Worth springing for Macbook upgrades?
December 13, 2013 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Is it worth paying for the upgrades on a new Macbook Pro?

I'm looking at buying a 13" Macbook Pro (2.4GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB memory). I'm trying to sort out if it is worth it for me to upgrade the processor (either to 2.6 GHz i5 or to 2.8 GHz i7) and/or upgrade the memory to 16GB. On one hand, this seems like it could be overkill, but I also want my machine running smoothly many years down the road. Since it seems very difficult (impossible?) to upgrade these components later on, I want to make sure that I'm making the right decision when I buy.

I won't really be playing games on this computer. I will be doing some audio and video editing, although nothing professional. I tend to have many things going at once; browser with a lot of tabs, video playing, downloads going, etc. I'm currently on an older machine that doesn't handle this well. Things get slow and clunky and frustrating. I want to do my best to make sure my new computer works well for as long as possible, but I also want to make sure any upgrades are worth it. Help!
posted by Nightman to Technology (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think the best course generally is to skip the processor upgrades and max out the RAM. Always worth it in the end.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:05 AM on December 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

That processor upgrade is negligible compared to an extra 8GB of RAM.

I would suggest you spring for an SSD as well, but unfortunately I'm not sure if that would be the smart thing to do if you're editing video. If there isn't a huge inherent problem, then definitely go for an SSD if you want stability down the line.
posted by griphus at 10:08 AM on December 13, 2013

I agree with Admiral Haddock. I would spend your money on (1) maxing out the ram and (2) getting the largest SSD you can afford. Processor upgrades would be a distant third priority.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 10:08 AM on December 13, 2013

I wouldn't upgrade either. The difference in processors will be negligible for you, as will the difference between 8 and 16GB of RAM unless you plan on editing multiple HD videos at once. RAM is also upgradable down the line, and always gets cheaper. 8GB is still a lot by today's standards.

SSD is, in my opinion, the only upgrade worth investing in. It's a world of difference over regular drives.
posted by mkultra at 10:11 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since it seems very difficult (impossible?) to upgrade these components later on...

This depends entirely on the model you get. I replaced the HD and RAM (with an SSD and ... more RAM I got off Newegg) in mine the moment after I got it, because Apple's prices are, well, Apple prices.
posted by griphus at 10:12 AM on December 13, 2013

Note that it may be possible to upgrade the RAM at a later date. Ask about this before you commit.
posted by Sara C. at 10:13 AM on December 13, 2013

(Uh, just to be clear, the processor isn't something you'd be replacing yourself regardless of the model. RAM, disk storage, optical drive and certain peripherals will be either accessible or glued shut depending on your model. I got a refurb specifically because I wanted to do the upgrading myself.)
posted by griphus at 10:14 AM on December 13, 2013

nthing RAM upgrade over processor upgrade.

RAM is also upgradable down the line, and always gets cheaper.

Since I think the OP is going for the retina MBP (the non-retina has a 2.5GHz i5, the retina has a 2.4GHz) the on-board storage isn't customisable, and the RAM is soldered on the board, so you're stuck with 256GB and whatever RAM you choose from the outset.
posted by holgate at 10:14 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have an older (whoo four years young) MacBook Pro and I really, really wish that I had splurged on more memory. I can buy more and will because the laptop is going strong, but it's kind of an expensive hassle.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:19 AM on December 13, 2013

I maxed out my MBP Retina and am so very glad I did. I did it mostly for the extra RAM, and it really zooms even compared to my wife's un-maxed MBP Retina.
posted by bluejayway at 10:22 AM on December 13, 2013

the difference between 8 and 16GB of RAM unless you plan on editing multiple HD videos at once

I have to disagree with this. I have two very similar machines, one is my personal machine and one is from my employer. My personal machine has 8GB and my work machine has 16GB, and I can definitely tell the difference in daily use, even when I'm not editing video. Sure, if you're just doing basic web browsing and using Word, it may not make a difference. But I usually have 2-3 browsers, a couple of Adobe apps, a couple of Office apps, Terminal, etc. running, and the extra RAM makes a very noticeable difference.
posted by primethyme at 10:49 AM on December 13, 2013

I agree with others that a small delta in processor speed is not something to prioritize your funds on. However, if you want to look for yourself here are a bunch of Geekbench results for various configurations of the current 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina. (The entry at the top of the page appears to be an outlier. You might want to ignore it.)
posted by alms at 10:50 AM on December 13, 2013

Going from my last Macbook Pro to my current Macbook Air, the one thing that made the biggest difference was getting an SSD. Wasn't cheap, but it zips! I think that's the single best upgrade you could get.

(I agonized for a while about the trade-off between the lower weight of the Air and the retina display on the Pro. Luckily you've sorted that out and decided already.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:55 AM on December 13, 2013

I would also agree that SSD and RAM is where it is at. Like griphus, I got a refurb so I could max out the machine myself. Once you have 16GB of RAM and a sizable SSD, it is hard to go back.
posted by jadepearl at 1:47 PM on December 13, 2013

I would go for neither, and spend 100% of the extra purchase money i had on the biggest SSD i could afford.

I have the 8gb, 256gb ssd macbook pro retina. Previously i had the 17in previous generation macbook pro, but with 4gb of ram.

I think that there's some sort of happy medium at 8gb of ram. I've used machines with 16gb and more, and i do system-intensive video editing and audio work fairly frequently. In reading your post, i realized that our use cases are VERY similar. I have not once regretted "only" getting 8gb.

Can you notice the difference between 8 and 16gb? yea, definitely. Even just doing day to day stuff honestly. Is it a worthwhile difference? no, not at all. The difference from 4 to 8gb is MASSIVE, it's like getting a new computer. The difference from 8 to 16 is more like doing a bunch of system tweaks or a good OS update that optimizes some stuff. it's like the difference between 50% better and 15-20% better.

The value of the SSD is the more data you can store locally on that drive, the faster any task you have to complete will ever be. My next system will have the largest SSD i can afford, preferably 1tb. I seriously wish i had sprung for the 512gb model as it is. The goal is to store all of anything you'd ever be working on directly on the fast internal drive.

But really, the main thing here is that you're getting a system with an SSD. And not just any SSD, one of the fastest on the market in a laptop or not. It reads and writes at like, 950mbps. I wrote and deleted a little paragraph about how much an SSD changes the performance of a system, but deleted it when i realized you were looking at the retina model for sure and not the old-style 13in. A bigger SSD is a worthy upgrade over more ram every time. 8gb is enough, but the more data you can access for that bonkers-fast drive the faster your work and the system will feel.

You'll notice i didn't address the processor. That's because they all have the same graphics, and modern processors are all overkill for basically everything. You don't get a choice of a quad core, or anything seriously faster in the 13in. It's pretty much throwing good money after bad on that front. The fastest option is like 10% or something faster than the base model.

It's also worth noting that one of the stock configs is 8gb of ram with a 512gb ssd and the faster 2.6 processor. Just buy that and forget about selecting things, that's what you want. The base cpu gets a geekbench score of about 3100 in the best case scenario.

Guess what the i7 gets.


Complete and utter waste of money. You could likely get the same speed boost from putting the thing on a cooling pad if you're running it maxed out for a long period of time with a final cut pro render or something.(if you're curious as to why, it's because of the turbo boost on the CPU. The CPU can run at a higher speed and even generate more heat than spec if it's below certain temperatures. The i7, given the same cooling system, will hit those limits faster and in practice not be all that much faster in 10 minutes of heavy work compared to the stock i5. Cooling the i5 more would probably allow it to win since the split is so narrow. *the more you know~~*)

I also don't want to seem like i poo-pooed getting 16gb of ram too much. If you can easily afford it and you're just waffling then yes, do it. But if it's a choice between more ram and a bigger SSD then go for the SSD. As it is, i'd rather have the 512gb drive than 16gb of ram on my personal machine...

And apple charges $200 for that damn ram. jesus christ.
posted by emptythought at 1:48 PM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd agree with emptythought here: 4GB to 8GB is a significant upgrade for a MBP, and everything else after that is gravy. Right now. Perhaps not in three years. Though the compressed memory features in Mavericks and beyond may ward off some bloat.

When it's time for me to upgrade, I'll likely get the stock $1800 retina MBP for the larger SSD, even though it's very not cheap; I might get the 16GB RAM upgrade, but wouldn't feel compelled to.

If you're not going to fill a 256GB drive, that's less of a problem. From personal experience, though, once I'm down to under 20GB free on my SSD, the buildup of temp files starts to cause performance problems.
posted by holgate at 2:32 PM on December 13, 2013

I would absolutely recommend upgrading the RAM. As for storage, unless you know you're going to need a ton, I would just take the default, and plan on using cheap external storage when you accumulate enough stuff that it doesn't all fit.

The RAM will make things faster today, and make things usable tomorrow. How much it matters of course depends on what software you're using, and how much crap you have running at a time. But IMO more RAM is likely to extend the usable lifespan of that machine more than any other option.
posted by aubilenon at 3:11 PM on December 13, 2013

Just for future planning: the newest (Retina) MacBook Pro models don't have upgradeable RAM, and the SSD is a proprietary type connected directly to the PCIe bus, so you can only replace it with Apple models.

The first upgrade I'd go for is the memory. Having more RAM is getting increasingly important, especially if you expect to keep the laptop for more than a couple years. My 7-year-old MacBook is maxed out with 2 GB of RAM, and that's no longer at all sufficient for web browsing with multiple tabs.
posted by WasabiFlux at 4:42 PM on December 13, 2013

One reason to skip the processor upgrade that I haven't seen mentioned is that it can have a significant negative impact on advertised battery usage.

But definitely upgrade the RAM.
posted by herrtodd at 5:00 PM on December 13, 2013

For a laptop, my recourse for upgrading is always: go for the component that doesn't suck (much) more power, generate (much) more heat, or physically move. That leaves the ... yep, RAM.
posted by destructive cactus at 10:37 PM on December 13, 2013

Assuming this is the retina 13"' get the 16GB of RAM and stick with the stock CPU. With the SSD and the meory compressin in mavericks, 8GB will probably serve you pretty well over the life of the machine, but 16GB will probably extend its useful life even further.

My wife has 2008 that I've maxed with 6GB of RAM. The CPU was plenty fast, but 6GB still wasnt enough RAM. A year ago I added an SSD, which eliminated most of the suck, and with Mavericks it is even better. It will probably need to be replaced in a year or so. When that time comes, it will either be because of hardware failure or too little RAM. The CPU isn't the critical resource, and even if it were, popping for a CPU upgrade 5 years ago wouldn't buy us much more time.

A larger SSD, if available, would also be worthwhile. I find 256GB a little tight and wish there were economical upgrades available. I made do with a 64GB uSDXC card and a cut-down SD adapter that sits flush in the SD card slot. I have my music and some other files on it that don't need to be on a speedy SSD.
posted by Good Brain at 10:57 PM on December 13, 2013

I say go with the 512 ssd one and add the ram
posted by majortom1981 at 8:14 AM on December 14, 2013

I don't know what Apple charges you to upgrade the machine you're looking at, but one thing to consider would be to possibly upgrade it yourself. I know it sound silly buying a new machine and then cracking it open and swapping out some of the components you just paid for, but I could see it making sense economically.

Specifically, I have a mid-2007 generation Macbook Pro. It's old enough that you can't even get a charger for it from Apple anymore. But a year ago I put in a Seagate 500 Gb SSD drive. Amazon is selling that for $76. Again, I don't know how easy it would be for you to put that in yourself but it's something to think about.

Same thing for RAM in my opinion. If you feel confident upgrading it yourself (upgrading the RAM should be pretty easy), look into what kind of RAM, specifically, Apple puts in the machine, and see what Amazon is selling it for.
posted by prunes at 1:19 PM on December 14, 2013

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