There’s an old saying that opinions are like arseholes. Everyone has one and they all stink. We’re definitely wading into that territory here. Everyone has an opinion on how much RAM you need in your computer. Some opinions are more informed than others.
Some old wisdom is that more RAM is better. This is generally a good piece of wisdom. But in some cases it is also not financially wise. There might be some cases where buying 32 gigabytes or more of RAM is warranted, as we’ll outline below, but if you need that much just to check your email then you’re doing it wrong.
So here’s my opinion on how much RAM is really necessary. Note that it isn’t particularly scientific, it’s more based around my observations over the last few years.
The Bare Minimum
If you believe Microsoft’s wisdom, then the minimum requirement for Windows 10 64-bit is 2 gigabytes of RAM. This is technically correct, in that you can put 2 gigabytes of RAM into a machine and still be able to boot Windows 10. The problem with this is once you load the machine up with a useful set of tools and software, much of which insists on adding bloat to your startup routine, you do not get a lot of change out of that 2 gigabytes. It might work, in the same way that sailing a cruise liner through a muddy swamp might work.
The best rule of thumb is to take Microsoft’s recommended minimum and double it if you want to do anything at all with your computer, and double it again if you want to do something useful. Using this logic, 8 gigabytes of RAM is really a better minimum to aim for. If you’re just doing day-to-day tasks such as basic web browsing, word processing and email, this should do you just fine.
If you work with multiple applications at once, particularly with larger documents, it doesn’t cost a huge amount more to go for 16 gigabytes. This would help improve performance in this scenario, though you’d have to be flogging the machine very hard to really need more than 16 gigabytes for these types of tasks.
Verdict: For day-to-day office tasks, 8-16 gigabytes of RAM would be the sweet spot.
Gaming places a lot more demands on your PC than typical office tasks. This is particularly the case in recent years with more complex game engines and virtual reality starting to become more mainstream.
For a long time now, 16 gigabytes of RAM has been considered the minimum for gaming, particularly if you’re wanting to run AAA titles. You can still game perfectly acceptably with 16 gigabytes of RAM.
However if you’re wanting to continue playing AAA titles going forward, or want to use your PC for virtual reality gaming, 32 gigabytes can be a worthwhile investment. RAM requirements will only increase over time, and virtual reality becoming more mainstream will only serve to accelerate this. It is also worthwhile considering at least 32 gigabytes if you aspire to become a streamer, so you’ve got a bit more room to run the software required to manage the stream.
Verdict: You’ll really want 16 gigabytes minimum. If you’re looking at purchasing a new machine for gaming, or extending the life of your current machine, 32 gigabytes would be a worthwhile investment.
If you create online multimedia content, such as animations or videos, this is where things get a little more interesting. How much RAM you need depends on the types of projects you are likely to be working on.
If your primary focus is simple 1080p video editing, 16 gigabytes of RAM should still do you well. If you are editing at 4K, you will want at least 32 gigabytes. Tools such as Adobe After Effects can push this requirement up even higher again, so bear this in mind if you’re adding additional tools on top of your normal video editor.
This is one of the scenarios where it can be perfectly legitimate to throw as much RAM as you can afford into your rig. This is primarily because if you work on larger and more complex projects, there’s a good chance you’re going to need all the RAM you can get because of the large file sizes and complex tools you’ll be using. Some professional content creators have been known to need 64 gigabytes (and sometimes even 128 gigabytes) of RAM. These are mainly larger video editing proejcts with heavy effects processing, but these are tools that are known to be memory hogs.
Verdict: If you’re working on large projects, particularly projects with a 4K resolution or use packages such as Adobe After Effects, the sky is the limit. For simpler video editing projects, you may well be able to get by with 16 to 32 gigabytes,
How fast should my RAM be?
To confuse matters even more, the issue of RAM speeds is a really great way to complicate matters. Luckily, it’s not as complicated as it might first seem.
The first hurdle you need to jump over is to simply have enough RAM. If your PC doesn’t have enough to begin with, having top-of-the-line RAM is going to be fairly meaningless as your computer will be constantly swapping to your hard drive, hindering performance. The guides above can be a really useful reference for this.
Once you’ve worked out how much you need, it again boils down to what you’re doing and can simply be defined like this. For basic office tasks, it really doesn’t matter because the amount of load these tasks put onto your RAM is really quite small. For content creation and gaming, you’ll want the fastest RAM your motherboard and wallet will allow. This is particularly the case with the AMD Ryzen platform and the newer Intel platforms, as these have been built to make better use of faster RAM speeds compared to older machines. Particularly with the AMD Ryzen CPU’s, there can be a noticeable improvement in framerate with faster RAM.
Verdict: If you’re just doing typical office type tasks, it’s not worth confusing yourself with this as it won’t make any measurable difference. Where this makes the most difference is in gaming and content creation, where the fastest RAM your motherboard and wallet will allow is what you should be aiming for. Make sure that you buy enough RAM to cover the tasks you’ll be performing though.