How Much RAM Do You Need for Your Computer & What Does it Do?
Upgrading the amount of RAM or memory in your machine can improve performance. But how much RAM do you need for your computer? Here’s what you need to know.
Modern computers are full of a variety of components. Some are more critical than others, but each works together cohesively to make your PC function when you need it. Certain components such as RAM can have a direct cause and effect relationship with your PC and its day to day performance. Replacing or increasing your computer's RAM is easy and often affordable. By upgrading the amount of RAM, or memory, in your machine, you can also add years to your PC's life. But how much RAM do you need for your computer? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is RAM?
RAM, or Random Access Memory, is system memory that only stores data when the computer is powered on. You can think of RAM as the PC's short-term memory. All data for active applications being used on a computer are stored in the system's RAM. That is why having more RAM allows you to do more tasks at once on your PC.
It is important to remember that when talking about computers, data storage and memory are two different concepts. Storage is related to components such as a hard drive or solid-state drive that store significant amounts of long-term data. Hard drives will not lose any data when a machine is powered on and off. Additionally, reading data from a storage component like a hard drive takes much longer than an application using data stored in system memory or RAM. To put it plainly, storage is long term and memory is short term. RAM is always considered memory, not storage.
Tips to Remember
As with all technology, there are some details to keep in mind when researching and handling RAM. Learning everything you can about a component before purchase will help ensure that you are getting the proper upgrade.
Remember these tips and tricks the next time you are comparing memory options:
- Check Speeds: RAM can operate at many different speeds. For that reason, it is important to check in your machine's BIOS and make sure that your RAM is running at the proper frequency.
- Read Program Specifications: One of the best ways to figure out how much RAM you need is by reading the specifications of the programs that you wish to use on your computer. All software will have a list of the required computer resources to run that program. Sometimes there may be a "minimum" and a "recommended" specifications section. Minimum requirements may run the software but may result in a less than optimal experience. Shoot for the recommended specifications or better when you can.
- OS Cost: Everything you do on your PC will take up some amount of your system’s RAM. That includes the operating system. Sometimes, a computer may have enough memory for a task, but if the OS is taking up too much of that RAM, there will not be enough left to function properly.
How Much RAM Do You Really Need?
You can study all the speeds, generations, and sizes of RAM. However, at the end of the day, the most critical specification is how much memory is actually there. RAM most often comes in 4, 8, 16, or 32GB options. 8GB is standard on most computers, with 16GB being enough for just about any task.
So how much RAM do you need in your computer? It depends on what you will be doing with your machine.
To help, here are some examples of how each different amount of RAM might perform in your computer:
- 4GB: These days, 4GB is barely enough to run a modern operating system. You may find notebooks or basic laptops with this amount of memory. Expect the device to struggle with menial tasks such as multiple browser tabs.
- 8GB: Most student and business PCs could accomplish all their necessary tasks with 8GBs of RAM. Multitasking such as multiple light programs and a web browser will run smoothly with no input lag. Some games will function with 8GBs as well, depending on the graphics card and processor in the machine. However, newer games and graphically intensive titles will struggle to play optimally.
- 16GB: Most users can do everything they need to do on their PC with 16GBs of RAM. Paired with a powerful GPU, 16GBs can deliver high frame rates in any game and still have room to run capture or streaming software. Professionals can have numerous programs open across multiple monitors and effortlessly switch between them all with ease.
- 32GB: Only a few particular types of users will benefit from 32GBs of RAM. Content creators, video editors, and photo editors can benefit from the added power when working with massive files and rendering in up to 8K resolutions. Most users could not use 32GBs of RAM if they tried, however. Only particular programs and tasks utilize that much memory.
Types of RAM
There are a few different versions of RAM out there. Being able to tell them apart is critical to getting the most out of your memory. Whether you need specific RAM components due to physical restrictions in your case or your CPU requires certain data transfer speeds, getting the right RAM for your system will significantly increase overall performance. Below you will find the different types of RAM and what makes each unique:
- DDR3: When researching RAM, you will see DDR quite a bit. This refers to the RAM's generation and tells you a range of possible speeds for that stick of memory. DDR3 is common in many modern machines and has been since 2007. DDR3 has a stiff limit of 16GB of memory, so you can only upgrade it so much. Nowadays, most new machines are going a step further and utilizing newer DDR4 RAM. Shop DDR3 RAM
- DDR4: Capable of speeds up to 3200MHz—or even higher when overclocking— DDR4 RAM has become a new favorite among gamers and PC enthusiasts looking to get the utmost performance out of their machines. DDR4 also has no limits on memory amount, so you can upgrade over time as needed. Shop DDR4 RAM
- VRAM: Video RAM, or VRAM, is memory specifically designed to work within a dedicated graphics card or GPU. This memory is not utilized anywhere else in the system and is housed within the larger GPU component. VRAM is vital for gaming and intensive professional computing tasks. Unfortunately, upgrading VRAM is not as easy as upgrading regular memory, because VRAM is located within another component and would require replacing the video card. Shop GPUs
- Laptop: Referred to as SODIMM RAM, laptop memory has a small form factor in order to fit into the ever-shrinking size of laptops. It is important to remember that while laptop and desktop RAM function virtually the same, they are not interchangeable. Laptops will also only have two slots for memory expansion due to their smaller size. Make sure to double-check the form factor of any RAM before purchase to make sure it matches with your PC. Shop SODIMM RAM
- Desktop: Desktop RAM is nearly twice as long physically as laptop memory, but it accomplishes the same task within the PC. Desktop computers can have four or even more slots for RAM, allowing for more extensive memory upgrades in the future.
- Multi-Channel: In most modern computers, RAM will come in a set of two sticks of the same size and speed. This is because modern processors are optimized to utilize as much system memory as possible at one time. You still can use single-channel RAM, but you will likely lose a significant amount of performance compared to systems with the same amount of memory but in a dual-channel setup. When using multi-channel RAM, it is crucial to use memory of the same generation (DDR3 or DDR4) and similar speeds. Using mismatched sticks of RAM can lead to display errors and program crashes.
Do You Need More RAM?
Before upgrading, check to see if your computer can support an increase in system memory. There are plenty of reasons to want more RAM in your computer. With the price of memory dropping regularly, there are even fewer reasons not to upgrade. Before you make the leap and spend the money, it is important to double-check and see why your computer could use more RAM.
Check out the list below for some common issues that upgrading RAM could help with:
- Having too many browser tabs open slows down your PC when you are trying to multitask.
- A program or window stops responding while trying to interact with it.
- When typing, you can go faster than your PC, and often must wait for the computer to catch up.
- After startup or while running programs, you see an error that reads "Low Memory."
- When opening multiple apps in a row, your PC freezes or fails to load programs properly.
- When you click somewhere on your desktop, there is a noticeable delayed response.
- You want to play a game that requires more RAM than your current PC has.
Even if none of these issues are problems for you, there could still be good reasons to upgrade your RAM. Gamers looking to maximize their power can increase memory to gain a near-instant lift in gaming performance. Increasing memory can significantly boost frame rates making gameplay feel as smooth as possible. Professionals working with high-resolution videos or 3D models can also benefit from increasing their system memory.
More RAM means reduced rendering times and easier workflow while switching between resource-intensive programs. To break it down, if your computer feels slow or unresponsive, adding extra RAM could help to speed things up.
As time goes on, the amount of memory required to run any program on a computer increases. Upgrading your RAM is a great way to optimize your PC and ensure it keeps running smoothly long into the future. Depending on what programs you intend to run, you could need significantly more RAM than you thought.
Luckily, there are tons of different types of RAM out there, and installing them in your system is relatively easy and low risk. Remember to consider factors like OS cost and generation to ensure you put the proper RAM in your system. 8GB is suitable for basic tasks, but 16GB is enough for any user. As time goes on, the need for 32GB may grow, but only specific tasks require it now. No matter what you use your PC for, it is always worth it to figure out exactly how much RAM you need for your computer.