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MBA w/ 128gb ssd & 8gb RAM or 256gb ssd & 4gb RAM?

13384 Views 16 Replies Latest reply: Jul 6, 2013 3:27 AM by stumbleone RSS
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McKeenFam Calculating status...
Currently Being Moderated
Jul 5, 2013 2:30 AM

I'm going to college in the next few months and would like a macbook air to start it with, my problem comes in that I don't know what or if I should even upgrade it. The MBP's seem like too much (Price/Technology) for what I want/need. I'm just a simple person that would like to use his computer to:

~ Surf the internet/social media

~ Use Itunes

~ Write word docs/powerpoints

~ Play Roller Coaster Tycoon 3

Obviously as you can see, a MBP would be excessive for what I need/want out of my computer. So, I would like to purchase a MBA but should I upgrade the SSD or the RAM given what I want/need to do with my computer? I'd like to update at least one of them, but if I get told I don't need to, then I won't. I don't want to ask in an apple store either because they'll say to upgrade it all. While upgrading it all would probably be best, it's my first macbook so I'm just trying to get my feet wet here. I want to make sure my investment is a solid one, for the price that I'm paying.


P.S. I've looked up the difference between SSD and RAM. I can't say I neccesarily understand it so I'm willing to take some advice if anyone has it.

P.P.S. Which upgrade would RCT3 probably play better on?


I know I've asked a million questions, but I've researched for weeks and weeks now and I'm still just as lost as when I started.

MacBook Air
  • Paapaa Level 1 Level 1 (10 points)

    Looks like you don't need either. 4GB should be more than enough for the tasks you'll be doing.


    128GB is also enough unless you have gigabytes of MP3 files stored on your computer. How much you have? If you have (say) 10-30GB then 128GB is just fine. Usually media files eat hard drive space. And if you need hundreds of gigabytes of storage space you have to buy a big external HDD. That can be taken with you if needed. Cheap and very functional solution. And easy to replace when needed.


    Save the money and buy a new MBA with "less" after 2-3years.

  • CryoPenguin Calculating status...

    Dear McKeen Fam,


    You shouldn't need 256GB without doing media-heavy stuff, such as photography or movieography. With everything else you're doing, you shouldn't need 8GB, but it really depends on what you're doing on the web. Give me more information on what you want to do on the web.


    What's SSD and RAM?

    So, the SSD is the storage of the device, and the RAM is the quicky storage. Let me put it into perspective:


    The SSD is basically your drawer. It is where all your files are. SSD's are quicker than Hard Drives. You can take files in and out of them faster than a Hard Drive.


    The RAM is your desk. This is where everything you're doing is. Your safari webpage info is in there, and your Pages document is in there, and it is roughly 3x faster than a PCIe SSD.

  • CT Level 6 Level 6 (14,995 points)

    Upgrade the RAM.

  • wuyi Calculating status...

    Getting a laptop from library when you need. I don't think you need a laptop for college. I am a graduate student and I found computers everywhere in campus.

  • patricketurner Level 1 Level 1 (30 points)

    I have just got the 2013 13" Macbook Air. And despite these wifi bugs that have plagued this model, it has been a good computer. I have always thought to go for the base model as far as solid state drive goes. It's cheaper to just buy a external harddrive down the road if you find that you actually do need more space. And upgrading the ram is really your call. I know I'm the kind of person who will have three programs open, tops. So going for the 4gb's of RAM was an easy choice for me. Anything over than 4 GB's of RAM is kind of overkill in my honest opinion. That is for the average college kid/consumer. Base model, cheapest model, should serve you well.

  • Paapaa Level 1 Level 1 (10 points)

    An average tab in a web browser takes something like 30MB of RAM (in Chrome, at least). So 10 tabs takes 300MB-500MB. I guess OSX takes a lot less than 1GB itself. So even with 4GBs you have plenty of RAM to use. And even if you want to have zillion programs open simultaneously (why would anyone want to do that, I don't know) OSX+SSD can swap very fast. And even with 8GB modern OSs use page file anyway. Why? To allocate as much as possible to caches and what not.


    So unless you KNOW for sure that you need 8GB, you are just fine with 4GB. And you really didn't give any programs that mandate 8GB. I think that most users buying 8GB version really don't need it...

  • stumbleone Level 2 Level 2 (170 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Jul 5, 2013 10:17 AM (in response to McKeenFam)

    Stock 2013 MBA, 4G RAM, 256g, OS 10.8.4.


    Experiment I just ran out of curiosity:


    Opened up -






    Phososhop CS 3





    Full Deck Solitaire


    Kept those open.  Then, opened up FCP X and played around with editing a short 1280/720 video.  Performance was superb.  No stuttering, no dropped frames, none of that.


    Exported the file to desk top which took no time at all.


    I personally believe that the benefits of large quanitities of RAM are often overstated without much quantitative backup.  I have a 2011 27" iMac, quad core i7, with 8 GB RAM.  That's the machine I use for FCP X - not the MBA - and I have no performance problems at all even with 3 angle multicam.


    However, we do live in a world of varying mileages and I wouldn't want to claim at all that other folks migh have different experiences and different opinions.  For me though, the configuration of the MBA I got is absolutely fine.

  • patricketurner Level 1 Level 1 (30 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Jul 5, 2013 11:52 AM (in response to Paapaa)

    That's what I'm saying, even 4GB's can be more than enough for most users most of the time. Getting the 8GB model really doesn't make sense, and I don't see why you would want to make a MBA into a power machine anyways.

  • Paapaa Level 1 Level 1 (10 points)

    Stock MBA is superb! You won't be disappointed at all. Stock MBA is the best configuration for most users.


    i7 makes it faster BUT you get less battery. See:



    I think i5 is the better option because it gives you the best battery life. i5 is anyway fast enough for anything you do. Trust us, throwing more money gives you no perceivable differences in most cases. I don't think it is wise to choose one upgrade just because you want one upgrade. Don't upgrade if there is no need to. Save the money.

  • CT Level 6 Level 6 (14,995 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Jul 5, 2013 2:01 PM (in response to Paapaa)

    So, to summarize the discussion thus far...


    Upgrade your RAM.

  • VikingOSX Level 5 Level 5 (4,700 points)

    One of the things few people realize is that the HD5000 GPU will reserve 1GB of system memory for itself. So your 8GB MBA becomes a 7GB machine. If you went with a 4GB machine, you would have perilously little memory to run Mountain Lion or Mavericks -- and applications.


    I snagged this image from Anandtech earlier today. That 8GB you see is the installed RAM, not the actual available RAM. Look at the HD5000 1024 MB memory reserve. Also, observe that special 10.8.4 build. This Apple info confirms that the HD5000 reserves this amount of system memory.


    Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 1.49.56 PM.png

  • stumbleone Level 2 Level 2 (170 points)

    Hey VOS, interesting point you bringup, but have to say it leaves me a bit curious.  I reran the experiment I described earlier but this time also opened up Activity monitor.


    So the apps that were launched and open:







    App Store



    FCP X



    MS Word


    Activity Monitor


    Fourteen apps open.


    Attached image shows the system memory from Activity Monitor.  It had 724.1 MB free, the rest as shown.  It sure seems like a lot of free memory if the OS and the HD5000 are chewing up the major chunks as has been said, and 14 apps are loaded.


    Also puzzling that VM size is shown as 295.56 GB when the SSD is only 256 GB?


    But what do I know.



  • Paapaa Level 1 Level 1 (10 points)
    Currently Being Moderated
    Jul 5, 2013 11:10 PM (in response to VikingOSX)

    Wrong. HD5000 does NOT occupy 1GB. That 1GB is just the maximum level it might use IF NEEDED. In normal 2D-usage (basically everything but the games) the actual needed RAM is only a fraction. I guess there is no application that would make HD5000 to use the whole 1GB.

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