Archive for November 10, 2023

Friday, November 10, 2023

8 GB of Unified Memory

Tim Hardwick:

Starting at $1,599, the 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro comes with 8GB of unified memory. That makes it $300 more expensive than the $1,299 starting price of the now-discontinued M2 13-inch MacBook Pro with 8GB. Users can opt for 16GB or 24GB at checkout, but these configuration options cost an extra $200 and $400 at purchase, respectively, and cannot be upgraded at a later date because of Apple’s unified memory architecture.


In a recent interview with Chinese ML engineer and content creator Lin YilYi, Apple’s VP of worldwide product marketing Bob Borchers has directly responded to this criticism.

Bob Borchers:

Comparing our memory to other system’s memory actually isn’t equivalent, because of the fact that we have such an efficient use of memory, and we use memory compression, and we have a unified memory architecture.

Actually, 8GB on an M3 MacBook Pro is probably analogous to 16GB on other systems. We just happen to be able to use it much more efficiently. And so what I would say is I would have people come in and try what they want to do on their systems, and they will I think see incredible performance.

You could make the case that the performance of certain tasks with 8 GB of RAM is good, but his statement goes way beyond that, and I don’t think the reasoning is sound.

It’s not clear to me what “efficient” is meant to refer to here. One could argue that macOS is less efficient with memory since it no longer runs in 32-bit mode. Maybe it’s a reference to Dynamic Caching, but that doesn’t seem like it would have much effect on memory use for common apps.

Memory compression has been available in macOS for a long time. I’ve used 8 GB and 16 GB systems with and without it and have no doubt that real RAM is better. Citing memory compression also doesn’t make sense because it’s a constant. The old M2 MacBook Pro also had memory compression. So does Windows.

The unified memory architecture does not seem like a technology to help stretch RAM. Rather, it means that some of that 8 GB will be used like VRAM and not available to apps or to the system.

William Gallagher (Hacker News):

A core claim of Apple’s is that this improved design means Mac need less RAM than they did.

The 8 GB M3 MacBook Pro is more expensive than the 16 GB M2 MacBook Pro was, and I’m not aware of any change in the M3 that would make up for that.


The thing we should be mad about are the prices. They’re charging $200 or more for each step-up in RAM. I understand that their RAM is integrated and special, but an 8GB stick of SD RAM for a PC is like $30. $100 might be understandable, but $200 is obscene.

The storage is even worse. Even the M3 MAX defaults to 1TB of storage. To upgrade to 4TB is $1000. A Samsung 990 Pro M2 SSD with 4TB of storage is under $300. I understand the apple storage is different, and that justifies some markup, but over a 300% markup is absurd.

Jason Cross (Hacker News):

It should probably not be a controversial opinion that, in late 2023 (and surely through most of 2024), one should not sell a pricey “Pro” computer with only 8GB of RAM. And yet here we are.


Apple has a long history of providing less RAM than it should for the price of its laptops and overcharging to get more, but it’s reached ridiculous proportions. The cheapest standard configuration with more than 8GB of RAM is 2 grand! The cheapest MacBook Pro you can configure with more than 8GB is $1,800!


Not that Windows laptops and Macs are directly comparable, but comparably-priced Microsoft Surface, HP Envy, Alienware, Dell XP, and Lenovo Thinkpad laptops all have 16GB of RAM or more, standard. You can spend all day mired in laptop configurations (and I have) but the bottom line is this: 16GB is standard at prices over $1,000 even in laptops with premium displays and other high-end features.

Tim Hardwick (Hacker News):

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Yuryev saw significant performance improvements across the board using the 16GB machine under both middling and heavier workloads. The 8GB model suffered double-digit losses in Cinebench benchmarks, and took several minutes longer to complete photo-merging jobs in Photoshop as well as media exports in Final Cut and Adobe Lightroom Classic.

These tests were conducted as single operations with nothing else running, but also repeated with browser tabs, YouTube videos, spreadsheets, emails, and the like, open in the background to simulate typical real-world multi-tasking scenarios. As expected, the performance gap between the two machines widened further as the 8GB increasingly relied on its SSD swap file, while all-round responsiveness took a hit. Yuryev even reported crashes on the 8GB model during Blender rendering and a Final Cut export.

How about comparing the 8 GB M3 to the 16 GB M2?


Update (2024-04-26): Jason Koebler (Hacker News):

I was told by lots of people that “16 GB is enough,” that “RAM works differently on Apple Silicon,” and that the M-series processors are so good that RAM is less important than ever.

Those people were wrong then and they are especially, extremely wrong now, 23 years after the turn of the millennia, as they watch Tim Cook sell a brand new MacBook Pro with a brand new M3 processor that comes with 8GB of RAM and costs $1,600 and applaud. The same type of Apple apologists are now saying 8 GB is enough for most people with a straight face. They are calling the people who are saying that 8 GB is not enough Apple haters and elitists, who simply do not GET RAM or Unified Memory.

Eric Schwarz:

I can’t disagree that more RAM = better and Apple should start most of the lineup at 16GB instead—at the very least any MacBook Pro. However, even with a handful of Safari tabs open, Mail, Messages, NetNewsWire, Ivory, Pixelmator Pro, and a few little tools here and there, I’m only showing 6.5GB of 8GB in use on my M2 MacBook Air. In the year or so that I’ve had this computer, I haven’t thrown anything at it that it couldn’t handle. I’d suspect most people buying things like the Mac mini or M1 MacBook Air are in a similar boat.


Additionally, as someone who has done troubleshooting with all sorts of BYOD devices at my current and former job, the bigger issue with older Macs has always been storage—I have users with 8GB RAM on 2015 MacBook Airs that are running fine except they can’t install updates or load large software packages because the 128GB SSD is full.

It’s all linked because without SSD space you can’t fall back on virtual memory.

Tim Hardwick:

Yuryev decided to perform several real-world tests on two 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro models, one with 8GB and the other upgraded to 16GB of unified memory. The embedded video above has all the results.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Yuryev saw significant performance improvements across the board using the 16GB machine under both middling and heavier workloads. The 8GB model suffered double-digit losses in Cinebench benchmarks, and took several minutes longer to complete photo-merging jobs in Photoshop as well as media exports in Final Cut and Adobe Lightroom Classic.

Joe Rosensteel:

I greatly appreciate how Apple’s devices are tightly integrated and pack enormous power into very thin enclosures. The downside, as Apple has pushed their hardware in this direction, is that it went from “difficult” to “impossible” to do anything with hardware inside of Apple’s cases. I’m not cynical enough to suggest that Apple has only done this to charge exorbitant prices for their RAM and SSD’s at the time Macs are purchased, though I’m sure that certainly is a perk. It seems to be a very genuine desire to package peak performance.

However, the speed and power trade-off is that Macs are more disposable than ever. Not immediately disposable, heaven’s no, but that shipping configuration will be the same from the time it’s boxed for shipment to the time it’s e-waste. Apple highlights recycling programs, and trade-in programs to mitigate it, but recycling a computer isn’t zero-waste alchemy, and certainly nothing like the impact of upgrading an existing computer.


The soldered RAM problem also extends to perceptions around how much RAM to buy at the outset, knowing that it can never be changed. If you guess wrong, or had guessed based on conditions that were true at time of purchase, then the only recourse is to trade-in the machine and buy a new one, even if that new one is the same except for the RAM size.

Tanner Bennett:

How is Apple STILL getting away with SSD price gouging? They're charging more than 10x the market rate of even high-end NVMe SSDs 🤡 ($1000 for 2TB)

Filipe Espósito (Hacker News):

In an interview with IT Home, Mac marketing executive Evan Buyze spoke in favor of Macs equipped with 8GB of RAM. According to Buyze, the 8GB of RAM in entry-level Macs is enough for most of the tasks that most users do with these computers. He used web browsing, media playback, light photo and video editing, and casual gaming as examples.

Kate Bergeron, Apple’s VP of hardware engineering, praised Apple Silicon chips for their unified memory architecture, which makes the Mac take full advantage of the hardware built into these chips. Last year, another Apple executive said that the company is able to use the RAM in Apple Silicon Macs more efficiently.

Tim Hardwick (Hacker News):

The graphs show that Apple tended to increase the base memory every two years or so, but that this trend ended when Cook took over the company from Steve Jobs. Memory increased quickly until the Mac Plus was launched in 1986, notes Schaub. “1986 to 1990 were all about decreasing the entry Mac price,” he says. “Then we get a pretty straight logarithmic line until Tim Cook became CEO and there has only been a single increase since.”


Apple has offered iMac and MacBook Pro models with 8GB of RAM since 2012. Likewise, the MacBook Air has had the same base memory configuration since 2017. In addition, Apple's adoption of unified memory means that Macs cannot have their RAM upgraded after purchase, while Apple continues to pursue a strategy of vastly overcharging customers for higher memory configurations. Users often pay out $200 or more at checkout just to future proof their machines.

John Gruber (Mastodon):

Following up on (a) my post earlier this week regarding on-device LLM features being RAM-hungry, and (b) my post regarding Mark Gurman’s claim that M4 Macs will start shipping late this year, I will direct your attention to a report from MacRumors back in January that all iPhone 16 models will include 8 GB of RAM. With the iPhone 15 models, the non-pro models have 6 GB and the Pro models 8 GB. If true, one incongruity will be that new iPhones will have the same amount of RAM as most base-model Macs.

See also: ATP 559, 560, and 584.


Update (2024-04-29): Marcin Krzyzanowski:

„8GB RAM should be enough for everyone”, my ass. This is 16GB

not even running xcode

Update (2024-04-30): Colin Cornaby:

I will still contend nothing in this sort of reasoning makes absolutely no logical sense and journalists should stop quoting it as if it is anything remotely grounded in reality. This is absolutely not based on any sort of technical reasoning - it’s just something a marketing guy who was trying to sell product said once.


And on an actually technical note - Putting both GPU and CPU data into the same place wouldn’t magically decrease your RAM needs - it would actually have the exact opposite effect. More data is being stored in RAM so you need more of it.


Also […] unified memory is much slower than VRAM so your penalty for something like a register overflow where you need to swap registers with RAM is much higher.

Update (2024-05-20): David Heinemeier Hansson:

If you need a lot of RAM or storage, it’s really absurd what Apple will charge you. You can get a Framework 13 AMD 7640U for $849, then add 96GB of RAM for $281, 4TB SSD for $313, and be all-in for under $1500. A Macbook Pro with those specs? FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. Bonkers.

What’s better still is that you can order that Framework 13 AMD with, say, 32GB of RAM. Then pay the $281 later to upgrade to 96GB. And you can do the upgrade yourself in like 2 minutes.

Apple Music Voice Plan Discontinued

Joe Rossignol:

Apple said existing subscribers can continue to use the Voice Plan for the duration of their final billing cycle, but they will lose access after that period. It’s unclear why the plan was discontinued, but Apple says other Apple Music plans “already work seamlessly with Siri, and we will continue to optimize this experience.”

However, the regular plan is $10.99/month rather than $4.99.


Weathergraph 1.0.210

Tomas Kafka:

Weekly chart: You can now see a week at a glance below the main chart, both in the app and in the large widget.

Scroll the weekly chart to peek into the future even more (as long as the forecast provides more than a week of data). Long press the weekly chart to zoom to that time in the main chart.

Sun glow: As the murky autumn arrives, know when to look forward to a healthy dose of sun rays. The warm glow above the cloud layer highlights particularly sunny times.

With Apple’s Weather app relying on the their own weather service, which I find to be a regression over the previous weather data, third-party apps with their own data are essential. I like Weathergraph’s new weekly chart, both as a way to see the whole week at a glance without scrolling and to quickly jump to a specific day. Alas, Weathergraph is still limited to a single location.


Humane Ai Pin

Juli Clover (Hacker News):

Humane, a tech startup run by former Apple designer Imran Chaudhri, today officially unveiled its first product, the Ai Pin. Priced at $700, the Ai Pin is a standalone device that Humane says was built from the ground up for artificial intelligence.

The Ai Pin attaches to a clothing item using a magnetic system that involves a detachable battery, which is also how the device is powered. The idea is to swap the battery out for a new battery when necessary, resulting in what Humane calls a “perpetual power system.” It is not clear how long each battery lasts.

Design wise, the Ai Pin looks something like an Apple Watch with a rounded rectangular shape, It is made from aluminum, comes in three colors, and has a Gorilla Glass touchpad. There’s also an “optical sensing capsule,” a 3D depth sensor, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip to power it.

Here’s the launch video. Lots of people are remarking that the AI’s answers about the eclipse and the almonds are both wrong.

John Gruber:

They really do mean for this to replace, not supplement, your phone.

They want to replace apps with AI, too. All the software is written by them, with its data stored in their cloud. On the contrary, it seems like this product should be a phone app, with some optional supplemental hardware, but that’s not possible because Apple would never allow a third-party product that level of access.

There are lots of cool ideas here, but I don’t see how it can replace a phone when there are so many areas that it will always be worse at. On the other hand, you could see how it would be a non-starter to tell someone who already has a phone and a watch that they should carry a third device. The form factor of a pin, so that it must be moved whenever you add or remove a layer of clothing, seems like a disaster.

Nick Heer:

You can think of it as the answer to the question what if you could wear a smart kitchen speaker? and it sounds kind of compelling or, at least, not stupid. If a smartphone is a perfect convergence device, you can think of this as an attempt to move in the other direction.

Some people say they want to use their phone less, but a $700 device with a $24-per-month cell plan seems like an ambitious product for that niche. There are also plausible accessibility benefits to a mostly voice-controlled device for anyone who is able to clearly speak but maybe lacks fine motor control.


I just don’t get this, or any other “VUI”/voice-centric platform for that matter. The killer feature of the smartphone or watch isn’t that it’s the most convenient (which it is), it’s that whatever you want to do on it is at least somewhat private. I don’t want the guy next to me on the train to know I’m messaging Andrew, and he doesn’t want to hear me message Andrew either. Asking me to speak out loud these commands removes that privacy. I think this type of “out loud interface” is the wrong direction for personal devices… forcing us to expose our “private selves” or conflate that with our “public selves” is really an area where humans need to draw the line, IMO.


Update (2024-02-06): Om Malik:

I recently sat down with Imran — Bethany was busy — to explore everything from privacy and partnerships with “frenemies,” to the end of what we know as App Stores. Here are Imran’s thoughts on this game-changing device and his vision for the next evolution of personal computing.

Mark Wilson:

With $240 million in funding from luminaries including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, the device attaches to your lapel with magnets, listens to your requests like Siri, and will search the internet, translate your speech, or project an interface right onto your hand.


But just because you are the first out of the gate or the best-funded company doesn’t guarantee success. An explosion of smartphones with all sorts of unique UX paradigms—keyboards, sliders, trackballs—existed for years before the iPhone’s touchscreen made them go extinct. Like any paradigm shift in computing, the revolution will be driven not by the fastest tech, but the most usable and essential design.

Stephen Hackett:

It blows my mind that these errors were left in the video. Clearly the thing was edited; why would you leave such an incorrect statement in the video courting early adopters? We all know AI systems get things wrong, but it’s another to leave those errors in your marketing materials. Did anyone at Humane fact-check these things? Or did they automatically trust that the answers were correct? Both possibilities are troubling. The lesson here is not to leave your launch video in the hands of ChatGPT, I suppose.

Jason Snell:

I don’t think the AI Pin will succeed for numerous reasons, foremost among them being the fact that it seems to be a product designed to make your smartphone unnecessary or ancillary. It feels to me like this is the product’s point of view not because of a deep philosophical reason but because Humane is a company with investors that needs to ship and sell a hardware product and trying to attach to the side of Apple’s or Google’s smartphone operating systems makes this thing an expensive accessory instead of a revolutionary device.

It’s not a point of view that makes sense otherwise, because it seems to posit a world where people just hate their smartphones and can’t wait to be rid of them. This is the world as seen through a funhouse mirror.

Allison Johnson (Hacker News):

It’s a beautiful vision that I’d love to buy into. But here’s the thing: screens are great, and I don’t think we can, or even should, ditch them quite yet.


The product site features food delivery and messaging between friends, two things that are well handled by apps today and that look dreadful to handle via voice entry or the projected palm interface, more fit for haikus than menus.


I am not the first to react strongly to this, but I am probably uncommon in my intense dislike for personal assistant AIs, a dislike that obviously flares to new heights in a product so heavily focused on them. The Humane site harps on privacy and trust, but what is private about being forced to live your life out loud; to not be able to jot a thought down silently?


If walking around in the world but looking at a screen because you're reading something is being absorbed by something else and not being present, then tapping a pocket square and talking to a virtual assistant about the same thing you would accomplish if you had a screen is also not being present.

Nicolas Magand:

Imagine that the main feature of this device is something that will likely become a standard function on smartphones, smartwatches, and even earbuds: interacting with a smart, new generation AI assistant using only your voice.


I’m trying to picture someone wearing an AI Pin in the middle of winter: do you wear it under your coat? over your coat? What happens when you go inside? Do you attach it to your sweater? What if you want to remove your sweater? What if you need to go back outside? It sounds like a disaster indeed, not to mention how the pin can potentially damage clothes.


Only the camera part would really be trickier on a wrist-worn device. I’m sure the camera can live on another, separate device, or can work its way on the device itself.