Most people know that their computer has RAM — but fewer could tell you just what is it and what it does. Here’s how to gauge how much RAM you need, how much your computer has and how to get the most out of it.
RAM is one of the most crucial specifications of your computer’s hardware, so it’s a very useful thing to understand. A working knowledge of RAM can give you an idea of just what your PC can and cannot run, so it’s particularly handy to know if you use system-intensive software like video editing programs or modern video games.
What Is RAM?
RAM, or random-access-memory, is a type of data storage that allows files to be written and read at short notice, no matter what order individual entries are being accessed in. Alternate forms of data storage — like hard drives and disks — can’t match this speed as a result of their physical and mechanical limitations. RAM allows your PC immediate access to the data it requires, which contributes to how fast and responsive it is.
This makes RAM well-suited for temporary storage, used by software for data that needs to be accessed quickly and frequently. For instance, if you’re using a word processor to create a text document, it’s stored in your computer’s RAM while you’re editing it — the speed that RAM can be read and written to allows you to see your edits shape that document in real time.
There are two different types of RAM; static and dynamic. DRAM can offer access times of roughly 60 nanoseconds, whereas SRAM can cut that down to just 10 nanoseconds. However, DRAM is used more often because it’s substantially less expensive.
How Much RAM Do I Have?
To check how much RAM is installed on your computer, first open a new File Explorer window. Then, find the icon for your system — it might be labelled ‘My Computer’ or ‘This PC’ or something of your own choosing if you’ve renamed it. Right-click that icon and then select Properties.
This will present you with a screen that gives you a rundown of all your computer’s specifications; look under the System subdivision for the entry marked Installed memory (RAM).
If you’re seeing an amount of RAM contrary to what you expected, it might well be thanks to a known issue with the Windows OS. Due to a longstanding quirk of the Windows system architecture, the 32-bit version only supports up to 4GB of RAM. Switching to the 64 bit OS should sort out this problem.
Note that if your graphics card doesn’t have dedicated memory, it will block RAM for its own use. Shared graphics memory reduces the available system memory.
How to Get the Most From Your RAM
Now that you know how much RAM your computer has installed, you can begin to ensure that it’s being used to its full capabilities. You can increase RAM in a variety of ways, and the correct method for any individual case will depend on the particulars of the software you want to run on your system, as well as your level of experience with computers.
One simple way of giving your RAM a boost is by supplementing it with a tool like ReadyBoost. Included as part of the Windows OS since Vista, ReadyBoost can use a USB drive as a bit of additional memory. It’s not as effective as buying more RAM, but it’s an easy and quick alternative that’ll reap decent results — particularly if you’re using a slow computer.
Another method is to use Task Manager to keep an eye on which programs and processes are putting the strain on your system’s resources. To access this, right-click the Taskbar and select Task Manager.
The Memory column is what we’re interested in. If you see programs that you’re not using eating up plenty of memory, then it might be worth investigating whether they need to be running, or even if they can be uninstalled completely. Of course, this will vary on a case-by-case basis, but there are some non-essential startup items that most users can do without.
How Much RAM Do I Need?
Like many computer components, it can seem like the amount of RAM necessary to keep your computer running at a brisk pace is steadily increasing. Check the requirements of individual programs to make sure you’ll be able to run the software that you need to, but here are some broad pieces of advice on RAM requirements as of early 2015.
The baseline for RAM in a computer is 4GB; that’s how much you can expect from a budget model, and it’ll just about do the job — just don’t expect to be running high-intensity programs or to have several applications open at the same time without performance taking a hit. 8GB is closer to the current norm, and it’ll be enough to keep your computer fresh for the immediate future.
Note that upgrading to an SSD will significantly improve system performance as well.
For gamers wanting to keep up with new releases, or if you need access to hardware-intensive programs like video editing software, then it’s worth having 16GB of RAM at your disposal. Anything beyond that is only really necessary for systems set-up for a particular purpose, or for users wanting to make sure their computer is as future-proof as possible.
If in Doubt, Add More RAM
If the RAM you have installed on your computer is less than what you need, don’t fret — these days, a RAM upgrade can be quite inexpensive, and the component itself is relatively easy to install. However, if you’re looking to buy more RAM then you’ll need to check how much your motherboard can handle — it’s much more of a hassle to replace that component, and a waste to purchase RAM that your system can’t use.
Will You Be Adding More RAM?
There’s a whole host of different elements that go into constructing a computer perfectly suited for your needs, but RAM is one that you can’t afford to ignore. It’s good practice to know how much RAM you have available to you, and what processes are using it at any given time — doing so can mean the difference between a machine that can handle anything you throw at it, and a sluggish, stuttering system.
Do you have any tips or questions about RAM? Let us know about them in the comments section below.