How Much RAM Do You Need?

According to reports, in the 1980s Bill Gates said that “640K RAM should be enough for anyone”. Although the story is probably apocryphal, it did reflect the mood of some at the time: many people did believe that the future didn’t need much more RAM than what was available more than 30 years ago.

Clearly, we certainly need more than that now. Apple’s Calculator app alone uses around 28 megabytes of memory, or 45 times the entire usable memory space of a 640K RAM computer!

But how much memory do you need? This depends entirely on how much you will use your computer and what you’re going to use it for.

What is RAM?

Memory, also known as RAM, is like the short-term memory of your computer: it’s the amount your Mac can store on its system at any one time that’s ready to be immediately retrieved. The amount of RAM on your computer is vital to determining how much your Mac can do at any one time without worsening its performance.

How Does RAM Affect Performance?

A computer loads programs, the operating system, and data currently being used by the CPU. If RAM is like a computer’s short-term memory, then its data storage is its long-term memory: you can hold more information there, but you want to store it in the short-term part of your computer if you need that information quickly.

Put more technically, applications need to be quickly accessible if you want to use those apps fast, which means they need to be on your device’s RAM. If there’s no room in the RAM of your device, that data is saved instead of its data storage, which is slower to access. The more RAM you have, the less swapping back and forth of data between memory and storage occurs, and so the more applications you can quickly access on your device. This speeds up programs on your computer.

In theory, if you have less RAM than the executing programs on your computer demands, applications will not run. In practice, computers can use ‘virtual memory’, where processors can treat some of their storage as if it were RAM. However, relying on virtual storage always worsens your computer’s performance.


Can I Upgrade my Mac’s RAM?

Whether you can upgrade the RAM on your used Apple computer depends on what model you own. On some Apple MacBooks, you can remove the bottom cover and the RAM is easily removable. MacBook Pros from mid-2012 onwards, all MacBook Airs, and all Retina MacBooks solder the RAM components to the motherboard of the machine, which means you cannot upgrade the RAM yourself.

By contrast, all iMacs apart from the iMac Pro & iMac 21.5-inch can be somewhat easily upgraded. The iMac 27-inch even has a dedicated panel in the device on its back for adding more RAM, and it takes just a few minutes to add more memory to the computer, though for most other devices the process might take up to a few hours. You can also upgrade the RAM on any MacBook Pro from before mid-2012, the MacBook Core 2 Duo, and the MacBook Unibody. Finally, you can boost the RAM on a Mac Mini from before 2014 and any Mac Pro.

How Much RAM Does my Computer Need?

When it comes to system memory, the general rule of thumb is that the more memory you can have on your device, the better. In the modern world, even simple software like web browsers and Microsoft Office demand a lot more than 640K RAM!

If you want to use your computer casually – for example, you simply want to browse the internet, reply to emails and listen to music – you only need around 2GB memory. However, we’d recommend you get a computer with 4GB RAM so your computer can handle anything you throw at it, and is somewhat future-proofed if more intensive updates of the applications you use are released.

For power users, or office workers looking for a used Apple computer, we recommend 4GB to 8GB of RAM. At this size, internet browsing, emails, watching videos and listening to music is easy, and you can do many of these things simultaneously. You can also run word processing, flash games, and run simple graphics programs smoothly with this much RAM. At 8GB, you can handle larger file sizes and run more intensive applications as well.

If you work in a creative environment where you need to edit large files or photos and videos, especially if you’re accessing more than one file at a time, then we recommend getting a computer with at least 16GB of memory. This gives you enough memory for video editing, music, and design work, and running the most intensive software such as the Adobe Suite, 3D renderers, or financial modeling equipment.


We hope you found our guide useful! We provide details on the amount of RAM and all other specifications for our used Apple computers on our online store – browse our site to find a refurbished MacBook or Mac for sale that suits your needs and use our handy suitability filter to instantly find the right Mac! If you found our guide helpful or would like any more help choosing the right computer, leave us a comment below or message us on social media, and we’d be happy to help you uncover the perfect device.