[ This article was first published in the May, 2010, issue of
Larry’s Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]
NOTE: Here’s an earlier article I wrote that also discusses 64-bit memory addressing.
With the release of Adobe’s CS5 suite of products, there followed a flood of upgrades from a variety of other vendors, all of whom were touting their new support for 64-bit RAM memory addressing.
NOTE: 64-bit memory addressing affects how you use the RAM you have installed on your computer. Memory refers to RAM. Storage refers to hard disks. Memory disappears when you turn the power off; storage does not.
While Final Cut Studio does not yet support 64-bit RAM addressing, I thought a basic primer on why 64-bit is such a big deal might be helpful. My understanding has come from reading Apple’s website and many discussions on The Buzz and in person with a variety of software engineers.
To get started, we need to understand that the operating system determines how much RAM an application can access. Up until recently that limit was 4 GB. Engineers used the term “32-bit memory allocation.” 32-bits is a short-hand way of saying 2 to the 32nd power.
A 32-bit limit means that any Macintosh application that does not support 64-bit RAM addressing (which is everything except very recent applications) is limited to 4,294,967,296 bytes of RAM. (This is where the 4 GB term came from.)
You can take advantage of installing more RAM in your system when you run multiple applications, because each application can live in its own 4 GB section of RAM, but no single application can use more than 4 GB. This means that for applications that need lots of RAM – think Photoshop or video processing – the applications need to spend a lot of time swapping temporary files between RAM and the hard disk. Swapping files works fine, OS X is especially good at it, but it takes time and decreases performance.
However, when we move to 64-bit RAM addressing, these limits are VASTLY increased.
The new limit means that a single application can theoretically access 18,446,744,073,709,600,000 bytes of RAM! (I, ah, calculated this in Excel.) That translates to 18 EXAbytes of data! Huge!! Huge BEYOND HUGE!!! So vast that RAM access is essentially unlimited for the foreseeable future.
NOTE 1: Storage goes: Bytes, Kilobytes, Megabytes, Gigabytes, Terabytes, Petabytes, Exabytes and more beyond that…
NOTE 2: Having ACCESS to all this storage is only part of the solution. The next step is that you need to have more RAM installed on your computer system. Currently, the maximum amount of RAM that a MacPro can hold is 32 GB. So, this means that even though we can access 18 Exabytes of RAM, we can’t yet install anywhere close to that much in our systems!
With this expansion in addressable memory comes two other benefits: By increasing the amount of the application that is stored in memory, the operating system needs to do fewer disk swaps, loading in different parts of the program depending upon what you are doing. And, second, many plug-ins that emphasize video processing are also writing in support for rendering using the Graphic Processing Unit, rather than the CPU. These two changes have the potential for applications to run significantly faster.
Additionally, according to Apple, 64-bit addressing allows CPUs to crunch twice the data per clock cycle, which means numeric calculations speed up considerably.
So, 64-bit RAM addressing is a good thing. Its here now with Adobe CS5 and Avid Media Composer 5; and I feel pretty confident that it will be coming in the next release of Final Cut Studio; whenever Apple decides the new version is ready to release.
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