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Every personal computer is made up of several components that combine to run the applications that make the PC such a useful tool. There’s the central processing unit (CPU), the graphics processing unit (GPU), memory, storage, display, and various others that are all vital to getting things done with a PC.

In this piece, we’re going to cover random-access memory (RAM), which you can think of as the PC’s short-term memory. It’s where the operating system (OS) loads when the PC is turned on and booted up, and it’s where applications run and store their information during active processing.

Prices and availability of products discussed were accurate at time of publication, but are subject to change.

The basics of RAM

gskill how much ramRAM is “volatile” memory, meaning that it only maintains information while it’s receiving power. Turn off the PC, on purpose or accidentally (as happens with a power failure), and all the contents of RAM are lost. That’s why there’s also long-term storage such as hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives SDDs) for saving information when the power is turned off.

The amount of RAM that you use in your PC is an important element in how well it will perform. All the information that your OS and applications need to use while actively processing needs to be available in RAM. While the information that the system isn’t actively using can be written to storage in “swap files” when there’s too much to store in RAM, the process of constantly switching information to and from storage is slower than working with it directly in RAM.

So with all of that said: how much RAM do you need? That is, how much RAM is necessary to keep your PC running smoothly and to minimize the use of swap files? RAM costs money, and it uses a small amount of power, which is a consideration for notebooks that need to run on batteries. Therefore, there’s a balance between spending more money and using more power by equipping more RAM than you need and not having enough RAM for efficient operation.

As usual with these kinds of configuration questions, the answer depends entirely on how you want to use your PC. We recommend that you consider your worst-case scenarios when deciding on the amount of RAM. Simply put, it’s probably better to occasionally have “too much” RAM than to not have enough RAM when you need it.

Desktops vs. notebooks

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Most RAM today comes in the form of dual in-line memory modules (DIMMs) that hold memory chips adding up to a specific amount of RAM. In turn, most RAM today uses a double data rate (DDR) interface, and current popular standards are DDR3 and DDR4. We won’t dig into the details, but most RAM that you purchase for a desktop will be some speed of DDR4 RAM while the RAM that’s equipped in the typical notebook PC will be either DDR3 or DDR4 RAM.

What’s important to remember here is that the RAM in desktop PCs can easily be increased or decreased. Desktop motherboards (check out our guide on how to choose a motherboard here) have multiple RAM slots, typically between two and eight. And RAM DIMMs come in various sizes, from under one gigabyte (1GB) all the way up to 64GB versions, with motherboards accepting a range of RAM capacities. If you’re building your PC, then you can just use some of the available RAM slots, and leave some open for adding more RAM later. You can also swap RAM out as needed up to the limits of what the motherboard can accept.

LG_gram_laptops_2018-1Notebooks PCs are different animals. Some notebooks use DIMMs, while others have the RAM directly soldered onto the motherboard. Many notebooks today are tightly sealed and cannot be upgraded, meaning that the amount of RAM that you select when buying the notebook is what you’re stuck with for its lifespan. That complicates the decision about how much RAM to purchase – if you pick a notebook that doesn’t have enough RAM, then it’s never going to be able to provide the necessary performance.

In addition, you’ll want to make sure that your chosen PC can install the amount of RAM that you need. That means picking a desktop with enough RAM slots that support large enough DIMMs. And, most notebooks today max out at 16GB of RAM, meaning that your notebook options will be limited if you need to configure it with 32GB of RAM or more.

Integrated versus discrete graphics

EVGA build RAMAnother consideration when configuring RAM is what kind of graphics hardware your PC will use. There are two main graphics solutions on the market: those that are built into a CPU, called integrated graphics, and those that are separate, called discrete GPUs.

Again, this all gets very complicated, but the important part is that some integrated graphics solutions, such as those on Intel’s latest Core processors, use some of your PC’s system RAM to hold the information needed to drive the display. Discrete GPUs, on the other hand, tend to have their own dedicated memory, and so they do not use much, if any, system RAM.

So if you’re buying a PC that depends on integrated graphics, then you’ll need to keep that in mind when determining the amount of RAM that you’ll need. The latest integrated GPUs can theoretically access up to half of the system RAM, although they likely won’t use nearly that much RAM very often. Just remember that if you buy a PC with integrated graphics, then you’ll have slightly less RAM available for your OS and applications.

So, how much RAM do I need?

ABS_BUILD_3When you turn on your PC, your OS loads into RAM. That means that you need some minimum amount of memory just to get your PC up and running. Today’s most common operating systems are Windows 10, macOS, and Chrome OS. Of these, Chrome OS is the least demanding, but even it will benefit from having enough RAM.

Of course, nobody buys a PC just to run the operating system. At the very least, most people are going to use a web browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge, along with an email client and some mix of productivity apps such as those that are a part of Microsoft’s Office suite.

Here’s a quick overview of our RAM recommendations:

< 4GB This is not recommended for anyone but the lightest Chrome OS user.
4GB to 8GB 4GB of RAM is recommended as a minimum configuration for the typical productivity user.
8GB to 16GB 8GB of RAM is the sweet spot for the majority of users, providing enough RAM for virtually all productivity tasks and less demanding games.
16GB or more If you’re running demanding applications like video editing and CAD, or you’re a hardcore gamer, then we recommend that you start at 16GB and go up from there.

Less than 4GB: Not recommended

Today, most PCs come with at least 4GB of RAM, leaving only the most basic budget systems available with just 2GB. Unless you’re using Chrome OS, and even then only if you’re only going to be working with a minimal set of browser tabs and Chrome OS or Android apps, we recommend against buying or configuring a PC with less than 4GB of RAM.

Chances are, you’re just not going to be happy with the performance.

4GB to 8GB: A minimal configuration for productivity users

If you’re running Windows 10 or macOS, or you’re a heavy Chrome OS user, then you’ll want at least 4GB of RAM. Unsurprisingly, you’ll find that to be the most common minimum RAM configuration with PCs available for purchase today.

Having at least 4GB of RAM will let users load up a reasonable number of browser tabs and leave enough RAM for using email, working with applications like Microsoft Word, and playing casual games. That makes 4GB a good minimum specification for most users.

BENQ_MONITOR_GAMING_SETUP_WEBREADY-38GB to 16GB: The sweet spot

Many of the most commonly used applications don’t use a ton of RAM on their own. However, it’s very common for users to run many of these applications at once. Many people also like to open multiple browser tabs at once, and they can access web sites that display a lot of graphics, run various web applications, and play video. Taken together, this all means that available RAM can quickly get used up.

The bottom line is that if you’re a heavy multi-tasker and you open a lot of tabs, then you’ll want more RAM. For most people, this means configuring a system with at least 8GB, and that’s why this amount is increasingly an option even for value-oriented PCs.

If you’re buying a notebook that doesn’t allow for upgrading RAM, then 8GB is a great baseline choice, while 16GB is likely to provide you with plenty of headroom for whatever you’ll need from your PC for as long as you’re likely to own it.

16GB to 32GB+:  Power users

Some applications, such as Adobe’s creative apps, various computer-aided design (CAD) solutions, and very demanding games, can use a large amount of RAM all by themselves. If you’re a photographer using Adobe Photoshop or another advanced photo editing application, a videographer using Adobe Premiere or another video editor, or you’re using something like AutoCAD, then 8GB might not be enough RAM.

For those people, we recommend at least 16GB. The same goes for hardcore gamers, and even for demanding productivity users who know they’ll be using a huge number of applications at once. Starting with 16GB provides a cushion for most users and allows for working with very large spreadsheets and databases as well.

Check the recommended specifications

thermaltakebuild_22An important step as you’re making your RAM decision is to check with the software developer for the minimum and recommended specifications for your chosen software. In some cases, you might be surprised at how much RAM a given application requires, and you’ll want to remember that you’re likely to want to run more than just the one application at once.

For example, the game Destiny 2 lists a minimum of 6GB of RAM and recommends 8GB for best performance. Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC’s April 2018 release lists 8GB as the minimum RAM and recommends 16GB or more. Similarly, Autodesk AutoCAD 2019 lists 8GB as the minimum with 16GB or more recommended.

Of course if you plan to run more than one of these particularly demanding applications at the same time, then you’ll want to add up their requirements, just to be safe. If you need to alt-tab between AutoCAD and Premiere Pro CC, for example, then you might want to consider investing in 32GB of RAM – which includes buying a PC that’s capable of supporting that much.

Future proofing

While RAM can get expensive, you don’t want to configure your PC with less than you’ll need for efficient operation. This is particularly true if you’re buying a notebook PC where you can’t upgrade the RAM.

In general, we recommend at least 4GB of RAM and think that most users will do well with 8GB. Choose 16GB or more if you’re a power user, if you run today’s most demanding games and applications, or if you simply want to make sure you’re covered for any future needs.

Once you’ve figured out how much RAM is right for you, shop for it on Newegg.

Mark Coppock

Author Mark Coppock

A Newegg Insider contributor.

More posts by Mark Coppock

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Mike d says:

    After building and using computer systems for over 20 years, here’s the best piece of advice I can give about how much team you need… And it doesn’t take a long article to do it.

    Too much is not enough.

  • Eric Krauter says:

    Only an idiot would say something profoundly moronic like ” Too much is not enough” or ” He who has the most toys wins”. That’s the worst kind of greed and absolute disregard for everything. My first PC was an Atari 800 in the 80’s. And now I have my latest PC shown here: https://pcpartpicker.com/b/tBYTwP . Since then I have only added 8gb more ram. I now have 16gb of ram for just in case. I can install 64gb of ram for a ram disk. But why? I wouldn’t use it and would be a monumental waste of money. Don’t listen to the peanut gallery, They’re just background noise trying to get into your head and buy more crap.

  • George Lugenalt says:

    Buy the maximum the motherboard can support. If all you do is send email, yes it’s a waste. But even Photoshop will use 5-6gb chunks when editing. I’d never go below 16gb, and if you can afford 32, get it.

    Ram prices are way down compared to even 2 years ago. Nothing is worse than a dogging computer, slowly beating the hard drive to death.

  • George Lugenalt says:

    The trick on RAM is not to avoid buying lots of it, but to avoid being ripped off by vendors who charge triple the going price. Learn and install your own ram, and like I said, get the most your motherboard can support. You won’t regret it.

  • tEEgEE says:

    Here’s a conundRAM (so corny, I know) I’m hoping to get some help with as a relative noob in the world of computer customization:

    The article says, “You can also swap RAM out as needed up to the limits of what the motherboard can accept,” a sentiment echoed in other tech articles I’ve read about memory. But some people say you can use more RAM than what the product specs state.

    So—I’m thinking about buying the new LG gram 17 laptop. It comes with 16GB of RAM, which is the max according to the product specs in the user manual. There are two slots, each with 8GB modules. One module is soldered to the motherboard. The other is not. Also, the manual says the memory should not be “arbitrarily” replaced.

    Meanwhile, several people online have videos or write-ups on how to upgrade the LG gram 17’s memory (and storage). In two instances, the users upgraded the RAM module that is not soldered to the motherboard to 32GB, for a total of 40GB. Each one said there have been no problems since going above the stated RAM capacity.

    Given my needs and that the laptop has an integrated (not discrete) GPU, I would like to upgrade the memory as well, either to 24GB or 40GB total. But I have questions:

    –While those people say they haven’t experienced any issues, it hasn’t been too long yet. Could there be long-term issues with using more RAM than the stated capacity?

    –In these cases, is the extra RAM actually *doing* anything? For example, let’s say you put in 40GB of RAM total. Since the stated capacity is 16GB, are 24GB of that memory (40 minus 16) essentially wasted, as in doing very little or nothing at all?

    –Why would LG state the max capacity is 16GB and that you shouldn’t touch the memory but allow one module to be upgraded? I can think of reasons they wouldn’t want to admit publicly—for example, 1) different departments not communicating well with each other or 2) they do, in fact, want to make it easy to upgrade because that’s what people want but they tested it at 16GB and don’t want to be liable if the laptop doesn’t work properly after you monkeyed with it—but it doesn’t make sense on its face. I called LG for the answer. A customer service rep said he didn’t know but he’d look into it and someone would call me back. I’m not holding my breath.

    And a related question:

    –Should the types of RAM modules match exactly?

    Again, I’ve seen conflicting answers. Some sources say all RAM modules in a computer should be the same (capacities, speeds, and even manufacturers). But going back to the people I mentioned earlier, both upgraded to a Samsung DDR4 2666MHz module while the RAM modules that come with the LG gram 17 are DDR4 2400 MHz and I don’t think they’re Samsung brand. Meaning, in those cases, the soldered RAM module is 8GB DDR4 2400 MHz from company X and the new module is 32GB DDR4 2666MHz from Samsung. And both say they’re not experiencing any problems.

    In conclusion: WTF?! I have no idea what the right answers are, and I would greatly appreciate any guidance. Thanks.

  • Sonu yadav says:

    Very useful

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