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I'm looking to buy the new MacBook Air and, being from Windows, am unfamiliar with how much memory it would be advisable to have (thinking about the 4 GB upgrade).

For those from the fairer OS:

  • how much memory does the operating system take up?
  • how much memory does Google Chrome, with 10-15 tabs open, probably with a YouTube video, Gmail, Google Docs among them, usually take up?
  • Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint?

I plan on purchasing the 1.86 GHz 13" Macbook Air.

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7 Answers 7

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Google Chrome will use 100-200 MB of RAM, Microsoft Office another 100-200 MB. Basically, more RAM is the best way to speed up your system, so go for 4 GB. But you probably know it already, just need an excuse ;-)

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How very true. :) –  ehfeng Oct 24 '10 at 13:52
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In the case of the Air, I agree with it. However, an SSD was a much more visible speed upgrade then doubling my ram on my current MBP. –  Braden Nov 4 '10 at 15:42
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@Braden - Oh yes, SSD makes a HUGE difference. ONe can also take a look at hybrid drives (plate + big NAND cache) for good performance, decent size (ie, 0.5T) and affordable price –  Jakub Konecki Nov 4 '10 at 16:36

Yes, Mac OS X chews up RAM. I would highly recommend getting 4 GB for maximum performance. Also, the RAM is soldered onto the board, so once you buy you are stuck with what you get. For this reason, it's very strange that Apple is even shipping it with 2 GB. It's only $100 and it future proofs your Mac. Get it.

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The #1 reason why you should get 4 GB off the bat is because the RAM is soldered directly to the motherboard. You can see it in its flesh here:

This means that future upgrades will be very expensive because you would have to unsolder the chips and then re-solder a whole 4 GB worth of chips. So it's money for the labor and money for the whole extra 4 GB and that ranges between $100-$200.

Then you have the Nvidia GPU that takes 256 MB of RAM away from you for its graphics processing.

And finally computer software is becoming more and more demanding and fancy, thus the need for extra RAM.

On another note a 64-bit OS takes more RAM because it has to store variables in the RAM with a 64-bit bandwidth and not 32-bit even if your application is 32-bit.

Sorry, I don't own a Mac so I can't answer RAM usage. I have installed Mac OS X on a netbook once, and it did not use much RAM from what I remember. But I'm certain that RAM usage for applications such as Chrome and Office would be similar to Windows'.

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I can guarantee that resoldering your RAM isn't going to be a supported user upgrade, ever, and I find it highly unlikely that Apple authorized service would do it in the first place. For almost all intents and purposes, the MacBook Air's RAM in unupgradeable. –  NReilingh Dec 31 '10 at 3:10

I recently switched to Mac and I had the same question you did. I was advised to upgrade and, although I didn't yet, (couldn't and can't afford it,) I recommend getting more memory if you can afford it.

If you are going to be running Windows, odds are you will be better off running it through Boot Camp. (If you really have the need to run Windows, you probably will be running a powerful program that a VM can't handle.)

The key thing to note when switching is that unlike PCs, Apple computers are not made to have the internals upgraded. (Unless you have a Mac Pro, in which case you will be worrying about upgrading more than just memory.)

On my iMac, with 4GB of RAM, I've been fine, even doing video editing. On my MacBook, 2GB or memory does lag occasionally. (But then again, I routinely run five, six, or more programs at once. Mail, iChat, Safari, Firefox, Flash, XCode and then some...)

Like others here have pointed out, it's cost-prohibitive later to upgrade the memory in the MacBook Air systems, due to the way the machine is put together. You are saving on service charges etc. Also, there is always a slight risk that the person doing the upgrade will mess up. You avoid this risk by purchasing the memory now.

On the other hand, if you are going to be running only basic programs, you may want to put that same $100 or $200 towards an AppleCare Protection plan or a nice case and screen protector.

I would go with the upgrade. (If nothing else, you won't be left wondering what life would have been like with that extra two gigabytes.)

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Thanks! I appreciate the advice. –  ehfeng Dec 4 '10 at 7:35

Yes, I would also get the extra RAM. But still...

Mac OS X 10.6 works fine even with 1 GB of RAM. On a very old MacBook Pro that only has 1 GB, I can do Mail, Skype and Terminal, without paging. Safari is the problem, as it takes ever more memory, but still, if I have only about 6 tabs open, I have no performance problems.

With 2 GB you can run Safari and Microsoft Office as much as you want with no problems.

If you get fancy and run things like Windows Vista in VMWare, or video editing, or some other high-end application, you really want to have the 4 GB. But if you were going to do that, would MacBook Air be the machine for you?

Still, because of the soldering thing, I would get the 4 GB anyway. You never know what you will want to run next year.

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I would say "Go for the 4GB". In the future, if you are looking to sell it or to run newer OSes you would wish you had the extra RAM. It's really apple trying to make some $$$ on the lower end 2gb models. Cash in on its form factor...and cash in when they realize they need an upgrade. It's worth $100 considering PC ram 4GB sets run around $80.

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I just got the MacBook Air 13" (late 2010) 4 GB model (256 GB SSD, Nvidia GPU) and it's simply a rocket of a machine. I installed Windows 7 (Boot Camp) and it's running flawlessly. I really believe that the MacBook Air 13" 4 GB RAM model is the best designed and outfitted laptop on the market.

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Your last point should be asked as a separate question. to answer you though, that probably has to do with the graphics memory sharing it. –  Moshe Nov 21 '10 at 18:25
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Along with the RAM allocated to your GPU, it's also likely that you installed Windows 7 32-bit, which can only use 3 GB total RAM (including that which is shared with the GPU). It will be more of a rocket of a machine if you install Windows 7 64-bit. –  fideli Nov 21 '10 at 18:56
    
fideli is right. –  ehfeng Dec 4 '10 at 7:35

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