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4g v. 8g Memory: Benchmarks or Personal Experience

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Appman2000, Jun 21, 2012.

  1. macrumors newbie

    I know this question has been addressed, but there's still very little concrete explanation for the difference the memory upgrade makes for the MA specifically. Most folks say just do it, it doesn't cost that much, etc. I'm curious to know if there are a) concrete benchmarks for, say, a new i5 with 4g v. 8g RAM; b) personal anecdotes from people who have used an MA with both memory configurations; or c) an explanation from someone with technical knowledge who actually has a sense of the working conditions in which the memory upgrade might make a difference (I use the web and MS Office, and I often have several Firefox windows open at once for research).

    For the sake of argument, let's just say the $100 is a big deal and that a compelling reason would be necessary to make the upgrade. Also, I'd rather go to my local Apple store tomorrow rather than wait a week on BTO.

  2. macrumors demi-god


    Benchmarks and other people's personal anecdotes won't help you determine what's best for your personal use. To determine if you can benefit from more RAM, launch Activity Monitor and click the System Memory tab at the bottom to check your page outs. Page outs are cumulative since your last restart, so the best way to check is to restart your computer and track page outs under your normal workload (the apps, browser pages and documents you normally would have open). If your page outs are significant (say 1GB or more) under normal use, you may benefit from more RAM. If your page outs are zero or very low during normal use, you probably won't see any performance improvement from adding RAM.

    Mac OS X: Reading system memory usage in Activity Monitor
  3. macrumors 603


    I have a 2011 iMac 2.7 Quad-core i5. It came with 4 GB of RAM and I put another 8 in for 12 total. I am running Mail, Safari, iTunes, DayMap, DEVONthink, and AirPrint Activator all the time and I have things like Total Finder, DropBox, Default Folder X, iTeleport Connect, running in my menu bar. I always leave Safari open with 2-3 windows, each with 3-10 tabs. My Safari web content itself usually goes over 1 GB. I reboot typically once every 1-2 weeks. And I am using over 6GB and have 5+ free. If I start opening 1Password, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, iPhoto, or a combination of those my free RAM start dropping and I need to manage what I have open.

    I just got a 2012 MBA for grad school. Uses, no iTunes or iPhoto or DEVONthink, but plenty of Nook Study for eTextbooks, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Safari, Mail, etc. And this is 2012, I just wanted to make sure that in 2013, 2014, and 2015, as I plan to keep this 3 years or more, that my RAM is sufficient. When I heard the new MBAs had an 8GB option, I was quite happy about that as I felt 4 was the minimum to run Lion and some apps effectively. And since you CANNOT change it, I went ahead and BTO'd a 13" base with 8GB. I ordered it last Tuesday the 12th, and the option was delivered to me Tues 19th - Thur 21st or store pickup by the 22nd. It was there Monday 18th. Underpromise. Overdeliver.

    Now on my new machine with 1Password, Xcel, Word, Safari (only a few tabs), Powerpoint, and Mail open, I am reporting 2.5GB or so in use and 5.5 free. I'd rather it be 5.5 than 1.5 and I'm not doing that much nor do I have many docs or web pages open.

    You can't go back and change it in 6 months.
  4. macrumors newbie

    Thanks--these are terrifically helpful responses. GGJ: that was the sort of thing I was looking for (having heard the term page swaps before but not having a context for it). Roland: That's very helpful, although I think you're much more of a power user than me. (One question on that ship timeline:did it arrive the 18th to your home, or to the store?).

    More replies would still be welcome, of course. Much as I'd like to pick up my 11" Air tomorrow, I probably won't be surprised if posters here convince me to go BTO. That said, from what I can tell from my page swap data on my late 2009 27" 4g RAM Imac, I really don't think I need the 8g. (~4-5mb of page swaps).
  5. macrumors regular

    The thing is, OS and apps are only going to get more resource and RAM heavy as time goes on. What might be 4-5 mb of page swaps now might be a lot more troublesome when it's 400-500 mb in 2 years.
  6. roland.g, Jun 21, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2012

    macrumors 603


    I had it delivered to the store for pickup. As much as I was quote 19-21 for home and 22 for store pickup, there were several factors.

    1. I didn't want to presign or play the door tag and pickup a day later from UPS or FedEx and knew I wouldn't be home.

    2. I knew the timeframe to me was for ground shipping.

    3. I knew with the in store pickup it would be delivered overnight with all their incoming stock and so it would get there faster.

    4. I knew they like to give a worst possible scenario on the store pickup because they essentially want to guarantee a date. So I knew it would be there sooner. I had it pegged for Monday or Tuesday. It was there by 9 am Monday.

    Power User: in a way but not really. I just like my machine to keep up with me and be very responsive. I don't like waiting for it. And I like to have a lot running. Not big stuff like video editing or anything super intensive, just lots of things I like at my fingertips. It will be less so on the MBA since I won't have all my software on it, but still, I prefer safe to sorry.
  7. macrumors 6502

    Just running Safari there is only 1.5GB free RAM. No page outs but I'm upgrading to 8GB. Maybe 4GB would have been fine, but for $100 it's worth it and enjoy running multiple apps and opens up more doors for apps that need more RAM.
  8. funkysmurf, Jun 21, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 22, 2012

    macrumors newbie

    4Gb can be eaten up pretty quickly.
    I had about 7-8 apps open here with no more than 2-3 documents or images open at the same time. If you can afford it, go for the 8Gb.
  9. macrumors 6502

    It's actually 2.5 GB free RAM just running Safari. I think I would have been ok with the Base 11 as the primary use is for internet and Office. But for the upgrade to the base 13'' 128/8 that open up some other options for more intensive apps when away from my desktop, and don't have to carry external drive and power supply. So if budget is a primary concern and you don't plan on really intensive apps, which the Air isn't really suitable anyway, buy what you can afford and work around it. To me the 11 is just not quite enough vertical space for casual use, so the extra $100 for 8GB RAM is worth it, as I use 28GB on my desktop and have plenty of apps where the Air might run.
  10. macrumors G4

    My anecdotal experience comparing my 2011 i7 MacBook Air to my 2012 i7 with 8GB is that the latter is a bit faster, particular at running Windows 7 64-bit in Parallels. However, some of that is because of the faster processor, some of that is the faster SSD, and perhaps some of that is the additional RAM (I have allocated 3GB to Windows, up from 1.5GB in my 2011). I notice that if I have Windows in the background, even if I have a lot of tabs in Safari in OS X that I don't get the "spinning beach ball" as much.
  11. macrumors 65816

    I think 8GB would be the minimum if you plan on using the system for 3 years. 4GB might be OK for now, but what about future versions of OS X and apps?

    For $100 you get a good bit of future-proofing since you can't add your own memory later. An additional week to wait for a couple more years of future proofing seems like a good tradeoff to me.
  12. macrumors member

    I consider myself a power user. Anybody who uses a VM should.

    In the past I've had the luxury of being able to upgrade the RAM myself after the fact and every time I've done that, it's been like getting a new computer. Fewer beach balls, speedy VM restoring in VMWare, and the ability to open a bunch of Adobe applications at once without any hanging.

    At the moment it might not make a difference, but as OS upgrades come along, that's where it really helps. Especially if you plan to have this computer for more than 1-2 years.
  13. macrumors newbie

    Thanks to the additional posters. Predictably, I went ahead and placed my order for an 11/128/8. (For what it's worth, I labored over the 11 v. 13 issue for a long while too, and then chose the 11 after seeing enough people who do what I do--write long documents in MS Word and Scrivener--express their happiness with the 11).
  14. macrumors 68030

    RAM is cheap. Load up on it. You can't upgrade it later on the air so this is doubly important.

    The two things that most machines are bottlenecked by in MOST typical user tasks are:

    disk IO
    memory quantity

    The air has the IO covered. Load it up with RAM.

    Can you get by with 4 gigs? Sure. 16 is currently the price/performance sweet spot at the moment IMHO, but the Air can't take that much. 8 is plenty for most people for the near future. 4 is borderline.

    Your performance expectations may differ, but when safari (or chrome, firefox, etc) takes 600-800 megs, Lion takes another gig, that 4 meg gets chewed out pretty quick. And most people will be running those two things all the time.

    So, 4 gigs - 1.8 = typically 2.2 usable for everything else.
    If you go to 8 gigs, you have 8 - 1.8 = 6.2 gigs for everything else.

    Get 8 gb, and get nearly 3x more free ram for applications - not double as you might suspect, before taking the OS and web browser into account.
  15. macrumors 6502a

    Here's my thinking

    I'm a fairly light user and 4GB is sufficient for me. 2 years from now I'm going to kick myself for not spending $100 on 8GB.
  16. macrumors 68030

    Every machine i've bought for the past 15 years has had double or more RAM than the baseline of the day. It has served me well, the machines have still been pretty snappy in general use by the time I've had to upgrade CPU or video for gaming performance. In day to day use they've never been "slow" by the time I upgrade afer 3-5 yrs, because for most day to day stuff, CPU and video has been more than fast enough for about 5-10 years now...
  17. macrumors 6502a

    The bottom line is that your usage patterns and the programs you use dictate your memory needs and peoples needs vary quite a bit.

    These days with Lion, 2gb is only suitable for very light use and performance will not be optimal but may be acceptable for some. I'd say 4gb is a sweet spot at the moment for routine use, it can perform optimally, and is adequate for many people. But 4gb is on the edge and every OS version seems to need more memory, and every new software program seems to need more so even if its adequate for today you have to look at how long you will be keeping your machine. Thats concerning on a machine with no memory upgrade path.

    For what you describe, I expect 4gb would be adequate today. But what about when mountain Lion comes out next month. And what about next year or the year after.

    If you have a MAC now, take a look at your memory usage and page outs and swap file usage each day for a few days and judge your needs on that.

    My usage patterns and programs have shown me I need between 4-8gb for optimal performance so I'd get an 8gb version. But everyone is different.
  18. macrumors 6502a


    This is extremely misleading. Your system is only using so much RAM because it has 16GB available. This allows the system to keep more files in memory. If you ran those exact same apps on a 4GB system, you would probably only use 2GB of RAM.

    I've had my system running since day zero and it's currently at 3GB ram usage with every iLife and iWork app open, along with iTunes, Mail, and the other basics.
  19. macrumors 6502

    I agree. If I use my MM with 4 GB of RAM, I never max it out with a lot of apps open at the same time. Now with 8 GB of RAM I have a bit more than 4 GB of RAM used with the same apps. The more RAM you have, the more will be used, it's that simple.
  20. macrumors newbie

    So, does this mean the system functions more efficiently with less memory (and that excess memory wouldn't enhance performance)? Just trying to make sense of the last two comments; as I said, I ordered my system already.
  21. macrumors 6502

    I agree these are very informative post! My take on it is that the sweet spot for a lap top is $1250 and 8GB RAM. If you need more than that you need to start looking at a desktop you can upgrade yourself over the years. 8GB might even be overkill for most people because an air is really only good for 3 years, after that things start breaking, can be dropped, splashed, etc and it's not as easy to repair and that takes time and more risk. I ended up going with the 13 but the 11 is a perfectly fine machine with a smaller footprint.
  22. macrumors 6502

    Not necessarily, it really depends on what programs you use. For normal usage, Mail, Pages, Skype and so on, 4 GB is enough because these apps don't benefit that much from more RAM. If you use Adobe apps or run multiple VMs, than you need as much RAM as you can get. I for one will be happy with 4 GB of RAM, but that's just me.
  23. BBman, Jun 22, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2012

    macrumors member

    I plan to install ML on a MBA with 4GB of ram next month so-

    Ive been reading up on Mountain Lion and the way it manages memory, users seem to report on average that ML does not use as much memory as Lion and that it runs pretty solid with 4GB of ram. Keep in mind that this are developer previews but I am pretty sure that final ML release will keep a similar performance trend.

    Read more here.

    P.S I can't wait for ML! from the looks of it it seems that its going to be a similar jump from Lion as Windows 7 was to Vista.:D
  24. macrumors newbie

    It wasn't meant to come across as misleading. You're correct in that it uses so much because there's more available (I guess that's the whole point), what this means though is 0 page outs. On a system with 4Gb of RAM, there would be some page outs at that point.

    It's somewhat irrelevant now as the OP has chosen the configuration that he feels would suit him best.
  25. macrumors member

    The best thing to do in the long run.

    Choose what is best for you.

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