If you are just getting into recording for the first time, there are usually a ton of questions. The main one that I have found over and over is the amount of RAM your computer has. So is 8 or 16 GB of RAM enough these days for regular music production?
8 or 16 GB of RAM? What Do I Need?
So you want to start recording, that’s awesome! So you start shopping around for a computer, but there are tons of options out there. The biggest question that comes up when it comes to which computer someone should get for music production, is RAM.
Most music blogs will tell you to get what you can afford, and that is…okay advice.
But today we are going to take our famous “real world” approach and actually test out the different options. It’s pretty simple to look at some specs on paper and say “sure, that will work fine”.
But the last thing that I want you to do, is buy something that will essentially be useless for what you’re attempting to do. So I would change the advice about “get whatever you can afford”.
Let’s change that to “Buy what you will need for the project you are attempting”.
Not everyone is going to produce a full length album in their bedroom. Some people may just want to record song ideas with a few tracks. Others might want to make demos for their band, or their friends.
And in the last category, we have the people that intend to make that full album, and we will talk about that too!
But for the uninitiated, what IS RAM? How does it work?
Is 8 Or 16 GB Of RAM Enough For You: Let’s Break It Down…
RAM can be very confusing when it comes to choosing just how much you need for your computer if you plan on recording. We have talked about what you need to get started before at a base level. But today we are going to take a deep dive into what all of this means, and try to put these computer specs into laymen’s terms.
It seems like every time you take a look, computer specs have changed. The industry is ever-evolving and it moves at a rapid rate. It’s hard to keep up if you’re a guitar nerd like myself and focused more on gear!
Lets start with the basics:
What is RAM, Exactly?
Ram stands for “Random Access memory. RAM can be loooked at as the heart of your computer’s performance. Surely other things, like your CPU and Hard Drive matter as well, but RAM is what helps to power your entire machine. You experience with music production greatly relies on RAM.
Ram cards generally come in several sizes, in increments of two and four:
- 2 GB
- 4 GB
- 8 GB
- 16 GB
Your computer may have more than one RAM slot, and RAM will stack. This means if you have two slots available on your computer, and you have two 8 GB RAM cards, then you have 16 GB of RAM working in tandem! This is exactly why you see RAM in easily divisible even numbers.
What does RAM do, you ask? RAM controls how much of a workload you can put on your computer. You have probably maxed out a computer’s RAM before and didn’t realize it! When you have a lot of programs open, it taxes your RAM pretty hard and your computer will slow down. Sometimes, you may even have to restart your computer.
This is why RAM is so important when it comes to music production, and recording in general. The more RAM you have, the more possibilities open up when it comes to recording software. This is especially true when it comes to other aspects, like plug ins. Is 8 or 16 GB of RAM enough?
Let’s talk about it, and test it out!
Is 8 Or 16 GB of RAM Enough to Run a DAW?
If you are brand new to all of this, you are probably scratching your head right now. That’s ok, I didn’t know what a DAW was either. A DAW stands for “Digital Audio Workstation” and is the digital version of a recorder. There are many companies that make DAWs and you have probably heard of some of the more famous ones:
- Pro Tools
- Garage Band
- Two Notes
The DAW’s essential function is to record and process. You have tracks just like the more traditional tape-based multi track recorders. There are also features called Plug Ins that can be anything from an amp simulator to simple studio effects like reverb and compressors.
Many practice amps these days are made to connect to DAWs, and even come with “Lite” versions of the more expensive programs like Ableton. This is a great way to get acquainted with some of these DAW programs and get your foot in the door for recording. They usually lack the features of the big boys, but they perform basic recording functions just fine.
I have been recording at home for over 20 years, digitally. I have also seen tons of professional studios. Everyone has a DAW that they prefer, and a setup they like. Some people will tell you that Apple is ideal for recording and producing music. I like PC myself. Everyone is has the setup they like that makes their workflow easier.
Different DAW programs take up different amounts of RAM. Something like Reaper, for example, will run great on just 16 GB of RAM. However, if you try to use something like Pro Tools on only 16 GB of RAM, you might run into a few problems. This is especially true when it comes to the use of external effects, and plug-ins.
So is 8 or 16 GB of RAM enough to run these different DAW programs? Yes…and no. It depends on the number of tracks you plan on using, and how many plug-ins you use. We are going to take a real deep dive into how this works!
I have three different laptops that we are going to try out.
- One with 8 GB of Ram
- One with 16 GB
- My main recording station, that has 32 GB
For the purpose of consistency, we will be using Reaper exclusively. Not only is it a great program, it also takes up probably the least space of all the mainstream DAW programs. The Reaper website states that 16 GB is optimal to run the program. So let’s check it out!
Testing Reaper At 8 and 16 GB of RAM
I already know for a fact that Reaper will work on both of these laptops, but to what extent? There have been many updates to the program lately and it could spell disaster! But we will take a look at something I recently recorded and see just how well the tracks run at 8 Gigs and 16 GB.
The session file has 16 tracks, and to start, I am turning off all of the effects and plug-ins to start with. This is just to see how well it runs without anything added. I know for a fact, that neither of these laptops can handle all of the effects and plug-ins I have loaded in this project. I know this because it’s exactly what prompted me to buy my new computer!
But that doesn’t mean we can’t see just how far each one goes. There is a drastic difference between 8 and 16 GB, so let’s see just how big of a difference the extra RAM makes. We will also be using the stock Reaper Theme, as to not add any extra strain.
This is what the DAW looks like:
Let’s try the 8 GB laptop first. The first thing I notice is how long it takes to boot up the project. It took about 35 seconds to load all of the tracks and be ready to work. That’s not terrible per se, but it also isn’t ideal. Something tells me the 16 GB will do a lot better.
The laptop certainly plays all of the tracks pretty smoothly, and playback is clear. All 16 tracks of the program file are working just fine. However, if I turn on any of the preset plug-in programs, the entire system starts to stutter. No wonder Reaper recommends 16 GB to make the program work best!
If I put any more strain on the project file, the audio cuts out altogether. The visual part of the interface also starts to freeze and stutter. Guess I need to reboot the computer at this point, it’s simply overloaded!
But don’t automatically discount the 8 GB laptop! This would actually work great for just recording some quick ideas or riffs. It has no problem recording one track at a time. But for full-on music production, 8 GB is just not enough to use plug-ins or virtual instruments.
Unless, of course, you’re running one of Apple’s new M1 Macs – like the $699 Mac mini; it comes with 8GB of RAM as standard and, thanks to Apple’s new M1 chip, it can handle pretty much anything, including things like DAWs and other music production software.
8 GB of RAM should be just perfect for you to get started if you are wanting to experiment with recording. This would suffice if you are recording a few tracks of guitar ideas. It would also work great for someone that does solo acoustic music that only has vocals and guitar.
Now let’s play the same tracks on 16 GB of RAM. With 16 GB of RAM, you should have exactly double the amount of power to use with Reaper. To be fair, it has been 6 years since I have used this computer to do any recording, and with the way that technology moves, that might as well be two decades.
The project loaded up just fine clocking in at around 20 seconds. With all of the plug ins turned off, the playback is smooth and all of the visual sliders are working just fine. As I start adding plug ins, I still haven’t experienced too much of a stutter. That is, until I use plug ins on the master track.
When I turn on any plug ins on the master track, which is the overall track that controls the output. If I turn off the plug ins on the individual tracks, the master track plug ins work just fine. This isn’t too bad, I just have to be careful when choosing what to use.
With all of the project settings turned on, I get stuttering again. The project basically starts skipping like a CD with a scratch on it. But for the most part, I could easily finish an entire song with 16 GB of RAM. I would just have to use external plug ins wisely. This limits you a little bit if you use VST programs, like EZdrummer or Archetype. Basically any thing you are using for your instruments is going to be too much for this setup.
But then again, this depends on your needs. I think if you are doing demo tracks with a full band, 16 GB is more than enough to use a program like Reaper. This will depend on your music genre as well. Something like EDM will need a lot more power to produce.
I produced an entire EP with this computer with 16 GB of RAM. Of course I ran into some problems when it came to choosing plug ins and effects. But this computer definitely got the job done! I still use this computer as an “auxiliary” or back up computer for recording ideas.
My new computer with 32 GB of RAM has no problems running everything. I have tried really hard to max it out, and so far I haven’t been able to at all! I did not even test the tracks on this machine, since I know for a fact it will work every time.
Now that we know just how well 8 and 16 GB of Ram works with a DAW, there are other considerations when it comes to a computer. The amount of RAM you have should definitely be the MAIN focus of your computer’s build. But other things can definitely affect performance.
I use the stock soundcard with my computer and it works just fine. Some higher end studios may use a better soundcard or add-ons to the soundcard. Unless you are looking at serious, labor intensive production…the stock soundcard should work just fine.
Processor power is also important. Most DAW requirements say that at least 1.5 GHZ is needed to run the program smoothly. I agree with this, but almost any computer made over the past 5 years will have at least this much processing power. The processor works with the RAM to handle the workload, so it’s something to pay attention to if you are buying a new machine specifically for music production.
Is 8 or 16 GB of Ram Enough? The Verdict
Ultimately, your choice will depend on your needs. 8 or 16 GB has a pretty big gap in performance between the two. We saw in the demo that the difference is not only substantial, but it applies differently according to use. If you’re just laying down a couple of tracks, and keeping it simple then 8 GB is more than enough to suit your needs.
I like to look at 16 GB of RAM as the starting point for getting into music production. It will definitely provide you with enough power to get started and learn some of the features that most DAW programs have. It can also get you started with using something like a virtual amp rig program, or amp simulator.
Can you make a solid recording with 16 GB of RAM? I think you can if you use your programs and tools wisely. As I said before about different genres like EDM, I think 16 GB will get you started. But there is no way that you will be able to load tons of programs simultaneously.
It all depends on just how in-depth you’re wanting to get! Think about your personal needs before making a big decision.
Is 16 GB of RAM enough for music production?
It is definitely enough for smaller projects that do not use tons of virtual instruments or plug ins. 32GB is optimal for bigger projects. For smaller projects like demos, 16 GB is adequate.
Is 32 GB overkill for music production?
Personally, I think this is optimal. 32 GB of RAM is enough to cover almost any type of music project you throw at it! It’s better to have power and not need it, than to go without.
Is PC or Mac better for music production.
While Apple and Mac products were the industry standard for quite a while, PC has definitely caught up. You should whichever system that improves your workflow. These days, it’s about personal preference, and each system has pros and cons.