Apple's Regular Mac Base RAM Boosts Ended When Tim Cook Took Over

Apple used to regularly increase the base memory of its Macs up until 2011, the same year Tim Cook was appointed CEO, charts posted on Mastodon by David Schaub show.

macos sonoma feature purple green
Earlier this year, Schaub generated two charts: One showing the base memory capacities of Apple's all-in-one Macs from 1984 onwards, and a second depicting Apple's consumer laptop base RAM from 1999 onwards. Both charts were recently resurfaced by the Accidental Tech Podcast.

The graphs show that Apple tended to increase the base memory every two years or so, but that this trend ended when Cook took over the company from Steve Jobs. Memory increased quickly until the Mac Plus was launched in 1986, notes Schaub. "1986 to 1990 were all about decreasing the entry Mac price," he says. "Then we get a pretty straight logarithmic line until Tim Cook became CEO and there has only been a single increase since."

all in one base ram chart
The correlation is interesting, but other variables such as market trends and changes in technology can help to account for the plateau in Cook's era. For example, Stuart McHattie notes that early all-in-one Macs saw a tenfold increase every six years. If that trend had continued from 2006 onwards when the base was 500MB, modern base model Macs would have reached 500GB. Yet today's consumer PC demand for RAM remains around 8GB to 64GB, and very rarely exceeds double digits.

Computers have also changed a lot over the last several years. RAM has gotten faster. Hard disk drives have been superseded by solid-state storage. Chips and components are more tightly integrated. Apple no longer relies on Intel processors to power its machines, and instead uses high performance system-on-a-chip (SOC) architecture, which fuses CPUs, GPUs, and unified memory into a single package. This is why the company feels confident in arguing that 8GB on a Mac is comparable to 16GB on rival systems.

laptop base ram chart
But that does not change the fact that Apple has offered iMac and MacBook Pro models with 8GB of RAM since 2012. Likewise, the MacBook Air has had the same base memory configuration since 2017. In addition, Apple's adoption of unified memory means that Macs cannot have their RAM upgraded after purchase, while Apple continues to pursue a strategy of vastly overcharging customers for higher memory configurations. Users often pay out $200 or more at checkout just to future proof their machines.

Apple's Mac memory configuration strategy is likely to become even more contentious if all upcoming iPhone 16 models turn out to include 8GB of RAM. (In the iPhone 15 series, only the Pro models have 8GB, whereas standard models have 6GB.) Why Apple is prepared to increase RAM in a smartphone but not in a multitasking Mac without users paying excessively for the privilege will be the overriding question on many consumers' lips.

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Top Rated Comments

vipergts2207 Avatar
4 weeks ago
No surprise here. Cook has always been a bean counter. He’s not a products guy like Jobs was. Cook has perfected getting as much money from consumers’ pockets as possible, while Jobs had the philosophy of, make amazing products and the money will follow.”
Score: 89 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Orange Bat Avatar
4 weeks ago
Apple keeping to 8GB in low-end computers is a joke at this point. The only argument Apple has at this point for not going with 16GB is that people are willing to put up with it. And don’t get me started on starting storage at 256GB….
Score: 72 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Ries Avatar
4 weeks ago know... a more sensible reason: plenty of consumers became fine with the base ram
They also would be fine with a intel Celeron, doesn't mean it is ok to charge over $1000 for it.
Score: 66 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Account25476 Avatar
4 weeks ago
Yet another proof (as if that wasn't enough) of Apple's greed.

Apple just remember that "you reap what you sow".
Score: 64 Votes (Like | Disagree)
JippaLippa Avatar
4 weeks ago
Is 8GB still enough today for VERY BASIC use? Yes (kinda).
Is 8GB a good idea for any sort of future proofing? Absolutely not.
I can't imagine buying a computer with 8GB of ram now and expect it to run fine in 2028...
Score: 62 Votes (Like | Disagree)
nt5672 Avatar
4 weeks ago
Another example of Cook's innovations.
Score: 50 Votes (Like | Disagree)