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RAM, or Random Access Memory, is essentially a piece of hardware that stores your computer’s short-term memory while the computer is running.

The difference between a RAM module and a data drive (whether HDD or SSD) is that RAM is volatile memory, meaning that data is completely erased when the power source is cut. On non-volatile types of memory, like a data drive, stored data is preserved in the absence of electricity.

Even though RAM is cleared every time you reboot Why Does Rebooting Your Computer Fix So Many Issues? Why Does Rebooting Your Computer Fix So Many Issues? "Have you tried rebooting?" It's technical advice that gets thrown around a lot, but there's a reason: it works. Not just for PCs, but a wide range of devices. We explain why. Read More , memory management has a significant impact on the performance of your system. We’ll show you everything you need to know about RAM, how it works, and how you can possibly increase its efficiency.

The Various Types of RAM

DDR RAM, EDO, FPM, SDRAM, SIMM, DIMM… it can all be a bit confusing, especially if this is your first exposure to computer hardware.

These terms all describe different types of RAM modules that each differ in their physical properties. Generally, RAM modules fall into two types of categories:

  • SIMM (Single In-line Memory Module)
  • DIMM (Dual In-line Memory Module)

SIMMs were first released in 1983 and are not commonly used today. With the advent of 64-bit processors, the 32-bit wide SIMMs had to be installed in pairs to remain compatible. Consequently, SIMMs have been replaced by 64-bit wide DIMMs, which can be installed individually.

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EDO (Extended Data Out) and FPM (Fast Page Mode) are types of SIMM, while DDR (Dual Data Rate) and SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic RAM) fall into the DIMM category. There’s also a type called SO-DIMMs (Small Outline DIMMs) which are smaller in size and commonly found in laptops.

dimm-sodimm

You might have noticed that DDR RAM comes in different versions, namely DDR, DDR2, DDR3, and DDR4. These are increasingly faster RAM modules that are not compatible with each other.

crucial-generations

If this terminology fascinates you and you would like to know more about it, have a look at our Quick & Dirty Guide to RAM A Quick & Dirty Guide to RAM: What You Need to Know A Quick & Dirty Guide to RAM: What You Need to Know RAM is a crucial component of every computer, but it can be confusing to understand if you aren't a tech guru. In this post, we break it down in easy-to-grasp terms. Read More for fascinating facts about computer memory.

RAM Capacity, Frequency, and Latency

The storage size, or Capacity, of RAM modules is measured in megabytes, gigabytes, and terabytes Memory Sizes Explained - Gigabytes, Terabytes & Petabytes in Layman's Terms Memory Sizes Explained - Gigabytes, Terabytes & Petabytes in Layman's Terms It’s easy to see that 500 gigabytes is more than 100 gigabytes. It’s also easy to see that 1 terabyte is larger than 1 gigabyte and that is larger than 1 megabyte. But these are... Read More (MB, GB, and TB, respectively). For example, Windows 10 Professional 64-bit can support up to 2 TB of RAM.

On a 32-bit system, you can unlock up to 64 GB of RAM using a physical address extension (PAE) Patch Unlock up to 64GB of RAM on 32-bit Windows With PAE Patch Unlock up to 64GB of RAM on 32-bit Windows With PAE Patch Still using a 32-bit Windows machine and frustrated with the 4GB RAM limit? A relatively simple command line tweak allows you to patch your system and take advantage of up to 64GB of RAM. Read More . On the average computer, however, you’re more likely to find between 1 and 4 GB of RAM installed, which is sufficient for most casual users.

data-layman-terabyte

The Frequency is measured in MHz and higher numbers potentially indicate faster access to the information stored in memory. This is a key factor if your graphics card shares your RAM. Latency describes the delay between a request and execution of the task, meaning lower numbers are better.

Together, Frequency and Latency affect the speed of your RAM.

A higher frequency, which makes RAM faster, can compensate for higher latency, which makes RAM slower. We have covered these specs in more detail in our article on RAM for gamers RAM For Gamers: What Do The Specs Mean And How Do They Alter Performance RAM For Gamers: What Do The Specs Mean And How Do They Alter Performance If you want to experience great performance while playing games, it's important that you use the right hardware that can do the job. Read More . Generally speaking, however, you should prioritize capacity over frequency and latency. More is always better.

To see how much RAM is installed on your Windows computer, open File Explorer, right-click on This PC, and select Properties. This will open the System page in your Control Panel, which reveals the capacity of installed memory (RAM).

Control Panel System

To find out the specs of your RAM, you need to use a tool like CPU-Z, which can analyze your system specs. This will also reveal whether your RAM runs as advertised by the manufacturer. For instructions on how to read the results of CPU-Z, please refer to our article on RAM speed RAM Speed Not Running as Advertised? Try Turning on XMP But Watch out! RAM Speed Not Running as Advertised? Try Turning on XMP But Watch out! Your RAM may not run at the advertised speed. There's a fix, but it causes additional issues. Read More .

When You Run Out of RAM

All modern operating systems have something called a page file, also known as a swap file, which is a special file on your data drive that temporarily stores data from RAM. It comes into play when your computer needs to juggle too much data that can’t fit entirely on the RAM modules alone.

To make up for this lack in RAM capacity, the least-used data is outsourced to the page file and becomes what’s known as virtual memory.

As such, over time, the page file can grow in size and exceed hundreds of MBs, though the operating system can set limits to the size of your page file, usually giving you as much virtual RAM as the amount of physical RAM on your system.

Paging File Size

Should you ever see an error message indicating that you’re running low on virtual memory, it means that you’re nearing the size limit of your page file.

On Windows, you can manually increase the size of the page file via the Control Panel, which we have covered in our article on How to Fix Low Memory Is Your Virtual Memory Too Low? Here's How to Fix It! Is Your Virtual Memory Too Low? Here's How to Fix It! The curse of Windows is its slowing down over time. Often, low memory is to blame. Here is one more way to virtually unburden your RAM. Read More .

Note that when the system has to access data stored in the page file, it can slow down your computer because data drives are much slower than RAM modules. Thus, rather than increasing your page file, you should consider installing more RAM How Much RAM Do You Really Need? How Much RAM Do You Really Need? RAM is like short term memory. The more you multitask, the more you need. Find out how much your computer has, how to get the most out of it, or how to get more. Read More .

RAM Data Can Be Compressed

In Windows 10, the page file still exists, but before the system outsources data to your local drive, Windows 10 compresses least-used RAM data How RAM Compression Improves Memory Responsiveness in Windows 10 How RAM Compression Improves Memory Responsiveness in Windows 10 Windows 10 introduced a new feature called RAM compression. This new memory management routine improves system responsiveness. Here we show you how RAM compression works, how to turn it off, and how it impacts performance. Read More . Compression can reduce the size of stored data by up to 60%.

Microsoft estimates that as a result of memory compression, the Windows 10 page file is used half as much as in previous Windows versions. You can see it in action in your Task Manager as System and compressed memory.

windows 10 ram process

Note that memory compression isn’t a novel feature. It’s been known as ZRAM in Linux or ZSWAP on Android long before Windows 10 became available.

The only potential downside of memory compression is that the tool that handles the compression — the Memory Manager — demands extra processing power. If it isn’t managed well, RAM compression can lead to high CPU usage of the System and compressed memory item seen in the Task Manager.

This common Windows 10 issue is typically fixed by disabling hibernation, updating the BIOS, or — when you also observe a high CPU load for System Interrupts How to Fix High CPU Usage Caused by System Interrupts How to Fix High CPU Usage Caused by System Interrupts Your computer suffers from high CPU usage and the process that hogs most resources is "system interrupts"? We will help you get to the bottom of this! Read More — updating memory- and storage-related drivers with Windows 10-compatible versions.

Smart RAM Management With SuperFetch

SuperFetch is a Windows tool that improves memory management in several different ways.

First, SuperFetch analyzes how you use your computer and notes patterns, such as the usual times at which certain files and programs are accessed. Second, SuperFetch collaborates with the Windows defragmenter to store files in the order that they are typically accessed. Finally, it can pre-load applications into memory at opportune times.

Superfetch Properties and Settings

Overall, SuperFetch contributes to the efficient use of available memory to speed up Windows boot time and make applications launch faster.

It’s possible to disable SuperFetch if it negatively impacts disk performance 4 Tips to Fix 100% Disk Usage & Improve Windows Performance 4 Tips to Fix 100% Disk Usage & Improve Windows Performance Slow performance can't always be blamed on a lack of processing power or memory. Sometimes your system drive is the limiting factor. Windows 10 and 8 have disk usage issues, here's how to fix this. Read More , but in the absence of this issue, we strongly suggest you keep SuperFetch enabled! While turning SuperFetch off might increase the amount of available memory, it will have a negative impact on your system’s performance.

ReadyBoost: Only for Hard Disk Drives

ReadyBoost is a neglected Windows feature Windows Can Do THIS? 15 Surprising Features You Had No Clue About Windows Can Do THIS? 15 Surprising Features You Had No Clue About Windows can do a lot more than you may think. Even if you're a veteran Windows user, I bet you'll discover a feature in our list that you never knew existed. Read More that works similar to SuperFetch. It analyses user activity and writes information to designated flash drives or SD cards. This type of cache is faster than information stored on a notoriously slow hard drive and can thus improve computer performance.

ready-boost

With the rise of solid state drives, however, ReadyBoost has lost much of its advantages. But if you’re still using a hard disk drive and are curious about ReadyBoost, we have covered it in our piece on how to increase RAM 5 Ways to Clear Memory & Increase RAM on Your Windows Computer 5 Ways to Clear Memory & Increase RAM on Your Windows Computer RAM, the final frontier. You always seem to run out of it. We'll show you how you can free up internal memory and extend your RAM, both virtually and physically. Read More , although strictly speaking ReadyBoost doesn’t actually increase available RAM.

RAM Reloaded

With all the tools designed to optimize memory management, your RAM shouldn’t need a lot of babysitting. Just make sure you install the right amount and version of RAM 8 Terms You Need to Know When Buying Computer RAM 8 Terms You Need to Know When Buying Computer RAM While RAM tends to be fairly easy to find and install, tracking down RAM compatible with your system can prove to be a bit more challenging than a casual user may be expecting. Read More and you should never run out of memory. In the worst case, increase the size of your page file or try out ReadyBoost.

Have you come across any other RAM-related terms we should know? Or can you recommend any tools to manage memory? Please share with us in the comments!

  1. A41202813GMAIL ..
    July 7, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    Anyone Using A 32Bit System And A CHROME Clone, May Test These Extensions Code IDs To Manage Sites Abusing Advertising ( Some With Single Pages Having As Much As 800MB Of RAM ):

    GAODMENEKCCDOMEICDOLDGDPCEMLGIAG

    KLBIBKECCNJLKJKIOKJODOCEBAJANAKG

    XPOCALYPSE FOREVER !

    • Tina Sieber
      July 7, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Interesting. Could you elaborate on what these extension code IDs do and what a "chrome clone" is?

      • A41202813GMAIL ..
        July 7, 2016 at 8:07 pm

        Well,

        - The First Extension:

        A - Tells You How Many GB Of RAM You Have Left,

        B - Allows You To Be Notified On A Threshold That You Can Configure Yourself.

        - The Second Extension Allows You To Put Tabs To Sleep When They Are Not Used For A Configured Period Of Time, Thus Saving Huge Amounts Of RAM.

        - A CHROME Clone Is Any Browser That Uses Most CHROME Extensions With .CRX Or .NEX File Formats ( Renaming Formats In Both Directions Are Sometimes Required ).

        Thank You For Responding.

        • Tina Sieber
          July 7, 2016 at 8:20 pm

          Oh, now I get it! Those are the IDs of apps from the Chrome web store:
          Memory Monitor
          The Great Suspender

          And since Chrome is such a memory hog, it's a bad browser choice.

          Thank you for the input!

        • A41202813GMAIL ..
          July 7, 2016 at 9:20 pm

          Apps, Extensions, And Themes Are 3 Different Kinds Of Animals In The CHROME Web Store - Those 2 Are Specifically Extensions.

          You Can Use Some Other Clones, And Not CHROME Itself.

          OPERA15+, YANDEX And BAIDU Are Some CHROME Clones.

          OPERA15+ Is My Main Browser, But I Use All Of Them, And FF, Too.

          Thank You.

  2. Jaden Peterson
    July 7, 2016 at 4:22 am

    I don't like to argue but 1000 bytes is a kilobyte, not 1024. Windows displays this differently, but the correct term for 1024 is kibibyte, mebibyte, etc.

    • Tina Sieber
      July 7, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      Hey Jaden! Did you follow the link to our article on memory sizes explained? You should have added the comment there because I didn't mention how many bytes are in a kilobyte in this article. :)

  3. Howard Blair
    July 6, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Missing a couple: DIP RAM preceded SIMMs; it stood for Dual In-Line Pin and was flat chips with rows down each side. Also, but rare, were ZIPs (Zigzag Inline Pin), which I had to install in my Amiga 500 "sidecar" expansion.

    Another recent variation is DDR3L SO-DIMMs, which are common in laptops and ITX boards; it's DDR3 Low-power, which allows the motherboard to use 1.35v as well as 1.5v.

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