The stickiest question for a potential MacBook Air buyer — especially for those switching from PCs to Macs — is if 4GB of memory and 128GB of storage will be enough for a new MacBook Air.

It’s a tough question, but the memory and the storage are really separate issues. So let’s talk 4GB of memory first.

4GB of memory is plenty if you’re a basic computing user.

If you plan to mess around with iPhoto and play around making some small movie clips with iMovie, 4GB will work just fine.

If you plan to have several browser windows open while working on a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation — or while messing with a spreadsheet or writing a term paper in college — 4GB of memory will work well for you. Apple’s ability to juggle data in and out of memory — even when you’re multitasking — is very good these days.

If you just want to browse the web, play some basic games, email, and do standard work with common apps, you’re good-to-go with 4GB of memory.

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So when is 4GB of memory not enough?

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When you get serious about editing video clips or making movies. Sure, you can still do that on 4GB of memory with solid apps like iMovie, but if you’re getting into a more professional effort, the investment in extra memory (which used to be called RAM), is probably worth it. If you want to get to 8GB of memory, you have to order directly from Apple online with a custom order to get the upgrade to 8GB on a MacBook Air . . . or, you can make the leap into a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display that comes standard with 8GB of memory. Essentially, you’re looking at a much more powerful MacBook Pro with a better screen and more memory for $300 more than the base-level 13-inch MacBook Air. If you consider the $100 extra it costs to upgrade into 8GB on the MacBook Air, the difference becomes $200.

The difference in weight between a 13-inch MacBook Air and a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is only a half of a pound — 2.96 pounds vs 3.46 pounds. Both are light.

Also, if you plan to edit large photo files and/or do serious work for long periods of time on your MacBook Air, a move to 8GB might be smart.

Is 128GB Enough Storage?

Ah, the really tough question about the MacBook Air is storage capacity. While third-party storage manufacturers have come up with some new solutions to upgrade storage in older MacBook Airs, the newest MacBook Airs don’t yet have options — even if you’re willing to crack your case and void your warranty. While there is a reasonable chance that someone will come up with a solution in a year or two, it’s not a given.

One solution is essentially jamming a tiny SDXC card (like those from cameras) into the SDXC port on a 13-inch MacBook Air to give you an on-board (yet functionally) external drive for extra space. This works pretty well, but you have to pay attention to where you store your files and libraries of photos or iTunes media. Something to keep in mind — you can read more in “How to Easily Add Storage to a MacBook Air.”

So is 128GB enough? If you’re just using office-oriented apps and documents, as well as emailing and using the web, 128GB is plenty of storage space. Once you get into a lot of media files, though — music, movies, TV shows, video clips, and photos — you need to think hard. If you’re streaming most of your movies or TV shows, great — there’s no storage space you need to worry about for that. If you buy TV shows from Apple, you just need enough space to store them until you watch them, then you can safely delete them (and re-download them if you want to watch them again).

But once you start editing your own slo-motion videos, for example, with your shiny new iPhone 6, you’ll start to eat up storage space if you’re not paying attention. And if you’re into photography and like to keep your photos in a library — like iPhoto — you can easily start eating up storage space. For example, personally, I can add 2 GB of photos to my hard drive just by having a fun weekend adventure — without even trying. Add more people and more interesting things to photograph, and boom, I’m burning through 128GB of storage within a few months.

That said, you can always store your photos on an external drive for a Mac, but it’s not as tidy as story them on your MacBook drive itself. You can do most anything with a MacBook Air and 128GB of storage if you’re willing to spend time managing how and where to store your large media files . . . but I don’t think most people really want to think about this all that much. So I tend to encourage splurging on a larger amount of storage up front when potential buyers know they’re going to mess around with a lot of photos and potentially video.

If not, don’t worry about 128GB. If you end up totally getting into wildlife photography or making silly cat videos and need more space, great! You just expanded who you are as a person, and now you know what’s important to you. Seriously, it is this easy. Most people obsess and overthink these decisions.

Check out MacBooks from Amazon:

11-inch MacBook Air with 4GB/128GB
13-inch MacBook Air with 4GB/128GB
13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display with 8GB/128GB
13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display with 8GB/256GB

About the author

Chris Maxcer

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I've been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and I still remember the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. I'm a big fan of elegant gear and great tech, but there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. Online I like to call out cool stuff on Wicked Cool Bite and blog with my buddies at Man Makes Fire. To catch me, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at the url of this site.