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I am very interested in the MacBook Air specs and form factor. Both for reasons specific to my software needs (developing using an IDE as well as needing to run a virtual OS on top of the boot OS.) as well as an example of state of the art system design.

A maximum of 4gb ram is a deal breaker for me. Furthermore from a system architecture stance, this limit feels to me like I am stuck in 2006 with 32bit machines, even if there are not better alternatives in similar form factors. It is like almost there but not quite.

What are the technical reasons that the 2011 macbook air was limited at 4gb ram?

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Are you asking why Apple made the decision they did, or whether there is a way to add more than 4GB of RAM? –  Daniel Lawson Sep 28 '11 at 4:11
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Space, ram is soldered onto the MB. So I see price v optimal RAM amount.

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As was said, the RAM is not user-serviceable. You can see that it's attached to the bottom of the logicboard: guide-images.ifixit.net/igi/AGYDHSRpLNrjexrj.huge –  cksum Sep 28 '11 at 4:28
    
Space is the main theme of the air. Notice the 100% custom SSD in the ifixit images as well, its non standard because its stripped down and fits inside a small slot on the mobo. More ram = potentially a need for more space. I think they simply can't fit more, more comes out when same # of chips can hold more ram. :) –  Dmitriy Likhten Sep 28 '11 at 5:08
    
I disagree with space being the constraining factor. Price and performance is the driver. Look at the 32 iPod touch. You can surely spec more RAM in a denser package or leave something out. RAM past 4gb either made other parts too slow or would have cut something more important like battery space or sound handling. I'd bet heavily price and a balanced system meant that adding more RAM killed battery and price for little real world gain. –  bmike Oct 26 '11 at 12:35
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There is no technical reason for a 4 gb limit to RAM.

Let's say the designers could buy RAM twice as dense (removing space constraints), and also assume power consumption is negligible. Perhaps with SSD storage and the current controllers / CPU / logic board - RAM past 4g doesn't provide much benefit.

Without being privy to design, purchasing and test data we can't know with certainty, but often technical considerations make it easier to not add something even if pricing / availability allows it.


As an analogy, some bike frames are suited for certain tasks. To reduce size and weight, velodrome track bikes lack items that are "deal-breakers" for someone that needs huge cargo capacity. If you need RAM, get a frame built to carry that load...

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I frequently run virtual machines and simply need the RAM to park them in, while I let my Host OS still have enough to function quickly in, while my IDE is open, while photoshop is caching large image blocks. I'm not looking for optimized parallel processing, just the capability to run more than 4gb will allow. Regarding getting a frame built to carry that load, the current Macbook Air IS a good enough "frame", just with that one limitation that seemed possible to get around this year, as opposed to next. Surely at a premium though. –  saturation Oct 26 '11 at 4:26
    
I don't disagree that ram makes some software run better (aperture) or at all ( two operating systems with non-trivial loads ). I also am convinced your needs and reasoning for wanting more RAM in the air are solid technically. To take the bike analogy another step, the Air frame is optimized for no add ons to the power train. Apple already makes a portable with huge RAM and the Air is special because of what it isn't. Either costing more than the Pro or a conscious decision to make a frame for jobs that fit in 2-4 ram space is what made the Air what it is today. –  bmike Oct 26 '11 at 12:29
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