Let’s dive in to better understand the importance of RAM and why having more is not necessarily an immediate need for most.
RAM vs VRAM
Random Access Memory, or RAM, is the primary memory used by your computer and is responsible for loading the operating system and running programs. This means that having more RAM will allow your computer to work with more information simultaneously, thus improving system performance.
VRAM is short for “Video RAM” and its purpose is to load and store video data. The more VRAM a computer has, the more 2D and 3D images it can display at one time. The video card (GPU) will do most of the heavy lifting, especially when rendering videos. It is also one of the most important components to get when building a powerful editing computer.
Factors that determine overall memory requirements
There are at least three important factors when determining your overall RAM memory requirements.
(1) Programs used
All software has minimum system requirements to be able to work properly. For example, the system requirements for Premiere Pro CC (12.1.2) require a minimum of 8GB RAM, with 16GB or more recommended. Your computer should comply with at least the minimum system requirements. If not, the programs simply will not run properly.
(2) Programs opened simultaneously
Having more RAM will allow your computer to work with more than one program at the same time. Some programs — such as Adobe After Effects and Google Chrome — require a considerable amount of RAM to work, so the more programs you have opened simultaneously, the slower your computer will become.
(3) Media types
For us video editors, this is the most important factor for our RAM needs. Are you recording in Full HD, 4K or 8K? If you are using a professional camcorder there is another more important question to ask: At what bit-rate are you recording? Your camera will have many different options to choose from, each with a different bit-rate, image size, frame rate and scanning system. If you are recording at the highest resolution and bit-rate your camera offers, then you may really need more RAM to work with the footage in editing. Below is a table with the recommended amount of RAM to use depending on video used.
If you do a lot of motion graphics, then having more RAM will help you work faster and more efficiently. Programs like Adobe After Effects require a considerable amount of RAM to work, especially when using heavy effects like particles. Contrary to a video in motion graphics, animation can become so complex that it will make your computer incredibly slow. In these cases, it’s a good practice to use proxy files and transcode certain animations.
RAM’s effect on rendering speeds
RAM doesn’t really affect rendering speeds all that much. The CPU and GPU are the ones mostly responsible for this task. However, if your computer does not have too much RAM — let’s say 4GB — and you increase it to 16GB, you may notice a difference in rendering speeds. The reason is that your computer will be able to allocate more resources into the RAM memory, freeing up and allowing your CPU and GPU to have more resources to work more efficiently. On the contrary, an increase between 16GB to 64GB of RAM may not make any difference in rendering speeds; nevertheless, you will be able to have a render running and still be able to use other programs at the same time with ease.
Should you upgrade your RAM?
Make sure to closely evaluate the three factors of overall memory requirements mentioned above. RAM memory cards can be quite expensive and you most likely won’t need to go with the maximum amount of RAM your computer supports. If you decide to upgrade, see the recommended RAM list above and select the one that best fits your needs. Do remember though that having a computer with a good video card (GPU), processor (CPU) and storage (hard drive) is even more important than going overboard purchasing RAM. Depending on your particular situation, upgrading your entire computer may be the best approach, but the good thing is that an upgrade in RAM can give your current computer an extra life and allow you to use it for a little bit longer.
RAM memory cards can be quite expensive and you most likely won’t need to go with the maximum amount of RAM your computer supports.
On the Mac App Store, you can find several apps (such as Memory Cleaner: Free Up RAM) that monitor your RAM memory usage and automatically free up inactive memory. This can help speed up and optimize your Mac performance.