How Much RAM Do You Need For Video Editing

Last updated on October 4th, 2018, 11 comments

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

Do you 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 Hardware parts for your video editing needs.

I will tell you exactly how much RAM you need for Video Editing. But first lets look at some of the theory behind it:

RAM Prices

RAM is expensive!

You have probably seen it already, but take a look at how Prices have come up over the past years:

RAM Prices

A 16GB DDR4 Kit used to cost 68€ back in 2016, and cost 195€ in 2018! There seems to be a downward trend in 2018 though, so there is still hope for sane prices on the horizon.

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

Lets take care of that:

As so often, because it depends so much on what type of projects you are editing, there is unfortunately no definite answer to the question of how much RAM you need for general video editing.

But we can narrow it down a good bit:

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 Softwares include 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 have enough Memory to not slow down your editing process.

After Effects comes to mind here and maybe 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 a HDD vs. SSD vs. RAM.

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

RAM Speed

 

A typical use case of an average Video Editor

Now lets look at my typical Video Editing use case scenario:

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.

Lets 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.

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

It’s about ease of use and how motivated and unhindered you are when working on your projects. Nothing should stand in the way of your creativity.

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 Softwares 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 Realtime, when required.

This usually happens automatically (in Premiere Pro 2018 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.

This means we are not really solving the Problem of a fast Timeline with low RAM usage by using a 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 smaller than 1080p projects 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 is recommended if you are editing 8K footage in 10bit or more and rely heavily on having several RAM-hogging Programs open at once such as After Effects or Cinema 4D.

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 give it a good buffer zone there and make sure you have a bit more than is minimally needed.

Since RAM is unfortunately quite expensive currently, you might want to settle for less, but be ready to upgrade in the future when prices come down.

I’ll get into Future-Proofing your Workstation down below.

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 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 differences usually are within the margin of error of around 1 – 3%.

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.

Lets 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 about your Footage, but my Footage (except maybe some EXRs in 8k) doesn’t usually reach this size. Far from it.

Doubling the Bandwidth will do nothing for you except give you even 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, are future upgrading possibilities:

Future Proof

What if you want to buy just enough RAM for your current projects (maybe because prices are so high at the moment), but you know you will switch to some bigger footage in the future?

Make sure your mainboard supports the amount of RAM you are targeting.

Although in the past, upgrading your RAM was as easy as adding in more modules to the ones you already have, it does not always seem to be 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.

 

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

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Alex from CGDirector - post author

Hi, I am Alex, a Freelance 3D Generalist / Motion Designer and Compositor.

I have built a multitude of 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!

11
Comments

Zhi

Hi, thanks for this very informative article! I’m thinking of getting a portable ultrabook laptop right now (Lenovo Yoga 920) for video editing while travelling. It only has 8gb and I only shoot 1080p. I wasn’t clear from your article whether that would be enough? Does it depend on the type of editing I do? If so I only do very basic edits such as transitions and overlaying captions of clips no more than 15mins, no special effects or 4K videos. Would it also be able to handle a tab on YouTube in the background (kill time while rendering)? Thanks 🙂

[…] the editing side though, getting upwards towards the max of 64GB of memory would allow me to edit “8K footage in 10bit or more and rely heavily on having several RAM-hogging Programs open at once …With all these things considered, I chose to go with the G.Skill Flare X 64 GB (4x16BG) DDR4 memory. […]

Steph

Other than the 1-3% benefits in rendering, what is the benefit of quad channel vs dual channel if anything at all?

Romain

Thanks a lot for this article!

Virginia Moore

What about dedicated GDDR5 memory? How big of a difference does it make to have 2GB of dedicated memory vs 1GB? (I’m trying to compare AMD Radeon HD 6970M graphics with 1 GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory VS NVIDIA GeForce GTX 775M Graphics Processor with 2GB GDDR5 Memory.) Thank you!!

IT Specialist

Modern memory including the very RAM pictured in the article header (Gskill Tridentz RGB) does NOT support mixing memory kits even if they are precisely the same speed. Here’s the Gskill FAQ: https://www.gskill.com/en/faq/DRAM_Memory

Soooo.. you can’t “just add more”, you need to buy a whole new kit (entire set of however much total memory you want in the computer).

Mixing memory kits is a primary source of instability, see this post from an ASUS representative: https://rog.asus.com/forum/showthread.php?57038-Don%92t-combine-memory-kits!-The-meat-and-potatoes-overview

In the good old days we could mix memory kits but that is simply no longer the case. Please update the article so nobody loses hundreds of dollars to this costly mistake!