You are here

How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

For current or would-be users of Apple Mac computers, with answers to many FAQs.

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby ManFromGlass » Fri Jun 05, 2020 6:29 pm

Or they may install it but not guarantee the RAM itself. I’ve fitted all my machines with 3rd party RAM. Bad RAM seems rare these days, but it could happen. Perhaps a bit of research into best 3rd party RAM suppliers might help you decide. I went with a Mac ram specialist from the USA.
I remember I saved a good chunk of dough going third party.
User avatar
ManFromGlass
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 3059
Joined: Sun Jul 24, 2011 12:00 am
Location: In the woods in Canada

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Eddy Deegan » Fri Jun 05, 2020 6:35 pm

desmond wrote:
Hugh Robjohns wrote:...but now that so many systems use solid-state drives and sata interfaces, is 'swapping to disc' such a performance overhead as it was in the days of spinning platters and IDE interfaces?

No it's not, and that's a great thing! That was part of why there was a big performance penalty when I tested this (both machines with spinning drives) and it was so obvious.

However, writing to SSD is still much slower than using RAM, *and* constant writing to SSD's wears them out (SSD's have limited cycle counts).

+1

Not many people realise that on average the cores in general purpose CPUs spend the majority of their time waiting, doing nothing until what they are waiting for happens. Some time ago, Brendan Gregg wrote a book called "Systems Performance: Enterprise and the Cloud" in which he scaled a CPU cycle up to 1 second and made a table of how long certain things took as a result.

About 3 years ago this was updated by Prowess Research using an Intel Xeon E5 processor as the baseline and with the addition of some new storage tech. This in 'educated estimate' territory but but gives a representative approximation of the performance overhead associated with various activities:

latency.JPG


Note the scaled up times for RAM and NVMe (4 mins vs 17 hours!)

Of course the reality is far more nuanced, and figures can be debated in depth but the ballparks are broadly accurate as far as I understand it.

The introduction of SSD (and the variations/enhancements that have followed it) was a huge innovation, much as was the transition from CRT to modern displays, but is a long way short of the ideal which would be the true unification of RAM and storage with the performance of (what we now call) RAM.

If and when that happens, even entry-level machines will effectively have unlimited RAM as standard, which will be a real game-changer for many applications.

Pete Kaine had some related thoughts when I mentioned this in another thread ages ago, but I can't find a handy reference right now.
User avatar
Eddy Deegan
Moderator
Posts: 4354
Joined: Wed Sep 01, 2004 12:00 am
Location: Brighton & Hove, UK
Some of my works.
Please consider supporting the SOS Forum Album project.
 

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Fri Jun 05, 2020 7:28 pm

So it looks like a saving of £40 over buying with 16GB installed? Even the cheapest Mac Mini costs £800 so if that's right a £40 saving seems insignificant? But you can defer that expense for a while.
My thoughts exactly! The best thing is, Apple are doing interest free credit at the moment, presumably because their shops are shut and they need the business, so you can spread the cost over 2 years.
User avatar
Dr Huge Longjohns
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 3643
Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Gallifrey
"The performance is 99.9% of what people hear"- J. Leckie
"It's all complete nonsense, anyone who knows what they're doing can deliver great results with whatever comes to hand" - H. Robjohns

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby wireman » Fri Jun 05, 2020 7:42 pm

I must admit that I was under the impression that swap was not used any more, at least as it used to be.

Anyone should prioritise having 'enough' memory and you would hope the requirements come from your data (samples etc.) and not a bloated OS or application suites.

Having a lot of memory can also help keep any files you use cached for faster access. I think I eventualy upgraded the memory on every PC I ever had.

As for the latency hierarchy, for years (decades) I used to run tests to measure that on new processors as I got access to them. One thing that has not improved as you would hope is the main memory latency.
wireman
Regular
Posts: 454
Joined: Fri Dec 17, 2004 1:00 am

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Humble Bee » Fri Jun 05, 2020 8:00 pm

Here is some less expensive than you mentioned Dr. :

https://www.crucial.com/compatible-upgr ... mini-(2018)
User avatar
Humble Bee
Regular
Posts: 315
Joined: Mon Jan 08, 2007 1:00 am
Location: Sweden

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Jun 05, 2020 9:17 pm

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:
So it looks like a saving of £40 over buying with 16GB installed? Even the cheapest Mac Mini costs £800 so if that's right a £40 saving seems insignificant? But you can defer that expense for a while.
My thoughts exactly! The best thing is, Apple are doing interest free credit at the moment, presumably because their shops are shut and they need the business, so you can spread the cost over 2 years.

I have no immediate plans to buy a newer Mac, my 2008 Mac Pros should keep me going for a while and used spares seem easily available and reasonably priced. My studio Mac has 2 x 3GB Zeon quad cores and a couple of 1TB SSDs. I'm just considering the benefit of spending £60 on 64GB of RAM (the redundant 20GB can move to the backup 'Office Mac").
User avatar
Sam Spoons
Jedi Poster
Posts: 12790
Joined: Thu Jan 23, 2003 1:00 am
Location: Manchester UK
Finally taking this recording lark seriously (and recording my Gypsy Jazz CD)........

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Old Will » Sat Jun 06, 2020 2:09 am

Something else to consider. The Mac Mini does not have a discrete graphics processor unit (GPU) with dedicated video memory. It has Intel UHD Graphics 630, which is integrated graphics on the same DIE as the CPU. There is no dedicated video memory; it uses a portion of main memory (i.e. RAM) for the graphics work. Whenever you buy a machine with integrated graphics, always get extra RAM to power the graphics processing. How much RAM? Depends on what apps you're running, and how graphics-intensive the work is. I would consider 16GB of RAM a bare minimum for the Mini.
Old Will
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Jan 24, 2018 9:12 am
Location: USA

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Sat Jun 06, 2020 7:58 am

This is what I find so confusing. It’s like Ram is some mysterious force that nobody really understands. Surely it’s possible to calculate pretty precisely how much Ram an app like Logic will require to run x tracks of soft synths, x tracks of a specific sample player etc?

Another question: we can run external hard drives and graphics cards and UA cards, so why not Ram?
User avatar
Dr Huge Longjohns
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 3643
Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Gallifrey
"The performance is 99.9% of what people hear"- J. Leckie
"It's all complete nonsense, anyone who knows what they're doing can deliver great results with whatever comes to hand" - H. Robjohns

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Ariosto » Sat Jun 06, 2020 9:07 am

I have a 2012 Mac Mini with 4Gb RAM. I have no problems but then i do not have more than 3 tracks running and usually 1 or 2. Never had a problem with Reaper. I also rarely use plugins, and I record to a MixPre 3 and transfer the files to the Mac mini.
Ariosto
Frequent Poster
Posts: 876
Joined: Sun May 04, 2008 12:00 am
Location: LONDON, UK

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby steveman » Sat Jun 06, 2020 9:31 am

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:This is what I find so confusing. It’s like Ram is some mysterious force that nobody really understands. Surely it’s possible to calculate pretty precisely how much Ram an app like Logic will require to run x tracks of soft synths, x tracks of a specific sample player etc?

Another question: we can run external hard drives and graphics cards and UA cards, so why not Ram?
It's not really possible to calculate how much RAM you need as you have to account for ALL processes that are running, not just the app you're concentrating on. Also how would you do this - think of the number of combinations of sample libraries, soft synths, number of notes etc. For instance I'd guess the RAM requirements of multiple instances of the same instrument would be different from mulple different instruments. These requirements will likely vary on how many notes are being played, even possibly note velocity. I just think there's way too many variables to calculate.

Regarding why no RAM over thunderbolt / PCIe, simple answer - speed, or rather latency. RAM essentially is connected directly to the CPU, whereas an external system will have to go via a bus controller (thunderbolt is essentially serial PCIe). In fact thunderbolt is an order of magnitude slower.
steveman
Regular
Posts: 57
Joined: Sun Mar 17, 2002 1:00 am
Location: London - UK

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Sat Jun 06, 2020 10:08 am

I just think there's way too many variables to calculate.
Really? Isn't this precisely the sort of data that computers excel at recording and analysing? I imagine plugin and software developers do this all the time, don't they? I don't imagine they just guess at how much RAM their programmes need! ;)

Found this site where a chap is having a stab at trying to make this all a bit more scientific...https://www.learnhowtoproducemusic.com/blog-how-to-start-music-production/how-much-ram-memory-do-you-need-for-music-production
User avatar
Dr Huge Longjohns
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 3643
Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Gallifrey
"The performance is 99.9% of what people hear"- J. Leckie
"It's all complete nonsense, anyone who knows what they're doing can deliver great results with whatever comes to hand" - H. Robjohns

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Folderol » Sat Jun 06, 2020 10:10 am

I don't know the Apple architecture but the advice I was given way back was 'as much as you can afford'. Also, when doing anything time critical, shutdown everything that is not related to the task.
User avatar
Folderol
Jedi Poster
Posts: 10875
Joined: Sat Nov 15, 2008 1:00 am
Location: The Mudway Towns, UK
Yes. I am that Linux nut.
Onwards and... err... sideways!

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sat Jun 06, 2020 10:11 am

Eddy Deegan wrote: Some time ago, Brendan Gregg wrote a book called "Systems Performance: Enterprise and the Cloud" in which he scaled a CPU cycle up to 1 second and made a table of how long certain things took as a result.

Wow! :crazy: That's a fascinating chart. Thanks Eddy. Puts things into a scary perspective... but shows how much room there still is for speeding up computer system technology.
User avatar
Hugh Robjohns
Moderator
Posts: 27618
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Worcestershire, UK
Technical Editor, Sound On Sound

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Sat Jun 06, 2020 10:31 am

the advice I was given way back was 'as much as you can afford'.

Yes, funny how the manufacturers all share this point of view with unabashed enthusiasm!
User avatar
Dr Huge Longjohns
Frequent Poster (Level2)
Posts: 3643
Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2003 12:00 am
Location: Gallifrey
"The performance is 99.9% of what people hear"- J. Leckie
"It's all complete nonsense, anyone who knows what they're doing can deliver great results with whatever comes to hand" - H. Robjohns

Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby desmond » Sat Jun 06, 2020 10:37 am

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:This is what I find so confusing. It’s like Ram is some mysterious force that nobody really understands.

It's just like many things with computing, it's just a lot more complex under the hood than you probably realise.

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:Surely it’s possible to calculate pretty precisely how much Ram an app like Logic will require to run x tracks of soft synths, x tracks of a specific sample player etc?

Not really, because RAM is dynamic, and there is a whole stack of processes running at any given time which may have reserved memory it's using, not using, memory might be getting released by the OS, the app might be requesting more.

A track in Logic probably has a more or less fixed memory structure in Logic, but what that track requires in terms of actual memory can differ wildy. An audio track with no plugins probably requires a small amount of RAM for buffering purposes. An instrument track, where you have Omnisphere loaded, is going to require a ton more because that plugin is huge, and it will require memory to load in, working memory, and dynamic memory. As you turn features on and off, the memory requirements are changing all the time. And as you get low on memory, the system will start rejigging things around to keep the system running. It may take away previously allocated memory, or refuse to honour requests for more memory.

And all these things are going on in layers - Logic doesn't know what Omnisphere internally is doing, and the same all the way down the stack.

And this is not even getting into the more sophisticated technologies going on with RAM as well.

The best you can do on a running system is look at "how much RAM am I using now?" - but even that is not straightforward, as you'll see with the OS reports. RAM that has been requested by a process for working area, but isn't actually being used by it - is that RAM used, or not? Especially if the system can reclaim it for other things if necessary.

Trust me, it's anything but simple in practical terms, because we are pushing and refining our technology to the limits to extract maximum performance - it's like CPU's that *guess* the likely next instructions and start executing them in advance. Ninja-level stuff.

Dr Huge Longjohns wrote:Another question: we can run external hard drives and graphics cards and UA cards, so why not Ram?

Because it would be like chaining a race car to the back of a bicycle - the race car could only run at the speed of the bike, so it's pointless. RAM close to the processor can operate *way* faster than accessing it across a slow PCI/FW/TB bus - their order of magnitude difference.
User avatar
desmond
Jedi Poster
Posts: 9820
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2006 1:00 am
mu:zines | music magazine archive | difficultAudio

PreviousNext