The title of this post raises an interesting question.
There has been some chatter from people complaining that the new M1 Macs from Apple have lower memory options available than their Intel counterparts. But I have also seen folks say that perhaps memory works differently or is more efficient with an SoC architecture.
So, what gives?
Let’s take a look at the memory options of the latest M1 (ARM-based) Macs and their previous Intel processor counterparts:
Maximum RAM Options – M1 vs. Intel
|MacBook Pro 13″
|MacBook Air 13″
|Most Recent Intel:
Current M1 SoC:
As you can see, all but the MacBook Air have lower memory maximums. The new 13-inch MacBook Pro has 1/2 the available memory, and the Mac mini a mere 1/4!
Is there something magical about Apple silicon? Perhaps some sort of magic-mojo is baked into the M1 chip like the semi-sweet chocolate in a Tollhouse cookie? This could be big news, after all.
I opened up a chat session with the 2nd smartest guy I know – OWC Product Marketing Manager, Chris Haeffner.
Step One – Chat With Chris
[11:58 AM] Mark Chaffee
So, I’ve been hearing some chatter about people complaining that the new M1 Macs have limited memory options available. But I have also seen folks say that perhaps memory works differently or is more efficient with an SoC architecture. Do you have any insight into this? I think it would make for a good blog piece.
[12:23 PM] Chris Haeffner
Well, this is an intricate subject I think. Typically RAM in ARM (RISC) processors is very important, more important to performance than x86/64 (CISC) processors. What Apple is doing with their RAM management though might be the key here, I just haven’t looked into it in detail.
[12:28 PM] Mark Chaffee
You used a lot of fancy words in there. Kinda gave me the chills! Would there be any value to us knowing this as a company (i.e. putting the effort into a deeper understanding)? I know our readers would love to know more.
[12:30 PM] Chris Haeffner
ok, so this is first a comparison of RISC v CISC and how RAM factors in. Then it maybe could be a look at how the chip being SoC factors in, possibly with Apple’s memory management techniques. At the end of the day, I think we may have the ability to say our understanding of RAM with these new Macs needs to shift a little.
admittedly a lot of this is over my head – for the record
[12:34 PM] Mark Chaffee
Well, that put’s my head about 2 miles below the earth’s core…
[12:37 PM] Chris Haeffner
This will probably fall to Tim. Maybe start an email saying you and I discussed some basics and recap what I wrote. I don’t have a problem saying that that is where my understanding severely diminishes 😊 Copy me and Anderson too.
Step Two – Email Tim
So I did just that and reached out to the 1st smartest guy I know, Tim Standing (OWC’s Vice President of Software Engineering), to see if he could shed any light on this quandary. Perhaps he could crack the code and unlock the magic and let the world know what Apple has been cooking up in its secret kitchen. I posited the query just as I did to my friend Chris. The same also appeared in the second paragraph of this post, so I won’t three-peat myself.
This was Tim’s response…
The memory limit for the ARM Macs probably comes from the maximum size of the memory die that they can place in the MCM, which contains the CPU. The MCM (Multi-Chip Module) is several dies (separate silicon chips), all placed in one package. MCMs allow a much faster connection between the separate chips and make manufacturing easier as there is one package to solder rather than 3.
I don’t see there being any difference between the Intel and ARM Mac mini, for instance, in terms of memory usage. They both use integrated graphics, meaning they have GPU cores which share RAM with the CPU. They will both use about the same amount of memory.
I think the limit on RAM on the ARM Macs is therefore due to what Apple could design and manufacture in the schedule they gave themselves rather than due to a difference in the architecture of the M1. They probably think, correctly, that 95% of users need 16 GB or less of RAM.
Hope this helps
What We’ve Learned
Admittedly, that wasn’t as exciting as I was hoping it would be—kind of anticlimactic, TBH. But at least we got an answer! Apple will likely re-tool their manufacturing as time allows and open up additional memory options for the rest of us 5%-ers somewhere down the road.
Perhaps the bigger question is, are you planning on waiting? Or is 16GB enough, and you are going to take the leap? Leave a comment below and let us know!