Casey, Marco and John talked on the latest ATP about potential future limited configurability of Macs, in light of the new MacBook Air having no option for CPU. Marco compared why having fewer CPUs and RAM options made more sense than storage, which I agree with, but for entirely different reasons!

Marco: Storage makes sense to have configurable … Storage is a hard limit. You can edit video [with the CPU in the] 12-inch Macbook…

Casey: I do!

Marco …it would just take longer.

Casey: It does!

Marco: laughs …you have the same capability; you can still do the same task you want to do, it will just take longer. RAM is similar … but storage is a hard wall. You can’t just fill up your drive bigger if you do it more slowly. You don’t get more space by filling it up slowly. That’s one thing where it matters a lot more to have a high ceiling for people to configure, because it’s so expensive.

I can see where Marco is coming from, but I see storage being identical as CPU and RAM on a performance/price matrix.

You can fill your drive bigger if you do it more slowly; we did it in the 1990s with DoubleSpace. Most file systems today support inline compression, or you can compress individual files. Like RAM and CPU it takes longer, and in the case of DoubleSpace the experience was miserable, but so too is swapping to disk when you run out of RAM, or when your CPU strains under load.

The primary advantage of storage over CPU and RAM is that it can be offloaded easier. If you run short of drive space, your constraint becomes bandwidth to a remote file or backup server, or the number of ports for an external drive. Your Commodore VIC-20 could have more external RAM plugged in, but we can’t with our laptops.

(One could make the case that CPU and RAM can be expanded by using a cloud instance or server hardware to send your intensive tasks to as well).

The justifications and tradeoffs Apple made for soldered on, non-upgradeable RAM is beyond the scope of this post. But for my purchasing decisions for sealed hardware, I’d spend more on RAM before storage, or CPU now that I think about it.

So ultimately I agree that storage should have more configuration options, just for different reasons. CPU and RAM are so easy to misconfigure if you’re unfamiliar, and end up with a system that’s sluggish and doesn’t meet your needs from the start. For storage, throw an extra drive at it and be done if you need a more affordable machine at the outset.