How Much RAM Do You Need For Video Editing

CG Director Author Alex Glawionby Alex Glawion   /  Updated   /   139 comments
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How Much RAM Do You Need For Video Editing

Are you thinking about getting a new Video Editing Desktop PC or a Video Editing Laptop or want to upgrade your existing one?

Do you want to make sure your current Hardware is strong enough for the type of editing Projects you might have planned or are working on?

RAM is one of the most important PC-Part for your video editing needs.

I will tell you exactly how much RAM you need for Video Editing and you can skip to that part of the article: RAM Size recommendations.

But first, let’s look at some of the theory behind it:

RAM Prices

RAM Prices are bound to strong fluctuation.

You might have seen it already, but take a look at how RAM prices fluctuate over the years:

video Editing Ram Prices

Image-Source: geizhals.de

A 32GB DDR4 Kit used to cost 400$ back in 2018. That same Kit cost just half of that in 2019, but the prices went back up for 2020.

RAM prices depend a lot on availability and demand for memory modules and chips and there are market watchers that know a year in advance where RAM prices are heading.

You won’t want to spend too much, of course, but for that, we will need to know how much RAM exactly to get:

Because the required amount of RAM depends so much on what type of projects you are editing, you’ll have to answer a couple of questions first:

Our Ultimate Video Editing RAM Goal

Our ultimate goal is to have enough RAM for our Video Editing Software to run smoothly.

Some popular Video Editing Software includes Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, Vegas Pro, Avid Media Composer / Symphony, DaVinci Resolve, and many more.

Additionally, any other typically needed Application running simultaneously should be granted sufficient Memory to not slow down your editing process.

After Effects comes to mind, or Photoshop. In fact, the best Computer for After Effects consists of very similar parts as a Video Editing Workstation.

Let me say this: Your active Projects should always be able to fit into your memory.

Why?

Because if they don’t, the Operating System will start swapping data, that doesn’t fit into your RAM, to your hard disk or SSD, and these two are a multitude slower than your RAM.

Take a look at this comparison of read & write speeds of an HDD vs. SSD vs. RAM.

The RAM is about 10x faster than an SSD and 50x faster than an HDD.

RAM Speed

A typical workflow of an average Video Editor

Now, let’s look at my typical Video Editing workflow:

I have Win 10 running. I recently browsed the Internet with Google Chrome in about 10 Open Tabs and am listening to music on YouTube.

I have Photoshop (that needs lots of RAM!) running in the background for some Images I want to use in my Video as well as Outlook or Thunderbird opened for my Email.

Let’s see how our RAM usage looks at the moment:

Win 10 uses about 3GB RAM just to start up and will use more if it is allowed to.

Chrome is using roughly 2GB with all the opened Tabs, Photoshop is using 1,5GB and Outlook or Thunderbird is chewing on some 200MB of RAM.

RAM Video Editing

I am actually using 6,7GB of RAM without even having my Video Editing Software running.

Now, of course, I could close all those Programs down and switch to a different OS to use less RAM.

I could only open up one program at a time, but let’s face it:

It’s about ease of use: You’ll only be efficient if your PC’s Performance doesn’t hold you back. Nothing should stand in the way of your creativity and efficiency.

And a slow Computer and Video Editing Timeline is the opposite of enabling creativity.

Closing down my Video Editing Software every time I want to adjust an image in Photoshop, just isn’t something that will make me work more efficiently.

So let’s set 6GB of System RAM usage as our baseline.

With that said, will Adobe Premiere Pro or similar Video Editing Software work with 8GB of System RAM?

Well, it depends!

It depends on your footage

What footage resolution and bit depth are you working with, and what is your project set to?

Why is this important?

Because the main use case for RAM in a Video Editing Software (apart from making the program run) is caching preview files.

Caching means pre-processing/calculating effects and layers, basically everything you input into your timeline, to a rendered preview.

This preview resides in the RAM, to be played back in real-time when required.

This usually happens automatically (in Premiere Pro for example) as soon as you play back or scrub through your timeline.

Now, a 720p 8bit preview will take up considerably less amount of RAM than a 4K 10bit video.

Think about the difference in color information:

A single 720p 8bit Frame consists of about 2,7MB of RAW uncompressed Data, while a 4K 10bit Frame will need about 47MB.

Resolution8bpc10bpc12bpc16bpc32bpc
1280x7202,7 MByte3,4 MByte4,1 MByte5,5 MByte11,0 MByte
1920x10806,2 MByte7,7 MByte9,3 MByte12,4 MByte14,8 MByte
4096x307237,7 MByte47,2 MByte56,6 MByte75,5 MByte151,0 MByte
8192x6144150,9 MByte188,7 MByte226,5 MByte302,0 MByte604,0 MByte

Of course, there are quite sophisticated compression algorithms, that allow the various Video Editing Programs to use compressed data, but the difference is still huge.

Also, the more you compress your Data, the more your CPU will have to work to compress & decompress the Data for fast viewing which can create new bottlenecks.

This means we are not really solving the problem of a fast Timeline with low RAM usage by using strong compression, we are just moving it over to a different Hardware Part (the CPU) to take care of it.

Keep all of the above in mind when reading the following:

The recommended amount of RAM you should target when building a new system or are upgrading for specific Video Editing projects and use cases:

How much RAM do you need for Video Editing

  • 8GB of RAM: Only if you are editing projects below 1080p and are ok with closing down other programs that are using up lots of your RAM in the background.
  • 16GB of RAM: Good for editing 1080p – 4K 8bit Projects, with minor usage of background Programs
  • 32GB of RAM: Good for any type of editing with heavy use of background hogs, such as editing large images in Photoshop.
  • 64GB or more: This amount is recommended if you are editing 4K-8K footage in 8-10bit or more and rely heavily on having several RAM-hogging Programs open at once such as After Effects or Cinema 4D.

Here are some RAM Modules that I have been able to test thoroughly and recommend for your Memory upgrading needs:

Now, you can usually make ends meet with less than recommended.

But it’s all about ease of use and not having to worry about your RAM all the time, right?

So it’s best to get a bit more than you think you need.

Video Editing Rendering Speed

A word on speed:

RAM doesn’t really affect the Rendering speed of your Projects all that much unless you don’t have enough and the OS has to swap to disk.

Your CPU and GPU are responsible for calculating your effects, color adjustments, layer blends, and video output compression and are mainly responsible for your Video-Editing-Speed, Program-responsiveness, and Rendering-Speeds.

Having RAM run in single, dual, or quad-channel configurations is sometimes discussed as means of improving overall speed, but performance differences are usually marginal at 3-5%.

Why is that? Shouldn’t Quad-Channel Memory be twice as fast as Dual-Channel?

Although the Memory Bandwidth theoretically doubles each time (single, dual, quad), the Software (Premiere Pro for example) won’t make use of it, as there is no need for higher bandwidth.

The RAM already has a transfer speed of 5GB/s. You don’t saturate this Bandwidth with normal 25FPS – 60FPS projects.

The bottleneck here would rather be the copying of the Footage to the RAM when previewing. But almost never the Playback of the Footage from RAM in Real-Time.

Let’s look at an example:

On a 25FPS Project, this would mean you have “5GB per second possible RAM speed / 25 Frames” = 200MB per Frame.

Your RAM is able to play back Footage at 25FPS when a single Frame is under 200MByte. Now I don’t know anything about your Footage, but my Footage (except maybe some EXRs in 8k) doesn’t usually reach this size per frame. Far from it.

Doubling the Bandwidth will do nothing for you except give you more bandwidth headroom.

The maximum number of Frames per Second you will ever need to play back your Timeline in Realtime, is your Source Framerate. 25, 30, 60 FPS.

One thing you should keep in mind though is the possibility to upgrade your components in the future:

Future Proof

What if you want to buy just enough RAM for your current projects (maybe because you have budget constraints), but you know you will switch to some bigger footage in the future?

Make sure your motherboard supports the amount of RAM you are planning for.

Although in the past, upgrading your RAM was as easy as adding in more modules to the ones you already have, it isn’t that easy nowadays:

There might be issues with stability when mixing RAM Kits even if they are of the same type, brand, and speed/timings.

So, to be on the safe side,  if you are thinking about upgrading to more RAM, see if you can sell your old Kit on eBay for example, and get a new complete RAM Kit with the desired amount of Gigabytes.

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How much RAM do you need for your Video Editing Projects?

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Alex Glawion - post author

Hi, I’m Alex, a Freelance 3D Generalist, Motion Designer and Compositor.

I’ve built a multitude of Computers, Workstations and Renderfarms and love to optimize them as much as possible.

Feel free to comment and ask for suggestions on your PC-Build or 3D-related Problem, I’ll do my best to help out!

139
Comments
Also check out our Forum for feedback from our Expert Community.

Bjarne Fehstedt

is it right that it is best to have the video editing program on one harddisk and the videofiles on another?

Arvin

Hi, thank you for your detailed article. My budget limits me to buy a packaged Lenovo C940 having i7 9750H, 256GB SSD, Nvidia GTX 1650 Max-Q, and 12GB Soldered DDR4-2226. I’m wondering if this is powerful enough to edit videos in FHD or 4K, with a simultaneously opened Photoshop. Thank you.

Zen

this is explained really well but i have a dilema. I want to buy a dell optiplex 7010 and a gtx 1650, the problem is that the 7010 uses DDR3 ram and it only has 8GB and i want to do some video editing and montages in after effects and premiere pro while also using photoshop for thumbnails and other pictures, and i don’t know if DDR3 is good enough to edit in those programs.

JJJJ

This writer deserves a raise!

Probably the most well-explained and thorough article I’ve read about this type of stuff. And being a noob to it and someone looking to get into video editing and also shopping for a laptop to handle it, it’s much appreciated. Good stuff!

KevinC

Thank you this is really helpful! I am debating if I should get the new Asus Amd Ryzen 4800h laptop or pay more for a MSI with Intel i7-10875h. Both are 8 core with 16gb ram. Different is on Asus one 8gb are soldered I can only put 32gb on the other to makes 40gb total. MSI can accept 64gb. However MSI is also $400 more.
I start working with 8k 10bit on premiere but I can always make proxies until exports. Should I just spend the money and go for the MSI or the Asus is workable? Thank you ahead!

Hey KevinC,

Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you found the article helpful!

If I were in your shoes, I would definitely get the MSI even if it costs $400 more. You didn’t specify all the specs of both laptops but I’m assuming the MSI comes with a better GPU and/or more storage but what’s really important here is the capability to expand to 64GB or RAM offered by the MSI laptop. As mentioned in the article, 64GB of RAM is highly advisable if you’re working on 8K footages on 10 bit. Some may say that 64GB is overkill but RAM is something you can never have enough of in a computer and it’s always better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, right?

Cheers,
Alex

KevinC

Thank you for your reply!
The MSI have the same 2060 GPU and smaller hard drive. But it’s 17″ vs 15″ and also have thunderbolt. Asus Ryzen 4800hs vs MSI i7-10875h.
For future upgrade the MSI wins big time. But I keep hearing the new Ryzen 4800 is much better than the new intel that’s why it got me thinking with Asus.

Hey Kevin,

On paper, the Ryzen 7 4800HS does look like it’s better than the i7-10875H. For example, the Ryzen 7 4800HS has a faster base clock at 2.90 GHz compared to the i7-10875H’s 2.30 GHz. Turbo Boos on a single core has the i7-10875H taking the upper hand at 5.10 GHz compared to the Ryzen’s 4.20 GHz but the Ryzen has a higher Turbo Boost on all cores at 3.80 GHz vs 3.20 GHz. These differences on CPU speed may be or may not be game-changing but again, the important factor to consider here is RAM upgradability given your use case scenario. While the Asus may give you a slightly better CPU with its Ryzen 7 4800HS, I’d still go with the MSI so I can max out the RAM to 64GB and in the process ensure I have enough RAM for what I need the laptop for.

Cheers,
Alex

KevinC

Cheers Alex!