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 14-inch and 16-inch sizes. Despite both being high-end models, the 14- and...
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 the chips coming in 2023 will be the "M3" series, and will 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 M2, M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra...
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: Everything We Know

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

iOS 16

Apple Releases iOS 16.1.2 With Carrier Improvements and Crash Detection Optimizations

Wednesday November 30, 2022 10:09 am PST by
Apple today released iOS 16.1.2, another minor bug fix update that comes one week after the release of iOS 16.1.1 and three weeks after the launch of iOS 16.1, an update that added support for iCloud Shared Photo Library, Matter, Live Activities, and more. The iOS 16.1.2 update can be downloaded on eligible iPhones over-the-air by going to Settings > General > Software Update. According...
Emergency SOS via Satellite iPhone YT

Apple's iPhone 14 Emergency SOS via Satellite Feature Saves Stranded Man in Alaska

Thursday December 1, 2022 4:37 pm PST by
With the launch of iOS 16.1, Apple rolled out a Emergency SOS via Satellite, which is designed to allow iPhone 14 owners to contact emergency services using satellite connectivity when no cellular or WiFi connection is available. The feature was put to the test in Alaska today, when a man became stranded in a rural area. In the early hours of the morning on December 1, Alaska State Troopers ...
General iOS 16 Feature Yellow

iOS 16.2 for iPhone Launching This Month With These 8 New Features

Thursday December 1, 2022 8:44 am PST by
Apple plans to publicly release iOS 16.2 for the iPhone in mid-December, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. The update remains in beta testing for now, with at least eight new features and changes already uncovered so far. iOS 16.2 introduces a number of new features, including Apple's new whiteboard app Freeform, two new Lock Screen widgets for Sleep and Medications, the ability to hide...
applefifthavenue

Man Robbed After Buying 300 iPhones From Apple Fifth Avenue

Tuesday November 29, 2022 11:54 am PST by
An unnamed 27-year-old man who purchased 300 iPhones from Apple Fifth Avenue on Monday morning was robbed shortly after leaving the store, according to 1010Wins Radio in New York. He was carrying 300 iPhone 13s in three bags and walking to his car at 1:45 a.m. when another car pulled up next to him. Two men jumped out and demanded that he hand over the bags. Not wanting to hand over 300...
14 vs 16 inch mbp m2 pro and max feature 1

'M2 Max' Geekbench Scores Leak Online, Revealing Rumored Specs and Performance

Wednesday November 30, 2022 2:39 am PST by
Geekbench scores allegedly for the upcoming "M2 Max" chip have surfaced online, offering a closer look at the performance levels and specific details of the forthcoming Apple silicon processor. The Geekbench results, first spotted on Twitter, are for a Mac configuration of with the M2 Max chip, a 12-core CPU, and 96GB of memory. The Mac listed has an identifier "Mac14,6," which could be...
iPad 10 Battery Pull Tabs

iPad 10 Teardown Reveals Why Device Isn't Compatible With Apple Pencil 2

Thursday December 1, 2022 10:48 am PST by
Do-it-yourself repair website iFixit today shared a video teardown of Apple's new 10th-generation iPad, providing a closer look inside the tablet and revealing why the device lacks support for the second-generation Apple Pencil. The teardown reveals the internal layout of the iPad, including its two-cell 7,606 mAh battery, logic board with the A14 Bionic chip, and more. As suspected, the...
Apple Park View

Elon Musk Meets With Apple CEO Tim Cook Amid Claims of Twitter App Store Dispute [Updated]

Wednesday November 30, 2022 12:43 pm PST by
Twitter CEO Elon Musk today met with Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, according to a tweet shared by Musk this afternoon. Musk thanked Cook for taking him around Apple's headquarters, with no mention of what the two might have discussed. The meeting comes just after Musk on Monday claimed that Apple has "mostly stopped" offering ads on Twitter, and that...
eufy camera

Anker's Eufy Cameras Caught Uploading Content to the Cloud Without User Consent [Updated]

Tuesday November 29, 2022 1:01 pm PST by
Anker's popular Eufy-branded security cameras appear to be sending some data to the cloud, even when cloud storage is disabled and local only storage settings are turned on. The information comes from security consultant Paul Moore, who last week published a video outlining the issue. According to Moore, he purchased a Eufy Doorbell Dual, which was meant to be a device that stored video...
app store awards 2021

Apple Announces 2022 App Store Award Winners, Highlighting Best Apps of the Year

Tuesday November 29, 2022 3:10 am PST by
Apple today announced its 2022 App Store Award winners, highlighting the 16 best apps and games selected by Apple's global App Store editorial team. The top apps were chosen by Apple for their quality, innovative technology, creative design, positive cultural impact, and ability to deliver "exceptional experiences." Apple CEO Tim Cook said: This year's App Store Award winners reimagined...
iOS 16

Apple Still Has These 5 Things to Release Heading Into 2023

Thursday December 1, 2022 7:12 am PST by
The calendar has turned to December and that means Apple has only one month left to fulfill its promises of releasing an Apple Music Classical app and expanding its self-service repair program to Europe before the end of 2022. Delays are always possible, of course, so the plans could be pushed back to 2023. In any case, we have put together a list of five things that Apple still has to release...