How Much RAM Should You Install on Your PC?

RAM is a key component to computer performance. Without enough, your processor has to shuffle data around to keep up.

Upgrading your RAM can make it easier to multitask and faster to open files. However, it’s important to understand that more RAM does not provide more storage. You need to upgrade your computer’s internal storage instead.

What is RAM?

RAM is short-term memory for your computer, keeping the information needed to do basic functions readily available. It allows the CPU to locate and access this data without having to access the hard drive for longer-term storage duties.

It’s easy to see why more RAM leads to better performance: opening apps, browsing websites and jumping between tasks is much faster when these processes are running off of the RAM instead of the hard drive. More RAM also lets you work with larger files, so you can do more demanding tasks at once and enjoy a smoother gaming experience.

There are several different ways to view your PC’s RAM information, with the most simple method being a free program called Speccy. This program shows a sorted list of information, including the type, speed and capacity of each individual stick of RAM. You can also use the Windows Management Instrumentation command-line tool, or wmic, which provides a more detailed breakdown of your RAM configuration.

How does RAM work?

RAM is a temporary memory bank where your computer stores data it needs to access quickly. This helps other components like your processor get to work faster because it avoids relying on slower long-term storage devices such as hard disks and solid state drives for immediate processing tasks.

The basic building blocks of RAM are capacitors that charge and discharge to store a “1” or a “0.” To read the value, a chip uses a sense amplifier to detect a change in current flow and a counter to track how many times each cell has been accessed. This process takes time and slows down the overall speed of a CPU, which is why dynamic RAM needs to be refreshed regularly (also known as paging).

Modern computers use upgraded versions of this memory called SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random-access memory). It offers higher speeds than legacy DRAM, but it still requires refreshes. The faster technology in these modules enables them to operate in burst mode, which reduces the wait states and improves performance even further.

How much RAM do I need?

The right amount of RAM for your PC depends on your computing needs. You don’t need a lot of memory for basic computer functions like watching YouTube videos or web browsing, but modern games demand at least 8GB and often more.

Video editing and 3D rendering require more, with professionals aiming for 32GB or more. The most important thing is to find a balance between capacity and speed. Faster RAM is more expensive, but will also run your system faster.

If you are building a new PC, check the manufacturer’s specifications to see what maximum RAM capacity is supported by the processor. You can also check your system’s current RAM capacity by launching Windows and typing “About your PC” into the search box, then reviewing the information in the Device Specifications section. You can also look at the RAM sticks themselves, which typically contain a cryptic power of 2 number that indicates capacity.

How do I install RAM?

Before you buy any RAM, make sure it’s compatible with your motherboard (which you can usually find out from the manual, product descriptions or Crucial’s Advisor Tool). Also, don’t install more RAM than the system’s configuration supports. This can cause the system to boot into safe mode or fail to start at all.

Once you have a compatible stick of RAM, shut down the computer and unplug any cords or cables. Open the case and locate the RAM slots on the motherboard, typically next to the CPU socket. Each slot will have a notch or divot and a latch that needs to line up.

The RAM will be labeled with the following information: Capacity, Speed and FormFactor (the first two are often identical; look for a number such as 8 or 12 to know whether it’s DIMM or SO-DIMM). Slide each new stick of RAM into its slot and press down on the latches until you hear and feel a slight click.