Random-access memory, also known as RAM, is one of the most vital components of a computer. While everyone else still calls it RAM (for now), Apple now calls it unified memory architecture, or UMA. Apple debuted this new concept with the release of its 2021 MacBook Pro and the remarkable M1 chip.
This “unified memory” is the same basic principle as RAM, but instead of setting aside a couple of GB of RAM for the GPU, unified memory allows the 2021 MacBook Pro to use the whole pie, so to speak. Still, at the end of the day, there should be no confusion: They mean the same thing and function virtually in the same way.
The 2021 MacBook Pro offers several different RAM options for you to choose from, but two of the hardest to differentiate between are the 32GB M1 Pro and 64GB M1 Max models. Apart from increased RAM, what else makes these two models distinct?
Read on as our expert team breaks down these two models so you can make an informed decision.
32GB vs. 64GB RAM MacBook Pro: Explained
Apple has never been one to limit customers to just one option.
Just look at the multiple iterations of each new iPhone, iPad, and—in this instance—MacBook. From colors to sizes to storage to RAM (or, now, UMA), Apple doesn’t ever want to limit you to just one thing. We can see this in the 2021 MacBook Pro, which offers customers a 32GB and a 64GB option for RAM.
For those unfamiliar with RAM, 32GB is a lot. So, 64GB is a whole heck of a lot. Some might even go as far as to argue it’s overkill.
However, when comparing the two side by side, it’s clear to see that there is a noticeable difference between the 32GB and 64GB RAM MacBook Pros.
32GB vs. 64GB RAM: Side-by-Side Comparison
|32GB RAM||64GB RAM|
|Available Models||14-inch, 16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)||14-inch, 16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)|
|System on a Chip (SoC)||M1 Pro (up to 32 GB available)||M1 Max (up to 64GB available)|
|External Display Support||Two||Four|
|ProRes Video Playback||20 4K streams||7 8K streams|
|Exporting an 8K Video||11 minutes, 6 seconds||8 minutes, 47 seconds|
|Exporting in Adobe Lightroom||1 minute, 33 seconds||1 minute, 24 seconds|
|Exporting in Final Cut Pro||8 minutes, 52 seconds||8 minutes, 52 seconds|
|Price||Additional $400 to the total cost||Additional $800 to the total cost|
What’s the Difference Between the 32GB and 64GB RAM?
Now that we’ve seen the 32GB and 64GB RAM MacBook Pros stacked up against one another, let’s dive deeper into the key differences between the two. They’re subtle, for sure—and many of them depend on use cases and other priorities that will be unique to each user—but they’re certainly worth exploring.
To begin with, both the 32GB and 64GB of RAM can be accompanied by up to 8TB of SSD storage. This is more than almost any user will need, of course, but still deserves to be said. This is true of both the M1 Pro chip and the M1 Max chip.
However, the M1 Pro chip is not capable of 64GB RAM. It comes with 16GB of unified memory and is able to support up to 32GB with the right configuration. Alternatively, the M1 Max is capable of up to 64GB. It comes equipped with 32GB, but can be configured up to 64GB.
Looking deeper at these two options, the 32GB M1 Pro chip only features 200GB/s of memory bandwidth compared to the 64GB M1 Max’s 400GB/s. Beyond this, the M1 Pro comes with one single video coding engine, while the M1 Max has two, meaning that the latter is twice as capable of compressing and reformatting videos than the former. Then, of course, there’s the obvious difference in the models’ pricing.
Beyond these specs, it can be hard to say for certain what some of the minute differences might be. The use of RAM will differ from person to person depending on the kind of applications they use regularly. It’s going to take some time and tinkering around to truly know what distinguishes these two RAM options of the 2021 MacBook Pro.
32GB vs. 64GB RAM MacBook Pro: 5 Must-Know Facts
- The M1 Pro chip can only go up to 32GB of RAM. The M1 Max is capable of up to 64GB of RAM.
- The M1 Pro and Max were released on October 18th, 2021. That’s only a year after the initial M1 chip was released on November 10th of 2020.
- The M1 Pro and M1 Max were succeeded by the M1 Ultra on March 8th, 2022, less than four months after their release.
- The M1 Pro and M1 Max’s RAMs are up to 70% faster than the original M1 chip.
- 32 and 64GB of RAM seem excessive to some. Usually, 8 to 16GB of RAM will likely do just fine for most casual users. However, some prefer to go bigger in an effort to future-proof their device by planning for programs and functions that might need more RAM in the future.
History of the MacBook Pro
Such massive upgrades to the MacBook Pro’s RAM with the 2021 model seem pretty on-par with Apple’s legacy thus far.
First introduced by the tech giant in 2006, the MacBook Pro has been a staple of the MacBook product line for over 15 years now. As the higher-end version of the MacBook Air (and the currently discontinued MacBook), the Pro presently comes in 13-inch, 14-inch, and 16-inch versions, with countless other configurations beyond its size.
The first generation—released in January 2006—borrowed from the design and layout of Apple’s PowerBook G4. However, instead of relying on the G4’s chip, the first-generation MacBook Pro utilized Intel core processors. It came in 15-inch and 17-inch models, complete with a webcam and a first-of-its-kind MagSafe charger.
The second generation MacBook Pro came a couple of years later in 2008. With this, Apple offered 13-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch variations. This MacBook Pro was the first unibody model. It was the first MacBook Pro to feature that iconic single piece of aluminum and thin flush display with the trackpad and keyboard we know and love today. This model swapped those Intel core processors for Intel Core i5 and i7 processors. These delivered up to 256 or 512MB of shared system memory. Later versions had between 4 and 8GB.
The third generation arrived several years later in 2012. It brought with it a retina display and improvements to the SSD, the battery, and—of course—the RAM.
Interestingly enough, this generation did away with the 17-inch model and only offered 15- and 13-inch screens. With the right configuration, users could maximize this unified memory all the way up to 24GB. At the time, this was really something impressive.
The fourth generation MacBook Pro introduced the highly controversial Touch Bar as well as a new and improved keyboard and touchpad. The 17-inch display that was once a staple of the MacBook Pro did not return. The fourth generation only came in 13- and 15-inch versions like its predecessor. This generation of MacBook Pro also maximized its unified memory to 32GB. This was as good as it got until the fifth generation in 2021, which is the generation we are now in.
Difference in RAMs
It’s worth noting just how little attention was paid to improving the MacBook Pro’s unified memory in these early generations.
For the first and second generations of Pros, the RAM capacity was quite small by today’s standards. It wasn’t until the third, fourth, and fifth generations that major improvements were made to the Pro’s RAM and were treated as a necessity.
Today, it’s impossible to imagine a new MacBook Pro model coming without continuously increasing memory space. It’s just the nature of our programs and technology today—they go bigger and better with each new rendition, demanding massive RAM space as a result.
Don’t be surprised if this major difference in unified memory from generation to generation continues to increase dramatically with every new MacBook Pro to come.
32GB vs. 64GB RAM: Which One Is Better?
So, in the battle of the 32GB vs. 64GB RAM MacBook Pro, which one is better, and which should you opt for at checkout?
As you have probably surmised by now, it’s an entirely subjective decision. No two MacBook Pro users are exactly alike. For that reason, no two MacBook Pro configurations will be used in the same way.
If you’re a game designer who works with many complex programs regularly, then you’re going to want to opt for that 64GB of unified memory. Alternatively, if you’re someone who only casually uses programs like the Adobe Suite or Final Cut, saving most of your heavy lifting for an iMac or PC, then you’re likely going to be just fine with 32GB of RAM.
On paper, the 64GB version is the best of the best. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the one you should buy.
To settle on the version that’s best for you, feel free to ask friends or colleagues in your industry what they use and how it benefits them, and go from there.
For casual MacBook Pro users, 32GB of RAM will be more than enough memory capacity.