Random access memory, usually shortened to RAM or simply "memory", is one of the most important parts of a computing device. Modern PCs, tablets, and phones typically range from 2GB to 32GB, with some having even more.
More memory is better, but you only need that much. It really depends on what type of device you are using and, more importantly, what applications you want to use on that device.
How much RAM do you need? That depends on what you want to do with your computer, but we usually recommend 8GB as a starting point. Windows 10 alone takes around 2GB of RAM to run, and Google Chrome takes even more, especially with many tabs open.
Below are recommendations based on common use cases as well as the correct storage capacity for laptops, desktops and tablets. If you're wondering how much RAM you need in your phone, we have a guide for that too.
Overview: How Much RAM Do You Need?
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In short, here are some simple guidelines that apply to most PC devices.
- 2 GB: Mainly used in budget tablet designs. You want more in a laptop or desktop.
- 4GB: Usually installed in budget notebooks. This is fine for basic Windows and Chrome OS use, but little beyond that.
- 8 GB: Excellent for Windows and MacOS systems. It's also good for entry-level games.
- 16 GIGABYTE: This is the sweet spot for desktop users. It is ideal for professional work and more demanding games.
- 32 GB and more: For enthusiasts and purpose-built workstations only. Serious gamers, engineers, professional A / V editors, and the like types need to start here and go higher if necessary.
Remember, buying more RAM than required will not bring any performance benefit – it is effectively wasting money. Buy what you actually need and spend the remaining budget on more important components like the CPU or graphics card.
An introduction to RAM
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Storage capacity is often confused with the long-term storage offered by a solid-state or mechanical hard drive. Sometimes even manufacturers and retailers confuse the terms.
A desk is a useful analogy for understanding the difference between storage and storage. Think of RAM as the top of the desk. The bigger it is, the more papers you can spread out neatly and read at the same time. Hard drives are more like the drawers under your desk and can store papers that you are not currently using.
The more RAM your system has, the more programs it can process at the same time. RAM isn't the only deciding factor – after all, with very little RAM you can technically open dozens of programs at the same time. The problem is that this slows down your system significantly.
Think again about the desk. If your desk is too small, it becomes cluttered and your work slows down trying to find the paper you need at any given time. You often have to dig in the drawers to keep what doesn't fit on the desk and to get the papers you need.
A computer with more RAM feels noticeably faster, but only up to a point. A large desk won't help you if you only have a few pieces of paper to work with. The goal is to have enough RAM – or desk space – for all of the applications that you use in your life on that particular device.
System RAM should not be confused with the dedicated memory used by discrete graphics cards. High-end 3D games rely on video RAM or VRAM to temporarily store image data such as textures. Most of the current generation graphics cards use GDDR5, GDDR6 and HBM or something similar.
Meanwhile, the system RAM is identified as DDR3 or DDR4, with the number identifying the generation. The newer term DDR5 denotes the latest generation of RAM, although compatible devices may not show up in the wild for a while. Our guide to DDR5 will keep you posted on what to expect.
DDR6 is currently under development but is not available immediately.
If all of this sounds confusing, rest assured that most manufacturers are very good at uniquely identifying RAM so consumers know what is what.
RAM heavy applications
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The operating system and web browser usually consume the most RAM, although some applications and games can use it together more than anything. There's not much you can do to make Windows or macOS use less memory. However, if you use more RAM on your computer, you can open more browser tabs in Chrome, Firefox, Edge, etc.
In addition, more complex websites use more RAM than others. For example, a simple text message has relatively little storage space, while something like Gmail or Netflix uses a lot more.
The same applies to offline programs. A chat program or a game like Minesweeper requires almost no memory, while a gigantic Excel spreadsheet, a huge Photoshop project, or a graphics-intensive game like Wolfenstein: Youngblood may itself use gigabytes.
Outside of gaming and general surfing, professional applications use the most RAM. In particular, video editing applications such as Adobe Premiere and digital audio workstations (DAWs) such as Pro Tools are memory hungry. The following provides details on tablets, laptops, and desktops. However, 16 GB is usually enough for a desktop application. However, if you are using applications like Premiere or Pro Tools, we recommend upgrading to 32GB (similar applications can actually use all of the memory).
How Much RAM for Tablets?
Tablets are not expected to handle heavy software tasks, so their RAM requirements are usually quite low – similar to many smartphones.
However, as multi-tab browsers and more complex software continue to make the transition, the demands on tablets become more and more similar to the demands on laptops. Current spec options typically range from 2GB to 16GB of RAM, with other considerations such as battery life and processor speed often playing a bigger role.
For something like the iPad, which advertises 2GB of RAM, the design focuses more on the vibrant display and long battery life. The latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro from Apple has 6GB of RAM for the 2-in-1 bulk. Devices like Microsoft's Surface Book 2 come with 16GB by default, as it's more of a laptop than a tablet – although you can convert it into a lightweight and portable tablet with its fancy hinge.
Ultimately, this gives us a guideline for choosing tablet RAM:
- 2 GB is fine for light users.
- 4 GB fits better in most tablet cases.
- 8 GB if you want to use a tablet as the primary PC.
Keep in mind that tablets are generally complementary devices that sit between your smartphone and your PC. If you're more interested in a laptop replacement, buy a tablet configuration with the RAM you need for another desktop or laptop.
How Much RAM for Laptops?
Most laptops have 8 GB of RAM. The entry-level offer includes 4 GB and first-class computers with 16 GB – even up to 32 GB for the most powerful gaming notebooks. As mentioned earlier, the demands on tablets and laptops are converging, but most users are comfortable running more complex programs on laptops, which means that RAM plays a more important role here.
Something like a Chromebook, which is mostly cloud-based apps and has very little storage space, doesn't require a lot of RAM. We recommend choosing 4GB of RAM when purchasing a Chromebook, especially since you can now use the Google Play Store to download Android apps straight to your computer.
However, on Windows and macOS, consider increasing that number to 8GB. Most of the best laptops come with 8GB for good reason. For example, Windows 10 consumes about 2 GB of RAM before you even open an application. If you do a lot of graphic design or plan to get into high-end gaming, consider increasing this to 16GB.
You only need to overcome this when you are performing certain tasks such as: B. Editing large video or photo files – as you would normally do on a desktop. Most people don't use a laptop for such tasks, but when you do, getting enough RAM is crucial. It's harder to update a laptop's memory (or impossible on some newer models) than a desktop. Hence, it is of the utmost importance to start by buying what you need.
How Much RAM for Desktops?
In 2020, RAM is far cheaper than ever, so having plenty of RAM for current builds isn't a problem. Large and fast DDR4 kits that used to cost hundreds are now available for just $ 50 for a 16GB kit. We list some of our recommended kits that money can buy in a separate article.
People tend to keep their desktop computers close by longer than tablets or laptops. It is therefore worth planning for the future. 16 GB is a good start. If you're only saving $ 30, it's worth getting away with less, but future-proofing yourself with 16GB is worth it.
Upgrading to 32GB is a good idea for the enthusiast and the average workstation user. Serious workstation users may go beyond 32GB but be prepared for higher costs if you want speed or fancy features like RGB lighting. Everything that goes beyond that is the area of extreme special systems that are equipped to process large amounts of data, astonishingly large video files or niche programs for researchers, companies or government agencies.
Gamers could opt for 32GB if they so choose, but the utility will be limited even on high-end systems. Go for speed over capacity unless you really need it.
RAM speed vs. capacity
While you won't see any performance improvement adding more RAM to your system when you already have what you need. However, this does not apply to the RAM speed. Currently, DDR4 is the standard for desktops, laptops and tablets. Each DDR generation has a speed range, with DDR4 starting with DDR4-1600 and ending with DDR4-3200. The number at the end indicates the speed of the memory. The advantage of a faster memory is simple: More cycles per second mean that the module can read and write data faster.
However, it is not that easy to buy RAM sticks with a higher number. DDR4 memory modules are all designed for 2133 MHz. Regardless of which modules you buy or what they're designed for, they'll run at 2133 MHz right away. This is a problem if, for example, you bought a memory rated at 3200 MHz. The speed your RAM is designed for is just that: a rating. This means that the manufacturer has checked whether the modules work at this speed. However, that doesn't mean they'll run at that speed right away.
Enter the Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP). Instead of shipping faster, faster memory modules come with a built-in profile and you can easily activate the profile through your motherboard's BIOS. To be clear, it's not about overclocking your memory past the recommended speed (it can be done, although the performance benefits aren't always worth it). We're only referring to enabling the speed your storage is rated for. It's a free performance so it's worth it.
You need to make sure that your motherboard actually supports the memory speed your modules are designed for and that it supports XMP (most modern motherboards do). The performance benefit of faster storage really depends on it. Different applications respond differently to faster memory, and there are even differences between Intel and AMD. However, if you've bought or are planning to buy faster RAM sticks, you'll want to enable the XMP profile in your BIOS so you can get the most out of your purchase.
Upgrading can be easy and inexpensive
While RAM isn't all that expensive, keep in mind that it's the simplest component to upgrade in a desktop PC – laptops too, in many cases. Buying a generous amount is smart, but don't get mad. There's not much reason for a gamer to go over 32GB and no reason to go over 16GB if all they want is to watch Netflix.
If at any point your system becomes limited by RAM, you can simply add more. This is a good idea even if you are uncomfortable upgrading, as the fee to install RAM at your local PC store should be anywhere from $ 40 to $ 60.