How much of an issue is 2GB of RAM?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by greenmountain, Jul 7, 2010.

  1. greenmountain macrumors newbie

    Jul 7, 2010
    Hello to all,

    I have lurked in this forum for several months, but am posting for the first time. As a regular reader I am very familiar with all of the arguments for and against the MBA and 13in MBP in terms of weight, value, power, battery life etc.

    That said, please allow me to lay out my situation and seek your collective advice:

    My current laptop is very old: a PowerBook G4 from 2004, running at 1.5 GHz with 2 gigs of RAM. This computer has served me well. It is an impressive machine and has been to a lot of very rough places with me without ever missing a beat. When it was new, my G4 was a Lamborghini (it was BTO with top of the line specs for the time - faster HDD, stepped-up graphics, extra video RAM, etc). Today, it can just barely keep up with the internet.

    I recently bought an i5 27in iMac as my main desktop machine and love it. But I still need a laptop - preferably one that does not take 8-10 seconds to launch MS Office.

    I am a writer, and I travel a lot. I use Word, email and surf the web constantly. I use Excel a bit. I am not a power user of either iTunes or iPhoto. With the iMac on my desk I no longer need a laptop on which I can do serious video editing, though being able to work on small projects in FCE on my laptop is useful. I have only recently started using the iSight camera on my new iMac to conduct video chats, and find that I really enjoy them, so being able to do that (whether via gmail, skype or iChat) is important.

    I am not a gamer. I never run Windows on a Mac. I don't need a ton of ports or an optical drive.

    I love the MBA form factor and I am especially in love with both its weight and thin profile. In its current upper-end version (2.13 GHz with the SSD) it seems to be exactly what I need.

    Here's what I worry about, however: I need to know that if I pull the trigger on a MBA in its current form that it really will have the (admittedly limited) power I require. People who know more about these things than I do tell me the real reason my G4 is so painfully slow is that the frontside bus operates at only 167 MHz and that my current hard drive is about 90% full. The bigger hard drive on the MBA will solve that problem and the MBA's frontside bus, as I understand it, runs at 9 or 10 times the speed of the one on my current machine. Combine that with the jump from G4 to C2D and I'll be fine... not as blazing fast as the i5 iMac I'm writing this on, but so much faster than my current laptop that I'll be quite happy and productive.

    Or will I? Am I correctly informed regarding why my current machine is so slow? The fact that both it and the MBA have 2 gigs of RAM sticks in my mind. Considering the other differences between the two machines is this something I need to worry about or not?

    I am familiar with all of the arguments in favor of waiting for a new MBA and, like many of you, I have found the last few months quite frustrating (I, too, emailed Steve Jobs - no reply). The fact is, however, I will need to get a new laptop within the next few weeks. Leaving aside the danger of being the fool who buys the old machine a few days before the new one comes out, will the MBA in its current 2.13 GHz form be acceptable for my purposes for the foreseeable future? I've managed to get six years out of my last computer and hope the next one can last at least three.

    I appreciate any help or wisdom all of you may be able to offer.

    Thank you.
  2. n2arkitektur macrumors member


    Jun 25, 2010
    I'm in a similar situation to you, greenmountain. I have been lurking on the MBA forums for four or five months waiting for an updated Air to be released, and I am posting on the forums for the first time tonight. I can tell you I have a four-year-old 1G black MacBook with 2GB of RAM, and I have the same problem launching Word. It is one of the slowest programs to launch. My problem with my current situation and the current MBA is running Windows in Parallels; 2GB of RAM just doesn't cut it. I don't know about front side bus. I have been using computers since the Apple 2e and the 286, but I'm not what you'd call a computer geek. I'm sure another poster can shed some light on this.
  3. Spacekatgal macrumors regular


    Jun 9, 2009
    Word is written in obsolete Carbon. It's buggy, and poorly written. Most of your complaint has to do with that program itself - you might try Pages - which in my experience works better in saving .doc files than the Mac version of word.

    I don't think for the work flow you've described that the 2 gigs would limit you that much - especially not with an SSD. I think the biggest problem when multitasking on the MBA is the small screen - not the RAM.

    Also, if you've gotten by on a laptop that old for years, I think you'll do fine with an MBA.

    I would warn you that the main problem is the MBA is currently a terrible value. But, since you're planning on keeping it for many years, you might do better to buy it new with Applecare and forgo the used market.
  4. DannyNguyener macrumors regular


    Mar 13, 2010
    2GB of ram doesn't hurt me. But I could use a better battery.
  5. Scottsdale macrumors 601


    Sep 19, 2008
    2 GB of RAM is perfectly acceptable for the average user who just wants to run OS X Snow Leopard. It is even great for those wanting to run Windows 7 via BootCamp. The problem comes when people want to run Windows 7 in a VM while running OS X. Both Windows 7 and OS X require a minimum of 1 GB of RAM. In the MBA, it allots the first 256 MB of system RAM to the 9400m. That leaves less than 1 GB for each OS X and Windows 7.

    If one never needed Windows 7, or if they only wanted to run it via BootCamp, 2 GB of RAM is plenty acceptable. In addition, it's DDR3 1066 MHz RAM. It's quite a bit faster than the original MBA's RAM. If I only wanted to run OS X, I wouldn't ever need more than 2 GB of RAM.

    It just comes down to technical possibilities for Macs, and the MBA is missing something so fundamentally "normal" in these times. Many Mac users need access to Windows at times, and without more RAM the MBA requires shutdown and boot into Windows and etc. So if you don't mind just running OS X, or you are fine with BootCamp for Windows 7, the MBA and its 2 GB of RAM are plenty sufficient and capable. In fact, I bet the vast majority of people buying Macs with 4 GB of RAM or even 8 GB of RAM rarely use much over 2 GB of RAM unless they are using VMs.
  6. foranor macrumors regular

    Jun 10, 2009
    While I agree, you should consider the future. Everyone would like to keep their brandnew computer for 3 years and know that they're then at the bottom of the ladder when they started on top.
    2GB now are fine. Will 2GB still be fine in a year and half?

    The same applies to the question the OP asked.

    In my opinion as a Windows Notebook User (only, but so much wanting an MBA, just scared by price/value for cost)..
    You should do fine with 2GB of RAM. You'll even be fine for the next 3+ years, unless your demands on what you do with the thing change (be it for you changing careers or picking up a new pastime...).

    But as Scottsdale suggested, the MBA is a terrible ratio of what you get for your cash.

    I do strongly suggest to get the SSD, too. I'm running my Windows7 Notebook on one and I don't want to go back to HDDs in a notebook, ever, no matter that they cost additional cash. THAT, in my opinion, is what would even make your g4 run like a racehorse, except you'll have trouble upgrading due to other tech-specs.
  7. minellij macrumors newbie

    Jul 4, 2010
    New Hampshire
    I have to concur with all the replies ...

    I also had a 12" PowerBook that was much loved and have owned the first, painfully slow Air and now have the 1.86 SSD. Working on some video editing yesterday really brought what you asked into focus:

    The SSD is GREAT and the speed makes having only 2 GB of Ram not noticeable. My Air, running everyday tasks like word processing or browsing, is faster at startup and opening programs, than my new iMac with 4 GB of Ram. As Scottsdale says, it also is an excellent Windows 7 machine in Bootcamp. I do run VMWare but will only use XP on the virtual side because XP runs better, I believe, getting only 512 or 756 MB of Ram.

    Yesterday, however, I needed to bring the Air into school and do a bit of editing and some video capture and it had a real tough time with that. MUCH slower than the iMac.

    So I think you have heard some good advice from the other posters and they mimic what I have experienced. Great, portable machine for mild to moderate computing tasks, like writing. Pretty good battery life. 2 GB I think has worked well for me for a year and a half already and I think that will continue for another couple of years. SSD is the only way to, IMHO. And, Scottsdale you are right about the value, I think. Problem with the Air is that every time I go to the Apple Store and look at what the same amount of money could get me in a 13" MBP, I do shake my head. I need portability but the pound and a half really isn't that much of a difference for me, but the Air has this attraction that makes me feel that I own a very nice computer.
  8. halledise macrumors 65816

    May 7, 2009
    Hamilton Island, Whitsundays, QLD Australia
    value for money

    for what you are getting, the MB Air is awesome value - it was when released, got better with the price drop post GFC, and still rates very highly now.

    2.13ghz Core2Duo
    6mb L2 cache
    nVidia 9400M
    1066MHz frontside bus
    2GB DDR-3 Memory
    128GB solid-state drive
    NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics
    1.4 kg / 3 lb
    backlit keys
    LED display

    sweet. :D
  9. gglockner macrumors 6502


    Nov 25, 2007
    Bellevue, WA
    I agree 100% with Scottsdale. The MBA is an amazing travel computer, but its memory limitations are a concern if you are a power user and you want to use the MBA as your primary computer.

    In my case, I have an 8-core Mac Pro as my primary computer, and the MBA as my travel computer. If I want to use Windows, I use VMWare on my Mac Pro; even if I'm away, I can access it via Windows Remote Desktop. My job is in support of a company with scientific computing software, and I can always reach my Mac Pro via ssh or VNC when I need to do serious number crunching.

    Interestingly, I have the 128GB SSD MBA, and it feels really snappy - faster than the Mac Pro for everyday computing. (Have to find some money for an SSD for the Mac Pro...).

    Bottom line: if you don't need video editing, running Windows under virtualization, or high-performance computing, the MBA is a great machine, especially if the SSD model is in your budget. But if you need more memory or a larger HD, then you would be better served by a MBP.

    Finally, let's not raise the topic of MBA vs. iPad - there are plenty of other threads that have beaten this to death.

    And while it's widely believed that the MBA (and Mac Pro) are long overdue for updates, none of us knows when that will happen. I gave up waiting this spring and I'm glad I got the MBA, even though it only has 2GB of RAM. Thanks to the SSD, it feels really snappy.
  10. FireSokar macrumors regular

    Jun 21, 2010
    If you guys bootcamp windows 7 64bit on your macbook air like I do you would have no issues with the ram limitation. I have the 2.13ghz 120 SSD so i partition 80 to windows and 32 to mac, only reason I do this is because im a new switcher and Unison on mac sucks compared to newsbin. Office 2010 opens in 2 seconds or less on my windows 7. If you setup your system correctly you will be used to both OS's and require lil rebooting to go between for the odd app out.
  11. voicegy macrumors 65816


    Jan 1, 2002
    Sandy Eggo - MacRumors Member since 1-1-2002
    I detest rebooting between OS's, so 4 GIG RAM on the next MBA would be crucial to my purchasing it.
  12. gwsat macrumors 68000


    Apr 12, 2008
    I agree that at least 4Gb of RAM are necessary to run Windows under VMware Fusion or Parallels so that you don't have to reboot to get to your Windows apps. I run Windows and several apps under Fusion in Unity mode, including Quicken for Windows, which I always leave open on the OS X desktop. My MBP couldn't deal with that setup when it had only 2Gb of RAM and now I'm afraid that I might have problems with only 4Gb.

    Because of my misgivings about how well an MBA with 4Gb of RAM could handle Fusion in Unity mode, I am still undecided about whether I will get one when and if it becomes available. A 13 inch MBP upgraded with 8Gb of RAM and an SSD would be vastly more flexible and powerful. The downside of the 13 inch MBP, though, is that it is significantly heavier and more clumsy to handle than the MBA. Unfortunately, every laptop is a compromise and, for my purposes at least, both an upgraded MBA and a loaded 13 inch MBP would have serious weaknesses.
  13. cleric macrumors 6502a


    Jun 7, 2008
    Minneapolis, MN
    Has anyone tried running a stripped down version of windows 7? I run a stripped down version of xp on vmware.

    I think I read you can get windows 7 down to 165mb of ram. My xp only uses 160mb.
  14. gwsat macrumors 68000


    Apr 12, 2008
    You can easily run even a full blown installation of Windows with 2Gb of RAM, so long as you run it in Bootcamp. The problems arise when you run Windows in a VMware Fusion or Parallels virtual machine. The conventional wisdom is that you should have 8Gb of RAM to do so comfortably, although my old MBP, which can reliably access only 6Gb of RAM, has no trouble handling Windows 7 running in Fusion in Unity mode.
  15. n2arkitektur macrumors member


    Jun 25, 2010
    I never upgraded my OS, since I bought my Macbook 4 years ago, so I am still in OS 10.4 (Tiger?), and I run Windows XP in Parallels. For me, the problem hasn't been that running Windows in Parallels with only 2GB of RAM in my Macbook is prohibitive; it's just slow. I do this at least once or twice a week when working from home, and I get through the day productively, but it's not as fast as I really need it to be. At times, it's painful. I don't even attempt to open Illustrator or Photoshop when I have Parallels running. But, for me, I can't use Bootcamp either. I have to be able to plug in my external monitor, throw Windows into it (VPN to my office computer mostly or open AutoCAD) and access my Mac applications on my notebook monitor (lookup product specs in Safari or throw a system specification into note... (what is it called on Mac OS?)). I have to have the dual-monitor (dual-OS) functionality to be productive.

    I've been fairly confident that when the new MBA comes out it would have 4GB of RAM and that would be enough for me, but now, I'm a little worried, given what you all are saying about Windows 7 and Snow Leopard. I would hate to get the upgraded MBA with 4GB of RAM and find out running Windows 7 in Parallels on Snow Leopard is as low as running Windows XP in Parallels on Tiger is for me on my Macbook with 2GB of RAM.

    To Greenmountain, I would just follow up on what I said earlier and concur with what others have said, that I think 2GB of RAM should be enough for word processing (maybe not in Word) and web browsing. I will say that even though opening Word is slow on my Macbook with 2GB of RAM, once it is open it runs normally. And, if you wait for an upgraded MBA, you will be flying. I'm a creative person myself, and having a notebook I can take with me anywhere to express my creativity is my main motivator for getting an MBA. I think you are on the right track.
  16. kryca macrumors member

    Jul 6, 2010
    2GB is not enough w/ Windows

    The 2GB limitation is the only reason I postponed my purchase so far. Yes, BootCamp is an option to run Windows at decent speed, but BootCamp also comes with a disadvantage - you have to partition the hard disk/SSD and disk space is at a premium, too, unless you can anticipate your *exact* storage requirements for the next 2 years. I can't :). So with BootCamp you risk loosing a lot of disk space because the partitioning is suboptimal.
    4GB is really needed. I don't care about performance as I am not into gaming, 3D rendering or you name it. YMMV of course.

    And yes I can't hear this MBA vs. iPad vs. MBP13 discussion anymore. :) These machines are sooooooooo different. That's why Apple is building these systems in first place because they don't substitue each other. For me the MBA/4GB would be the perfect machine.


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