We live in a world where technology changes all the time. A few years ago, CPU manufacturers pushed higher frequencies instead of more cores, but today you’ve got 32 and 64 core CPUs running at higher clock speeds available to the public. To add to this, there are high capacity RAM modules that you can get for a reasonable price, which sometimes begs the question, RAM vs processor, what is more important?
There are a few things you want to consider in this scenario because unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this. Some people will prefer one over the other based on their computational needs, but ideally, you want a good balance of both adequate RAM and a capable processor.
What do you get with more RAM?
To understand this, it’s first important to see what RAM does. Crucial has a pretty detailed explanation, but the gist of it is that random access memory (RAM) is a place where applications can store and access data, short term. If your computer is using information actively, it’s stored in the RAM so it doesn’t waste time accessing it.
With RAM, many people would say that more is better, but that’s only absolutely true in professional scenarios. In day to day tasks, this depends on what you’re using your computer for. If you have more RAM, that means that you can run more programs simultaneously, without feeling your computer slow down or start to cause issues. It’s also worth mentioning that some apps require more RAM than others – Google’s Chrome browser is one that uses notoriously large amounts of RAM, for example. And the more tabs you have open, the worse it is.
Nowadays, the bare minimum for running a computer well, without issues, is to have 8GB of RAM. Keep in mind that not all of it is available – your operating system takes up some of it, and some of the apps you have running in the background do, too. If you’re using your computer for gaming, or work, we would recommend going for at least 16GB of RAM. Anything higher than that isn’t really necessary unless you’re running intensive apps that require a lot of RAM, such as video editing. If that’s what you’re doing, you need more RAM, regardless of how much you have at the moment.
What about processors with more cores and higher clock speeds?
As we mentioned, things have changed drastically in the past couple of years. Only a few years ago, quad-core CPUs were considered high end, and for home use, you didn’t need more than that. However, today that’s changed, and even a midrange CPU has six or eight cores.
With CPUs, you have processes, which are specific tasks running on your computer, and threads, which are streams of data that the program passes through the CPU. Now, depending on how an application is running, it can generate one, or more threads. And if you have a single-core, your processor can only handle a single thread. With multiple cores, you can handle more threads. When running multiple programs at the same time, more cores gets you better performance because none of the programs has to “wait” for a thread to become available. However, a processor with faster clock speeds doesn’t always mean better performance so keep that in mind. The overall architecture and efficiency of the CPU are more important.
The thing is, there is one major caveat here – if you want to make the most of multiple cores, you should be using software that’s made for multiple cores. If the software you’re using doesn’t support multithreading, all the threads will run through a single core, and you won’t enjoy the benefits. For example, you will see major benefits if you’re running multiple virtual machines on your system because each of them has its own core to work with.
So, which one is better?
As we said in the beginning, there is no clear answer as to which one is better. If you’re limited by your budget, and can only get one, more RAM, or a CPU with a higher core count, you should first consider your specific use scenario.
If you will be engaging in tasks such as or similar to having multiple apps running, streaming videos, play memory intensive games, have a ton browser taps, Word Docs, or PDFs open at the same time, and would like to be able to switch from one to another without your computer slowing down, you should spend your money on more RAM.
On the other hand, if you’ll be dealing with computationally demanding tasks such as video editing, live streaming on platforms such as Twitch, CAD, virtual machines, or other apps that are optimized for multithreading, more CPU cores will actually come handy. And for gaming, higher clock speeds should help as well.
But as mentioned above, ideally, you want a good balance of both having enough RAM and a CPU with ample cores. This should be the basis for anyone looking to build, buy, or upgrade a PC.
Oh, and there’s one more thing to mention. If you’re limited with the amount of RAM, you can always buy more and quickly install them. With the CPU however, you will need to switch it out completely, which is oftentimes the more expensive and time-consuming option. It’s all a matter of what you specifically need based on the computational tasks you wish to complete.