Will More Memory Speed Up Your Computer?

Category: Memory

If your desktop or laptop 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 that also apply to Windows 8 and 10.

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. 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.

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 "Will More Memory Speed Up Your Computer?"

Posted by:

09 Nov 2017

If you have an older laptop, you also need to consider if your computer power supply can handle the extra load of increased memory. If the cooling system cannot keep up with the extra heat, it can lead to premature death. I buy a new laptop every three years because I program for a living. I never buy the cheapest one because I know they have scrimped on the power and cooling systems. And I also have to add more memory before the three years are up because the OS becomes more bloated over time.

Posted by:

09 Nov 2017

I have a 64 bit Compaq Pressario computer with Windows 7 Home Premium that's about 7 years old and is only capable of using 2 sticks of 2 gig of RAM each. Sure would like to be able to have the 16 gigs available.

Posted by:

09 Nov 2017

Currently I have 4GB of dual channel RAM in my Win7 Ultimate machine. After reading your article I went online and bought 2 more identical sticks of RAM. Thanks for the reminder to get an additional 4GB so I can double what I have now. :-)

Posted by:

Nigel A
09 Nov 2017

I have a 7 year old laptop with Win 10. It was working OK until I loaded a resource hungry accounting program. I used the Crucial Advisor tool to assess my laptop. After that I installed 8Gb of Ram replacing the 4Gb which were there and replaced the HDD with an SSD (both 1Tb). Service from Crucial was great, the cloning program from Acronis supplied by Crucial was easy to use and after the SSD was inserted everything worked. The speed of my laptop is very much increased. The accounting program loads much more quickly and operates much more quickly. Well worth the effort and cost.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
09 Nov 2017

I don't mean to beat a tired horse (I know the phrase is a dead horse, but unfortunately this horse is far from dead), however, most of us are finding slow computers by increasingly abusive websites that run (often unseen) video ads constantly and eat ram memory. This is true whatever OS you are running (My iMac with 32GB of Ram, or my PC with 32 GB of Ram) both can grind to a complete stop when enough browser windows are running as they virtually all are now running stupid video ads that no one ever watches but somehow mange to apparently provide revenue to website owners.

I personally try to identify the companies using such ads and inform them I will never buy their products again until they stop stealing both my processing power, my RAM and mty bandwidth with their idiotic and worthless ads. Until all internet users join me in blacklisting the abusers it will never end and they will gobble more and more of our resources.

I did not buy a high end xcomputer maxed out with RAM so morns could serve me ads I have no interest in. I will not support companies that steal the resources of my computer. Your site is unfortunately almost as bad as most in serving stupid ads I don't want to see. I would urge you to fix this.

Posted by:

10 Nov 2017

I thoroughly agree with most of what Granville Alley says. 4Gb of ram is enough on a Windows 8.1 PC to do all the basics but as soon as you hit the internet, video and animated advertising slows use to a crawl. One recent example is the BaBa-Mail site, which has become much harder to view properly since then introduced video advertising that is set to automatically play. To make it worse, they stick some way down the page so you have to try and get there in order to stop/pause the play before you can see what you want. Nightmare.

Posted by:

12 Nov 2017

I agree with Granville Alley and Iceman say about how animated advertising slows use to a crawl. It won't be long before some of us, stop going to websites that create this issue. I'm an old timer and I stopped watching TV when commercial time exceeded 10% of the program time. I think that was somewhere in the 1960's.
I understand that advertising is necessary but when that advertising interferes with the use of my computer it is time to draw the line.

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