Are you looking at getting a new Macbook Pro? Are you wondering if you should get the 16GB or 32GB? More GB should mean better performance, right? Not necessarily, and depending on your needs, the extra cost of the 32GBs of RAM might be totally unnecessary. With a $400 price difference, is it worth it to make the upgrade?
Our expert team has reviewed the pros and cons of each model to share with you which use cases will benefit the most from more RAM space. To keep the comparison easy, we will be looking at the Macbook Pro M1 16-inch, so all factors will be the same except for the RAM capacity and price.
16 GB vs. 32GB: Side-by-Side Comparison
|MacBook Pro M1 16GB||MacBook Pro M1 32GB|
|Processor||Apple M1 Pro chip|
|Apple M1 Pro chip|
|RAM||16GB Unified Memory||32GB Unified Memory|
|Display||16-inch Liquid Retina XDR display||16-inch Liquid Retina XDR display|
|Battery||100-Watt Hour lithium polymer||100-Watt Hour lithium polymer|
|Power Adapter Wattage||140W USB-C Power Adapter||140W USB-C Power Adapter|
|I/O||SDXC card slot|
3.5 mm headphone jack
MagSafe 3 port
Three Thunderbolt 4
|SDXC card slot|
3.5 mm headphone jack
MagSafe 3 port
Three Thunderbolt 4
What’s the Difference?
Traditionally Macs and PCs are built using multiple chips but, with M1, all of these separate chips are on one chip called a single System on Chip (SOC). This makes the MacBook Pro M1’s performance excellent, and it is extremely power-efficient. This means the RAM also lives on the same chip as everything else, making it faster and different than traditional RAM.
So to make a true decision between the 16GB or 32GB model, know that the RAM from M1 computers offers a different experience from PC or Intel-based Macs.
Creative Program Benchmarks
The MacBook Pro is mainly targeted toward creatives who want a portable powerhouse of a machine, so let’s discuss which one will offer enough performance to make that a reality.
In a lightroom export of a 50 x 42 Megapixel photo, there was only a 2-second difference between the models. The 32GB ran the export at 1:23 minutes, and the 16GB ran at 1:25 minutes.
When exporting 8K Pro Res RAW video to H.265, there was only a second of benefit for the 32GB model. The 32GB got the clip exported in 3:54 minutes, and the 16GB was exported at 3:55 minutes. Pro Res RAW is a video codec that is very taxing on RAM when you are exporting it to the more streamlined codec of H.265; You can think of H.265 as a typical MP4 file.
So far, it seems like there is not much of a difference between the two, but creative applications are not the only use for memory.
Google Chrome Tab Tests
Not all of us are looking at a new M1 laptop for creative uses, though, so for this next test, we are going to see how many tabs of Chrome we can open before there is a difference in performance.
Google Chrome is notorious for eating up RAM. So, this is a good practical stress test, even if it does seem a little silly.
If you are like me, sometimes you forget to close tabs or chrome windows as you go throughout the day. Luckily, if you go for the 32GB model, many people have been able to open up 380 tabs with no performance hit and even got up to 640 tabs before hitting a point where the laptop started to lock up.
I have not been able to find someone that has tested the 16GB model, but I can assume that it would be close to that performance given the previous tests we have run, but we won’t know for sure until it is tested.
All The Benchmarks At Once
To see the difference, I have a feeling we will have to throw more than just one test at these laptops at a time.
So, we will be looking at how much RAM we are utilizing. For this extreme stress test, the laptops will be running Davinci Resolve, Cinebench, Blender, and playing 4K videos all at the same time.
Now, this isn’t the kind or size of a task that would normally be run, but where is the fun in that? Both the 32GB and 16GB held up surprisingly well during this stress test.
For the Blender Render, the 16GB model finished the render in 7:31 minutes, and the 32GB model finished in 7:22 minutes. Davinci finished a 4K export in 5:44 minutes with the 16GB model and 6:02 minutes with the 32GB model.
Keep in mind these results were with multiple hefty programs at the same time. Still, under the extreme stress test, the two models kept up with each other and made the difference pretty unnoticeable.
But, where the difference comes in is how much RAM was used during this.
The 32GB model used up 26.55 GBs of RAM, and the 16GB model used 14.80 GBs of RAM and 10 GBs of swap memory. Swap memory is an excellent feature of the M1 Mac’s SOC that allows the PC to use memory from the GPU towards the RAM.
When your computer is utilizing all of its RAM, everything you do on it can feel a lot more sluggish and not quick to respond. So, the fact that the 32GB model had a spare 4GBs of RAM that it did not need during this test means the computer was more responsive and snappy.
MacBook Pro 16GB vs. 32GB: 4 Must-Know Facts
- The base model of MacBook Pro M1 comes with 16GB of RAM.
- M1 MacBooks are built on a SOC architecture that makes laptops more power-efficient and provides excellent performance.
- There is a $400 difference in price between the 16GB and 32GB models.
- Unified memory allows Mac’s RAM to act differently than traditional RAM, making it much more efficient and powerful.
Looking at the performance between these two, the 32GB model does not really make the $400 price difference worth it.
In all of the benchmark tests for these two laptops, the 16GB model is only seconds behind each time. Even under the extreme stress test, the 16GB utilizes swap memory to keep up with the 32GB.
The only way I could see rationalizing the extra $400 for the 32GB model is for futureproofing, which is when you try to over-spec a computer so that you will not need to upgrade it or replace it for a long period of time. We would not recommend looking at futureproofing with the way computer technology has been moving over the last couple of years; It is hard to guarantee a computer’s specs will last even 2 or 3 years. So, if you want an extremely powerful machine that will give you extra space to utilize when you need it, the 32GB model might fit your needs.
If I were buying one of these laptops, I would definitely go with the 16GB model. The price for its level of performance is unbeatable, and you likely won’t ever be opening 380 chrome tabs, needing to render a 3D scene, and watching multiple 4K videos all at the same time.