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Tech 101: Order the Right Amount of Memory for Your New Mac

A RAM Install on a 27-inch iMac through the "back door"
A RAM Install on a 27-inch iMac through the “back door”

Now that the new iMac Pro is available, you might be thinking about getting one to speed through video editing and rendering…or just to gain bragging rights. There was a bit of controversy once the iMac Pro became available to pre-order, as it was also announced that unlike the “regular” iMac, the Pro model did not have a hatch on the back for performing easy memory upgrades. While more reasonably-priced upgrades than those from Apple will be available from in the near future, OWC CEO Larry O’Connor recently noted that:

“… with consideration to the relatively limited trade-in value of the lowest base 32GB option, the current cost of a full 64GB or 128GB kit and the labor involved with the upgrade – we currently recommend purchasing an iMac Pro with the amount of memory you believe will be needed.”

How much RAM should you purchase for your iMac Pro, or for any Mac that isn’t easily upgradeable by users?

The amount of RAM that should come pre-installed in your Mac depends on what you’ll be using the Mac for and what model you purchase.

iMac Pro
Those who are purchasing the iMac Pro are usually doing so for a reason — they need the incredible power of this computer. At a starting price of $4,999 with 32GB of RAM and the basic processor, it’s quite pricy. Get it with the top of the line processor with 18 cores, 128GB of RAM, and 4TB of SSD storage and you’re looking at a $13,348 price tag — before taxes!

Related: See which upgrades your Mac is compatible with the My Upgrades tool

Our suggestion for those who are considering the purchase of an iMac Pro for a specific use case and application is to ask others who already use that app how much RAM they would suggest. You’ll find that user forums and online groups are a valuable resource for finding the “sweet spot” for required RAM for a particular app.

That being said, if you’re considering the purchase of an iMac Pro — even with the base 8-core processor and storage — a good suggestion would be to get it with 64GB of RAM for future needs. That drops the price tag down to a more reasonable $6,548.

Once OWC’s DIY kit and Turnkey Upgrade options become available, you’ll have another solution for bumping up the RAM in your computer.

The iMac now comes with 8GB of RAM pre-installed, which is sufficient for many users. For those who are purchasing the 27-inch iMac, the good news is that you can easily upgrade your computer buy purchasing RAM from and installing it through the “back door” on the device. The 21.5-inch iMac does not come with that door, so you’ll want to think ahead to possible uses of the computer during its working life.

Will you be creating photo books, doing detailed photo retouching, editing 4K video, or composing music? Consider ordering that computer with 16GB of RAM (the maximum for the 21.5-inch model). That 27-inch iMac can be upgraded to a total of 64GB of RAM from the factory for “just” $1,400… or you can save a lot of money purchasing your upgrade from for $648 (prices in this article are as of this publishing date) — less than half of what Apple charges!

Apple’s sleek little MacBook now comes with 8GB of RAM standard, which is more than enough for many purposes. For most day-to-day use, that 8GB of RAM is sufficient for web browsing, email, social networking, running your favorite productivity apps, and even doing work with Photos.

Going to be doing work with Adobe’s Creative Cloud or perhaps need more RAM to juggle a pile of apps? Upgrading to the maximum — 16GB — is just $200 more.

MacBook Air
The slender MacBook Air has one thing Apple’s other laptops are lacking — “normal” ports and not the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports found on the MacBook and MacBook Pro. Like the MacBook, the MacBook Air is outfitted with a standard load of 8GB of RAM. It does not come in a higher RAM capacity model, so take that into account if your future usage may require a bit more working memory.

MacBook Pro
The top of the line MacBook Pro now comes with 8GB of RAM standard in the 13-inch model (upgradeable to 16GB at purchase time for $200) while the 15-inch is preloaded with 16GB and is non-upgradeable. This is one of the primary criticisms of the current MacBook Pro, in that “pro-level” laptops should be upgradeable to at least 32GB.

Our suggestion on the MacBook Pro? Get it with 16GB of RAM. Even if your workflow doesn’t require a lot of RAM, the device will have more resale value down the road.

Mac mini
Alas, the poor Mac mini — the neglected child of the Mac line. Will 2018 be the year that it is finally given a refresh? The least-expensive model (a bargain at $499) comes with a minuscule 4GB of RAM — the least RAM you’ll find in any Mac. The mini used to be user-upgradeable, but that’s no longer an option… Through Apple, you can bump up the base RAM to 8GB for an additional $100 during a purchase or take it to the max with 16GB for $300.

Our suggestion? Spend that extra $300 and go for 16GB. Most Mac minis are used for specific purposes, as Plex multimedia or small office servers. Both of those use cases can really benefit from the maximum 16GB RAM.

Mac Pro
Finally, we come to the Mac Pro, which will be upgraded some time in the future. Will that future be 2018, 2019, or even 2020? We don’t know, but the new computer is likely to be a powerhouse. In the meantime, it’s still a fast, powerful and somewhat expandable Mac.

The Mac Pro is outfitted with a base amount of 16GB of RAM, upgradeable through Apple to 32GB ($400 more) or 64GB ($1,200 more) of memory.

You can do much better by purchasing your Mac Pro upgrade through Options are available for 32GB ($359), 64GB ($498), 96GB ($819) or a whopping 128GB ($1,079). That’s right — you can double Apple’s available RAM upgrade for less money! Mac Pro users are generally heavy RAM consumers, so buy the base machine with the storage and processor setup you need plus the minimum amount of RAM. Then, use that link you see above to get as much RAM as you think you’ll need for editing your Oscar-contender movie!

Older Macs
In this article, we’ve pointed out what you should consider for memory in your soon-to-be-purchased Mac. But what about the older, more easily upgradeable Macs? A memory upgrade can often bring new life to an older Mac, so it’s a good idea to look into upgrading RAM if that Mac is feeling sluggish.

To determine whether or not an older Mac can take more RAM, you’ll need to see how much is currently installed and whether there are available slots into which you can install additional and/or larger RAM modules. The best way to do that is to go to your Apple menu and select About This Mac. For upgradeable Macs running macOS High Sierra or Sierra, there’s a Memory tab that you can click on for details. Here’s an example below, taken from a 27-inch Retina 5K iMac:

Macs with RAM that can be user upgraded will show this Memory tab in About This Mac
Macs with RAM that can be user upgraded will show this Memory tab in About This Mac

Jump back over to the home page, where it’s easy to find out if your older Mac can be upgraded and how easy or hard it will be to perform the upgrade. Just click on Memory (see image below) and you’ll see a menu for all of the different Mac models. Select yours, and follow the instructions on the next page you see. Happy upgrading!

Click on the "Memory" link and select the type of Mac
Click on the “Memory” link and select the type of Mac
Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
Contributing Author
Steve has been writing about Apple products since 1986, starting on a bulletin board system, creating the first of his many Apple-related websites in 1994, joining the staff of The Unofficial Apple Weblog in 2008, and founding Apple World Today in 2015. He’s semi-retired, loves to camp and take photos, and is an FAA-licensed drone pilot.
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  • I have a recently purchased 2020 27″ Mac which came with 8GB memory, two sticks of 4GB taking up two of the four slots available. Can I take out those two 4GB sticks & replace with total of (4) 16GB for total of 64GB? Also what brand of quality reasonably priced memory do you recommend?
    Thank you,

  • I have a late 2013 iMac 27 inch.
    3.2 Gz Intel Core i5
    2-4Gb of RAM for 8Gb total

    In the past I used my computer primarily for Photoshop and FCP work. I am now using it more for home based personal music production.
    Have Ableton 10 Lite and Cubase but find I like the simplicity of Garageband. I may in the future go to Logic.

    My question is:
    Can I keep and add to my RAM, something like 2-8 Gb cards, bringing my total RAM to 24 Gb?
    Or do I need to replace with all similar size RAM, like 4-8 Gb equaling 32 RAM?

  • Good day

    I have a MacBook pro I bought in 2012 8gb. I recently installed the new OS and have been having problems with the whole system being slow and practically non do I upgrade from 8gb to a 16gb?

  • I’m waiting for your benchmark for the 2017 iMac before I place an order

  • My original comments should have said “I’m considering whether to go to ADD 16GB or 32GB”, rather than “go to 16GB or 32GB”.

    • Hey Dennis I guess if it’s only you and me that wants the benchmarks OWC doesn’t care … I have bought there products for 20 years. I think I’ve had my ’17 for almost a year now and still no ram tests. The problem is if you go with the two 8’s your spaces are full and you have to through something out to up grade later, I I simply don’t want to do that.
      When or if you see new benchmarks please give me a heads up. Thanks

      • I’m with you David. I may just order one 16GB for total of 24 until I see some test data. Or I may just hold off completely and stick with the standard 8 until then.

  • There is no recommendation or rationale in this article for upgrading an iMac 27″ beyond 16GB, mentioned as the maximum for the 21.5″ Mac. It only says one can upgrade further, to a max of 64BG, cheaper via OWC than via Apple. I read this article expecting to hear thoughts/recommendations on “ordering the Right Amount of Memory for Your New Mac” per the article’s title. I just bought a new 2017 27″ with 8GB, and I’m considering whether to go to 16GB or 32GB, but this article was of no help — I already knew I could do so cheaper via OWC, whatever my choice. Other than “more is always better”, where is the best value point? I do standard stuff and lots of photo processing, which the article mentions 16GB as appropriate for this type of use with the 21.5″. What about the 27″?

  • I have the new iMac 27 i7 2017 with 8GB of ram, I’m a photographer and I run iPhoto and inDesign at the same time working with 72” images with 15-20 layers. My old Mid 2011 i7 3.4 27” was faster with 24GB of ram . So far I’ve seen no speed testing for the 2017 with more ram, my dilemma is adding 2 16MB rams (40 total) cost $335 which I sure would cover me but that’s a lot of $$$ and if I go with 2x8MB ram (24 total) for half the $$$ I’m just not sure that will do it for me over the long run. What do you think? I wish you would do some speed tests on that model. Thanks – David

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