Update 06/11:Since writing this review, several Macworld readers have reported similar issues with the MacBooks M1.
For 10 months, I have been using a 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro provided by my employer. Most of the time it’s great, with exceptional range and great speeds, and it’s a massive overall upgrade from my previous 2016 model.
But some days it’s almost impossible to do anything. More than any Mac I’ve owned, this MacBook regularly experiences freezes, crashes, and restarts that often seem to be related to memory issues. It was almost impossible to identify a model, but I assumed it was something installed on my machine by my company. After reading numerous reports this week on similar issues, I’m not so sure.
When Gregory McFadden a tweeté Control Center was using 26GB of the 64GB of RAM on its new MacBook Pro, the screenshot looked very familiar. While Control Center has never consumed so much RAM for me, I regularly spot spikes when using Safari and Photoshop Elements and have seen more sporadic issues with Mail and other apps. Sometimes the issues cause slowdowns that resolve within minutes, other times my machine freezes and forces it to restart.
I now keep Activity Monitor open while working and it’s rare that the memory pressure monitor isn’t yellow or red. Like most Mac users, I tend to leave several apps idle in the background (Mail, Music, Safari, Outlook, Word, etc.), but with the MacBook M1 I often need to quit applications to free up application memory. Closing Safari tabs is a regular task necessary to free up memory and keep my machine running smoothly.
It’s extremely similar to the MacBook Pro and Monterey issues I read this week, except I’m still using Big Sur. This leads me to believe that this is a bigger problem that has not been as widely reported so far. Maybe it’s because developers tend to be more aware of this stuff or it’s exacerbated by the extra RAM in the new MacBook Pro, but the number of people facing this issue seems to be increasing. And I hope Apple pays attention to it.
When the M1 chip came out, Apple changed the way we think about RAM on our Macs. As in the iPhone and iPad, memory was now affixed to the same enclosure as the system-on-a-chip. The M1 Pro and M1 Max come with higher memory options, but the M1 goes over 16GB and that’s it.
As Jason Snell wrote on the release of the M1, this tidy system has its advantages: “The memory in the M1 processor is a single pool that can be accessed by any part of the processor. If the system needs more memory for graphics, it can allocate it. If it needs more memory for the Neural Engine, so does it. Best of all, since all aspects of the processor can access all system memory, performance is not affected when graphics cores need to access something that was previously accessible by a processor core. On other systems, data must be copied from one part of memory to another, but on the M1, it is just instantly accessible.
It is possible that macOS does not properly manage this unified memory structure and continues to allocate RAM beyond what is available without freeing up RAM that is no longer needed. This is commonly referred to as a “memory leak”. Performance gradually deteriorates until you either have to wait for the RAM to clear, force quit the application, or restart the machine.
Sometimes a warning pops up when no app uses even that much memory and other times the apps seemingly use a lot more memory than is available. I have seen isolated websites using up to 20GB of RAM for no apparent reason, crippling my machine.
Maybe now that this is a more prevalent problem, Apple will figure it out. We’ve reached out to Apple for comment, but haven’t heard back, and it’s entirely possible that Apple will fix this in a future version of macOS without ever addressing the issue publicly. This is what happened with the excessive use of the SSD earlier this year, although Apple said it was a “data reporting error” and not an actual problem. . The memory bug is a real problem that should be fixed as soon as possible.
In the meantime, there are several ways to alleviate the problem. The first is to be vigilant. Like I said keep Activity Monitor open and when you see an app’s memory usage increasing, fix it. You can also use a third-party memory cleaner that allows you to quickly clear the RAM. Running it periodically will help keep your resources available. And finally, stay up to date with the latest version of Big Sur or Monterey, as a patch will hopefully be coming soon.