Does MBA/SSD really need 4GB of memory?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by salv8ion, Jul 8, 2009.

  1. salv8ion macrumors newbie

    Jul 8, 2009
    Hi all:

    I am considering upgrading from my ~2 year old MBP to a 2.13 MBA Rev. C and have a question re: RAM performance: how does your MBA w/SSD perform once you have maxed out the 2GB of internal RAM and started swapping to the SSD?

    The reason why I ask is that my current MBP had 2GB of RAM which would max out under my regular daily use (typically open is Mail, Entourage, Skype, Adium, iTunes, Keynote, Activity Monitor, and Safari with 10+ tabs open... don't ask). As you might expect, everything grinded to a halt once the MBP blew through the physical RAM and it started swapping to the HDD. A few months ago I upgraded to 4GB of RAM and everything ran smoother.

    So, while the MBA is a good fit given my relatively intense travel schedule, the 2GB RAM limitation was pretty much a show-stopper... until I started playing with a Rev C SSD at a local Apple Store. As you might imagine, I fired up Activity Monitor and then started trying to max out the RAM... to no avail. No matter what I tried, or how many apps and Safari tabs I opened, I couldn't get the RAM to stay pegged and didn't see any sort of OS performance slowdown. Having spent more time than I care to admit watching Activity Monitor, it looked like the MBA/SSD exhibited very different memory consumption characteristics from my MBP.

    Given that both my MBP and the MBA were running the 10.5.7, what gives? Is it because the MBA was clean and my MBP is loaded up with apps and data? Or is it because the MBA was actually swapping, but to the comparatively much faster SSD drive (as compared to my MBP's HDD)?

    So, here's my question: is this sort of behavior 'normal' under daily usage conditions? Or was I doing something wrong with my informal load testing? Or am I totally barking up the wrong tree here? This is not about CPU performance (already ground well-covered) but memory performance under multi-application load.


    ps. I've hunted around trying to see if this questions has already been answered elsewhere... any recommendations for further reading on this issue would be much appreciated.
  2. Eidorian macrumors Penryn


    Mar 23, 2005
  3. yellow Moderator emeritus


    Oct 21, 2003
    Portland, OR
    Completely agreed. Might as well get it now, rather than wait. In the end, it's much better to have more RAM than not enough RAM and it's difficult to predict what you're going to be doing with the MBA in 6 months, never mind further out than that.

    End the end, even with SSD, physical access to RAM will always be faster than physical access to a hard drive or SSD.
  4. Scottsdale macrumors 601


    Sep 19, 2008
    I think the whole issue of RAM is the thought of needing more power. Think Tim Allen in Home Improvement. But the truth is the "average" MBA owner/buyer probably wouldn't use up the full 2 GB of RAM if 4 were available. I really believe that 2 GB of fast 1066 MHz RAM is plenty.

    I invite someone who thinks the MBA is not for them to use their current Mac with all normal apps running and open Activity Monitor to see just how much RAM they're using. If you're using more, figure out if you could close just one app to free up the space. So instead of running all nine apps at a time, could you make the Air work for you by just not running the two biggest RAM hogs at the same time.

    I really wish the MBA had 4GB RAM, a 512 GB SSD, a 3GHz Quad Core Nehalem CPU, 12-hour battery, weighed only two pounds, and etc etc etc. But the truth is the current MBA is an absolute steal at $1799 and the most fun any Mac user could have while traveling or on the couch. The MBA with its 2.13 CPU, 2 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD, is fast and fun and plenty capable and powerful for the "average" Mac notebook user.

    But I invite anyone to tell me why they "need" 4GB of RAM in the little Mac that could. Maybe I am wrong, but I think for the size, speed, and fun, the MacBook Air cannot be beat and at a $700 discount from just a month ago.
  5. ins0mniaque macrumors newbie

    Mar 13, 2008
    To run a virtual machine in Fusion with 2GB of RAM ?

    I currently own and do all my work (especially since my PC's power supply burnt, and I'm one lazy bastard... ;)) on a Rev. A MBA. I run Windows XP and Windows 7 in Fusion, running Visual Studio 2008 (or 2010, that RAM greedy mf...) on top of this, but frankly Windows 7/VS.NET with 1GB of RAM doesn't cut it... forcing me to boot camp for anything that involves more than editing a file. And because the trackpad works like crap when using the Boot Camp driver, I need to use a mouse. Need I say more ? :p

    But don't get me wrong, I *LOVE* my lil' MBA. But it does need 4GB of RAM.
  6. salv8ion thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 8, 2009
    ins0mniaque: ok, great use case -- need more RAM for virtualization. Not a need I have personally, but one that plenty of other face.

    My question: what happens on a MBA Rev C/SSD when you try to set up a VM with 2GB of RAM? The OS would have to swap like hell, but because it's swapping to an SSD (with great parallel read performance, but mediocre write performance), does it perform any differently that a typical HDD-based machine? In other words, does the OS grind to a halt?

    My expectation is that things would slow to a crawl, but my very limited hands on experience with MBA Rev C/SSD suggests otherwise.

  7. ArtursBoy macrumors member

    May 7, 2008
    I was blown away by the speed difference the SSD makes, it makes the macbook air feel much faster than the advertised 2.13 Ghz (or even 1.86 Ghz ) might imply, it certainly feels MUCH faster than my year old macbook 2.4 Ghz. I bought my dad a MBA, which he uses as his only computer. He travels constantly so this was perfect for him.

    The way you use your computer sounds similar to how he uses it (Mail, Entourage, Skype, iTunes, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Web Browsing, etc), he has been extremely happy with the MBA ever since he started using it.

    Like it has been mentioned before, if you dont need to be editing video, and dont need to be doing heavy photography editing and things like that, the MBA really is a surprisingly quick laptop that will satisfy most users. I've also read that Snow Leopard will be optimized for SSD drives (apparently the current version of Leopard isnt optimized to take full advantage of the SSD drives) so in theory the machine would feel even quicker. Just my two cents.

    By the way, running Windows XP with VMWare using 512MB of Ram seems to work fine for him, although its something he rarely uses.
  8. bossxii macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    Kansas City

    Basically think of the ram issue like this

    If your computer is running 10 applications, whatever they may be, and you have 2 gigs or ram it is going to manage those applications as needed to work within the limits of the ram provided.

    With 4 gigs of ram it will simply do them faster, the same 10 things will just run faster because the OS can take advantage of more ram. The programs you listed are not huge memory hogs that typically "max" a system out.

    Ram in a computer is always good, the more the merrier! The fact still remains you may never use it fully but for the times you do, it's very nice to have.

    Gaming has been a huge factor in why many people upgrade ram. Graphically intense 3D games that push systems in every way. The typical business user running mail, web apps, Office etc... will never push a machine as hard as a kid running games.

    The real power users that need the power for say CAD work, or professional video editing/compression etc... are running Mac Pro's or high end PC's and know they NEED the ram.

    I've ran the MBA Rev B for about a year and never ran into an issues (other than video playback) that it couldn't handle for my daily work load. The only thing I could find to make the Rev B 1.8/SSD slow down was streaming video or trying to watch HD type content with some heat issues. That is/was somewhat expected and I knew it going in so not a big deal.

    The MBA is a laptop most people will never understand "why" because they can't think "outside" the box, they are the lemmings that see something that doesn't conform to popular, mainstream thinking and call it a pc of junk, waste of money etc...

    The MBA is not right for everyone, but for those who understand "why" it's the best mobile computer available.
  9. foranor macrumors regular

    Jun 10, 2009
    Maybe the question is not ... 'does anyone need 4 GB RAM' today, but it should be:
    I plan to use this pretty shiny thing for 3+ years. Will 2 GB RAM suffice for the entire time?

    I for one lack a mac so far. Any. I have a 17" HP Notebook because I prefer to do my work sitting on the couch with it on my lap.
    However, being a tech-and-gadget-addict, I've always wanted a mac. Until the pricecut, they were 'too expensive' for my taste. Now the prices seem fair, and I'm sooo torn between the MBA and a 13" MBP with 4GB. I'd want an SSD in either, so that wouldn't make a difference.

    I can't say I do much more than surf the web and might want to run a VM sometime, do some mail and itunes, but then, one of my hobbies is photography. I don't usually -heavily- edit my pictures, but one of the reasons for getting the mac would be to make it the prime container for my pictures.

    So, would you think I'll be fine with the MBA, even in 2 or 3 years time, or should I grab a 4GB MBP?
  10. ArtursBoy macrumors member

    May 7, 2008
    If you dont necessarily travel constantly, and plan on having your laptop sit on a desk most of the time, the 13" MBP might be better suited for you. Remember that you are paying a "premium" for the portability of the MBA, but if you dont necessarily have the constant need for that portability, then for you buying a 13" MBP might be money better spent.

    Having said that, my dad has about 3500 pictures that he manages in iPhoto with no issues.
  11. bossxii macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    Kansas City
    I went thru this same thought process just a few weeks ago and landed on buying the 13" MBP, at the time of purchase had them up the 2.26 model to 4 gigs, and I went out and purchased a 500gig HDD. After using my nephew's student ID for a discount :) and selling the Ipod touch and $99 printer, I'll end up with a 2.26Ghz, 4gig, 500gig HDD for just under $1200 bucks.

    I've owned the Rev B Air and it was a fun laptop to own, but in the end this MBP is just better suits my needs. I love the MBA for what it is but overall the 7 hr Battery, ram/HDD upgrades made the most sense for me. Plus the trackpads on the MBP's are the best I've ever used. If only the MBA had the glass trackpad!
  12. ntrigue macrumors 68040


    Jul 30, 2007
    It doesn't need more than 2GB. However, you will see the spinning beachball. It doesn't kill the user experience but sure I would like to see the beachball less.
  13. McGilli macrumors 6502

    Nov 11, 2008
    I only use my MBA for Logic Pro for audio mixing/recording/production and Audacity for recording live DJ sets and have never encountered an issue with 2gb.

    I have never felt that more ram would give me any kind of performance increase.

    It'll happen eventually though and there's nothing wrong with adding more stock ram for the sake of progress.
  14. Disavowed macrumors regular


    Apr 10, 2009
    To get my money, yes. That said, without the SSD, it's a dog no matter how many gigs of RAM you have.
  15. Gruber macrumors regular

    Jun 15, 2009

    Need moar RAM!

    I like browsing with many tabs open. I do not want to shut down PS while using Office and Eclipse. Moar RAM really makes itself felt to me.

    There is a tradeoff between RAM prices and the additional comfort you get from more memory. For me, the sweet spot is currently at 4GB. On the other hand, since I upgraded my camera to a few more megapixels, I am already feeling a little tight with 4GB on my desktop.

    So, for a new laptop, I would probably consider buying 8GB, and choose 4GB as a minimum.

    (If you feel like telling me that the Air is some kind of Netbook and "not meant for heavy lifting", then save your breath and go get a cheap Atom powered toy. There are even a couple you can install OSX on. The Air has a great CPU and sufficient GPU for serious work.)
  16. jdechko macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    I think my biggest issue is my personal upgrade cycle. Yes, I'd love to be able to say that I'll be upgrading every 2-4 years, but I can't guarantee myself that will be the case. I have a desktop that I got from my last job (though it's 3000 miles away currently) and it's 2-3 years old already, and my laptop is 8 years old. If I didn't get that desktop from work, I probably wouldn't have a newer computer. So ignoring that and looking at the laptop I have, while 2 GB is fine for me now, I'm wondering how it will be in 5, 6 or 7 years? Will it run iTunes 12? OS X.8 or 9? I'd feel more confident if I knew that the computer had 4GB of RAM, which should be the minimum requirement in a few years' time, or that I would have the money in 3-4 years to upgrade. In my mind, I feel much more confident with having the extra RAM now.
  17. ooo macrumors 6502

    Nov 23, 2007
    I'm currently running a Rev A, but i'm planning to sell mine for the latest air when it gets 4gb of ram. 2gb is enough for me when I'm surfing the web, but when I start doing some photo manipulation or developing on the go it just isn't enough.
  18. aleksandra. macrumors 6502a

    Sep 13, 2008
    Warsaw, Poland
    SSD is much faster than HDD, but it's still much slower than RAM, so swapping will still be noticeable.

    I'm not surprised you didn't manage to use all RAM on MBA, what you're describing doesn't require more than 2 GB. The question is, why do you run out of RAM on your MBP? Maybe you should check for background processes which may use up RAM as well as CPU, or restart more often?
  19. jdechko macrumors 68040

    Jul 1, 2004
    Also remember that "running out of RAM" is not simply looking at the available "Free" memory in Activity monitor. Most modern operating systems (OS X, OS X Touch, and Vista included) will keep files in memory or pre-load certain files in RAM to speed up the system. A good thought is that free memory is wasted memory (although keeping some memory free is a necessary and good thing).

    A more accurate approach to seeing how much RAM is being used is to look at your page-outs in Activity Monitor. This will tell you how often the system is having to dump the contents of your RAM to the disk because there is no more RAM to use.

    Just throwing this out there for those of you who didn't know.
  20. Scottsdale macrumors 601


    Sep 19, 2008
    Well my suggestion was for those with 4 GB of RAM to see how much they're really using.

    Also, I definitely should have pointed out the obvious for virtual machines. I personally wouldn't want to "waste" any of the MBA's resources on WINDOWS. It just isn't meant for that.

    The MBA does really well as long as it has SSD and OS X. It should get even better with Snow Leopard.

    As much as I like to think that 2 GB of RAM suits me fine, the second an MBA with 4 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, glass trackpad, and 6-hour battery is released, I am buying it. I use it as a business tool, and it essentially makes me well over its cost monthly, so upgrading is a no brainer for me. For those on a two to four year cycle, by all means wait for the next high end MBA... but don't expect the next high end MBA to be priced at $1799. I think it will be much higher and just added to the current MBA lineup as the new high end.
  21. puma1552 macrumors 603

    Nov 20, 2008
    I'd love four gigs of RAM too, but I just tried to tax my current 1.6 HDD Rev. B.

    I couldn't do it.

    I opened:

    --8 Safari browsers
    --1 Firefox Browser
    --Address Book
    --Coconut Battery
    --Microsoft Entourage
    --Microsoft Excel
    --Microsoft Powerpoint
    --Microsoft Word
    --Crossword Forge
    --Garage Band
    --DVD Player
    --Adobe Lightroom

    I could only knock out 1.75 gigs of RAM, and couldn't get it to dip below 10 MB free. Pretty much at the limit, and granted a lot of those programs aren't intensive and the computer was just idling with them open, but nonetheless there you go.

    True I was not running photoshop (only have a windows version, ughh) and was not running virtualizations, but I don't need to. Those probably make a much larger difference.
  22. Thiol macrumors 6502a


    Jan 26, 2008
    Isn't a more realistic test to open a file in those applications?
  23. Scottsdale macrumors 601


    Sep 19, 2008
    Actually, one should do that with 4 GB of RAM to see how much it uses... when there is only 2 GB of RAM, it will allocate accordingly and be slower. This is what another poster stated, that is why my suggestion was someone with 4 GB needs to see what it really takes to use up 2 GB of RAM. Definitely the size of files and type of apps all matter, but most importantly someone with 4 GB of RAM in a MB or MBP can see how much they use... if less than 2 GB, then the MBA is okay for them with 2 GB.
  24. GeekGirl* macrumors 65816


    Feb 26, 2009
    Buffalo, NY
    2G is plenty on the Air, I have had no problems with the ram at all.
  25. duky macrumors 6502

    Jun 25, 2007
    North Carolina
    Having had my Air (2.13 Rev C SSD) for almost a week now, it is my opinion that RAM is not an issue. The only issue for me is the placement of the vents underneath the machine that makes it impossible to use on a bed and means you really have to figure out how best to sit with the laptop such that you don't block those vents because once you do it starts stuttering, badly, and of course the fans kick into high gear, which is very annoying. So other than the lack of a good cooling system I think 2GB of RAM is pretty fine for a secondary computer. I don't think you should replace your MBP with this if it is your primary one though.

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