Is 16gb ram enough on macbook pro 16 inch for my use case?

I just purchased a 2019 refurbished 16 inch pro last night to replace my current 2011 iMac (24 gb ram 2.7 GHz i5). I thought I only had 16 gb ram on this machine so figured it would be fine on the macbook as this machine is running fine for me. Now that I've realized I actually have 24 GB ram, and you can't upgrade MacBooks afterwards, I'm starting to get worried I won't have enough on the MacBook. I also was reading something about retina displays/new OS taking up more RAM?

I only use the computer for programming in python/django/java and generally have a simple text editor, intellij, command prompt, and chrome open (normally with atleast 10 tabs open lol). I don't do heavy video/image editing.

Do you think I should cancel the order and upgrade to 32 gb ram? Or will I be ok with 16?


  • Why has it magically reduced to 16 from the 24 that you realised you actually had? Or did you not mean what you said?
    – Solar Mike
    Jan 23, 2021 at 13:32
  • 5
    For what you're doing, 16GB should be fine, unless you're planning on spinning up a large number of concurrent VMs.
    – karolus
    Jan 23, 2021 at 13:41
  • 1
    @SolarMike I read the question to say the OP has a 24GB iMac but thought (incorrectly) that it had only 16GB; the 16GB is sufficient. Then the OP purchased a 16GB MacBook Pro, and afterwards realized the iMac actually had 25GB. The OP is concerned that 16GB on his MacBook Pro won't be sufficient. Jan 23, 2021 at 15:42
  • Can you upgrade the RAM on a refurbished Macbook from Apple?
    – magma
    Jan 24, 2021 at 5:25
  • @magma no, the 16” MBP has memory as part of its mainboard, its not expandable.
    – Moo
    Jan 24, 2021 at 5:50

2 Answers 2


I program in 8 GB and run light virtual machines and docker. You’d only need 16 or more for very specific cases. The new OS take less ram since Apple is dropping all the 32 bit frameworks and libraries. In general 3rd party apps are slimming faster than they are growing now as well, but with M1 and Intel, apps will be larger for a short term but that doesn’t really affect RAM at all, just disk space and network time to download.

You can compile LLVM from first principles on a 2015 MacBook or 2016 MacBook Air, so seriously large and complicated builds don’t require exotic hardware anymore.

The only cases for large RAM are massive browser needs and several VM for more than light testing.

  • 3
    The important note there is light virtual machine. A windows VM forced me to upgrade to 16G also watch your Web browser
    – mmmmmm
    Jan 23, 2021 at 14:15
  • 1
    Yes and truly well said @mmmmmm VM is the key driver of massive RAM these days and RDC / cloud (AWS/Azure) to a cheap commodity box allows us to save a lot on RAM these on our portables. Let the Macs fly and put the RAM in a cheap box that’s not battery powered and millimeters tall FTW.
    – bmike
    Jan 23, 2021 at 14:45
  • My 16gb MacBook Pro died and I had to reactivate a 8gb MacBook Pro in a hurry. Using Xcode for iOS development, light VM use, and Docker. I thought I would find myself constrained. I see very little difference. So, while not exceptionally future-proof, 16gb are fine - you'd do well with 8gb.
    – magma
    Jan 24, 2021 at 5:28
  • @bmike: The new OS take less ram since Apple is dropping all the 32 bit frameworks and libraries. how are these related?
    – Jim
    Jan 24, 2021 at 13:00

Apple has been getting really smart in managing its memory usage over the years.

For what you're doing, you should be just fine with 16GB as a minimum.

Anything more is just a bonus.

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