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Why Do Apple Silicon Macs (M1) Use More RAM?

If you think your M1 Mac requires less RAM to complete tasks, you’re mistaken. In reality, Apple Silicon Macs need more RAM. This article explains the reason.

A lot of misconceptions about Apple Silicon-based Macs are here and there. In various online forums, you will see some fanboys are suggesting 8 GB RAM is enough. Because Intel Mac’s 16 GB is equal to Apple Silicon Mac’s 8 GB. Or It can complete tasks smoothly. So, 8 GB is enough. It doesn’t require more RAM. I have not heard any ridiculous statements like these because the reality is the opposite, at least in my experience and based on what I studied as a computer science student.

macOs activity monitor memory usage

Why Apple Silicon Macs or any Arm Based Devices Uses More RAM

To understand the answer, you should know the Apple Silicon is using ARM architecture. Intel and AMD usually use x86. Though, there is the possibility that they will bring ARM-based processors in the future.

Difference Between RISC and CISC:

If you know a bit about micro-processors, you may know about the term CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer) and RISC(Reduced Instruction Set Computer). ARM uses RISC architecture, and x86 uses CISC.

RISC executes one instruction per clock cycle. CISC may require one or more cycles to execute an instruction. Also, CISC has some special instructions that can do what many RISC instructions can do combinedly. As a result, the code size for RISC is larger than the CISC. It is a reason RISC requires more RAM while CISC requires less.

There are some other big and complex differences that computer science students know. But, In general, these differences are enough to understand these architectures.

ARM vs. x86:

As RISC requires more memory, ARM-based processors require more RAM. But, RISC can do works using less power while CISC can be robust in power usage and performance. As a result, ARM has better power efficiency, and x86 has better performance and compatibility. But, Things are changing. ARM can be very powerful that Apple already proved with their SoC.

One good news is that the difference gap in terms of performance, efficiency, and memory usages are being reduced. Intel invests in innovative technology that makes their x86 use less power while ARM chip makers improve performance. Right now, We started seeing that x86 is often taking technologies from RISC and ARM from CISC. It is improving both types of processors.

Apple Silicon Mac’s RAM Usage:

Windows and UNIX-based operating systems like macOS are very different in terms of memory usages. When Windows doesn’t use that much memory, macOS can take your free RAM to hold information on it. As a result, You can get a much more responsive experience. So, You often may notice mac is using memory even in idle mode.

I have been using Apple Silicon Macbook Pro M1 with 16 GB RAM for months. Many people around the world think that the 8 GB RAM version is enough for M1 macs. But, That’s a very wrong concept. Because 8 GB is 8 GB, and 8 GB size file will always be 8 GB on any architecture. If Apple Silicon Macs perform better, it means it has better swapping capability. Apple SoC is different. RAM, GPU, and Processor themselves are embedded into a single chip. So, It requires less time to communicate between Processor and memory. That is an advantage of having unified memory. Else, Macbook has a faster SSD. So, If it goes out of memory, it can use SSD as virtual memory if necessary. As a result, you get a good performance.

cleanmymac x menu bar widget

But, Apple Silicon Mac uses more RAM than Intel Macs because it has an ARM-based SoC. I often went out of memory while browsing using Safari, Chrome, Edge, Firefox, etc. Else, I often found that it was using all memory+SSD while doing my works. Of courses, x86 based Macs also have these issues. But, Apple Silicon Macs have this problem more. I have also seen the RAM usage in one of the popular Mac Cleaner Tools CleanMyMac X. You can see the screenshot of RAM usage in the idle situation. Only 3.5 GB is available out of 16 GB. This Mac is good for normal usage and some particular professional tasks. However, 8 GB should not be a good choice. Many M1 Mac users talked about heavy swap memory usages. They were mostly 8 GB version users.

So, It is wise for average users to go for the 16 GB RAM version. Upcoming Macs will have more limits for RAM. Rumors are saying it can be 32 GB to 64 GB. Pro users should not consider these Macs below 32 GB RAM.

I hope this article helps understand why Apple Silicon Macs use more RAM and why you should not buy one with low memory capacity.

3 thoughts on “Why Do Apple Silicon Macs (M1) Use More RAM?”

  1. I’m afraid you took quite some shortcuts to write this article. RISC architectures might need more statements to perform the same task than CISC, on the other hand CISC requires usually more arguments per statements (remember, RISC is mainly register to register while CISC is anything to anything – this requires more space in both statement and parameter encoding). Anyway, I did some research for you with three random universal applications I happen to have installed on my Mac:

    Microsoft Word:
    architecture 0 (Intel)
    size 40906016
    architecture 1 (ARM64)
    size 40360208

    Affinity Designer:
    architecture 0 (Intel)
    size 591664
    architecture 1 (ARM64)
    size 602608

    Capture One 21:
    architecture 0 (Intel)
    size 21596560
    architecture 1 (ARM64)
    size 20762320

    This is shortened output of the command line tool ‘otool -f ‘.

    As you can see, executable sizes are very similar between Intel and ARM64. This said, executable size usually does not contribute much to an application’s memory footprint, it’s mainly its data. And there, a byte is a byte, regardless of architecture.

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  2. Just wonder how many cheapened out when buying their Apple silicon Mac and opted to just get the 8Gb RAM? I know myself I wish now I would have gotten the extra RAM on my Mac Mini. The one real drawback to the Apple Silicon SoC is that there is nothing you can upgrade internally on a Mac anymore. When you outgrow a Mac, you have to buy another one. For me this is a serious downside if you don’t pay attention to what you need for the future. It also means I cannot avoid the “Apple tax” with upgrades as I used to in the past in terms of third-party RAM. This by itself makes me reconsider whether I will buy another Mac again.

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  3. All I can say is from my experience using Intel and Apple silicon Mac’s that you better opt for more ram on a Apple silicon Mac if you plan on owning the Mac for some time. It would be wise to take the ram upgrade because you simply can’t upgrade ram after purchase. Those that say 8Gb of ram is enough on a Apple silicon Mac don’t do much with their Mac. It has been my experience that even a couple apps open can easily take up 6 or 7 Gb ram and with several tabs open in Safari I’ve seen near 8 Gb and the system starting to use swap memory.
    Just booting up Mac into Monterey I can see 4 Gb plus already in use. I wish now that I had opted for 16 Gb ram for my M1 Mac Mini.

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