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 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 appears 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

maxresdefault

M1 Pro vs. M1 Max Buyer's Guide

Tuesday October 19, 2021 11:32 am PDT by
Apple recently 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 ...
macbook pro keyboard

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

Wednesday October 20, 2021 8:03 am PDT by
Apple recently 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. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. In November 2020, Apple updated its popular 13-inch MacBook Pro...
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
Apple recently 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- and...
m1 pro chip

Apple's M1 Pro 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 Pro, which is an improvement over the M1, but not quite as powerful as the M1 Max. M1 Pro Explained The M1 Pro is Apple's second System on a Chip (SoC) developed for use in Macs, ...
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, which is Apple's most powerful Apple silicon chip to date. M1 Max Explained The M1 Max, along with the M1 Pro, is Apple's second System on a Chip (SoC) developed for use in...
Ports 2021 MacBook Pro Mockup Feature 1 copy

What to Expect From October 18 'Unleashed' Apple Event: New MacBook Pros, AirPods 3 and More

Friday October 15, 2021 2:10 pm PDT by
Apple's first fall event of 2021 focused on the iPhone and the Apple Watch, but the second, set to be held on Monday, October 18, is expected to be Mac-centric. The upcoming event will see the debut of the highly anticipated 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models, plus we could also get refreshed AirPods and a new Mac mini. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. This guide...
m1x feature dark blue

Apple M1X Chip Rumor Archive

Tuesday October 12, 2021 1:44 pm PDT by
The M1X was one of the rumored names for the Apple silicon chips that followed the M1. These chips actually turned out to be called the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, and Apple did not use the "M1X" nomenclature. Though the naming was wrong, the rumors about the chip were accurate, and this guide serves as an archive for all of the rumors about the M1X prior to the launch of the new MacBook Pro...
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 so far. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Design ...

Popular Stories

Mac Notebook Upgrade Program

Apple Introduces New MacBook Upgrade Program for Business Partners

Monday November 29, 2021 7:38 am PST by
In association with CIT as the financing partner, Apple has launched a new Mac Upgrade Program for small businesses and Apple business partners that allow companies to easily distribute and upgrade their fleets of MacBooks at an affordable price to all of their workers. As outlined on CIT's website, shared by Max Weinbach, Apple Business Partners can distribute the 13-inch MacBook Pro,...
General cyber monday 20 sale feature

Best Cyber Monday Deals for AirPods, Apple Pencil, iMac, More

Monday November 29, 2021 4:19 am PST by
With Black Friday over, Cyber Monday 2021 is now in full swing and you can find many of the same sales as last week on Apple products like AirPods, Apple Pencil, and iPad Pro. In this article we're focusing on the best Cyber Monday discounts on Apple products like these and more. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a purchase, we...
2017 apple tv

Cyber Monday: Original Apple TV 4K Drops to $99.99 for Amazon Prime Members

Monday November 29, 2021 12:01 pm PST by
We've been tracking Apple product and accessory deals for Cyber Monday 2021 today, and now Woot is offering a solid discount on the previous generation 32GB Apple TV 4K. You can get this device in new condition for just $99.99 if you're an Amazon Prime member. Note that this sale will last for one day only. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a...
iPhone SE Cosmopolitan Clean

New iPhone SE Reportedly on Track for Release in First Quarter of 2022

Tuesday November 30, 2021 8:08 am PST by
Apple plans to release a third-generation iPhone SE in the first quarter of 2022, according to Taiwanese research firm TrendForce. If this timeframe proves to be accurate, we can expect the device to be released by the end of March. As previously rumored, TrendForce said the new iPhone SE will remain a mid-range smartphone with added support for 5G:In terms of product development, Apple is...
maxresdefault

Five Features to Look Forward to in the 2022 MacBook Air

Tuesday November 30, 2021 1:51 pm PST by
In 2022, Apple is going to release an updated version of the MacBook Air with some of the biggest design changes that we've seen since 2010, when Apple introduced the 11 and 13-inch size options. In the video below, we highlight five features that you need to know about the new machine. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. No More Wedge Design - Current MacBook...
telsa cyberwhistle

Elon Musk Urges Customers to Buy 'Tesla Cyberwhistle' Instead of Apple Polishing Cloth

Wednesday December 1, 2021 4:01 am PST by
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has encouraged customers to buy the "Cyberwhistle" for $50 instead of Apple's much-discussed Polishing Cloth. The product page, which Musk shared on Twitter on Tuesday evening, offers a limited edition stainless steel whistle with the same distinctive design of the Tesla Cybertruck:Inspired by Cybertruck, the limited-edition Cyberwhistle is a premium collectible made from ...
General cyber monday 20 sale feature 2

Best Cyber Monday Apple Accessory Deals Available Today

Monday November 29, 2021 6:41 am PST by
We started sharing deals on Apple products for Cyber Monday 2021 earlier today, and now we're tracking deals and bargains available from all of the best Apple accessory companies. Similar to Black Friday, you can expect Cyber Monday savings from Twelve South, Nomad, Belkin, Casetify, and many more. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and...
iphone holiday

Best Black Friday iPhone Deals Still Available

Friday November 26, 2021 4:58 am PST by
Cellular carriers have always offered big savings on the newest iPhone models during the holidays, and Black Friday 2021 sales have now carried over into Cyber Monday as well. Right now we're tracking notable offers on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro devices from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. For even more savings, keep an eye on older models like iPhone SE. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate...
airpods prototype translucent

Transparent AirPods and 29W Power Adapter Prototypes Surface in Photos

Tuesday November 30, 2021 7:16 am PST by
Images of transparent prototype AirPods and a 29W Apple power adapter have been shared on Twitter by Apple device collector Giulio Zompetti. The prototypes, which appear to be either first-generation or second-generation AirPods, feature clear plastic along the stem and around the outer side of the earbud, with the normal white plastic on the inner side of the earbud. Transparent casings are ...