Apple keeps flogging 8GB of RAM for its Mac computers but it's still a dead horse

MacBook Air
(Image credit: Apple)

Last year we reported on Apple's claims that 8GB on a Mac is like 16GB on a PC. It wasn't and still isn't, unsurprisingly. But now Apple is doubling down on the 8GB shizzle, claiming that it's "suitable for many tasks", including browsing, video streaming and even "light" video and image editing.

It remains, of course, the case that many entry-level models of Mac computers are still configured with just 8GB. That includes all MacBook Air laptops, the Mac Mini and most egregiously of all, the MacBook Pro 14.

That might have been OK were it not for the fact that Apple charges a ridiculous $200 to upgrade any of those machines from 8GB to 16GB. And thanks to the unified memory architecture of Apple silicon, you're stuck with whatever factory config you go for. More RAM cannot be added at a later date.

Speaking to IT Home,  Apple rep Evan Buyze, Mac product marketing team leader, doubled down on the notion that 8GB is just dandy for many Mac users, explaining that 8GB of memory is suitable for many tasks, such as browsing the internet, doing some streaming, and messaging. To that was added, slightly less plausibly, light editing of photos and videos and casual gaming.

What exactly "light video editing" or "casual gaming" really means is hard to pin down. Does casual gaming mean tolerating 15fps, for instance? Whatever, here's the thing. Even if there is such a thing as light video editing or casual gaming and even if an 8GB Mac does those tasks tolerably well, 8GB still isn't acceptable.

That's because a Mac with 8GB can easily run out of memory just browsing the web. That's particularly true with Chrome, which just so happens to be the most popular browser around.

Regular Chrome users will know what a memory hog Chrome can be. Right now, I have about 15 tabs open, which is actually pretty low for me. Often, my tab count can blow well past 50 in multiple windows.

Handily, Chrome shows you memory usage if you mouse-over a given tab. And three of my current tabs are chewing up over 500MB each. So, that's 1.5GB for just three Chrome tabs. Add a couple more, plus MacOS's underlying memory footprint for just being up and running and you're bang out of RAM.

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Overall, I'm using 12.5GB of memory and the only application I have open is Chrome. Oh, and did I mention I'm typing this on a 16GB MacBook Air? I used to have an 8GB Apple silicon Air and to be frank it was a nightmare, constantly running out of memory just browsing the web.

That's the point most observers miss. The usual narrative is that 8GB isn't good enough for serious workflows. It isn't but that completely misses the more important point. 8GB isn't even enough for browsing the web.

Mac laptops and computers have lots of appealing attributes. I won't go into them here for fear of being set upon en masse by my co-workers and pummelled into a quivering puddle of blood and hair. I do, it has to be said, have something of a track record of evangelising the virtues of Macs for basic day to day tasks.

But even I, most fanboyish of fanboys for Mac computers in a certain non-gaming context, will tell you that 8GB being "suitable", even for light or casual computing", is complete and utter nonsense. Next!

Jeremy Laird
Hardware writer

Jeremy has been writing about technology and PCs since the 90nm Netburst era (Google it!) and enjoys nothing more than a serious dissertation on the finer points of monitor input lag and overshoot followed by a forensic examination of advanced lithography. Or maybe he just likes machines that go “ping!” He also has a thing for tennis and cars.