Do You Really Need More Than 6 GB Of RAM?

The notion that bigger is better has taken a beating lately in all aspects of society.

Once the pride of the so-called upper middle class in the United States, McMansions and SUVs have now become symbols of excess and waste--at least the reminders of an era past. Green movement proponents should certainly be happy that so many “earth abusers” are beginning to see the light, but what about performance-computing fanatics? With memory prices near record lows, is there any good reason not to fill every slot with low-cost 2 GB DIMMs?

Environmentalists could point out that IC and PCB production turns a large quantity of natural resources into post-production waste, while most of the end-product is not recyclable and the additional components add to the system’s energy consumption. Power users could easily counter energy concerns by pointing out that a better-performing computer allows them to get their work done in less time. But neither argument is sufficient to answer the question we’ve asked so many times before: How much RAM do you really need?

Our 2004 article pointed out weaknesses in the once-popular single-gigabyte configurations. But 512 MB and smaller modules are now a distant memory. It wasnt long after that 2 GB became the performance standard, and by 2007, 4 GB kits could be found in all but the lowest-cost systems. Is it time to take the next step, to 8 GB or more? More importantly, were 4 GB modules ever really needed for games and everyday applications? And with the 32-bit addressing limit of 4 GB making only 3 GB available to many users, should everyone switch to a 64-bit operating system simply to support higher capacities?

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  • I sort of agree - although in some cases you really need more RAM... Silly thing like web development when you need to have two VMWares running at the same time to see if the page renders properly in our favourite browsers (IE6 and IE7). On 2GB of RAM - I can forget it, with 8GB - it's easy and I don't really see much slowdown. Also graphics, 3D, sound... the works... but you all know that already... :)
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  • photoshop, video editing, CAD - I Don't do audio; but I'm sure that needs loads of ram.
    The only time when there is too much ram would be if the system slows down to address it all.
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  • Render one frame in 3D max? This isn't a test.
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  • I suppose 3GB is more than enough for 'every day tasks', but for those of us who work in IT and need to test things in VMWare as well as kill aliens in our free time, then the more memory the better.

    Also anyone working with RAW images from a DSLR or doing any video editing will be happy with more memory.
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  • I use VMware a lot and that’s the only time that I find the having more the 4 GB of RAM is very useful.
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  • Um, in which reality were 4GB kits standard in 2007?
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  • add a photoshop test, phtoshop and most of CSs apps can utilize more than 3GB of memory when applying heavy filters.
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  • running a few browser windows (200MB each) plus google earth, outlook, maybe a game, skype, anti-virus easily takes you to 3GB and beyond. I would not consider less than 6GB in a new system today.
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  • ravetroll, but who in the right mind has google earth, outlook whilst playin a game?

    its very rare, and totally unecessary. as the tests have shown there isnt really much of a gain from having 3gb or 12gb, and only really gets used in specialist situations, which the common user hardly uses.

    though i will still be getting 6gb in my build in the next week or 2 for the simple fact of futureproofing
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  • godfath3r, I don't really like to have to be considering if what I am doing is or isn't going to cause me to run out of physical memory, and I do like to leave application windows open if there is something interesting I want to come back to. Perhaps in the meantime I might want to play a game, easy! 6GB is enough for loads of applications (excluding VM's / CAD etc) to be open and still be far enough from memory limit to not have to consider it. Your point about future proofing I would take onboard too, 6GB should be enough for me not to have to consider my memory requirements for a good deal of time into the foreseeable future.
    -1
  • Seems to me that the test were pointless. They was like have a ferrari, a skateboard and a 50cc moped in a race on a 10mph road. All of them can make 10mph so whats the point.
    Do any of them games for example know how to use more than 3Gig? I'd have thought the only real game to have in those tests would have been Supreme Commander which does use over 3Gig and there is an improvement with having more
    Choosing tests that can't really show any difference is pointless. As others have said there are loads of situations were having more memory does give better results and they are well known.
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  • These tests were silly - where were the benchmarks of database performance, virtualisation, video editing, etc.
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  • I've just ordered a new system with 8GB DDR3 (Dual Channel). My main hopes are that editing 4800x7200 pixel images in Photoshop (1GB+ file) will be a lot faster. I'll also be able to allocate more memory to a Virtual Machine running at the same time.
    I don't expect many other tasks to be much faster, especially games.
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  • I agree - The point of having lots of memory is multi tasking.

    I reckon these benchmarks would also find that disk performance was irrelevant.
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  • I did some heavy photoshopping few weeks ago, i scanned ~10 old photos of me and my family, which were quite scratched. Just to get every possible detail out of them i scanned them on professional scanner with 20kX20k resolution (~400mb each). My system has win 7 x64, its a OC q6600 with 4gb of memory. I can tell you, i needed mooooooooore :). Last time i felt a PC as slow as this was trying to play quake 2 on my Pentium 100Mhz with SW rendering :)
    So the point is - you can never have enough RAM, youll never now when you gonna need it.
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  • Did you disable virtual memory for this test to force all data to be kept in actual RAM?
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  • I'd like to know how my setup would behave under your tests.
    I run 8gigs of Ram and point the paging files to a 2gb ram disk. Other progs such as Newsleecher are pointed to there too, to save the constant HD mashing. To do the same with 6gb wouldn't work as well.
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  • I've 4 GB memory and have never been able to use it all, despites all my efforts to make this buying worthy.
    We don't need more than 3GB.
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  • All the test programs were still for 32-bit address space. We'll have to wait for Win7 apps to see the real benefits. How about adding a RAM-disc for temp: windows, ie8, etc..
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  • I run Win7x64 with photoshop x64 - so in task manager i saw PShop eating my 4 gig for breakfast :)
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