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Buying a Macbook Air. Ram question

The Clark

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Dec 11, 2013
409
641
Canada
I'm starting a new psychology program and I've decided to purchase a new Macbook since my old Pro was stolen. Before I go any further I just want to make note of something, I have a PC that I do all the heavy lifting with, or at least, most of the heavy lifting. Now, I've read through countless threads here on Mac Rumors regarding the whole "4gb vs 8gb" argument and I've concluded (correct me if I'm wrong) that 4gb for word processing, front end web development, web browsing, and light video editing is sufficient and will be for the next two to three years. My main question is, will 4gb be sufficient for working with XCode? I am a beginner with iOS development so I can't imagine working on any large projects for the foreseeable future but I'm wondering if 4gb will be enough for xCode + Safari + iMessage.

Any insight is greatly appreciated.
 

motrek

macrumors 68020
Sep 14, 2012
2,442
162
I'm starting a new psychology program and I've decided to purchase a new Macbook since my old Pro was stolen. Before I go any further I just want to make note of something, I have a PC that I do all the heavy lifting with, or at least, most of the heavy lifting. Now, I've read through countless threads here on Mac Rumors regarding the whole "4gb vs 8gb" argument and I've concluded (correct me if I'm wrong) that 4gb for word processing, front end web development, web browsing, and light video editing is sufficient and will be for the next two to three years. My main question is, will 4gb be sufficient for working with XCode? I am a beginner with iOS development so I can't imagine working on any large projects for the foreseeable future but I'm wondering if 4gb will be enough for xCode + Safari + iMessage.

Any insight is greatly appreciated.

Yes, I'm an app developer and XCode works fine on both of my Macs with 4GB.
 
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motrek

macrumors 68020
Sep 14, 2012
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Thanks everyone. I got the new base model and it's fantastic.. it runs XCode buttery smooth along with multiple applications. I'm actually really impressed.

People assume that 4GB of RAM is inadequate for a lot of stuff because it's the smallest amount that Apple currently sells, but it's still a huge amount of RAM.
 
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The Clark

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Dec 11, 2013
409
641
Canada
People assume that 4GB of RAM is inadequate for a lot of stuff because it's the smallest amount that Apple currently sells, but it's still a huge amount of RAM.

Exactly. A lot of the people that go with the 8GB configuration don't even utilize it, and it ends up being a waste of money.
 
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sracer

macrumors G3
Apr 9, 2010
8,798
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Prescott Valley, AZ
Exactly. A lot of the people that go with the 8GB configuration don't even utilize it, and it ends up being a waste of money.
I wouldn't necessarily say it is a "waste of money". They get a certain peace of mind in having 8GB RAM instead of 4GB.

Avoiding waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because your MBA only has 4GB has got to be worth something, right? :eek::D
 
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lazydog

macrumors 6502a
Sep 3, 2005
709
6
Cramlington, UK
Hi

I develop on a 4GB Macbook Air and it's okay most of the time, but I wish I had 8GB as it can get clunky at times. With just Mail, Xcode and Safari open after a few days I can easily hit 400 ~ 700 MB swap file. If you want the best experience for the next 2 ~ 3 years I think it would be well worth the small extra cost for the 8GB upgrade.
b e n
 
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motrek

macrumors 68020
Sep 14, 2012
2,442
162
Hi

I develop on a 4GB Macbook Air and it's okay most of the time, but I wish I had 8GB as it can get clunky at times. With just Mail, Xcode and Safari open after a few days I can easily hit 400 ~ 700 MB swap file. If you want the best experience for the next 2 ~ 3 years I think it would be well worth the small extra cost for the 8GB upgrade.
b e n

The question is, does your memory pressure graph get into the yellow zone?

Just having some data swapped out to disk doesn't really tell you much about performance. You don't if that data was even really being used. The OS might have swapped it out because it was basically never being used, so, no point in keeping it in RAM.
 
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lazydog

macrumors 6502a
Sep 3, 2005
709
6
Cramlington, UK
The question is, does your memory pressure graph get into the yellow zone?

Just having some data swapped out to disk doesn't really tell you much about performance. You don't if that data was even really being used. The OS might have swapped it out because it was basically never being used, so, no point in keeping it in RAM.

Like I said, 4GB is okay for me most of the time, but in my experience things get clunky once memory starts getting heavily compressed or swapped to disk (even if the memory pressure graph is still in the green). On my 2011 Air I can definitely tell the difference between a reboot and being in the high green. The clunkiness isn't so bad that I can't live with it, but if I was going to get another Air today with the view of keeping it a few years I have no doubt that I would get 8GB.
Having said that, I do find myself in the yellow now and again and it's quite easy to clobber my Mac in Xcode simply by performing a project wide Find that returns lots of hits. This can easily push the memory pressure into red and creates swap files in the GBs and beach ball Xcode.

b e n
 
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Hirakata

macrumors 6502
Mar 17, 2011
313
399
Burbank, CA
Hi

I develop on a 4GB Macbook Air and it's okay most of the time, but I wish I had 8GB as it can get clunky at times. With just Mail, Xcode and Safari open after a few days I can easily hit 400 ~ 700 MB swap file. If you want the best experience for the next 2 ~ 3 years I think it would be well worth the small extra cost for the 8GB upgrade.
b e n

Have to totally agree with this. I went from an 11" 8GB Air to a 13" 4GB Air. I use it for writing and typically have the following open: Word, InDesign, Preview (with two 50MB jpegs both open full screen, and about six 200 page+ PDFs), Safari full screen with about 8-10 tabs open, Dictionary, Pandora desktop app. When swiping to Mission Control to switch desktops there's a slight stutter that wasn't there on the 11". Also, when I go to the jpegs (which are zoomed in), it takes a bit for them to refresh when I zoom out or go from one side of the image to the other. The 11" was smooth.

Worth crying over. No. But when I'm due for another Air (or Macbook when the next Rev. is out), I'll get at least 8GB. For me, it's worth the $100.
 
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motrek

macrumors 68020
Sep 14, 2012
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... Having said that, I do find myself in the yellow now and again and it's quite easy to clobber my Mac in Xcode simply by performing a project wide Find that returns lots of hits. This can easily push the memory pressure into red and creates swap files in the GBs and beach ball Xcode.
...

You must work with projects that are way bigger than mine!

Certainly if your memory pressure graph is getting into the yellow zone you should get more memory.

As many people have noted, the MBA's memory obviously can't be upgraded, but it is easy to sell a MBA and buy a similar one with more memory and the transaction cost usually isn't that much.
 
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lazydog

macrumors 6502a
Sep 3, 2005
709
6
Cramlington, UK
You must work with projects that are way bigger than mine!

Certainly if your memory pressure graph is getting into the yellow zone you should get more memory.

As many people have noted, the MBA's memory obviously can't be upgraded, but it is easy to sell a MBA and buy a similar one with more memory and the transaction cost usually isn't that much.
 
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motrek

macrumors 68020
Sep 14, 2012
2,442
162
So, if you had to buy an Air today and it had to last you for at least the next 3 years would you honestly go for 4GB?

b e n

Me? Yes, absolutely.

Nothing I do during my typical daily use gets my memory pressure into the "yellow zone" and I can't think of a reason why that would change in the next 3 years. The memory requirements for my major software/apps (OS X, XCode, Photoshop, Chrome) haven't changed in a meaningful way in the last 2-3 years and I can't think of any concrete reason why they would change in the next 2-3 years.

The only time I've seen yellow memory pressure is when I was working on a print ad for one of my apps, which was a super-high-resolution project with high bit depth and many layers. More memory would have made the work somewhat faster, but not a lot faster, and I only had to do that job once. So I wouldn't spend money to optimize for that case.

But, actions speak louder than words and I can tell you that I very deliberately bought a new MBA with 4GB last year, even though I could have easily afforded the 8GB model, and I fully expect it to work well for the next several years.

BTW, software that I always have open and use frequently: Chrome, XCode, Terminal, TextWrangler, iTunes, Activity Monitor, Messages, Skype, Mail, iOS Simulator, and often Photoshop.

That all being said, of course I'm not trying to make a case that 4GB is enough for everyone. Certainly some people will see major benefits from more RAM. Not me, though. This doesn't bother me at all the way it seems to bother some people. I don't consider the need for more RAM a sign of manliness. I'll put the "manliness" of my computer usage up against anybody else's any day of the week.
 
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MRrainer

macrumors 65816
Aug 8, 2008
1,317
777
Zurich, Switzerland
All the "deals" and special offers out there are usually only for 4GB models.
So, the impulse to buy one of those is pretty high.
The 8GB version is more expensive to begin with - and almost no "special deals" are available.
At least where I live (where the refurb store is empty most of the time, too).
 
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Meister

Suspended
Oct 10, 2013
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Same here. the difference between the 4gb on offer and the 8gb from the regular apple store is a staggering €300!
 
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Meister

Suspended
Oct 10, 2013
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That's outrageous, @Meister! I went with 8GB because the price difference wasn't that great once you start looking at the total price of the machine.
If bought for the regular price, both the RAM as well as cpu upgrades are always worth a consideration.
 
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motrek

macrumors 68020
Sep 14, 2012
2,442
162
...and what Apple will focus with the forthcoming OS X versions. Not all are performance orientated like Snow Leopard or El Capitan.

OS X has required 2GB RAM since Lion (2011). So there have been... 4?... versions that have not required more memory.

Not to say that it won't require more memory eventually, but 2GB is a huge amount of RAM. I'm hard pressed to think of anything they might add to the OS that would cause it to require much more than that.
 
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MacBoook160

macrumors 6502
Feb 9, 2011
300
53
Same here. the difference between the 4gb on offer and the 8gb from the regular apple store is a staggering €300!

Holy cow. I had no idea about the price differentials abroad. No wonder the decision to go from 4-8 gig is so much more fraught for others. Is it that significant in the online refurbished store as well in your home country?
 
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