your pennies.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s “Unified Memory Architecture” (UMA) has changed the way we think about RAM. Used to be, you’d load up as much RAM as you could afford, especially if you were a heavy multitasker who need to run multiple apps concurrently. Not anymore. Apple’s M1 is a system on a chip (SoC) that unifies its high‑bandwidth, low‑latency memory into a single pool within a custom package. As a result, all of the technologies in the SoC can access the same data without copying it between multiple pools of memory. This dramatically improves performance and power efficiency, meaning, bottom line, that 8GB of RAM is plenty for most MacBook Air users.


    1. The Max Tech channel tests the bejeebers out of the M1 products and proved to me that 8GB of RAM was all I needed for my new MacBook Air. I wanted the 512GB SSD so I went with the $1,249 model with 8 core GPU. I think some of the commenters below would be wise to wait for the more pro versions that will come out later. The same for all of the whiners pissing and moaning about the new iMacs; they act like the world revolves around their butt hole.

  1. Eight years ago I bought my current iMac and quickly found that 8GB of ram was insufficient. I upgraded to 24GB within a year. Sorry, but I just find this hard to believe. I guess I’m heads-down-pro somehow.

  2. Alternate Headline:
    “All Lightweight Computer Users Should Be Satisfied With Apple’s Consumer Grade Ultraportable Laptop Base Configuration Because I Am”

    This author is primarily a consumer and doesn’t work a computer very hard. If he tried to run even some of Apple’s low end built-in programs (Garage Band) in earnest, he’d be seeing beachballs regularly.

    Word to the wise: The Air isn’t a workhorse in the best of configurations, avoid it if you are a creator that works in simulation, mathematics, graphics, audio, or video. Unless you truly don’t intend to do anything but web surfing and email, DO NOT settle for the minimum RAM if you can afford to buy more now. The M1 chipset doesn’t change the fundamental need for RAM.

    Shame on Apple for not allowing RAM to be increased after the sale as a user may find more and more need for additional RAM.

  3. I would suggest the 16GB if only because it cannot be upgraded after you buy it. It is like the people who had the 2014 Mac mini with 4GB of RAM. If you find that is insufficient, then you have to sell it and buy another one with more RAM. And it never seemed like the resale value of the 4GB units was ever very good. Plus, that made no sense since the cost delta to Apple of just starting at 8GB had to be under $25. (You could buy 4GB DIMMs for under $30 retail at the time.) It just seems more important to go a little bigger if a future upgrade is not possible.

  4. Beg to differ. I have a Mac Mini M1 and so very glad I went for 16GB RAM. After a few hours of Pixelmator working on 25MB jpg files, all RAM is used and then swap files start forming. Even at startup, I barely have 7GB of 16GB unused
    it may be some Rosetta 2 apps are memory hogs (Dropbox uses almost 1GB) but I seriously recommend 16GB – 8GB just won’t cut it…

  5. It’s better to try to future-proof this laptop since it can’t be upgraded. You should be able to get longer life out of your investment, especially if you amortize the cost over a few years, the extra RAM and storage practically pays for itself. I keep all my Macs for at least five years, so that’s a no-brainer for me. I’m not a pro user.

    1. iOS portables will never run like a computer. As consumer devices, they are designed primarily for wireless connectivity and battery life. Not serious computation.

  6. I bought the 512GB SSD iMac with 16GB of RAM, just because I am buying it as a first computer for a 15-year-old. I know he is going to play games, so extra space is good, but also (as many point out), if he finds that he uses it more heavily down the line, he will have a decent system to grow with him. I consider that peace of mind.

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