Random-access memory, or RAM (for short form). It is undoubtedly one of the key elements of a computer. But do you know what it is, or how much RAM memory you need? Computers today typically range from 4GB to 16GB or more.
But the amount of RAM depends on what you want and how much you are willing to pay. In this article, we will focus on computers running desktop operating systems like Windows, macOS, or Chrome OS.
In a nutshell, here are some simple RAM memory guidelines that apply to most devices.
2GB: Only found in budget tablet designs. It’s okay for these devices, but you’ll want more on a laptop or desktop.
4GB: This is the entry-level memory, which comes even in budget notebooks. Suitable for Windows and Chrome OS.
8GB: Excellent for Windows and macOS systems and most gaming settings. It is the one we recommend to most people.
16GB: Ideal for demanding professional work and gaming.
32GB and above: specially designed fans and workstations.
Remember that buying more RAM memory than you need will not generate any performance benefit on your computer. In truth, it will be a waste of money. You must understand what you need and allocate your budget to more critical components, such as the CPU or the graphics card.
RAM capacity is often confused with a hard drive (solid-state or mechanical). Sometimes even manufacturers or retailers will mix and match these terms.
A desktop (as is) is quite a useful analogy for considering the difference between memory (RAM) and storage (hard disk). Think of RAM memory as the top of it, the cover. The larger it is, the more papers you can spread out and read at the same time. In this simile, hard drives are more like the drawers underneath, storing documents that you are not using.
The more RAM your system has, the more programs you can handle simultaneously. RAM isn’t the only determining factor, and you can technically open dozens of programs at once, even with a minimal amount of RAM, but doing so will slow your system down.
Think back to the desk. If it is too small, it will fill up with documents and objects quickly, and your work will slow down when you try to find the paper you need at a particular time. Also, you will be forced to make space in the drawers frequently, stowing there what does not fit on the top of the desk, and retrieving them later, when you need them.
A computer with more RAM feels noticeably faster… but only up to a point. Having a large desk doesn’t help you, especially if you’re only working with a few papers. The goal is to have enough RAM memory (or desktop space) for all the applications you use in your day today and on that particular device.
Standard RAM should also not be confused with video memory, a statistic associated with computer graphics cards. High-end 3D games are based on Video RAM (VRAM), often expressed as “GDDR5” or similar, while standard memory will be referred to as RAM, or in some cases DDR3 / DDR4.
This may sound not very clear, but fortunately, most manufacturers are very good at identifying VRAM.
The most significant RAM memory amount occupied by most home computers is the operating system, as well as the web browser. However, some applications and games can take more than everything else put together.
There’s not much you can do to make Windows or macOS use less memory, but more RAM on your computer means you can open more tabs in Chrome, Firefox, Edge, etc. Also, some websites use more RAM than others. A simple text news story is relatively light on memory, while sites like Gmail or Netflix use a lot.
Programs tend to use more RAM as they increase in complexity. A chat program or game like Minesweeper will use almost no RAM, while a gigantic Excel spreadsheet, a large Photoshop project, or an AAA game can use gigabytes of memory. Professional and engineering software are specifically created to tackle very complex projects, and they tend to consume the most amount of RAM.
Tablets are not expected to handle heavy-duty software tasks, so their RAM needs tend to be quite low, similar to most smartphones. However, as more complex multi-tabbed browsers and software continue to advance, tablets’ requirements are increasingly catching up with those of laptops.
Current spec options generally range from 2GB to 16GB of RAM, with other considerations such as battery life and processor speed things that are often more important to buyers.
On a device like the iPad, which touts 2GB of RAM, its design focuses more on its screen and battery life. A device like the Microsoft Surface Book 2 comes with a default of 16GB, as it is, in fact, more of a laptop than a tablet. This gives us a guide to choosing the RAM memory for tablets: you must answer before, “why do I want it?”.
2GB is excellent for users who will use it to view their mail, the press, and some videos, but 4GB would be a better setting. However, if you also use your tablet as your PC, you will need to equip it with the RAM that you would need for any other desktop or laptop computer. In general, that means – at least – 4GB, with 8GB being ideal for most users.
Most laptops come with 8GB of RAM, with entry-level offerings including 4GB and top-tier machines with 16GB, even up to 32GB for the most powerful gaming laptops. Most users are comfortable running more complex programs on laptops, which means RAM plays a more significant role.
For something like a Chromebook, which operates primarily in the cloud and has very little storage space, you won’t need a lot 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.
However, for Windows and MacBooks, you should consider increasing that number to a standard 8GB. Most of the best laptops come with 8GB for a good reason. If you’re doing a lot of graphic design work or planning to play some high-end games, you might want to consider increasing that RAM to 16GB.
You should only ignore that if you do specific tasks, like editing large video files or photos, you would typically do on a desktop computer. Most people don’t use a laptop for such tasks, but if you do, buying enough RAM is critical.
It’s harder to upgrade RAM in a laptop (or, on some recent models, impossible) than a desktop, so buying what you need upfront is paramount.
RAM in desktops is plentiful, but not as cheap as it used to be. Big, fast DDR4 kits can cost hundreds of dollars, so buying what you need and making room for updates later is the best option. People tend to keep their desktops longer than tablets or laptops, so it’s worth planning for the future.
An 8GB memory is an excellent place to start. While many users will be fine with less, the price difference between 4GB and 8GB isn’t drastic enough to make it worth opting for less.
An upgrade to 16GB is recommended for hardcore gamers. And those who need more for their work can go up to 32GB, but be prepared for a high cost if you want speed or fancy features like RGB lighting.
While RAM is not that expensive, remember that it is the most natural component to upgrade on a desktop computer. Buying a generous amount is a wise choice, but don’t go crazy.
There’s not much reason for a gamer to go over 16GB for now, and there’s no reason to go over 8GB if all you want to do is watch Netflix. If RAM finally restricts your system, you can always add more.
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