This is easy. How much memory your Mac needs depends upon a variety of factors. How much money you have. And what you expect your Mac to do and how you want it to perform. Memory is RAM, not storage, so there’s that to consider, but the rule of thumb I’ve used as a recommendation for a few decades is simple; get as much RAM as you can afford. Likewise, get as much storage as you can afford.
But what amount of memory does your Mac need? See above.
Apple is notoriously cheap when it comes to RAM and memory is so cheap these days that I’m willing to bet the company could double RAM on every Mac it sells and never see a change to its quarterly profits, already about half of the entire PC industry.
Today’s Macs, just as Macs forever, have a range of pre-installed amounts of RAM. The entry-level Mac mini starts at 4GB of RAM but a 500GB hard drive. But that’s a real, spinning, breakable hard disk drive, not a more robust SSD. Want more RAM, spend more money.
The story is the same with Apple’s venerable MacBook Air line which also starts with a relatively anemic 4GB of RAM on the entry-level 11-inch model. Now, I say relatively anemic, because as performance standards go, 4GB isn’t much, 8GB– which is what you find on every other Mac– is a very good place to start and end.
Yet, you’ll find plenty of Windows touchscreen tablet notebook hybrids which come with a measly 2GB of RAM running Windows 10. That’s fine for browsing and email, a few games, some photo managements, and not much else. 2GB makes Apple look generous.
What is it with 8GB?
For most of us, OS X performs great with 8GB of RAM, the minimum amount recommended by major software vendors, including Adobe (for the memory hungry apps in Creative Cloud). Why doesn’t Apple put 8GB of RAM into everything?
This isn’t a technology issue– partly because 4GB running OS X works very well for entry-level users– it’s a marketing issue. By setting the bar low Apple can migrate customers to spend another $100 or so to get more RAM because everyone says more is better. The same pricing mechanism is used to push customers from 16GB iPhones to 64GB iPhones. Apple gets more money.
Do you need more than 8GB of RAM? The answer is simple. It depends. More is better, and, except for those who buy from Apple, RAM is cheap so why not? My MacBook Pro has 16GB of RAM. My desktop iMac sports 25GB of RAM, but both Macs also run Final Cut Pro X, which can use the extra memory, but most of us could get by just fine on 8GB of built-in RAM.
In the end, my rule of thumb stands. Get the most RAM you can afford, keeping in mind that 16GB is pretty powerful, and likely to make your Mac a more attractive purchase four or five years down the road. Ditto for storage. Hard disk drives are cheap. SSDs are not. But more is better, not only now, but a few years from now when you sell your well used Mac, and plunk down more money for a new model.