Usually, today’s budget computers come with 4 GB of RAM. A mid-size setup can offer twice, and high-end gaming systems and workstations go up to 16GB or more.
There is no doubt that the way shots, if Windows 8 supports up to 128 GB of physical memory (assuming you are running 64-bit editing), while Windows 8 Pro can go up to 512 GB.
Does anyone really need a lot of RAM? Memory is not as expensive as it used to be, but obviously, there is no point in paying for a gigabyte of RAM, from which you get no significant gain.
Does more RAM mean faster?
Many assume that adding memory makes a PC much faster, and in some cases, it does. If you associate a pair of DIMMs to a motherboard does not change the speed at which the processor executes the code, but it can help in other ways, especially on older systems with 2 GB of RAM or less. Since adding RAM, the need for Windows to rely on “virtual memory” is reduced.
In simple terms, virtual memory is a hard disk file that is used as temporary storage when the “real” PC memory is full. Virtual memory, for example, lets you run multiple heavy applications simultaneously, even if they do not fit into RAM. When you switch from one to the other, Windows quickly swaps the relevant data from disk to real memory, which is why the virtual memory file is sometimes called the switch file. If you specified Windows Explorer to display hidden files, you can see the pagefile in the root directory of your system disk. Depending on the version of Windows that you are using, it will be named pagefile.sys or swapfile.sys.
The process of transferring data to and from the switch file reduces things, especially if you are using the mechanical disk of an old school. The situation is even worse if you try to open a new program when the memory is full: Shovel Head repeatedly ends up “scraped” back and forth across the disk as it tries to read the new data into memory while more information is moved to the paging file. The result is a slow, non-responsive PC.
If you have already used Windows XP on a machine since the late 1990s or early 2000s, you probably have already seen your role in disk overflow sessions. Although modern 32-bit PCs can theoretically process up to 4GB of RAM, memory was expensive and a high-end system could be provided with the only 256MB installed. An addiction to virtual memory was a fact in life – so the basic rule that you have to install as much memory as you can afford.
Decline in returns
This rule is much less current today than it was ten years ago. Today, a new PC comes with several gigabytes of RAM, so Windows relies much less on virtual memory. It is almost safe to find a solid state system drive instead of a mechanical drive, making the process of switching data between RAM and virtual memory a lot smoother. Since SSDs have no problem reading from one flash memory cell while writing to another, this also eliminates the “scraping” problem.
The same is a true memory even faster. Although a high-end SSD can read and write data about 600MB / s, a DDR3 DIMM operates at 1333 transmits more than 10GB / s (you can calculate the peak transfer rate to a memory module DDR3 in megabytes per second by multiplying the operating frequency with eight). This means that the system will be more responsive if you can integrate all your applications and documents into physical memory.
There is another benefit to having a lot of RAM on hand. Since Vista, Windows includes an under-hood feature called SuperFetch that tries to predict which programs and libraries are most likely to be used. It also loads too much into the RAM in the background while the system is idle. The more free RAM you have, the more likely that the next application you open, will be pre-cached, it can pop up almost instantly, instead of having to download from disk.
How much is enough?
SuperFetch will use as much memory as you can run it, but since it wisely expects the program you will probably open next, it should not require tens of gigabytes to be effective. In addition, when you have enough RAM to fit the entire workload into memory, virtual memory becomes a problem. The question is: how much memory do you need to achieve peak performance without wasting money?
There is no “one size fits all” answers to this question. All workloads are different, and although you have a good idea of your current needs, it’s not always possible to predict what you need tomorrow. However, you can get an idea of how your users can be repaired by exploring the amount of memory used in different scenarios.
It’s easy to review through the Windows Performance Monitor, a handy system tool that lets you keep track of dozens of important operating data, including “committed bytes”. This represents the total amount of memory allocated to your OS applications and components (it does not include the SuperFetch cache, which is automatically flushed if RAM is required by a “real” program).
The graph above shows the peak levels of dedicated memory measured by Performance Monitor in the different stages of our Real World Benchmarks, performed in a clean installation of Windows 8.1 on a Dell XPS 12 laptop with 4 GB of RAM. We also drove our standard Crysis reference with very high details.
Even in our test Real World Multi Apps – which opens several major applications at once – the total use of the test system has never reached 4 GB. This means that Windows does not need to fall back on the memory virtual at any time. As such, installing more RAM will only give a modest boost in speed.
However, this does not necessarily mean that you should avoid paying more than 4 GB. If your work is particularly demanding – for example, processing 4K video files or working with very large databases – you may find that need more memory. It is also possible that as memory prices continue to decline, everyday life is growing to exploit more and more RAM. Plus, many ultra-thin laptops cannot be updated for users, so if you buy a new system today, you can reasonably choose an 8GB model, just to be certain of some future security.
However, for common tasks, it seems to add more than 4 GB of memory, which results in a sharp drop in returns: We have not seen any application – except for highly specialized IT tasks – that really offers benefits 16GB. It seems that the days when you can never get enough RAM, fortunately, are behind us.
Memory and performance
We mentioned that the high transmission speeds of a modern SSD make virtual memory less painful than once. But what does this mean in practice? To find out, we conducted our Real World Benchmarks on our test system, equipped with 2 GB, 4 GB and 8 GB of RAM. Our results are shown in the graph below.
Clearly, even with an SSD, more memory speeds things up. We have seen the most pronounced effect in our Windows test, which involves repeated opening and switching between applications. With only 2 GB on board, Windows had to use regular virtual memory. Going up to 4GB, leave everything in memory, giving a performance increase of 11%; add an additional 4GB of extra SuperFetch space, giving an extra 5% boost.
In the multi-application test, things were less clear. Going from 2GB to 4GB allowed us to improve the speed by 10%, but adding RAM beyond this point did not help, especially because the system was not available long enough for allow SuperFetch to do that.
In our Media exercises, which rely on number computing instead of file access, this does not affect the performance of adding memory.
Overall, the difference between a 4GB system and an 8GB was only 3%. You can consider what is important enough to justify an upgrade, but it is not as scalable as expected.
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