Random Access Memory, usually shortened to “RAM” or simply “memory,” is one of the most important parts of any computer. New PCs and similar devices range from around the 4GB mark to 16GB — or more. But how much RAM do you actually need?
The amount of memory you require will depend on two factors: What you want to do and how much you’re willing to spend. Although memory is an important consideration when buying smartphones too, this guide will focus on more powerful systems running desktop operating systems such as Windows, MacOS, or Chrome OS.
In a nutshell, here are some simple guidelines that apply to most PC devices.
- 2GB: Only really found in budget tablet designs. Fine for them, but you’ll want more in a laptop or desktop.
- 4GB: Entry level memory that comes with even budget notebooks. Fine for basic Windows and Chrome OS usage.
- 8GB: Excellent for Windows and MacOS systems and entry-level gaming.
- 16GB: Ideal for professional work and more demanding games. With RAM prices so low, this is the sweet spot for desktop users.
- 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 of your budget on more important components such as the CPU or graphics card.
The more RAM your system has, the more programs it can handle simultaneously. RAM isn’t the only determining factor — after all, you can technically open dozens of programs at once even with a very small amount of RAM. The problem is that doing so will severely 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.
While it’s true that a computer with more RAM feels noticeably faster, it’s only up to a point. Having a big desk doesn’t help you if you’re just working with a few pieces of paper. The goal is to have enough RAM — or desk space — for all the applications you use in your life on that particular device.
Standard RAM shouldn’t be confused with graphics memory, either, a statistic associated with computer graphic cards High-end 3D games rely on video RAM (VRAM), often expressed as “GDDR5” or similar, whereas standard memory will simply be referred to as memory, RAM, or in some cases DDR3/DDR4. This may sound confusing, but thankfully most manufacturers are very good at identifying VRAM clearly so consumers know what’s what.