Streaming has become a major contender for our video games and movies. With websites like Netflix and Disney+ dominating the market and Twitch or Stadia and Xbox Game Pass slowly on the rise, it seems streaming may become the new normal. What does this mean for us, though?
Streaming requires a specific amount of Random Access Memory (or RAM for short), and for some of us, that means it’s time for an upgrade. As streaming quickly becomes the new normal, we should stop and ask ourselves, how much RAM do I need for streaming?
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What Exactly Does RAM Do?
RAM is an integral part of our computers and laptops. In essence, it stores data from our open programs for them to be processed while running. It requires constant power, or the data is lost. It serves different purposes for the two types of streaming:
3 Main Types Of RAM Explained
Static Random Access Memory (SRAM)
Static RAM stores data in its system as long as power is being transmitted to it. It works in a six-transistor memory cell and is more powerful.
This also means that it’s more expensive and has less memory capacity. It is a lot faster because it doesn’t need to be consistently refreshed. Data is lost once power is stopped.
Related: What Is The Lifespan Of RAM?
Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM)
Dynamic RAM is a lot bigger as it stores data in specific memory cells and doesn’t require constant power. It also requires refreshing regularly, which means it has a longer access time than static RAM.
It’s cheaper because it uses less power. This is often seen in games consoles, as they can refresh faster and use only one application at a time.
Video Random Access Memory (VRAM)
Video RAM is different than the other two types, as it only stores information to be displayed on the screen. It acts somewhat as a buffer between the CPU and video/graphics card, storing the information to appear. It’s widely used for 4K streaming and produces better quality images on monitors and TVs.
How Much RAM Do I Need For Streaming?
Is 4GB RAM Enough?
Generally, it’s accepted that 4GB of RAM is the bare minimum for running video games on computers post-2017. Games have become larger over the years as graphics improve, which means that they require much more space.
You can run games with 4GB, but it’s not worth cutting the corner. For video streaming, 4GB will be a decent amount, and there are plenty of good options available.
Is 8GB RAM Enough?
This is the recommended minimum for newer games. Realistically, you can get by fine with 8GB, but with larger titles, you may struggle.
For example, Red Dead Redemption 2 recommends 12GB for optimal performance, but if you can't afford that or don't have the capacity, then you should find 8GB works okay. This would also be optimal for streaming Netflix or other apps, as it has enough room to store buffered content.
Is 12GB A Better Minimum?
12GB will give you seamless gaming. This and 16GB may start to become the minimum requirement as games get more extensive and TV/movies transition into 4K. You will find that 12GB is on the more expensive side, and a lot of consumers can’t afford to shell out as much for it.
Is 16GB RAM Optimal?
16GB is for higher end machines with more capabilities. You would normally find this in computers in the $1000-$2000 range. With 16GB, you will have the most optimized games and playback; it can handle the bigger files of modern games. The PlayStation 5 comes with 16GB from the start.
Is 32GB RAM Overkill?
As of mid-2021: yes. This might be too much for your machine to handle. It's nice to play music while gaming, but you may find response times slower. But it’s not a bad idea to start thinking ahead; as games and movies become bigger, we may see a shift soon to 32GB becoming the new 16GB.
How To Determine Overall RAM Memory Requirement
If you use a lot of different programs, for example, Spotify, web browsers, or Steam, then your RAM will need to be at least 8GB to run comfortably. If it’s more casual, for working on college papers or streaming music or videos, then 4GB should be able to keep up with you. It’s all on your usage.
As a rule of thumb, it's generally better to have as few programs or windows open at once. They all eat away at your RAM and slow down your machine as it works faster. If you do need a lot open, you're going to want to opt for a higher RAM, about 8 or 16GB.
Using two monitors, in theory, won't take up more RAM; it's dependent on how many windows you have open at once. But say you open a video on one screen while playing on the other. Both tasks are going to eat away and potentially cause performance issues. Choose a higher RAM if this is the case.
Livestreams will take up a lot of your RAM as you run both livestream software and the game or video itself. Not to mention any cameras setup, you may struggle with just 8GB.
Open Broadcast Software (OBS) doesn't take up much, but tie in the games too, and any chat software... it'll pile up. So aim for about 16-32GB DRAM.
Working From Home
During the pandemic, working from home has become more commonplace. This also means using your computer much more than you already would have. With browser tabs, music, emails etc. 4GB just isn’t going to cope. You’ll want about 8GB or more to be able to properly work from home.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
Do graphics cards affect streaming?
To play or watch in higher quality, you will want a decent graphics card. But the GPU generally doesn’t affect the streaming, it just means lower quality.
Related: Best Laptops For Streaming Videos
How much RAM does XSplit use?
This will use approximately 8GB RAM minimum and is also the required amount. It’s better to opt for a 16GB RAM when using XSplit.
Can RAM be upgraded?
Desktop RAM can be upgraded easily from the tower itself – it's a process of removing and adding the new RAM. Laptops are much harder to upgrade with many being considered un-upgradable. When upgrading you can even use two different sticks of RAM together.
How much RAM do I need for streaming Netflix?
On a PC, it’s going to take about 512MB of RAM to stream comfortably. On an Intel-based MAC, it’ll use up to 1GB of RAM to run.
Does RAM speed need to match processor speed?
Ideally, yes – if the RAM is faster than the CPU, then it will have to wait for instructions. If the CPU is faster, then it waits until RAM doesn’t send instructions, so the time is wasted. Matching up is best for performance.
Related: Does RAM Affect The FPS?
How do I increase RAM speed?
You can easily update your RAM speed from the control panel in the system menu. Click on advanced settings and adjust performance to double its initial rate. This should increase your RAM speed.
Streaming is taking over as one of the main ways we consume media. It doesn't have to be as challenging as we originally thought, and we can get good results from lower-end RAM.
For larger games or higher quality videos, it might be time to invest in better equipment. This doesn't have to be pricey, and it's easy to find high end RAM for a lot cheaper. We recommend 8GB RAM for a solid and smooth experience.
Andrew White is the founder of TechGearoid, a leading technology review & information website that is designed to help consumers make better decisions when it comes to their IT purchases. As a specialist tech writer (nerd) with over 10 years of experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern technology & the newest market innovations. When he isn’t providing value for his readers, he’s usually drinking coffee or at the beach. Andrew lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and family.