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Apple insists 8GB unified memory equals 16GB regular RAM

Bob Borchers in front of an iMac

Facing renewed criticism that it provides too little RAM in its iMac and MacBooks, Apple has doubled down on how Apple Silicon uses memory so much more efficiently.

One of the design changes brought by the move from Intel to Apple Silicon in 2020 was to do with RAM. In Apple Silicon, memory is hard-wired into the processor using Unified Memory Architecture (UMA), and that removes traditional bottlenecks.

Memory in Apple Silicon is accessed faster than in previous designs because the RAM is on board the processor, it doesn't have to be reached via the traditional bus and separate chip method. There are potential issues, but overall Apple is right that this is a significant improvement.

However, a core claim of Apple's is that this improved design means Mac need less RAM than they did.

"Comparing our memory to other system's memory actually isn't equivalent," Apple vice president of worldwide product marketing Bob Borchers said in a new interview, "because of the fact that we have such an efficient use of memory, and we use memory compression, and we have a unified memory architecture."

"Actually, 8GB on an M3 MacBook Pro is probably analogous to 16GB on other systems," he continued. "We just happen to be able to use it much more efficiently."

Several years in to using Apple Silicon, however, there is also an increase in the use of AI's large language models. Along with that comes an increased perception that Apple is short-changing its Pro users by making RAM upgrades costly.

"[So] what I would say is I would have people come in and try what they want to do on their systems, and they will I think see incredible performance," continued Borchers. "If you look at the raw data and capabilities of these systems, it really is phenomenal."

"This is the place where I think people need to see beyond the specs, and actually go and look beyond the capabilities, and listen to trusted people like you who have actually used the systems," he said. "People need to look beyond the specifications and actually go and understand how that technology is being used. That's the true test."

Borchers' claim is fair for regular use, like surfing, light image editing and the like. However, there are several professional workflows that we highlighted in our Apple Silicon Mac Pro review from just after WWDC, and will again in our M3 Max MacBook Pro review, that demand the RAM. His comments likely won't hold much water with those users.

Apple is arguably again under pressure over RAM because the new 14-inch MacBook Pro comes by default with 8GB RAM, as does the new 15-inch MacBook Air. These and the new 24-inch iMac can be increased to 16GB RAM for $200, or 24GB RAM for $400.