Does Your Computer Need More Memory?
If your laptop or desktop computer 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 memory 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 working 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.
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 on Windows 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. (And yes, even Windows 10 has a 32-bit version.)
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 the limits below, 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. You might get away with 4GB of RAM if you limit yourself to one open program at a time, and you generally have just one or two open tabs in your Web browser. Beyond those modest limits, you'll probably experience lagging performance. Online gamers, video editors, programmers, and people who work with large 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. One other thing that can really speed up older computers is to replace your hard drive with a solid-state (SSD) drive. When I bought my current desktop computer, the first thing I did was order an SSD drive to replace the standard magnetic hard drive that shipped with it. I opted for a 250GB Samsung SSD drive. It came with software called Samsung Data Migration, which made it super-easy to transfer everything from my existing hard drive, and make the new SSD my primary C: drive. The result was pretty dramatic. Startup time was reduced by more than half, programs open quicker, and everything just works faster.
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 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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 17 May 2019
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Does Your Computer Need More Memory? (Posted: 17 May 2019)
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