What’s Better…8GB or 16GB RAM for Music Production?

As an avid home producer, I have used Reaper in the past to record and mix tracks running an 8GB system for many small projects and had much success in doing so.

However, if you are concerned with your current RAM or shopping for a new PC altogether with creating music in mind. Here’s what you need to know about RAM and performance through my experience.

So is 8GB enough or would 16GB of RAM be better for home music production?

8GB is enough for 5-25 audio tracks with multiple instruments, MIDI and many plugins, VSTs and effects (EQ, compression, delay, reverb, etc) for small projects without performance issues. However, 16GB is optimal for larger projects and handling multiple applications at once.

What’s the Minimum?

Most DAWs insist on 8GB as the minimum amount for adequate performance (16GB being the recommendation). However, 8GB is plenty of RAM for beginners and entry-level users learning the basics.

It all depends on your level of experience and the size of your projects.

What Will I Need For My Current Usage?

Now you have an idea about RAM and what projects it can roughly handle here’s some RAM and performance estimates. Compare these performance specs against your current system or potential PC.

Beginner

PC or Mac 8GB RAM (running at 1600 MHz) CPU: Dual-Core Intel i5 processor (2.2GHz or above)

  • Suited for: entry level producer, small band, podcasters, audio edits, smaller projects
  • Workload: 5 – 30 enabled audio tracks with some being MIDI
  • Workload: Examples: recording instruments, light mixing, mastering, light plugin use

Experienced 

PC or Mac: 16GB RAM (running at 1866 MHz) 512GB fusion/SSD CPU: Quadcore i7 processor (2.6 GHz or above)

  • Suited for: bands, musicians, composers, experienced producers, sound engineers
  • Workload: 30 – 60 enabled audio tracks with most being MIDI
  • Workload: examples: recording multiple instruments and overdubs, mixing, mastering, moderate plugin use, medium sample library use, orchestral compositions

Advanced Producer 

PC or MAC: 64 GB RAM (running at 2133 MHz) 1TB SSD CPU: Eight-Core Xeon E5 (running at 3.0 GHz or above)

  • Suited for: film composers, sound/mastering engineers
  • Workload: 100+ tracks enabled audio and MIDI
  • Workload: examples: Orchestral compositions, large sample library use, multiple instruments recording, heavy plugin use, multiple large session use, heavy composition template use.

This Video explains all you need to know (Watch Below).

What about CPU?

We can’t discuss RAM without mentioning the importance of CPU (central processing unit) as both co-exist when it comes to performance. The ‘CPU’ or ‘processor’ plays a large role when it comes to a smooth production experience.

Having a system that can handle plugins, VSTs, MIDI and many heavy applications makes for a good experience.

The minimum processor spec I’m going to recommend is a ‘Dual-Core Intel i5 processor (2.2GHz or above)’ which is powerful enough for use in most DAW’s for smaller projects without crashes or lag.

Dual or Quad Core?

It’s worth mentioning that the number of cores within the processor will also dictate the CPU performance.

For example, a Quad-Core Intel i5 processor would have better performance than a Dual-Core Intel i7 processor as there is an additional pair of cores to share the workload.

This will benefit music production in a number of ways for some DAWs. When selecting an audio or MIDI track in Ableton, the software will designate its own processing core to each audio/MIDI track you create.

Once you run out of cores, the software will double up on its existing cores meaning the more cores you have the more efficient the system will perform.

With that said It’s very easy to get confused when it comes to processor tech, so to avoid the confusion and instead create music without any performance issues, you will need to purchase a CPU that meets the benchmark test.

How to Test my Current PC?

www.cpubenchmark.net includes a large database of CPU benchmark test results which include regular updates giving you an idea of what performance updates you are likely to receive with an upgrade. Give it a try to see how your system or potential PC line up.

The CPU benchmark test is simply the overall power and efficiency of the CPU unit displayed in numbers.

7000 is the minimum that is recommended for most music production tasks. Image Line (the creators of Fruity loops) recommend a CPU score of 6000 for a smooth experience. Anything around 9000 is classed as a powerful CPU.

Will 8GB be Enough for Projects?

If you are looking to use applications such as heavy amounts of orchestral samples, then a 16GB may be ideal. Mainly because samples are very RAM heavy compared to standard plugins and VSTs.

Should I upgrade to 16GB?

If you have the budget to upgrade to a 16GB system there’s no harm in doing so. The benefit being that your system will improve when handling multiple programmes and applications at once.

For example, if you edit videos you will be able to render video projects quicker whilst still using software and applications. Having the extra RAM will also enable you to use multiple plugins in your DAW simultaneously on a medium-sized project without any crashes or lag.

RAM is not a majorly expensive upgrade and is an investment for the future. allowing you to load and increase ‘usage headroom’ without any performance issues.

On the other hand, if you’re happy with the current performance, you can wait for the price of 16GB SSD sticks to lower in price then upgrade later.

Is 32GB Overkill?

In my experience, the only time you will need to consider 32GB, is when you are using a large number of samples and virtual instruments such as orchestral simulators.

These eat a ton of space! A general way of testing this would be to take the file size of your sample library and halve it, which is a good indicator if you have enough space.

For example, I have a sample library of 16GB, I’m not going to use every patch so dividing it would give me ‘8GB of RAM’ as a good indicator to how much is ideal.

It’s worth noting, some operating systems have a limit to how much RAM can be installed. Some systems only allow a maximum of 16GB or 32GB. Before buying a system, check that your laptop or PC can actually be upgraded, as some manufacturers solder the RAM to the motherboard.

This meaning upgrading is impossible without heavy modifications. Secondly, check how many slots the current RAM is using and what’s available (i.e a single 8GB stick or 2x 4GB sticks).

The Bottom Line

  • 8GB is plenty of RAM for beginners and entry-level users learning the basics.
  • 8GB is enough for 5-25 audio tracks with guitars, bass, drums, vocals, MIDI keys with a few plugins, VST’s and effects (EQ, compression, delay, reverb, limiter)
  • 16GB would benefit the user for projects with 30-60 audio/MIDI tracks with heavy use of plugins or orchestral samples whilst running other programmes simultaneously.
  • CPU and processor take more importance over RAM when it comes to speed and performance.
  • Quad-Core Intel i5 processor is a minimum standard to currently have
  • Invest in a system that has the best processor (i5 i7 etc) as RAM can be upgraded at a later date whilst the CPU cannot be upgraded.

Have Fun Creating Music!

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