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When might you need more than 2GB of RAM?

My ZDNet blogging colleague Ed Bott wrote a good article the other day looking at how much RAM Windows Vista needs to run:

I’ve got a lot of experience with different PC configurations, and I can say with confidence that 2GB is more than enough for even the most demanding business user.

But when might you need more than 2GB of RAM?

Overall, I agree with Ed’s conclusions that, overall, 2GB of RAM should be more than enough for most Vista users.  I also agree with Ed’s points as to exceptions to this rule.  Those running virtual machines or 64–bit operating systems will certainly benefit from additional RAM.  But I feel that Ed has overlooked other instances where Windows users might need more than 2GB of RAM. 

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Having extensively experimented with Vista on machines with numerous different RAM configurations here are some of my thoughts on times when it’s handy to have more than 2GB of RAM:

Note: Under 32–bit operating systems there is a physical limit on available RAM that will limit the available memory to around 3GB no matter how much physical RAM you have installed.  To break this barrier you'll need to install a 64–bit operating system.

  • Gaming I know that Ed concentrated specifically on business, so this doesn’t apply, but it’s worth pointing out that gamers will benefit from more than 2GB or RAM.  I’ve noticed significant performance gains on games such as Oblivion when increasing the available RAM from 2GB to 3GB.
  • Photo editing Another area where I’ve found that having more than 2GB of RAM is an advantage is when using a professional photo editor such as Adobe Photoshop.  In my experience here adding an extra GB or RAM to a 2GB system can dramatically improve productivity, especially if you work with large files.
  • Video rendering Just as with photo editing, I’ve found huge upsides to having more than 2GB or RAM is systems used for video rendering.  Sure, the improved performance isn’t huge (don’t expect a 50% increase in performance when comparing a 3GB system to a 2GB system, the increase is much closer to 5 – 10%), but given the low cost of RAM nowadays, if you’re going to be rendering video regularly, the extra RAM is worth it.

Given that 1GB of RAM costs around $80, if you’re likely to be pushing your PC hard, I’d rather have the extra RAM and not need it that often than need it and not have it.