8GB of RAM in the MacBook Pro M3 proved to be a bottleneck in real-world tests

Tim Hardwick

Apple's new MacBook Pro models feature Apple's latest M3 processor, but the base 14-inch model, which starts at $1,599, has just 8GB of RAM. In 2012, Apple released the first MacBook Pro with Retina display, which also started with 8GB of RAM. Of course, Apple now uses integrated chips with a unified memory architecture, so the company is confident in claiming that 8GB on a Mac is comparable to 16GB on competing systems.

But not everyone is convinced of this. Apple's decision not to equip base models with at least 16GB of RAM at the end of 2023 has proven ridiculous to many users, including Vadim Yuryev, co-host of the Max Tech YouTube channel. Yuriev decided to conduct some real-world tests on two 14-inch MacBook Pro M3 models: one with 8 GB, and the other with increased unified memory to 16 GB. The embedded video above has all the results.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Yuryev noticed significant improvements in performance across the board when using a 16GB machine under both moderate and higher workloads. The 8GB model suffered double-digit losses in Cinebench tests and took a few minutes longer to complete photo-merging jobs in Photoshop, as well as exporting media to Final Cut and Adobe Lightroom Classic.

These tests were run as single operations with nothing else running, but were also repeated with browser tabs, YouTube videos, spreadsheets, emails, etc. open in the background to simulate typical real-world multitasking scenarios. As expected, the performance gap between the two machines widened further as the 8GB increasingly relied on the SSD page file while all-round responsiveness suffered. Yuryev even reported crashes on the 8GB model during Blender rendering and Final Cut export.

Notably, Blender ray tracing acceleration was available as an option on the 16GB models, but was conspicuously absent on the MacBook Pro 8 GB for an identical render job, suggesting that the reduced memory pool is actually preventing the GPU cores from using certain functions.

Tests like these present a dilemma for customers looking to purchase a new MacBook Pro (or a new 8GB iMac, for that matter). Choosing 8GB appears to reduce the performance of the M3 chip, but choosing the 16GB or 24GB configuration options at checkout costs an additional $200 and $400 respectively, and Apple's machines cannot be upgraded later due to their unified memory architecture.

With an extra $200 for 16GB on the 14-inch MacBook Pro M3, the 18GB M3 Pro with a number of other extras costs just $200 more at $1,999. Perhaps even more frustrating is the fact that competing laptops at similar prices (like the Microsoft Surface or Lenovo Thinkpad) come with at least 16GB of memory as standard. Apple customers are expected to pay an extra $200 per jump, which certainly includes a hefty markup no matter what Apple pays its RAM suppliers.

Is Apple's 8GB starting configuration really acceptable? for $1,599 MacBook Pro in 2023? And has the company's memory pricing policy affected your own purchasing options? Let us know in the comments.

Related review: MacBook Pro 14 and 16 inches. Buyer's Guide: MacBook Pro 14 and 16 inches (Buy Now). Forum on topic: MacBook Pro [1138 comments]

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