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

apple ar headset concept 1

Apple's Headset Said to Feature 14 Cameras Enabling Lifelike Avatars, Jony Ive Has Remained Involved With Design

Friday May 20, 2022 6:50 am PDT by
Earlier this week, The Information's Wayne Ma outlined struggles that Apple has faced during the development of its long-rumored AR/VR headset. Now, in a follow-up report, he has shared several additional details about the wearable device. Apple headset render created by Ian Zelbo based on The Information reporting For starters, one of the headset's marquee features is said to be lifelike...
anker 563 dock ports

Anker's Latest USB-C Docking Station Brings Triple-Display Support to M1 Macs

Wednesday May 18, 2022 7:06 am PDT by
While Apple's early M1-based Macs can only officially support a single external display, there are ways around the limitation. Anker is launching a new 10-in-1 USB-C docking station today which delivers just that. The Anker 563 USB-C dock includes two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort port, and it leverages DisplayLink to carry multiple video signals over a single connection. Given that this hub...
apple data auction iphone privacy ad

Apple Highlights iPhone's Latest Privacy Features in New 'Data Auction' Ad

Wednesday May 18, 2022 9:00 am PDT by
Apple today shared a new ad highlighting iPhone privacy features like App Tracking Transparency and Mail Privacy Protection that are designed to give users more transparency and control when it comes to their personal data being collected. The ad revolves around a young woman named Ellie who discovers that her personal data is being sold at an auction house, with bids being placed on her...
Prosser Series 8 3

Apple Watch Series 8 Rumored to Feature New Design With Flat Display

Wednesday May 18, 2022 6:21 am PDT by
The Apple Watch Series 8 could feature an all-new design with a flat display, according to the leaker known as "ShrimpApplePro." In his latest video on the YouTube channel Front Page Tech, Jon Prosser highlighted information from ShrimpApplePro that suggests the Apple Watch Series 8 could feature a flat display in what seems to be a design originally rumored for the Apple Watch Series 7. ...
sony headphones 1

Sony's New WH-1000XM5 Headphones vs. Apple's AirPods Max

Friday May 20, 2022 12:18 pm PDT by
Sony this week came out with an updated version of its popular over-ear noise canceling headphones, so we picked up a pair to compare them to the AirPods Max to see which headphones are better and whether it's worth buying the $400 WH-1000XM5 from Sony over Apple's $549 AirPods Max. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. First of all, the AirPods Max win out when it comes ...
iPhone 14 Purple Lineup Feature

Will the iPhone 14 Be a Disappointment?

Saturday May 21, 2022 9:00 am PDT by
With around four months to go before Apple is expected to unveil the iPhone 14 lineup, the overwhelming majority of rumors related to the new devices so far have focused on the iPhone 14 Pro, rather than the standard iPhone 14 – leading to questions about how different the iPhone 14 will actually be from its predecessor, the iPhone 13. The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max are expected...
apple ar headset concept 2

Apple's AR/VR Headset Nearing Completion as Board Gets Demo

Thursday May 19, 2022 9:52 am PDT by
Apple last week demonstrated its upcoming AR/VR headset to Apple board members, indicating that the device is in an advanced stage of development and could see a debut in the not too distant future, reports Bloomberg. Apple has also ramped up development of the software that runs on the headset, with that software expected to be called "RealityOS," or rOS for short. Render via designer Ian ...