Skip to main content

Why I Won’t Use Less Than 32GB of RAM

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Most RAM buying guides, including ours, insist that 16GB is the value sweet spot, and for good reason: Many consumer programs tend to spill over 8GB of use, while few consume more than 16GB. Going with less than that “sweet spot” will cause some data to be written to much-slower virtual memory on your storage drive. Going up from 16GB to 32GB doubles your cost from around $60 to $120 (at current market pricing).

For most people, 16GB is probably OK, but if you’re a power user like me, more RAM is more than worth the cost, because you’re literally paying to get some of your time back.

Using Lots of RAM for Everyday Tasks

As an editor, I end up doing a ton of multitasking, which starts with editing my own photos. When I open Photoshop, a single image spikes the program’s footprint to 300-400MB. Sure, it puts some files away after that and eventually drops to around 100MB, but that spike impacts how much data other, smarter programs are able to cache. I typically open six similar images at once to compare them before I pick one or two to edit. And while I’m editing those, Photoshop’s memory use often jumps to around 2GB.

Though 2GB is admittedly a small part of 16GB, let’s consider what other programs I’m running: I’ll typically have eight or more work-related sites open in one web browser and two or three other tabs showing the worksheets and documents that relate to my current task.

Add two or three tabs for comparing factory specs, two or three more for price engines, and even two or three for previous articles that I’m hoping to link to. My workflow is that, whenever I reach a point in the discussion that hits on any of those tabs, I bounce through them, find what I’m looking for, and pop that information into my article.

Meanwhile, I have a second browser running my social sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tom’s Hardware forums, and all the other forums I more stealthily view take up around 2GB. And my third browser? It’s full of all the stuff that I don’t mind being linked to my webmail account, but don’t want to get ads for in my work email.

Other services? I’ve too many to list, as I even have a DVR running just to provide programming that I can view with audio at 1.5x. I can’t find a web player to do that. Skype? Ring? Check.

Browser Slowdowns and RAM-Gulping Apps

With all of those apps and tabs open, dumping six photos into Photoshop used to cause Chrome to panic, dumping a ton of cached images and ads that were stored in memory to the drive. After that, bumping through my tabs would result in some pages going blank and reloading, some not scrolling properly until I waited for certain ad services to reload and images to reappear. When seconds count, reloads were taking minutes from my day. Every day. And so, two years ago, I upgraded to 32GB. Problem solved.

A 32GB test system running most of my open apps and tabs but few of my services, which typically bump use to 59%.

A 32GB test system running most of my open apps and tabs but few of my services, which typically bump use to 59%. (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Other reasons to install more than 16GB include the use of applications that need more than 16GB to run at full speed, including some video editing and 3D modeling software, or even the editing of poster-sized images. But my favorite reason to run 32GB on our dual-channel test systems is that this capacity currently provides two ranks of memory per channel.

A rank is the group of ICs (chips) that fill one 64-bit interface of a DIMM, so that dual-rank modules have twice as many ICs and both interfaces active. Our AMD Ryzen 3000 memory deep-dive proved that four ranks of DDR4-2800 can outperform two ranks of DDR4-3600! And while a recent review revealed a 16GB kit that contained two dual-rank 8GB DIMMs, the lower-density chips used to create those rarified modules have been out of production (to the best of our knowledge) for around two years (hence the rarity).

What’s Your Time Worth?

Whether you go with two dual-rank 16GB or four single-rank 8GB DIMMs, the fact that you’re doubling up either the number of modules or the number of ICs per module means that you’re also doubling the price. After over a year of escalating prices, this year’s memory pricing has fallen to a point below that of when I did my upgrade. 32GB kits are now available for under $120.

If you’re thinking “but that’s still twice as much as $60”, I’d first ask you what your time every day is worth. Then, understanding that you’ll probably be buying modern RAM at modern density, I’d ask how much you’ve already spent on your system to boost performance. Compared to a complete system price of at least $600, that extra $60 begins to look like a bargain.

Note: As with all of our op-eds, the opinions expressed here belong to the writer alone and not Tom's Hardware as a team.

  • daglesj
    You run a messy system good for you!
    Reply
  • Gurg
    Silly me. I thought you might be running something like MSI Afterburner or Task Manager Performance in the background and monitoring your active computer system to see the max speeds and usages of the various PC components. Thereby determining that you were using close to the maximum RAM usage and could benefit from either faster or more RAM capacity. Instead you are just flying by the seat of your pants which is not what I would expect from a tech site.

    Personally I monitor my system to see what weak points are for my uses. I also keep up with sites like yours to see what is new and reviews for PC components. Finally I check various retailers to see the price of my current components and possible upgrades. Additionally I will check out top scoring systems on 3DMark TIME SPY that use my CPU or GPU and how they are generating those higher scores. Also see if buying a supposed upgrade CPU or GPU would improve my scores. Then I will make cost/benefit decisions as to whether I need or want to tweak my system with minor upgrades or replace it.
    Reply
  • rubix_1011
    As a content creator for the site, I can agree with the content of this article.

    Silly me. I thought you might be running something like MSI Afterburner or Task Manager Performance in the background and monitoring your computer system to see the max speeds and usages of the various PC components. Thereby determining that you were using close to the maximum RAM usage and could benefit from either faster or more RAM capacity. Instead you are just flying by the seat of your pants which is not what I would expect from a tech site. .

    I wouldn't even consider using MSI Afterburner for anything like that.

    A software suite like HWInfo would be much more suited to delivering this kind of information to a power user over an overclocking/fan control software UI.

    Task Manager would provide enough information to start building a basis for real-time system allocation of memory usage, and would be one of the first places I would look. I can't find a reason why someone wouldn't use Task Manager to identify these items on a Windows PC and then work from there.

    While you want this to sound like you are completely outraged, your argument offers little-to-no basis for debate over that in the article. It also sounds like you want there to be a much more difficult and in-depth set of steps to evaluate system resources, but the fact is that it should be simple for any user of any skill ability to easily determine these and make adjustments to suit their needs.
    Reply
  • csm101
    for my next platform jump(not sure when it happens) i'm going for 32GB as well.
    Reply
  • Mandark
    32 is my new standard as well, this 16 is garbage for hosting lots of test VMs and whatnot. 32 to 64 GB or go home. it's a good read.
    Reply
  • g-unit1111
    Things change for sure. Since RAM is so cheap having more isn't necessarily a bad thing especially since CPUs are moving beyond 4 cores, why should we stick with the cheap option for RAM?
    Reply
  • nofanneeded
    How about 24GB ? 2x8 and 2x4 ?

    I dont think that 32 GB is needed given you dont really fill up upto 24 GB of RAM
    Reply
  • bignastyid
    nofanneeded said:
    How about 24GB ? 2x8 and 2x4 ?

    I dont think that 32 GB is needed given you dont really fill up upto 24 GB of RAM
    Mixing ram is not a suggested practice. Best to buy in a kit/set and there hasn't been 24gb kits since triple channel made it's short appearance.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    I have 32GB.
    Then again, I routinely run a few VM's simultaneously. 4-6-8GB RAM each sucks up RAM quickly.
    Reply
  • TJ Hooker
    admin said:
    We keep saying 16GB is the “sweet spot,” of memory capacity. So why aren’t we all using it?
    I think people say 16GB is the "sweet spot" for gaming/basic desktop use. Most people I see giving advice on these forums for how much RAM to get add a caveat that you may benefit from more if you're doing media production/content creation. Which is basically in line with this article (except for the bit about wanting two ranks per channel, but that doesn't necessarily require 32GB).

    And as far as getting 32GB just for 'future proofing', by the time you need more than 16GB for gaming it'll probably be time to upgrade to a DDR5 platform anyway.
    Reply