Do You Need More Memory?

Category: Memory

If your desktop PC seems sluggish, the problem may be too little RAM (Random Access Memory). But “add more RAM” is not the solution to every case of poor performance, and buying more RAM than you need or can use is just a waste of money. Read on to learn the ins and outs of RAM and how much RAM is the “sweet spot” is for most computers...

How Much RAM is Right?

RAM is the memory in which a computer temporarily stores things it needs to access quickly for the task at hand. Don't confuse RAM memory with hard drive storage, which is where your computer stores programs, documents, photos and other files. When you turn off the computer, your RAM memory sits empty, but files stored on the hard drive remain.

Your web browser and certain parts of the operating system needed to show you this page should be in RAM right now. When you open a document in your word processor, both the program and the contents of the document are loaded from hard drive storage into RAM.

When you don't have enough RAM memory, that's when things tend to slow down. This may happen if you have several programs open at once, or if one of those programs needs to open a very large file. Rather than displaying an "out of memory" error and giving up, your operating system creates "virtual memory" by using a special file on the hard drive.

Adding RAM memory

It's the job of the operating system to move data between physical RAM memory and virtual memory in a way that maximizes efficiency. But all of that data movement involves reading from and writing to a hard disk drive, which slows everything down.

If the “disk activity” light on your PC is constantly flickering, you may need more RAM. I say “may” because a RAM shortage is not the only cause of excessive disk activity. The operating system does lots of behind the scenes tasks that involve accessing the hard drive. Damaged physical sectors on a disk, a corrupted file, or a mixed-up File Allocation Table are some other potential causes. You should run CHKDSK to find and fix such errors before buying more RAM. See my article, Windows 7 Hard Drive Errors for instructions.

The best indicator of the need for more RAM memory is if your computer noticeably slows down when you open multiple programs, or if there is a noticeable delay when switching between open programs. If you press the Start key on a Windows computer, and it doesn't respond immediately, that could be another indicator.

How Much and What Type?

How much more RAM to buy depends on several things, not just the price of RAM.

RAM for PCs comes in the form of black chips soldered onto a rectangular green circuit board with (typically) gold connnectors along one of its long edges; this is called a “stick” of RAM. Your PC has a fixed number and type of slots into which RAM sticks can be plugged. These factors limit total RAM capacity and the increments in which you can add RAM. You’ll need to find the RAM specifications for your particular make and model of PC. The manufacturer’s website or a visit to the Crucial Advisor tool can help you determine how much and what type of RAM your system can use.

The type of operating system you are running also matters when it comes to buying RAM. A 32-bit version of Windows can use a theoretical maximum of only 4GB of RAM. In practice, some RAM is needed by Windows, leaving about 3.1GB for user applications. So if you have the 32-bit version of any Windows edition, don’t bother going beyond 4GB of total RAM; the rest will go unused. (To find out if your computer is running a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows, click the Start button, right-click Computer, and then click Properties.)

A 64-bit version can address much more RAM; the exact amount depends on which edition of 64-bit Windows you have. If you exceed these limits, you’ll be wasting money:

  • Windows 7 Home Basic: 8GB
  • Windows 7 Home Premium: 16GB
  • Windows 7 Pro / Ultimate / Enterprise: 192GB
  • Windows 8: 128 GB
  • Windows 8 Pro / Enterprise: 512 GB
  • Windows 10 Home: 128 GB
  • Windows 10 Pro / Enterprise: 2TB

In general, 8GB of RAM is enough for most home computer users. Heavy online gamers, video editors, and professionals who work with gigantic databases or spreadsheets may need more.

Is More RAM the Answer?

Adding more RAM is just one way to improve PC performance, and may be only modestly effective. A faster CPU will yield greater performance improvements, but that's a more expensive upgrade, and may not be possible. And sometimes, it's not your computer that causes sluggish performance. A slow Internet connection or a busy website can cause frustrating delays.

Regular disk maintenance, as well as keeping application software up to date will also improve performance, and is free. See my articles Seven Free PC Maintenance Tools and Keeping Software Updated Simply for tips on how to do those tasks.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Do You Need More Memory?"

Posted by:

20 Sep 2016

Yes, I have also found that 8GB seems to be just right for me. If I was running Linux instead of Windows and was doing software development, I might want more. But for my normal home use (email, web browsing, Word, Excel, occasional photo editing, commenting on Bob Rankin's articles, etc.), it works just fine. I did find a difference when I went from 4GB to 8GB.

Posted by:

Gary Bergman
20 Sep 2016

I find the 32 bit version of Windows 7 performs adequately with 2G ram, which is often the max on old computers that ran XP.
I also see no performance problems with 32bit Windows 10 running with 4G (3 usable). Each of these being used for light office work with a handful of open windows. Admittedly, these machines use settings that turn off all animation features.

Posted by:

Anne K
20 Sep 2016

Yes I need more memory, but not in my PC. Can you help with always forgetting stuff?

Posted by:

20 Sep 2016

RAM is very important for your PC or Laptop to run as smoothly as possible. There is ONE point that must be made, in regards to RAM.

You can only add more RAM -IF- Your motherboard will allow it!!!

It is the motherboard that is in control of this issue. When they are built, they have specifics that must be followed. What CPU can be used or whether it will be a 32Bit or 64Bit motherboard or how large a graphic card you can use or how much RAM(memory modules) the motherboard will allow as the maximum.

Just simply wanting 16GB of RAM doesn't always work. If the motherboard only allows up to 8GB of RAM, like mine does, you can only use the maximum of 8GB RAM.

For me, 8GB of RAM does fairly well. I really do wish that my motherboard had allowed up to 16GB. So many of the newer videos need to be "streamed" with a good amount of RAM.

RAM is not the only consideration for "streaming" - Your Internet Speed must be one of the faster speeds like 24 Mbps download. In fact, 24 Mbps is about the lowest speed for good "streaming", especially for movies.

Posted by:

20 Sep 2016

Interesting that W10 Pro editions can use up to 1TB of Ram, compared to 'only' 128GB for we poor home users... but considering that there is still an amazingly high proportion of commercial users out there running XP, one wonders quite who the W10 Pro users might be.
On the other hand, it might be nice to have even half the Home limit of 128GB - but then as I'd have to replace the motherboard, graphics card and most of the other bits and pieces, it seems that the memory upgrade is a little more expensive than just the new chips...

Posted by:

Andre Gaudreault
20 Sep 2016

Whenever my computer becomes sluggish,I refresh my browser(Firefox)Go to: Menu/?(help)/Troubleshooting/refresh Firefox. And it ALWAYS resolve my problem of sluggishness.

Posted by:

Tom R.
20 Sep 2016

And let us not forget the almighty speed booster....The solid state drive!!

Posted by:

Art F
20 Sep 2016

I strongly disagree with your recommendation to use CHKDSK. This program is a relic of the days when hard drives were much, much smaller and is extremely ill-suited for today's terabyte drives.
In particular, the thing may run for DAYS if you have a problem, and there is NO WAY provided for interrupting it!!! Avoid CHKDSK like the plague!!!!!

Posted by:

21 Sep 2016

Don't always take the Crucial tool as gospel, for example it tells you that the Lenovo ThinkPad T61 can only take 4GB of RAM, this was originally true when the machine was introduced and 2GB RAM modules were the largest available at the time. The machine will accept up to 8GB of RAM using two of the newer readily available 4GB modules.

Also +1 on the recommendation for an SSD as a good speed booster for most computers.

Posted by:

21 Sep 2016

Another thing to adjust is your virtual memory setup. Another article for you to publish, Bob.
I generally find that setting it to twice the physical memory works well.

Posted by:

Dennis Wm.Small
02 Oct 2016

I have been a many, many year reader (and saver) of your articles. Also, I have made purchases along the way that are quick linked from my laptop and desktop screens for much needed references.
I am in deep trouble and need to request a refresher of how to move a large group of files from the same directory source, such as your postings, to another drive or storage device.
I understand the concept of first sorting all of the files in proper order.
Secondly, clicking on the first named file such as paintyourwagon.txt
Third, clicking on the last file named paintyourwagon33.txt in order to move all thirty three files smoothly to another hard drive or external storage location.
My only problem is remembering what sequence of keystrokes are used to make the file selections to make the total file move? I am using WIN10 with the Latest WORD package, however, no matter what combination of shift, control or alt keys I attempt to incorporate, I just am not able to succeed in formatting all thirty three files to populate with the check boxes. Also, I am not being very successful in my search attempts.
It is a simple process and I do promise to tape the answer atop my screen frame as a constant reminder of your help!
Sincerely yours,

Dennis Small
Burnsville, MN 55306-7996

Posted by:

01 Nov 2016

About solid state memory. Does it help to use a small(64gb to 128gb)SSD as a swap file?
Also what about the memory chips used in smartphones?

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