A Computer’s Memory Isn’t What It Used To Be
RAM (Random Access Memory) has come a long way since the home computer was released. My first computer had 4K of memory. My current computer has 32GB of ram. Laid out in numbers, that’s 4 000, to 32,000,000,000,000 or 8 billion times more memory. This article is about making choices when buying a new computer and considering the type and amount of memory that is right for you.
How Much RAM Do I Need?
If you have a 32-bit system, the answer is easy, 4GB is overkill because a 32-bit CPU cannot access more than that. The good news is most computers sold today are 64-bit but check the specs prior to buying.
When buying a new computer, you might have to make a cost choice on either more memory or upgrading to an SSD. What is the best way to spend your money? To answer that question, you need to have a basic understanding of how memory works.
RAM is volatile memory. When the power is turned off, all the data in the memory is lost. Your HDD drive stores all your Operating Systems, your programs, and saved data. Computers use memory to store data in use or recently used because it has the fastest transfer rate. This means that a program you are working on can instantly access information making your computer run smoothly.
Operating Systems without enough RAM switch to an algorithm (which is a set of instructions) designed to manage your computer’s memory called “paging” which simply means when your RAM is full your system makes room in memory by transferring some of the data to your HDD and uses that algorithm to retrieve it when needed. This is a good and bad thing. Good in that your computer continues to operate and bad because it does so at a slower rate. If your computer just feels slow, it’s probably continuously swapping memory from your fast RAM to and from your slower disk drive.
The data transfer rates between RAM and your HDD or even SSD can’t compare. The way your computer handles memory and storage makes one-to-one comparison difficult at best, but RAM is much faster than the fastest SSD and light-years faster than your HDD. If you plan on running multiple programs you will certainly push your 4GBs of memory. If you had an HDD, every time your system pages you would experience a noticeable difference. If you have an SSD, your system will perform better because the SSD is faster but still not as fast as RAM. However, if you were running 6GB, or better 8GB, the chances are your system needing to “page” memory are greatly reduced. In this case, more RAM will increase your system’s performance better than a faster hard drive.
What is Too Much RAM
If you open multiple programs and have programs that are somewhat memory intensive, 8GB of ram is probably sufficient. If your system functions well at 8GB anything over that will be wasted. Having 16GB of RAM will not make your computer run faster because it won’t access it. At this point, having a faster hard disk drive will make an impact on your computer’s performance.
Buying more RAM than your system or programs require is a waste of money. To get an idea of just how much you might need, take a look at your current system. By right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting Task Manager, wait until it opens and select the Performance tab. At the bottom of the screen, you can click on Performance Monitor. This will open the Windows Resource monitor where you can see the actual impact each process has on your system’s resources. When you select the Memory tab, the window will show the physical processes in use and the amount of physical memory “In Use”, “Committed”, and “Free”. The top graph on the right will show the Physical memory in use. If, after opening your most often used programs and browser tabs you are sitting at 50% the memory you have will be sufficient for a new system.
See other articles in this series:
- Purchasing Your 2022 Computer
- Purchasing Your 2022 Computer – CPUs
- Purchasing Your 2022 Computer – The CPU – Part 2
- Purchasing Your 2022 Computer – Memory ⬅ You are here
- Purchasing Your 2022 Computer – Storage
- Purchasing That 2022 Computer – Final Installment