RAM - 8 GB enough?

I’m considering a new Macbook Air (M2 chip) with 8 GB of RAM. I’m a graphic designer, so I’ve always outfitted my machines with at least 16GB. But I’m getting out of that and this machine will be used mostly for online, working with online portals with perhaps some Office 365 (Word, Excel, etc.). I won’t be editing video or doing Photoshop work.

Will 8 GB be enough? What have people here experienced?

If you are comfortable upgrading your Mac on a frequent basis, you might as well try. For the very basic web and office use you describe 8 GB might just be adequate right now. The real issue is if 8 GB will still be sufficient for that use in 2-3 years. Not an issue if you swap your Mac every 1-2 years (meaning you get to exchange that SSD heavily taxed by swap from having only 8 GB), but otherwise I would not get less than 16 GB.

I got my 14" M1 Pro with 32 GB back when it came out. I put this machine under quite some load as my main work horse, but I have to conclude 32 GB was too much and my use does not really exploit it. At the time, the alternative was 16 GB which in hindsight might have been just enough but at the time I felt would be too tight. These days with M3 Pro I could get 24 GB and I would. But then again, I also have no problem updating every cycle if I see enough reason to do so.


I have an M2 MBA with 16 GB and swap size only goes above 0 when I run a windows virtual machine to which I’ve dedicated 8 GB. I use the VM rarely. Even then, swap stays low.

I don’t do video editing and my only photo editing is with the built-in tools in the Photos app (and those I probably do more frequently my iPad or iPhone.)

I’m glad to have the extra 8, but I think that 8 GB would be survivable for me, easily, with the M2.

If you keep machines awhile…get 16. I is enough for most light and medium duty tasks today but who knows what will happen in 5 years.


8GB will certainly work – it just may be slower if you’re doing several things at once or doing a complex task. If you leave lots of tabs open in Safari, those each take up RAM (some sites use a lot). If you also have Mail and Messages running, plus running a word processor or something else, you’ll probably be causing virtual memory to use disk as swap space. That’s not a horrible thing, but it is slower. Note that apps on Apple Silicon launch wicked fast, so apps I used to leave open, I can just close and relaunch when needed.

What others have said about future-proofing is a valid concern. New operating systems and capabilities may strain 8GB and who knows about your future workflow. Also, remember that SSDs have a finite life and using them for a lot of virtual memory scratch space can cut down on their lifespan.

All that said, you do have options. You could spring for 16GB now, you could buy the 8GB and try it (Apple has 14-day return policy if you’re buying direct), and you could always sell the 8GB machine in the future if your needs change. (Note that today’s “minimum” machine will be worth less in the future, especially if by then Apple’s new minimum for RAM is 16GB.)

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For your described use case, 8 GB should be adequate, though I encourage you to get a 16 GB model if you can afford it, especially since these machines are not upgradeable.

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Sad sign of the times.

Not long ago a mid-2010s Air with old i5 CPU and 8 GB was more than enough on macOS before the Apple Silicon era. 2015-2017 MBAir with 8 GB can run multiple browsers with numerous tabs (Chrome, 2-5 Firefox instances and iCab), MS Office and other things including video streaming with barely a noticeable blip.

So… ARM / Apple Silicon = bloatware? :grinning:

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As far as I remember every analysis of Apple Silicon Macs shows better performance and use of RAM vs Intel Macs that came before them. In other words, an M processor with 8 GB RAM does better than an Intel processor running the same macOS and applications. If I remember right, there were many articles that said people who needed 16 GB on 2019 intel Macs old be fine with 8 on 2020 M1 Macs. I also think that software and macOS have grown more complex over time, so as time has passed, it may be that more RAM resources are required than in the past.


I’ve seen those analyses. But I don’t recall if any went deep enough to determine if this is because Apple Silicon apps require less RAM or if it’s because swapping to its flash storage is so much faster that people don’t notice much of an impact.

If it’s the former, that’s great. If it’s the latter, then I wouldn’t want to rely on it, because a lot of swapping to an SSD can shorten the life of an SSD.

I would also say that ever since Apple started soldering down RAM (making it non-upgradable), it is in your best interest to order the computer with as much as your budget will allow, since you’ll need to replace the computer in order to “upgrade” it if you need to in the future.

This different from storage, since it can be expanded through USB or Thunderbolt-attached storage devices. And external storage is not necessarily even much of a performance hit if you have a TB-attached SSD.

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This is not my experience at all. Those older Intel MacBook Airs perform far, far worse than an Apple Silicon Mac with the same amount of RAM.


Seeing your plans for this new Mac, 8GB RAM is probably enough. BUT …

What if your plans change? What happens over time (I expect you’ll want to keep this Mac for a while) when the OS and other apps you use get upgraded? And you know, RAM can’t be upgraded on these machines. SO, IMO, think future-proofing

IME, after 40 years of Apple computers, you can almost never have enough RAM, but 16’s much better than 8, and that’s sufficient for all but really intensive graphics stuff, which I never needed. (Seems to be the general opinion here, too)

And think about getting the 10-core machine. You might be getting out of graphic designing now, but you’ve be doing it, and hopefully liking to do it, for a long time. It’s in your blood. You may come back to it, if only to play with it, some day. And then you’ll be sorry.

BTW, I imagine you’re planning on 512GB memory, or more, so you didn’t even ask about that. 256GB is really not enough for most people.

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The performance hit is actually about a factor 3 on a modern M2/3 Mac.

You’re looking at 6-7 GB/s internal vs. 2+ GB/s peak with even the fastest available TB3/4 drives. If you need storage just for backup/versioning or for hosting large media libraries, that’s all fine. But we are by no means close to a situation where you could skimp on built-in flash to keep initial purchasing cost down and instead add inexpensive storage later externally without massive performance tradeoff. Such a significant tradeoff is not accurately described by “not much of a hit”.

Note that not even next-gen TB5 will actually get us there (<5 GB/s). TB would require another massive upgrade to render a situation where external storage could be made to just keep up with today’s internal storage both in terms of raw throughput as well as in terms of latency. This is very different from the situation we faced for many years (a SATA HDD attached internally was really no better or worse than one externally attached through eSATA/FW800/USB3). Apple Silicon and fast integrated flash changed this entirely. Prospective buyers should be very clear about this.


It all depends on your usage.

If you are using the external storage for things that require high performance - like temporary/cache storage for Photoshop and other media editors, yes. If you’re installing apps there, probably also yes. If you’re installing macOS there, absolutely definitely yes.

But if you’re using it for storage of documents that don’t require high performance (office documents, music/photo libraries, etc.) and you’re keeping macOS and your apps on the internal storage, I don’t think the impact will be that big a deal.

If it takes 5 seconds to save your massive PowerPoint project instead of 2s, does it really matter? Probably not.

But if it is going to kill the responsiveness as you scrub through a video editing session or if compiling a large software project ends up taking several hours longer, of course that’s going to be a big deal.

As with all things, casual advice must always take a backseat to specific requirements.


The point made about Apple Silicon and heavy SSD swapping is still an unanswered variable. There were some scattered reports of M1 systems showing signs of much higher wear on the SSDs from heavy swapping operations. Apple supposedly “fixed” this by changing the reporting of that activity. I do not feel 100% confident in this being a total solution, however, as there are other, non-Apple, cases of fast memory wearing out too fast due to heavy use (ie. eMMC chips in newer routers).

9to5 did an interesting look at the issue. The article ends with the following statement:

So yep, if you’re speccing up an M1 Mac, you’ll want to factor in SSD wear. If you expect your usage to be RAM-intensive, and/or write a lot of data, then 16GB RAM is better than 8GB, and a large SSD is better than a small one. But panic about M1 Mac SSD wear killing machines in less than a year are likely highly exaggerated.


Warning: This post is veering off topic. Skip if you only care about “8 GB RAM enough?”

To clarify my comments above (which to be fair are somewhat anecdotal), I was referencing systems pre-macOS 11 for the most part. Every system update/upgrade carries the risk of slowdown with older hardware, either by unintended consequences or planned obsolescence.

It is without question that heavy swapping will result in faster-than-otherwise wear on any SSD. That’s the nature of flash memory until someone invents a new storage technology with different physical properties.

The question, is whether heavy swapping to a Mac’s internal SSD will cause it to fail before the rest of the computer hits the end of its practical life. That’s a question we just don’t have an answer to yet.


Linux has the “Swappiness” parameter, which decides the balance of buffer cache to anonymous (allocated) pages maintained in RAM, so the lower the “Swappiness”, the less the swap would be hit at the expense of fast access to page cache (files/disks, network, etc). Just my speculation, but it’s possible Apple tweaked a similar parameter in macOS, lowering the incidents of swap at the expense of disk cache for mostly read-only (and often read-once) files. It would explain the sudden uptick in memory pressure that people saw when the update came out. Just a thought.

With the advent of Apple Silicon, the conventional wisdom that you need 16GB of RAM to do anything other than work with humongous files (e.g. huge databases, 3D modeling, movie editing) is an anachronism.

Apple insists 8GB unified memory equals 16GB regular RAM

Opinion: Is the base MacBook Air M1/8GB powerful enough for you?

The conventinal wisdom that you need extra RAM to “future proof” your Mac is also an anacronism. For years now the Mac OS has been evolving to require less RAM, not more. The Mac OS even now includes memory compresion, in addition to being very smart with memory management.

However, it does make sense to get a much bigger SSD than you might ever need. A larger SSD will maintain performance, and thus lifespan, longer.

Why Solid-State Drive (SSD) Performance Slows Down As It Becomes Full


With all due respect, I don’t trust those sources.

The first one is citing Apple’s marketing claims. Which are going to be self-serving at best.

The second doesn’t do any actual analysis. It just says that the reviewer didn’t encounter sluggishness. But was that because the processor is faster? Because there are more CPU cores? Because the apps are using less RAM? Because the OS has better RAM management? Or because swapping is faster with their SSDs? It doesn’t even attempt to answer this question - which is critical to making an educated decision.


Well, if you don’t trust Apple, and you don’t trust third party tests, I don’t know who you trust.

As for the third party test being valuable, He did this:

" OK I finally got it to slow down. Here’s where it maxed before grinding to a halt: 12 apps, 2 of which x86 on Rosetta, 24 Safari tabs + 6 Safari windows (all of which playing YouTube videos at 2160p), Slack running full screen, Spotify playing, Monosnap to take the screenshot. pic.twitter.com/kUtsYea41X"

I find that pretty convincing. No, he didn’t isolate things like memory management and swapping…but who cares? The test showed that 8GB of RAM is PLENTY. And Apple concurs.

If someone has a lab setup and they want to do hours and hours of testing to see what’s going on…more power to them. We will all look forward to the results.

More third party testing:

8GB vs 16GB M1 MacBook Pro - How much RAM do you NEED?!


I don’t blindly trust any sources, and neither should anybody else.

But this claim just doesn’t pass the smell test. If I’ve got a major application like Microsoft Word or FileMaker Pro, compiling the same source code for two different CPU architectures (x86_64 vs. ARM64) isn’t going to magically cut the application’s RAM requirements in half. And anyone who claims it does is going to need to provide more evidence than “Apple said so” or “it doesn’t seem sluggish to me”

Claims that the system feels responsive are meaningless, because responsiveness can be improved in many ways other than reducing RAM requirements. If they aren’t measuring actua RAM/swap usage, then any claims about RAM usage are completely baseless.

But if your system is constantly swapping to your SSD, it is going to shorten the life of the computer, no matter how responsive the application may seem.

If you plan on replacing the computer every two years (as I’m sure Apple would love you to do), then you probably don’t care. But if you want your systems to last for 10+ years (as mine typically do), that’s a major concern. I don’t want my Mac self-destructing in 5-7 years due to a worn-out non-replaceable SSD. Especially when I could avoid the problem by getting more than the minimum memory configuration.