How Much RAM Do You Really Need?
You probably know that RAM is an important component inside your computer, but do you know how much RAM you really need?
Let’s look at how to see your available amount of memory, how much RAM is appropriate for different types of users, and some advice if you need more RAM.
What Is RAM?
Before we look at how much RAM you need, let’s briefly review what RAM is in case you’re not familiar. Read our full overview of RAM for more background.
RAM, or random access memory, is a form of short-term storage in your computer. It’s where the operating system keeps processes for programs you currently have open. When you shut down your machine, the contents of memory clear out.
Because RAM allows for fast access, you can switch between open programs quickly. It’s much more efficient to swap between programs running in RAM than to pull them from your storage drive.
How Much RAM Do I Have?
Next we’ll see how much RAM is available in your system so you can compare it to some baselines.
On Windows 10, head to Settings > System > About. Under Device specifications, you’ll see an Installed RAM line. Note that if your System type is listed as 32-bit operating system, you can only use 4GB of RAM no matter how much you have inside. You’ll need a 64-bit copy of Windows to use more than that.
On macOS, open the Apple menu at the top-left of the screen and choose About this Mac. On the resulting Overview tab, you’ll see a line for Memory showing how much RAM you have installed.
If you use Linux, you can enter the free command in a Terminal window to display RAM information. However, this displays the memory amount in kilobytes, which isn’t convenient. Use free -h instead to display the amount in gigabytes or megabytes, as appropriate.
How Much Computer Memory Do I Need?
Now that you know how much RAM your computer has, let’s look at some common amounts of memory to see how much is right for your needs.
2GB and Under: Deficient
You’re unlikely to find a modern computer that comes with just 2GB of RAM. While this amount will be able to handle working on one simple task at a time, such as basic web browsing, anything beyond barebones multitasking will cause major slowdowns on systems with 2GB of RAM.
Most cheap smartphones available today even come with more than this. You should avoid buying a computer with 2GB of RAM, and if your current machine has this little, consider upgrading when you can.
4GB of RAM: Sufficient for Basic Use
For a while, 4GB of RAM was considered the baseline for most computers. While the norm is moving towards 8GB now, you’ll still find some budget laptops that come with 4GB of memory. But is 4GB of RAM good?
4GB of RAM is sufficient if you only use your computer for basic tasks like web browsing, light word processing or spreadsheet work, and emailing. It’s not enough for a lot of modern video games, and will struggle if you open many Chrome tabs or run dozens of programs at once.
8GB of RAM: A Good Baseline
Most mid-range machines you’ll find today include 8GB of RAM. Notably, all of Apple’s MacBook models include at least this much.
8GB is a good modern standard for RAM. It’s enough to juggle several tasks at once without slowdown, and is sufficient for gaming too.
You’ll probably want more RAM if you often edit 4K video, stream high-end games to Twitch, or keep many resource-hungry programs open all the time. But if you’re not a heavy computer user, 8GB of RAM should work fine.
16GB of RAM: Great for Power Users
16GB of RAM is a great amount if you use your computer for heavy tasks. Design software, video editing, and modern demanding games will all have more room to work with if you have 16GB of RAM.
However, it’s overkill if you don’t fit this description. Those who only open a few browser tabs and don’t play video games or work with large media files can go with less RAM.
32GB+ of Memory: Enthusiasts Only
32GB of memory or more is only necessary for extremists. If you regularly edit 4K (or higher) video and want to work on other tasks while your computer renders the files, you’ll need a huge amount of memory. For most others, it’s a waste and you could put that money towards more useful PC upgrades.
Most video games don’t need 32GB of RAM yet. Take a look at our overview of RAM for gaming if you need specific advice on building a new rig.
Video RAM Is Separate
We’ve considered general system RAM above. However, if you have a dedicated graphics card in your PC, you should know that this has its own memory. This is called video RAM, or VRAM.
VRAM holds visual information that games needs to display and efficiently passes it to your monitor. Even if you have a lot of regular RAM, game (or high-end design software) performance could suffer if you have insufficient video RAM.
Have a look at our full guide to VRAM to learn more.
How to Make Your RAM Go Further
The only way to make more RAM available for use is buying more for your computer. It’s relatively inexpensive and will make a big difference if you’ve been working with too little for your needs.
However, if you’re unable to upgrade your memory at the moment, you can free up available RAM on your Windows computer using a few tricks. Most important is closing programs if you’re not using them, so they don’t suck up your available RAM.
Don’t Forget About Other Computer Upgrades
If you’re looking to upgrade your current machine or build a new computer, keep in mind that RAM isn’t the only component worth shelling out for. Most of the time, unused RAM is wasted RAM. There’s no point in buying 32GB of memory when you only ever use 4GB, because the extra RAM is never active.
Before you buy, know which PC upgrades have the most impact on performance . You don’t want to load up on memory while still suffering from the bottleneck of a hard disk drive. A balanced build will serve you much better.
How Much Memory Do You Really Need?
We’ve looked at how to check the RAM in your computer, how much RAM you need for various tasks, and how to make the most of your current memory in the meantime. In summary, aim for 8GB as a baseline and 16GB of RAM if you’re a heavy user.
Thankfully, upgrading the RAM in your computer is usually straightforward. After making sure the RAM you buy is compatible, you only need to open your PC and snap it into place. Our guide to upgrading the RAM in your Mac will show you a lot more; the steps are relevant even if you have a different kind of computer.
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