Should Pro Users Care About the 16GB RAM Limit on the 2016 MacBook Pro?



Jonathan Zdziarski, a forensic scientist, has released a blog post detailing his findings regarding the new MacBook Pro’s 16GB RAM limit. In the post, he tries to figure out if this limit should make professionals switch to another machine.

The new MacBook Pro is clearly designed for professionals, like photographers, videographers, editors, engineers, and producers. Zdziarski decided to fire up a bunch of applications that would be used by professionals in various fields to see if the 16GB memory limit would ever be a bottleneck.

Here is a list of applications he ran:

  • VMwarei Fusion: Two running virtual machines (Windows 10, macOS Sierra)
  • Adobe Photoshop CC: Four 1+gb 36 MP professional, multi-layer photos
  • Adobe InDesign CC: A 22 page photography-intensive project
  • Xcode: Four production Objective-C projects, all cleaned and rebuilt
  • Microsoft PowerPoint: A slide deck presentation
  • Microsoft Word: A 20+ page document with graphics
  • MachOView: Analyzing a daemon binary
  • Mozilla FireFox: Viewing a website
  • Safari: viewing a different website
  • Preview: Three PDF books
  • Hopper Disassembler: Performing an analysis on a binary
  • WireShark: Performing a live network capture as I do all of this
  • IDA Pro 64-bit: Analyzing a 64-bit intel binary
  • Apple Mail: Viewing four mailboxes
  • Tweetbot: Reading all the flames and trolls in my mentions
  • iBooks: Currently viewing an ebook I paid for
  • Skype: Logged in and idling
  • Terminal: A few sessions idling
  • iTunes
  • Little Flocker
  • Little Snitch
  • OverSight
  • Finder
  • Messages
  • Veracrypt
  • Activity Monitor
  • Path Finder
  • Console
  • Probably a lot I’ve missed

His result was that he actually ran out of applications to launch before he ran out of RAM, making it to a total of 14.5GB used. However, before he had a chance to max out the RAM, the system started paging out. This means that macOS did the right thing and stopped the user from launching more applications before the hard RAM limit was reached.

Chrome and Slack are two apps that Zdziarski did not run because they are known to be memory hogs. If you run these poorly written applications, then there’s a chance that you may run out of memory, however, we must keep in mind that this is not Apple’s fault. Many users who might make use of more than 16GB of RAM typically have a lot of unnecessary crapware running at startup.

While there are definitely real professionals in the market that need more than 16GB of RAM, the vast majority of users do not.

As Zdziarski demonstrated, the new 2016 MacBook Pro is more than capable of running a large number of professional apps at the same time without crossing the limit. With this, Zdziarski pushes back on the idea that these “pro” users need more than 16GB of RAM.

[via Daring Fireball]


  • Aleks Oniszczak

    Yeah, who needs more than 640K. And who even runs Chrome anyway. It makes me feel so much better to know the reason my new Mac Pro runs slow is not Apple’s fault. Whew!

  • JP

    I don’t purchase based on today’s limits but on being able to work with a non upgradable laptop four years from now. I won’t go with 16GB as of today. Not because I need 32 GB now, because I’ll need it somewhere in 2018…

  • mcfilmmakers

    The point is t whether or not users need the 16gb of ram but whether users are getting what they’re paying for and they are not.

  • thomasein

    So this “scientist” has never heard of having multiple tabs/windows open in Safari? Some websites, e.g. Facebook, can use almost 1GB.

  • Dehop

    I run 5 VMs simultaneously for my development, but sometimes need to boost that to 8. My coworker needs to run 10. He couldn’t run them well under the previous top-of-the-line MBP, he now has a Windows laptop with 32 GB of RAM.

    Granted he was itching to get back to Windows anyway, but the lack of power user pro options in the MacBook “Pro” made his decision a no-brainer.

  • Horacio

    Exactly what I thought. Having two or three tabs open in Safari can consume a lot of RAM, if you add Photoshop and Illustrator, or Photoshop and Premiere, you’ll end up needing more than 16GB of RAM. This tests don’t take into account that you will also need to run apps like iTunes or Spotify, 1password, sometimes dropbox, OneDrive or Amazon Drive to name a few… Basically it forces you to have a “Pro” computer and to use less software to not max out its 16GB of RAM limit…

  • Salinger

    I don’t understand why people are jumping through hoops trying to defend Apple’s ridiculous choices for this new MacBook Pro. My whole ecosystem, just about, is Apple. And I was as excited as anyone waiting for this new MB Pro to be announced, but when it was, I really wasn’t sure what to think. And the more I thought about what I was getting for the amount I was about to pay, I really found it difficult to justify.

    Rather than desperately trying to find excuses as to why taking away the SD card slot or not being able to plug your iPhone 7 into your brand new MB Pro are good things, let’s call Apple out on this BS and hope that the next time there’s a Pro update, you know, in maybe three or four years, they’ll actually give people what they want and need rather than caring only about making a Pro machine thinner and lighter.

    Let’s not get excited about saving $5 on a dongle we need just to use this new machine, instead, let’s give feedback to Apple that making a laptop more portable, and then needing to carry another bag full of cables, adapters and dongles, is just ludicrous.

  • I’ve got an entirely Apple ecosystem as well, and experienced a similar excitement-turned-to-confusion moment as you. Personally, it’s made the decision easier for me on whether or not to upgrade. I’m going to wait a year (or until the next small update). My 3-year-old MBP is still running fine, and a year from now I’m hoping they’ll release a speed bump to the lineup in addition to increasing the RAM options to 32GB. By that time more options for USB-C cables, dongles and accessories will be available and time tested, and I’ll be more ready to make those upgrades.

  • Brad Fortin

    His test included Photoshop, and InDesign, and iTunes, and a lot more (as listed in the article). He also had multiple VMs open. He had enough open for the system to start paging, but never one ran into performance issues. Maybe read the article next time?

  • Brad Fortin

    Then your only option is a machine using desktop-grade DDR3 or DDR4 instead of the mobile-grade LPDDR3 or LPDDR4, which means a machine with 1-2 hours battery, which means you’ll always be tethered to the wall for power, in which case you might as well just get a desktop anyway.

  • Brad Fortin

    “I don’t understand why people are jumping through hoops trying to defend Apple’s ridiculous choices for this new MacBook Pro.”

    In fairness, people are criticizing Apple for things that aren’t its choices or even within its control, like the 16 GB RAM limit.

  • jay

    there are a lot people complaining about “only 16GB” but most users wont use more anyways. for me are more connectors and for sure the price. if i spend so much money i want power and a lot connectors that i need. i need at least 4 USB ports at home but when i am on the road i need at least SD card reader and usb c maybe HDMI would be great.

    that i can not plug in my iphone is not a problem for me i use my MAC for that but why apple does not change to USB C? because how much money the make with lighning cables…