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

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

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Fri Jun 05, 2020 12:25 pm

I'm struggling to understand how much RAM I need in a new computer (Mac). There seems to be one school of thought that says "RAM is King, go for more RAM before anything else" and another that says "You need a lot less RAM than you think, go for CPU power all day long: 8GB is enough for the vast majority of music production scenarios".

But neither of these vague statements is any help to me in actually making a specific buying choice. ie should I get a less powerful processor and 16gb of RAM or get a more powerful processor with just 8gb. (Obviously if I could afford it I would get the powerful processor AND endless RAM.)

So is there a way to accurately see how much RAM I'm currently using with Logic and thereby to predict how much RAM I should go for in the new machine?

If I run a typical Logic project and look at the Mac's Activity Monitor, Logic only seems to be using 2-3GB of memory (I have 16gb of RAM installed) even if I've got 10 sample-based instruments running. But the mac crashes almost instantly, which I'm assuming is because the CPU can't cope (it shows 182% of cpu usage), rather than the RAM being an issue? Or am I reading the Monitor wrong

Is this correct? Any help, most welcome.
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby PianoPerson » Fri Jun 05, 2020 1:36 pm

Useful question!

I also wonder how to read the RAM requirements for sample libraries: do companies arrive at these on the assumpion that people will use their libraries alongside other ones? Or should I see them as the requirements for runnning their libraries on their own?

If the latter, do you need 32 GB RAM to run 2 libraries which require 16 GB each inside a single DAW project?
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Agharta » Fri Jun 05, 2020 1:59 pm

PianoPerson wrote:If the latter, do you need 32 GB RAM to run 2 libraries which require 16 GB each inside a single DAW project?

That 16GB generally means what the whole system has so not just for the library.

Usage for sample libraries can vary dramatically depending on how many instances of the required plugin are loaded and how many articulations per plugin instances are active.

Personally I think 32GB is recommend for any system that either can't be updated at all or only with difficulty.
Otherwise, if it has 4 slots that are easily accessible you can start off with 2x 8GB knowing you can double that easily enough.
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby desmond » Fri Jun 05, 2020 2:17 pm

8GB on a modern Mac os *not enough* - the system is already swapping.

16GB is sufficient for most needs if you're not running crazy projects.

if you want to run really big projects, lots of samples, lots of large plugins, 32GB is good.
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Fri Jun 05, 2020 3:14 pm

8GB on a modern Mac os *not enough* - the system is already swapping.

Could you explain this to me in simple language, Des? So when the activity monitor says my project is only using 2-3GB of RAM in a system with 16gb, why would 8gb be 'not enough'?

If I play a fairly hefty Logic project, as described above, my memory usage looks like this:

Image

Logic appears to be using 2.67gb of memory here even though I have 16? So if I only had 8gb of RAM how would this readout change? Would the pressure reading suddenly go yellow/red?
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby desmond » Fri Jun 05, 2020 3:50 pm

With a modern Mac with 8GB of RAM, just when the system is loaded, and maybe running an app or two, the system is already starting to swap to disk - running a hefty application, with large projects is going to make that worse. So if the system alone is already feeling that 8GB isn't enough that it needs to swap in and out of disk, running Logic, and then asking for another 2-3GB or working RAM means you're going to be swapping a lot.

If you're running 16GB, then the system is comfortable, Logic is comfortable, and you have plenty of free working space for your project.

I ran some tests back when I got my last laptop, and a friend got more or less the same machine. From a fresh install, he was running 8GB and I was running 16GB, and I was surprised at the performance difference. He'd run something like FCPX, and his system would be swapping hard to run it, whereas no swapping was going on with mine, and performance was noticeably better.

These tests back then led me to the recommendation that for serious applications, 8GB is not enough. It's probably fine if you're going to have some web browsing, email, and writing letters (ie casual use) but not something performance dependent like a DAW with decent size projects.
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jun 05, 2020 4:01 pm

Genuine question as I'm not a guru on computers in general, let alone Macs...

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

Postby desmond » Fri Jun 05, 2020 4:26 pm

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). For the sake of an extra 50 quid or whatever it is these days to go to 16GB, I can't recommend an 8GB system being *good* for running a DAW. It's not that you *can't*, but you're basically making things slower and not gaining anything else in return.

So yes, 8GB and an SSD is better than 8GB and spinning disks - but then *any* machine with an SSD is better than the same machine with spinning disks :lol:

However, whether you continue to get significant benefits from going to 32GB is questionable, especially given the cost. If you need it, you generally know you need it.
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jun 05, 2020 4:39 pm

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

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Fri Jun 05, 2020 5:04 pm

For the sake of an extra 50 quid or whatever it is these days to go to 16GB

This is the point of my question, ultimately. The mac mini I am looking at costs an extra £200 for 16gb of factory fitted RAM. Ridiculous but that's what Apple charges. The standard amount is 8GB. I understand you can add more yourself but on the mac minis it's not nearly as straightforward as on my current MBP and I am reluctant to a) spend £200 if I don't need to or b) potentially break or void the warranty on a new mac with a self-install.

This is why I want to properly understand how Logic uses the RAM in the projects I run on my current machine and as far as this table shows, I don't seem to be getting even slightly close to stretching the RAM requirements but its CPU falls over in the blink of an eye.
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Humble Bee » Fri Jun 05, 2020 5:21 pm

In the Mac mini the ram is upgradable so I would buy it with 8gb and upgrade it to 16 or 32. 32gb (2x16) from crucial costs €150 or so... I don’t know what a technician would charge to fit it but I doubt it would take a pro more than an hour.
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Fri Jun 05, 2020 5:27 pm

Yes, but as I say, it's by no means straightforward, you basically have to dismantle the whole shebang as this vid shows but not hard for a tech, as you suggest...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1gFhTuFjHE
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Humble Bee » Fri Jun 05, 2020 5:33 pm

I know thats why I would let a pro do it.
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Fri Jun 05, 2020 5:42 pm

It's interesting, I just did a quick search to see how much my local Mac gurus would charge, and if I got 16gb from them it's cost me £160 fitted! Or £120 if I bought the RAM myself from Amazon (assuming they'd even fit ram not bought from them which is unlikely I guess.)
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Re: How much RAM do I really need in a Mac for music production?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Jun 05, 2020 6:22 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.
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