I didn’t think the difference between 16GB and 32GB would matter for my every day use. Sure, I’m a geek, but I’m not involved in graphic design or video editing. In the course of a normal day I run Mail, Safari, Slack, Skype, Pixelmator, FileMaker Pro, BBEdit, Messages, iTunes, Photos, Terminal, BusyCal, Evernote and a handful of things that live in menu bar widgets like TextExpander, Default Folder, Hazel, Quitter, iStat Menus, Backblaze, CrashPlan, Keyboard Maestro, Dropbox and Synology’s CloudStation.
When I upgraded my 2014 27″ Retina iMac from 16GB to 32GB a few months ago, however, I experienced a dramatic shift in my computing life. No longer was my Mac paging out to swap all the time (though it still happens more frequently than I’d like), no longer were apps slow to launch, and no longer was I regularly pushing against the limits of my Mac’s RAM.
It’s About The Software, Apple’s Included
The blame here lies with software vendors – all of them. In his recent piece about the “myth” of 32GB, Jonathan Zdziarski noted that, for him, Slack and Chrome were massive memory hogs. I don’t often run Chrome, but I have eight Slack teams going all day long and don’t experience any significant RAM issues that I would necessarily attribute to Slack. That could be because I also run Marco Arment’s Quitter for Mac to quit some of my apps when they’re not being used (at least overnight), and Slack is one of them. That helps keep RAM hogs from eating too much of my system day-after-day.
It’s About Time
Jonathan Zdziarski’s tests indicated that he launched lots and lots of apps without a RAM issue. That’s not surprising. My RAM issues happen over time, usually days. If I were to reboot my Mac every morning I have no doubt I could live with 16GB or even 8GB without experiencing most of the aforementioned symptoms. But I only tend to reboot my Mac once per week and, as my screenshot today shows, I’m overdue. Be right back.
32GB Makes a Difference for the Average Dave
The point is that for mostly-average usage, I definitely experienced a tangible benefit when upgrading to 32GB of RAM. The difference was so noticeable that I did the same on my 2011 27″ iMac I use in the studio where I record all my podcasts. There, too, it made a difference, especially given that I often have a second user account logged in simultaneously. Really what 32GB means is that I have to reboot less than I did when I had only 16GB. Yes, it would be nice if macOS Sierra was able to recover RAM better without a reboot, but it doesn’t. At least with an SSD a reboot isn’t the time hog it used to be.
For a laptop, though, I personally wouldn’t need 32GB. I think 16GB or even 8GB is enough for me, but I don’t use my laptop as my daily-driver. Many people will choose a laptop as their main Mac, though, and Apple’s recent presentation even painted that as a pretty clear picture of the future for Final Cut Pro X professionals.
I grok why, from a technical standpoint as it relates to battery life and size, Apple limited its MacBook Pro to 16GB today. But my practical experience with the memory management in macOS isn’t nearly as rosy as the white papers would have me believe it should be, and adding another 16GB of RAM made a huge difference for my daily computing life. Your mileage will almost certainly vary, of course. It all depends upon what apps you run and how long you run between reboots, but don’t let anyone tell you that running “pro” apps is the only way to chew up RAM.