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.....so it might be cheaper to upgrade your ram than buy another computer

How much RAM does your PC need? Probably less than you think

Michael Crider
Digital TrendsJanuary 16, 2017


Random Access Memory, usually shortened to “RAM” or simply “memory,” is one of the most important parts of any computer. But how much do you need? Current new PCs and similar devices range from around the 2GB mark, to 16GB or more.

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How much memory you require will depend on two factors, including what you want to do, and how much you’re willing to spend. This article will focus on computers running a desktop operating system, such as Windows, MacOS, and Chrome OS.

An introduction to RAM

Memory capacity is often confused with the long-term storage offered by a solid state or mechanical hard drive. Sometimes even manufacturers or retailers will mix up these terms.

A desk is a useful analogy to consider the difference between memory and storage. Think of RAM as the top of the desk. The bigger it is, the more papers you can spread out and read at once. Hard drives are more like the drawers underneath the desk, capable of storing papers you’re not using.

The more RAM your system has, the more programs it can handle simultaneously. RAM isn’t the only determining factor, and you can technically open dozens of programs at once even with a very small amount of RAM, but doing so will slow your system down. Think of the desk again. If your desk is too small, it becomes cluttered, and your work will slow as you try to find whatever paper you need at any particular moment. You’ll be forced to frequently dig into the drawers to store what won’t fit on top of the desk and retrieve papers you need.

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A computer with more RAM feels noticeably faster, but only up to a point. Having a big desk doesn’t help you if you’ve only a few papers to read.

The goal is to have enough RAM — or desk space — for all the applications you use in your life, on that particular device. Too little RAM, and things get clogged up. Too much RAM, and you just paid for memory you may never use.

Standard RAM shouldn’t be confused with video memory, however, a statistic associated with computer graphic cards. High-end 3D games rely on video RAM (VRAM), often expressed as “GDDR5” or something similar, whereas standard memory will simply be referred to as memory, RAM, or DDR3. This may sound confusing, but thankfully, most manufacturers are very good about identifying VRAM clearly so consumers know what’s what.

RAM-heavy applications


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The biggest RAM-hogs on most home computers are the operating system itself, and the web browser. There’s not much you can do to make Windows or MacOS use less memory, but more RAM in your computer means that you can open more browser tabs in Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc. In addition, some websites use more RAM than others. A simple text news story is relatively light on memory, while something like Gmail or Netflix uses quite a bit.

Programs tend to use more RAM as they increase in complexity. A chat program or a game like Minesweeper will use almost no RAM, while a gigantic Excel spreadsheet or a huge Photoshop project might use more than a gigabyte all by itself. Professional and engineering software is created to tackle very difficult projects, and tends to consume the most RAM of all programs. Modern 3D games can also use quite a bit of RAM and VRAM, especially if you have the settings dialed to 11. In other words, your need for RAM is dependent on the programs you use.


Choosing RAM for tablets

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Tablets are not expected to deal with heavy-duty software tasks, so their RAM needs tend to be pretty low. However, as multi-tab browsers and more complex software continue to make the transition, tablet needs are becoming more and more similar to laptop needs. Current spec options typically range from 2GB to 16GB of RAM, with processor speed playing an important role in deciding the range.

With something like an iPad Air 2, which touts about 2GB of RAM, there’s a greater focus on a versatile processor. With a device like the Microsoft Surface Pro, there’s room for up to 16GB of RAM, because Microsoft knows that Surface Pro users may want to run plenty of professional software, and it also runs a desktop OS. And this gives us a guideline for choosing tablet RAM — what are you using your tablet for?

If you only browse one website at a time and don’t really use your tablet for any big projects or work software, then 4GB is probably fine. However, if you also use your tablet as your primary PC, you should equip it with the RAM you’d need on any other desktop or laptop. Generally, that means at least 4GB, with 8GB being ideal for most users.

Choosing RAM for laptops


New laptops start at 2GB of RAM — especially Chromebooks and similar budget machines — and go up to 16GB, while elite gaming machines offer up to 32GB. As we previously mentioned, tablet and laptop needs are converging, but most users feel comfortable running more complex programs on laptops, which means RAM has a more important role here.

For something like a Chromebook, which operates primarily in the cloud and has very little storage space, you won’t need much in the way of RAM. We recommend opting for 4GB of RAM when buying a Chromebook, especially since you can now use the Google Play Store to download Android apps directly on your machine.

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For Windows and Macbooks, however, you should think about bumping that number up to a standard 8GB. Most of the best laptops on the market come with 8GB for good reason. Of course, if you are doing a lot of graphic design work or like to have dozens of tabs open at once, you may want to consider increasing this to 16GB.

You’d only need to go past that if you perform extremely demanding tasks, like editing huge video or photo files — the kind of thing you’d normally do on a desktop. Most people don’t use a laptop for such tasks, but if you do, buying enough RAM is important. It’s more difficult to upgrade RAM in a laptop (or, in some recent models, impossible) compared to a desktop.

Choosing RAM for desktops



RAM in desktops is cheap and plentiful, so it’s often easy to find computers with lots of memory at lower prices. Additionally, more RAM on desktops can often prove beneficial, as people tend to keep their desktop computers around longer than tablets or laptops.

8GB is a good place to start. While you many users will be fine with less, the low price of memory means there’s minimal benefit to starting with less. An upgrade to 16GB is recommend for enthusiasts, hardcore gamers, and the average workstation user. Serious workstation users may go further to 32GB. Anything beyond that is the realm of extreme, specialty rigs equipped to handle huge data sets, staggeringly large video files, or niche programs designed for researchers, corporations, or government.


While RAM is cheap, do keep in mind it’s likely to remain cheap, and it’s the easiest component to upgrade in a desktop PC. Buying a generous amount is wise, but don’t go crazy. There’s no reason for a gamer to exceed 16GB, for instance, and no reason to exceed 8GB if all you want to do is watch Netflix. If your system does eventually become restricted by RAM, you can just add more. This is a good idea even if you don’t feel comfortable upgrading yourself, as the charge for installing RAM at your local PC store will be trivial.

How much do you need? Some guidelines

To wrap things up, here’s some simple guidelines that apply to all PC devices.

  • 2GB: Good only for stripped-down tablets, budget Chromebooks
  • 4GB: Minimum for budget Windows and MacOS systems, great for Chromebooks
  • 8GB: Excellent for Windows and MacOS systems
  • 16GB: Probably overkill for most; ideal for mid-range workstations
  • 32GB and beyond: Enthusiasts and purpose-built workstations only

Remember, buying more RAM than you need doesn’t net you any performance benefit. It’s effectively wasted money. Buy what you need, and spend what’s left in your budget on more important components, such as the CPU or video card.


But it also might be cheaper to upgrade your ram rather than buy anther computer

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