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Ask CPCR: How Much RAM Do You Need?
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Ask CPCR: How Much RAM Do You Need?

Sam ChenJanuary 8, 2019

For those new to buying or building PCs, one of the most common questions is “How much RAM do I need?“. While the best answer to this question really depends on what you plan on doing with your PC, there are some general guidelines you can follow in order to get a good estimate on how much RAM is optimal.

 

How is RAM Used in Computers

Before we decide how much RAM is needed for your new PC, it’s important to first understand how RAM is actually used in it. RAM, which is often also referred to as system memory, is an acronym for Random Access Memory. While it would take quite a long time to fully explain all the cases of how RAM is used in computers, RAM is basically an intermediary storage medium that provides faster performance than your system’s primary system storage (SSD or HDD), but is slower than the CPU’s onboard cache. This makes RAM the ideal medium for storing stuff like application files for applications in use. In PC games for example, map files would typically be stored in RAM to reduce level loading times. In video or photo editing, preview files would typically be loaded in RAM so that users can quickly preview a file while the full resolution file is pulled from primary system storage. As such, those playing more complex games and working with more complex media files will require more RAM.

 

General RAM Capacity Guidelines

Now that we have a general idea of how RAM is used in PCs, we can now figure out how much RAM you need. Below is a list of general guidelines for how much RAM you will need for your PC. As you’ll see below, the sweet spot for most users is somewhere between 8GB and 16GB of RAM.

Capacity Typical Applications Additional Guidelines
4 GB Internet browing, Word/Excel/Powerpoint, E-Mail, Video Streaming 4GB of RAM should only be reserved for those planning to simply stream videos, browse the internet or do home or office work. Some very light gaming for older games may be supported as well.
8 GB All of the Above, Mainstream Gaming, Light Photo/Video Editing 8GB of RAM is enough for most home and office work, and will be enough for most mainstream games on the market. Those looking to do some basic photo or video editing may also be able to get away with 8GB of RAM, but the experience may not be ideal.
16 GB All of the Above, High-End Gaming, Photo/Video Editing 16GB of RAM is recommended to run most consumer applications. This includes high end gaming, mainstream photo/video editing, and most other applications.
32 GB+ All of the Above, Game Streaming, Heavy Photo/Video Editing 32GB or more RAM is recommended mostly for those looking to run complex workstation type applications. This includes heavy and complex photo editing, 4K+ video editing, game streaming, 3D modeling, etc.

Additional Considerations

Multi-Channel Memory Architectures (Dual Channel, Quad Channel)

In order to increase memory performance, CPU manufacturers have incorporated multi-channel memory architecture technology into their CPUs, which allows simultaneous use of multiple memory sticks, or DIMMs (dual in-line memory module), to effectively double maximum performance of a single memory DIMM. As a result, those with systems that support dual channel memory (typically advertised as Dual Channel DDR), it’s important to buy two DIMMs as a set and install them as a set in order to take advantage of the dual channel performance. For systems with quad channel memory architectures, it’s important to buy four DIMMs as a set in order to take advantage of the quad channel performance.

About The Author
Sam Chen
Hardware and Technology Enthusiast. SSD Evangelist. Editor-in-Chief.

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