How Much RAM Do You Need For Video Editing

22 August 2017

You are thinking about getting a new Video Editing Workstation / PC or want to upgrade your existing one. You want to make sure you have the right amount of RAM for your video editing purposes. Of course you will want to make it future proof, but don’t want to spend more than necessary.

If you get too little, your Projects will crawl to a halt, you might have to get another upgrade or exchange the RAM you already purchased for more.

Worst Case Scenario

Worst case scenario, you were sure when setting up your system, that you would only need X amount, and you bought a mainboard that does not allow for more RAM to be installed.

If you get too much RAM you are spending more than necessary and half of the Memory will just sit there doing nothing for you most of the time.

You might even have bought an ultimate-type workstation mainboard that allows for 1TB of RAM (whaaat!?), and it is after a few weeks that you realize you went totally overboard and you could have done with a smaller type system and RAM.

So, yes, not knowing how much RAM you need for your video editing purposes is a real problem. So how much do you actually need? 2GB? 4GB? …1TB?

Well, here is the deal: Since it depends so much on what type of projects you are editing, there is no definite answer to the question of how much RAM you need for general video editing. But we can definitely narrow it down.

Let’s get into this a bit deeper:

Our Ultimate Video Editing RAM Goal

Our ultimate goal is to have enough RAM for your Video Editing Software to run smoothly, be it Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, Vegas Pro, Avid Media Composer / Symphony, DaVinci Resolve or similar.

Additionally, any other typical Application running simultaneously should have enough Memory to not slow down your editing process.

Your work should also always be able to fit into your memory, because if it gets too big, the Operating System will start swapping stuff that doesnt fit into your RAM, to your hard disk or SSD, and these two are a multitude slower than your RAM.

So we will definitely want to avoid this.

A typical use case of an average Video Editor

Now lets look at a typical use case scenario

I have Win 10 running, recently browsed the Internet with Google Chrome in 10 Open Tabs and am listening to Music on Youtube, have Photoshop running in the background for some Images I want to use in my Video, Outlook is running for my Email, and I am actively Editing a 1080p Project in Adobe Premiere Pro.

Win 10 uses about 3GB RAM just to start up, and will use more if it is allowed to, Chrome is hogging 2GB with all the opened Tabs, Photoshop is using 1,5GB and Outlook is chewing on some 200MB of RAM.

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

So, sure, I can close all those down, switch to Linux and only open up one program at a time, but let’s face it. It’s about ease of use and how motivated and unfrustrated you are when working on your projects.

And closing your Video Editing Software when you want to adjust an image in Photoshop real quick doesn’t sound like something that will make your work more efficient.

So let’s be a bit generous and set 6GB of System RAM usage as a baseline.

With that said, will Adobe Premiere Pro 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, meaning pre-processing/calculating effects and layers, basically everything you input into your timeline, to a rendered preview, that resides in the RAM, to be played back in realtime, when required.

Now a 720p8bit preview will take up considerably less amount of RAM than a 4K10bit video. Think about the difference in colour information.

A single 720p8bit Frame consists of about 3MB of RAW uncompressed Data, while a 4K10bit Frame will need about 30MB. 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.

So, while keeping this in mind, here it is, the recommended amounts of RAM you should target, when building a new system / upgrade for specific Video Editing projects and use cases:

How much RAM

8GB of RAM: Only if you are editing smaller than 1080p projects or are ok with closing down other Programs that are using up precious 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 after effects or editing large images in photoshop.

64GB or more: This is recommended if you are editing 8K footage in 10bit or more and rely heavily on having several RAM hogging Programs open at once.

Now, you can usually make ends meet with less than recommended, but its all about ease of use and not having to worry about your RAM all the time, right? So give it a good buffer zone there and make sure you have a bit more than minimally needed, if you value your time and efficiency.

Video Editing Rendering Speed

A word on speed: RAM doesn’t really affect the Rendering speed of your Projects at all, unless you have way too little.

Your CPU and GPU are responsible for calculating your effects, color adjustments, layer blends and video output compression. So don’t necessarily expect a huge performance boost when you buy your 1TB of RAM.

Usually I’ll go into single, dual, quad channel configurations and the like, but also this won’t make a noticeable impact, so I’ll spare you the techno mumbo jumbo.

One thing you should keep in mind is future upgrade possibilities though:

Future Proof

If you buy just enough RAM for your current projects, but you know you will switch to some bigger footage in the future, make sure to have some RAM slots available, so you don’t have to get rid of your current RAM but can actually add to the RAM you already have.

Thats pretty much it. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

Alex - post author

Hi, I am Alex, a passionate Director and 3D Generalist currently working in an Animation Studio.

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