System memory otherwise known as RAM (Random Access Memory) is one of the key components found in every single computer system and it is widely recognised that by having a reasonable amount you will improve overall system performance, which in turn will help ensure you have a great day to day experience with your setup. But just how much is enough, and when buying a new system how exactly do you know just how much you’re going to require in the long term?.
The memory itself is localised data storage for the CPU. While you’re hard drive or SSD plays host to data in the long term and keeps it safe when otherwise not in use, it simply isn’t fast enough to respond to the CPUs requests in real time without creating a performance bottle neck. When you load up a program or project the delay you may experience at this stage is the data being pulled off your long term drive storage and placed in the short term memory, ready for the CPU to make use of. The CPU will grab this information, perform whatever tasks and calculations it needs to carry out and then will pass it back to the memory once more to keep a hold of it until the next time it needs to work with the data, when it will retrieve it again.
When a system runs out of free memory, it will start to pass any data it thinks is excess (normally the least accessed data currently being held in memory) back to the drive, in an attempt to create more space for working in real time. This means that any request for that data that has been placed back on the storage device will take longer to be recalled and will cause system lag. This can be best demonstrated by having a large number of different programs open and quickly switching between them. The oldest (least used in Windows eyes) one when it comes to the forefront is very likely to stall for a few seconds before appearing, and this is a great indicator that you’ve run out of physical memory to work with.
With Windows taking up the best part of around 2GB of memory, you need a bare minimum of 4GB for a basic PC, with most modern studio machines preconfigured with 8GB as standard. This will certainly be more than enough for basic track, editing and even complete in the box sessions for musicians that don’t rely upon memory hungry audio libraries and samplers.
For those users who use lots of Kontakt libraries, loops and other recorded audio this might prove to be a bit restrictive, although if you’re in the process of upgrading from an older machine then by simply loading your heaviest project and checking the in session memory usage within Windows Task Manager, you should be able to gauge if your PC is approaching or even exceeding that level with your current projects.
For projects with a large reliance on Kontakt or East West style sound banks, 16GB could well be the entry-level requirement for a lot of users over the next few years, perhaps even rising to 32GB for users with large sample heavy track counts. For users who are running the extremely high quality VSL (Vienna Sound Library) collection, who require the ability of recreating an entire orchestra in a session with a minimum of 100 different instruments, then the entry-level can easily raise from 32GB to 64GB or even 128GB of memory in order to contain all of the instruments, although it has to be noted this is largely restricted to those working and scoring for TV and film and will likely to be rather excessive for users working in other fields.
Physical memory is one of the components in your system where it can never hurt to have too much, and your use is likely to grow over the years. While it is often easy to upgrade your memory limit when needed over the years, ensuring you have a reasonable quantity at all times to do the job in hand, will ensure you get the best experience from your 3XS system.