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I looked through here for a bit, but didn't see this question. I am questioning whether it is worth putting more than 4GB of RAM into my current desktop, and whether there are applications that will benefit tangibly from the increased RAM.

For a little more information about my situation, I am a computer science student and am working on increasingly large projects, using IDEs like Eclipse and Visual Studio as well as smaller ones like FreeRIDE. I'm starting to explore virtualization, Linux administration, etc., but only on my own network (one desktop and another laptop).

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closed as not a real question by random Jul 13 '10 at 0:03

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Here's +1 so you can vote everyone up ;) –  hyperslug Aug 7 '09 at 2:00

19 Answers 19

up vote 45 down vote accepted

It's not really any single app using so much RAM, but the fact that you can run so many application simultaneously without paging the disk like crazy.

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+1 Yes, this is by far the most obvious advantage of having lots of RAM on a workstation. (It strikes me as odd that none of the currently top-voted answers mentioned it.) –  Jonik Aug 7 '09 at 8:06

@me: 32 bits OS CAN make use of more than 3 or 4GB of RAM, using PAE (phisical address extension). This feature has been around since Pentium Pro, and allows to map up to 64GB, allowing each process a maximun of 4GB addressable memory space. Windows XP and Vista cripple this feature, due to driver incompatibilities. For more info, please read http://josearrarte.com/blog/2009/08/30/64GB-de-RAM-en-un-sistema-operativo-de-32-bits/ (in spanish).

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Agree with Lance Roberts your OS must support it, read this (do check out comments) if it doesn't - Making Use Of Non-Addressable Wasted RAM On 32 Bit Systems, hope this helps.

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If you have an application that is eating up all that ram, that is a separate issue.

Your benefits are in being able to run more applications simultaneously. If you are a programmer that means being able to run Visual Studio and other applications associated with development without having your computer slow to a crawl.

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Software 3D render engines are one class of software that greatly benefit from a lot of ram. They usually come bundled with applications such as Maxon Cinema 4D, Autodesk Maya, Softimage XSI etc.

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Crysis's Editor, Sandbox 2, benefits hugely. Any application that has to deal with an awful lot of information quickly will thank you.

Personally, I have 2GB of RAM, and almost never fill it. The only reason I'd get more would be to remove that "almost", and be safe in the knowledge my PC can take pretty much whatever I throw at it. (except a brick, my case isn't that hard)

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The browsers alone can consume lots of RAM, you just need to open many pages. 20 HD Flash videos will do.

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Take an application that's 64-bit, running on a 64-bit OS, with hardware that can support 64-bit computing, and add some really gigantic data files. Then >4GB is a good thing.

Off the top of my head scientific computing (statistical analysis, biological modeling, physics simulations...) are some of the most common programs that regularly use over 4GB.

Will it benefit you? Probably not tremendously unless you just really like to have EVERY APP ON YOUR COMPUTER open at the same time... ;-)

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Server Applications:

  1. Web server with partial caching
  2. A caching proxy
  3. memCached
  4. Relational databases
  5. Indexed data, like lucene, or some kind of hash-table
  6. virtualized servers

Scientific Applications:

  1. MatLab et al.
  2. custom (or not) machine learning
  3. various things like protein folding.
  4. more stuff I'm not qualified to actually list

Media Applications:

  1. broadcast ready video stuff using uncompressed feeds
  2. general video editiing, with scrubbing etc would benefit
  3. graphic design. The less files you must close the more you can work on.
  4. even music production can benefit, say you're working with 256 tracks and a lot of virtual instruments and effects patches, they all maintain state and buffers.

Engineering Applications

  1. Basically any CAD
  2. A lot of simulations that are updated to work with huge datasets.
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+1 for first answer I saw mentioning CAD. It has always needed large amounts of RAM. –  Bratch Feb 17 '10 at 21:31

High end graphics/video manipulation even audio applications. Not to promote only Adobe, but here are 3 key application groups that benefit from larger quantities of ram:

  1. Graphics - Adobe Photoshop
  2. Video - Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro (Mac only), Sony Vegas Pro
  3. Audio - Adobe Soundbooth

Try operating on raw video/audio files without a nice chunk of ram, and you'll see some really serious lag, often even the inability to load the files into the application.

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You study computer science. Some school programming projects will need lot of hardware power. I remember that I did several projects on the university that could eat all the RAM i could throw at them.

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The first thing you will probably need for using 4GB or more of RAM is a shift to 64-bit OS.

Beyond that,

But, going towards more RAM and moving to 64-bit OS has its own constraints.
A lot of the usual stuff is not yet quite stable (or even available in some cases) for 64-bit systems.

Worthwhile question -- Do You Really Need More Than 6 GB Of RAM?, even 4GB

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Um, what about Photoshop, VMs, some large RTS games, etc.

Anything thats manipulating images, especially large ones, will benefit from more ram, as will games that require massive amounts of storage to hold data on units/the map/physics/etc. And of course the more RAM you can feed to a VM the smoother it will be.

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Databases can eat up huge amounts of memory both RAM and on-disk.

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For a workstation doing software development, no, you won't need more than 4GB of RAM.

Huge amounts of RAM are most useful on servers -- the more RAM you have, the more cache you have, and the less often you have to hit disk. Since disk is tremendously slow, avoiding even a few disk accesses can provide tremendous performance gains in random I/O-heavy environments (like heavily loaded servers). The more, the merrier: 128GB of RAM is not at all uncommon on large database servers. HPC applications running on highly parallel machines also benefit from lots of RAM, but those also usually have lots of CPU cores too.

Most desktop-class applications that benefit from large amounts of RAM are 3D-related, for the exact same reason: if you're designing a complex part in SolidWorks or what-have-you, having all the relevant bits cached in RAM makes working with the model quick and easy. It's rare to see workstations above 16GB of memory, but it does happen.

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I actually disagree quite strongly with this (the first sentence), as a developer with exactly 4GB on my workstation. I'm running Linux with Tomcat (containing several instances of a large webapp), several IntelliJ IDEA projects, Firefox (which seems to memory when kept open for long periods), and Windows XP on VMware, and quite often everything gets unbearably slow, largely because of lack of memory. With needs such as these, having more than 4 GB of RAM would definitely be beneficial. –  Jonik Aug 7 '09 at 8:13

VMWare Workstation, VirtualBox...

And pretty much any type of virtualization solution. Massive, massive speed benefit from having loads and loads of RAM. I can run 2-3 VMs simultaneously on my desktop without any noticeable speed problems - quad core, 2.4ghz, 8GB RAM.

Also, RAM is cheap. Order more.

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Laptop RAM not all that cheap. I was looking at nearly $500 for 8GB on mine. –  Richard Gadsden Sep 3 '09 at 20:43

Make sure your OS can use more than 4GB (needs to be 64-bit).

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One of the benefits I've seen is being able to run a virtual machine and give it lots of headroom. That lets me run Visual Studios in a virtual machine and still listen to media player on the local machine without bogging everything down to a crawl.

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Applications that are designed to run for long periods benefit from more RAM.

Common examples are Exchange and SQL server. Admittedly, these applications also will benefit from higher disk throughput, but RAM will also help immensely.

RAM is like internet bandwidth - while you don't necessarily see performance increase on a single task, you do see a a reduction in the slow down that occurs as a result of multi tasking. (Bandwidth doesn't necessarily make everything faster, but it does allow you to do more things using the same connection at a much higher rate than a slower connection.)

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