Base-Model RAM in Apple Devices

Following up on (a) my post earlier this week regarding on-device LLM features being RAM-hungry, and (b) my post regarding Mark Gurman’s claim that M4 Macs will start shipping late this year, I will direct your attention to a report from MacRumors back in January that all iPhone 16 models will include 8 GB of RAM. With the iPhone 15 models, the non-pro models have 6 GB and the Pro models 8 GB. If true, one incongruity will be that new iPhones will have the same amount of RAM as most base-model Macs.

This came up on the most recent episode of ATP, and their show notes include these two charts posted to Mastodon by David Schaub, showing (a) the base RAM for all-in-one Mac desktops from 1984 onward; and (b) the base RAM in consumer Mac laptops from 1999 onward. It has always been the case that Apple has been open to criticism for base-model RAM being “one click” too low. E.g. when base RAM was 1 GB, it should have been 2 GB; when it was 2 GB it should have been 4 GB; etc. But it was also always the case that Apple increased the base RAM every two years or so. Not anymore. iMacs have been stuck at 8 GB of base RAM since the 27-inch iMac from late 2012. MacBook Airs have been stuck at 8 GB base RAM since 2017.

I do think it’s true that Apple silicon changed this equation. Perhaps even, as a rule of thumb, by a factor of 2 — that an Apple silicon Mac with 8 GB RAM performs as well under memory constraints as an Intel-based Mac with 16 GB. But base model consumer Macs have been stuck at 8 GB for a long time, and it’s impossible to look at Schaub’s charts and not see that regular increases in base RAM effectively stopped when Tim Cook took over as CEO. Apple silicon efficiency notwithstanding, more RAM is better, and certainly more future-proof. And it’s downright bizarre to think that come this fall, all iPhone 16 models will sport as much RAM as base model Macs. (Supercomputer pioneer Seymour Cray on virtual memory: “Memory is like an orgasm. It’s a lot better if you don’t have to fake it.”)