16GB vs. 32GB MacBook Pro: How Much is Enough?

Apple's high-end 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro offers the M1 Pro chip with 16GB of RAM as standard, but you can upgrade to 32GB of RAM for $400.

m1 pro chip
When choosing your ‌M1 Pro‌ MacBook Pro configuration, should you upgrade to the 32GB memory option, and does it justify its cost? Our guide helps to answer the question of how to decide which of these two memory options for the high-end MacBook Pro is best for you.

Unified Memory Architecture

Macs and PCs have traditionally needed to use multiple chips for the CPU, RAM, I/O, and more. With Apple silicon chips, these technologies are combined into a single System on Chip (SoC), delivering a new level of integration for improved performance and power efficiency.

m1 pro chip
Like the M1 chip, the ‌M1 Pro‌ features a unified memory architecture. This brings together high-bandwidth, low-latency memory into a single pool within a custom package. This allows all of the technologies in the SoC to access the same data without copying it between multiple pools of memory, which significantly improves performance and efficiency.

The MacBook Pro's substantially different memory hardware is the basis for its improved memory performance, but the ‌M1 Pro‌ MacBook Pro is also bolstered by 200GB/s unified memory and a faster, 7.4GB/s SSD, which means that the memory is much quicker and the system can swap with the SSD faster. Overall, this means that the new MacBook Pro's memory performance is massively improved compared to previous MacBook Pro models, as well as most PCs.

Decisions about getting either 16GB or 32GB of memory should therefore be rooted in the understanding that the MacBook Pro's memory is not conventional RAM, but rather a much faster unified memory architecture.

macOS Optimization

macOS intelligently optimizes memory usage in the background, filling up much of the available RAM for better performance. This means that high memory usage does not necessarily indicate that you need additional memory.

macbook pro workload
Using the faster SSD in the high-end MacBook Pro, the system can also swap data on the memory with the SSD if it needs to do so. As evidenced by the performance of previous Apple silicon Macs, macOS is able to optimize the unified memory pool extremely well. As a result, the extent and effectiveness of macOS optimization should be factored into decisions about paying for the $400 32GB memory upgrade.

Real-World Tests

The YouTube channel Max Tech recently compared the 16GB and 32GB MacBook Pro models when performing a number of intense tasks to give an indication of how the two memory configurations weigh up.

In Lightroom Classic, Max Tech found that the 32GB MacBook Pro performed exports just two seconds faster than the 16GB model. With multiple memory-hungry applications open in the background, the gap between the machines only increased by one second.

m1 pro lightroom classic benchmark
When exporting 4K ProRes RAW video, the 16GB MacBook Pro was just six seconds slower than the 32GB version. When exporting 8K ProRes RAW video, this gap was reduced to just a single second.

m1 pro 8k prores raw benchmark
In Xcode, the 16GB model compiled a project in 137 seconds, compared to the 32GB model's 115 seconds. When performing photo editing, video editing, audio editing, coding, and heavy browsing, the 32GB model did not substantially outperform the 16GB model.

m1 pro xcode benchmark
Max Tech did not notice any tangible slowdowns on the 16GB model, even when simultaneously running large and resource-heavy Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X projects. The narrowness of the difference between the two models was shown in practice when the 16GB model did not noticeably need to reload browser tabs more often than the 32GB model, despite a large number of intense tasks being active in the background.

We did our own memory test, comparing the base 14-inch MacBook Pro, which has 16GB RAM, with the high-end 16-inch MacBook Pro equipped with 32GB RAM. This was a real-world memory test, so we loaded up a series of apps that one might use in a video editing workflow, like Final Cut Pro, Lightroom, Chrome, Safari, Music, and a few others, and there were zero performance hiccups with either machine, with the 16GB MacBook Pro performing as well as the higher-end model.

Final Thoughts

Unless you are configuring your MacBook Pro with the M1 Max chip, which starts with 32GB of memory, you likely do not need the $400 add-on. In real-world tests, the 32GB MacBook Pro is not significantly outperforming the 16GB model, even during intense workflows.

Memory is often the limiting factor for older workstations, leading some observers to claim that upgrading to more memory is a worthwhile investment in terms of futureproofing. It should be remembered that other parts of the machine will inevitably age over time, so it is up to you if you feel the $400 upgrade is worthwhile for potential futureproofing. Alternatively, this money could be saved to spend on a future machine instead.

macbook pro box apple
Apple's unified memory architecture and excellent memory management in macOS appear to be getting much more out of its memory compared to machines that do not have an Apple silicon SoC. The high-end 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models benefit from much faster SSD and memory, enabling them to swap memory even faster. This is the basis for the excellent memory performance of the 16GB model and why it should suffice for most users.

Moreover, it is important to understand that intense tasks often also heavily rely on the CPU or GPU. This means that memory is not always the choke-point for performance lag. You may max out other hardware before you begin to push the limits of the unified memory, resulting in slowdowns regardless of the amount of memory you have.

Generally, if you need 32GB of memory, you will know that you need it for extremely intense workflows such as running virtual machines or heavy video editing with multiple 4K or 8K streams. That being said, most customers with workflows of sufficient intensity to warrant 32GB of RAM will opt for the ‌M1 Max‌ chip over the ‌M1 Pro‌.

Related Roundup: 14 & 16" MacBook Pro
Related Forum: MacBook Pro

Related Stories

MBA Mock White Front Blue

Apple's 2022 MacBook Air: Everything We Know

Monday November 8, 2021 2:52 pm PST by
The next-generation MacBook Air refresh coming in 2022 will see Apple introduce the biggest design update to the MacBook Air since 2010, which is when Apple introduced both 11 and 13-inch models. We're expecting a total overhaul of the look of the machine, and this guide aggregates all of the rumors that we've heard about the update so far. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more ...
iOs 15 Photos Feature

iOS 15 Photos Guide: Features, Text Recognition, Changes

Friday July 2, 2021 1:04 pm PDT by
Apple made some major improvements to the Photos app in iOS 15, adding some long-awaited and requested features along with unique capabilities that enable you to do more with your images than ever. There's a new Memories feature that lets you relive your favorite moments, metadata info can be viewed and edited, Visual Lookup lets you identify plants, landmarks, and more, and with Live Text, ...
macbook pro 14 16 2021

14-Inch MacBook Pro vs. 16-Inch MacBook Pro Buyer's Guide

Tuesday October 19, 2021 8:19 am PDT by
In late 2021, Apple announced a major update for its high-end MacBook Pro models, with the new machines featuring a complete redesign, the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, larger mini-LED displays with ProMotion, an HDMI port and SD card slot, full-sized function keys, and more. The redesigned MacBook Pro is available in all-new 14-inch and 16-inch sizes. Despite both being high-end models, the 14- ...
m3 feature black

Apple's M3 Chip: Everything We Know

Thursday January 13, 2022 1:22 pm PST by
Apple is developing the next several iterations of its M-series Apple silicon chips, and one of those future chips coming in 2023 is expected to be called the "M3" and use updated TSMC chip manufacturing technology. This guide contains everything that we know about the M3 chip, and it will be updated over time as we learn more about it. What We Know Apple is still on the M1, M1 Pro, and...
m1 max

Apple's M1 Max Chip: Everything You Need to Know

Friday October 29, 2021 1:13 pm PDT by
Apple in October 2021 introduced its second-generation Apple silicon chips, the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, which follow the M1 and are available in the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. This guide focuses on the M1 Max, while we have a separate guide for the M1 Pro. M1 Max Explained The M1 Max, along with the M1 Pro, is Apple's second System on a Chip (SoC) developed for use in Macs, and it...
ipad mini vs air early 2022

iPad Air 5 vs. iPad Mini 6 Buyer's Guide

Thursday March 10, 2022 10:49 am PST by
Apple recently introduced the fifth-generation iPad Air, featuring the M1 chip, 5G connectivity, and an upgraded front-facing camera system. Last year, Apple introduced the sixth-generation iPad mini, offering an iPad Air-style redesign with a larger display, the A15 Bionic chip, and more. The iPad mini now effectively shares the design of the iPad Air, with both devices possessing many of...
ipad pro m1 feature

Apple's 2022 iPad Pro: What to Expect

Wednesday February 16, 2022 1:55 pm PST by
Apple is working on a next-generation version of the iPad Pro, and while there are no major design updates that we know of, there are some new features that are worth looking forward to. This guide aggregates everything that we know about the 2022 iPad Pro so far based on the rumors that we've heard. Mini-LED Display Apple last year introduced an updated 12.9-inch iPad Pro with mini-LED...
maxresdefault

M1 Pro vs. M1 Max Buyer's Guide

Tuesday October 19, 2021 11:32 am PDT by
Last year, Apple announced a major update for its high-end MacBook Pros, with the new machines featuring a complete redesign, larger mini-LED displays with ProMotion, an HDMI port and SD card slot, full-sized function keys, and more. The new machines contain one of two all-new scaled-up variants of the M1 System on Chip (SoC), the M1 Pro or the M1 Max. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel ...

Popular Stories

home app ios 16

Apple Confirms iPad Will No Longer Be Supported as a Home Hub in iOS 16

Wednesday June 22, 2022 12:38 pm PDT by
The iPad will no longer be able to be used as a home hub following the launch of iOS 16, iPadOS 16, macOS Ventura, and the HomePod 16 software this fall, Apple confirmed today. As discovered in iOS 16 code by MacRumors contributor Steve Moser, Apple says that the iPad will no longer be supported as a home hub. This information will be displayed in the Home app after updating to iOS 16.A home ...
apple ar headset concept 2

Apple CEO Tim Cook Hints at AR/VR Headset: 'Stay Tuned and You'll See What We Have to Offer'

Wednesday June 22, 2022 6:34 pm PDT by
CEO Tim Cook this week did an interview with China Daily, where he once again commented on on the future of augmented reality and hinted at Apple's work on an AR/VR headset. Render via designer Ian Zelbo Cook said that Apple is excited about the opportunities available with augmented reality, which is not too far off from prior comments that he's made, but he went on to say that people should ...
customize wallpaper setting ios 16

iOS 16 Beta 2 Tidbits: New Wallpaper Colors, Backup Over LTE, SMS Filtering and More

Wednesday June 22, 2022 2:16 pm PDT by
Apple today seeded the second betas of iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 to developers for testing purposes, and the new betas introduce new features and refine some of the changes that Apple made with the first iOS 16 release. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Lock Screen Photo Wallpaper Customization When customizing a photo on the Lock Screen, there are two new DuoTone and...
Shazam Music Recognition Control Center

iPhone's Built-In Music Recognition Feature Syncs With Shazam App on iOS 16

Tuesday June 21, 2022 7:37 am PDT by
Since the release of iOS 14.2 in 2020, the iPhone has included a built-in Music Recognition feature in Control Center powered by Shazam. And with iOS 16, and also the iOS 15.6 beta, the feature has received a small but useful upgrade. As noted by Twitter user @someone_andrew, songs identified with Music Recognition in Control Center finally sync with the Shazam app. It also remains...
2022 back to school apple

Apple Launches 2022 Back to School Offer: Up to $150 Gift Card With Mac or iPad

Friday June 24, 2022 5:08 am PDT by
Apple today launched its annual "Back to School" promotion for college/university students in the United States and Canada. This year's promotion offers a free Apple gift card with the purchase of an eligible Mac or iPad, rather than free AirPods like last year. Apple is also offering students 20% off AppleCare+ plans during the promotion. Apple is offering a $150 gift card with the purchase ...
ios 16 lock screen feature2

Apple Seeds Second Betas of iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 to Developers

Wednesday June 22, 2022 10:07 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the second betas of upcoming iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 updates to developers for testing purposes, with the updates coming two weeks after Apple unveiled the new software at WWDC and released the initial betas. Registered developers can download the iOS and iPadOS 16 profiles from the Apple Developer Center, and once installed, the betas will be available over the air. Given...
apple ar headset concept 1

Apple Rumored to Announce 'Game-Changer' AR/VR Headset in January 2023

Friday June 24, 2022 2:52 am PDT by
Apple is "likely" to announce its long-rumored mixed-reality headset as soon as January 2023, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has reiterated. Concept render based on purported leaked information by Ian Zelbo In a detailed post on Medium, Kuo explained that Apple's headset will be a "game-changer" for the augmented-reality and virtual-reality market. Describing some of the headset's...