MacBook Pro memory matters

The latest MacBook Pros don’t constitute a completely new product line, as the first MacBook Pro did over the PowerPC-based PowerBooks. But they are more than just speedbumps.

The laptops announced Tuesday by Apple feature new and faster processors, more L2 cache, bigger hard drives, FireWire 800 across the line, and faster DVD burners. But one thing I find particularly noteworthy is an increase in the standard RAM with each model—especially important in these days of memory-hungry applications (and, well, operating systems).

All three MacBook Pro models now include twice the standard RAM of the models they replace. The 2.16GHz, 15-inch model comes with 1GB of RAM, while the 2.33GHz 15-inch and 2.33GHz, 17-inch models come with 2GB of RAM—making the latter two the first Macs ever to ship with 2GB of RAM, an amount once considered appropriate only for the highest-end customers.

At the same time, Apple also increased the maximum RAM for the MacBook Pro from 2GB to 3GB. That’s an impressive number, but if there are two RAM slots, why not a 4GB limit? When working on my reviews of the Core 2 Duo iMacs —which, except for the entry-level model, share the same 3GB RAM limit—Apple told me that the Intel chip set used inside had limited memory addressing capabilities, meaning 3GB is the most the system can address. I have to assume that Apple is using the same chip set in the MacBook Pro. (The iMac is basically a desktop computer using laptop parts, so that would make sense.)

I point this out not to take anything away from Apple’s increasing its standard MacBook Pro RAM—a bump I suspect we’ll see in other models as well—but simply to point out the “two steps forward, one step back” situation here. But how many people really need 4GB of RAM in any Mac, much less a portable? Very few, I’m sure. So for most of us, the RAM bump is nothing but good news.

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