Does Adding More RAM to Your Computer Make it Faster?

By: Talon Homer  | 

Adding more RAM will make your programs run smoother, but up to a point any additional RAM has no effect on the performance of your computer. Bloomberg/Getty Images

In a PC, Mac, smart phone or gaming system, one of the most important functions is its random access memory (RAM). This memory sets the upper limit of tasks which the computer can perform at one time. If a computer has only a few gigs of RAM, then installing a few more will make its job easier. However, continuing to add more and more memory to the same processing power will quickly provide diminishing returns.

If you think of your computer as a factory assembly line, then RAM is like the workbench full of parts, ROM (Read Only Memory) is warehouse storage, while the CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the worker tasked with turning the parts into a finished product. RAM, ROM and CPU function as a team, and if one is slow, the whole computer will become slow. A giant workbench is not going to help an exhausted worker, and a fast worker is going to have a rough time if he or she doesn't have an effective amount of space. Similarly, the most cutting-edge CPU on the market will be constantly bogged down if there's a lack of available RAM, and an excess of RAM won't do any good for an aging CPU that can't work through it fast enough.

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ROM hardware also has a speed limit at which it can transfer its static memory over to RAM, where the data becomes malleable. For this reason, old fashioned mechanical hard drives are starting to be replaced by SSDs (solid state drives), which can read and write several times faster. However, ROM speed is less likely to be the bottleneck on PC performance.

The CPU loads in the data files at which you want to look, which might total several gigabytes if you are opening many web pages, running apps in the background, or using graphic-intensive programs like video games. A big application can easily take a gigabyte of RAM or more, which can slow your system down significantly if there isn't enough memory. On your machine, at any given time you might have the following applications running:

  • A web browser
  • A word processor
  • An e-mail program
  • Media editing software
  • Calendar and scheduling software
  • A video conferencing program

­Besides all of those applications, the operating system itself is taking up a good bit of space. Everything together may need more RAM than your machine has.

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Tips for Adding RAM

RAM
A group of PC memory units. Maximum PC Magazine/Getty Images

Most modern computers come with two or more RAM chip slots, and anywhere from four to 16 GB pre-installed. The factory chips may be enough, depending on the use case. If you find your computer starting to drag, however, there's an easy way to test if more RAM is needed. Open up your operating system's task manager while running your typical programs, and check RAM use under the diagnostic section. If your computer is nearly maxing out its RAM capacity under normal operation, then an upgrade will probably speed things up quite a bit. As far as PC upgrades go, RAM is relatively cheap and simple. The procedure can usually be done with a screwdriver in a matter of minutes. If your computer is using 50 percent or less of RAM capacity under normal use, though, then this upgrade really won't change much. In such a case, you would probably be better off with a new CPU.

There have been great strides in processor technology with the advent of 64-bit computing, and multi-core CPUs are available all over the market. Going back to our assembly line analogy; the CPU is the worker. A dual-core CPU is like having two workers, and can nearly double processing speed if it has ample RAM to work with. Six and even eight-core processors are now relatively common and affordable. Higher-end machines also have dedicated graphics processors (GPUs) which take the load of rendering graphical effects during gaming or video editing.

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Similarly to RAM, processing capacity can be checked in your operating system's task manager. If it's constantly getting maxed out, then it's time for an upgrade. Replacing a CPU is much more technically involved than switching out RAM chips, so it may be best to consult a computer specialist on this procedure.

In a nutshell, installing more RAM may improve computer speed if you frequently use many programs or browsing tabs at once, or if you do memory-intensive tasks like gaming or Photoshop. Under regular use, however, a CPU upgrade will probably have a greater immediate effect on performance. Upgrading both together will ensure your PC not only runs faster, but is also able to complete more tasks at one time.

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Originally Published: Apr 1, 2000

Adding RAM FAQ

What is RAM and what is it used for?
Random access memory (RAM) is the computer's memory that stores user data. Data stored in RAM can be quickly accessed, but is temporary in that it’s unable to save data if there is no power. Additionally, RAM determines the performance of a computer, including its ability to run multiple applications simultaneously.
How do I know if my RAM can be upgraded?
Checking the settings of your computer will let you know how much RAM you have. To find this out  on a Windows computer, hit Windows-Pause and look for the installed memory size in the window that pops up. Many PCs can have their RAM upgraded easily through access panels or RAM slots, but others are more difficult. Search online for your specific computer to determine how best to upgrade the RAM.
How much RAM do I need?
Generally speaking, 8GB of RAM should be enough if you're a PC user. That said, everyone has varying personal and professional needs, so there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this. If you're a gamer, for example, you may want 16GB of RAM or more.
How do I know if I can add more RAM to my computer?
Different computers come with different capacities. All computers have two limits on RAM: the operating system and motherboard. The lower limit equals your PC's maximum RAM capacity.   You can also add RAM modules to your computer. Just be sure to purchase RAM that has the same specifications as the modules.
 

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