How Much RAM Or Memory Do You Need In Your Computer?

How Much RAM In 2019

How Much RAM Versus The Cost of RAM

RAM or “memory” (and not to be confused with storage, as many people often do) is arguably the most overlooked aspect of computer performance and system capability, but it’s one key component that might prove costly if you ignore it.

That is especially the case if you are buying a new computer and get seduced by the price which looks to be a bargain or focuses on some of the other specifications of the system like the CPU or the fact that it features a solid-state drive (SSD) rather than an older style hard disk drive (HDD).

RAM prices aren’t exactly cheap at the moment with a weaker Australian dollar and exchange rates not helping, but the cost of RAM (per gigabyte) has been steadily declining over the last 25 years along with the performance improvement with each generational change of the technology.

So in this day and age, whether you are looking at purchasing a new computer or just upgrading an existing desktop/workstation or laptop, how much RAM do you really need – 4, 8, 16 or 32 GB or more?

How Much RAM Over Time

Over the years, the need for more RAM, in general, has of course increased. Each successive release of the Windows or Apple Mac operating systems, along with a wide range of applications and games, are allocating and using more RAM compared to just a few years ago. Less than a decade ago, a typical computer user – running either a Windows 7 or MacOS computer – would find 4GB more than enough for most day to day computer tasks, like email, web browsing or performing productivity tasks with applications like MS Word, Excel, etc.

In fact, it was quite common that most people running Windows XP and Vista (and many running the newer Windows 7) were using 32-bit versions of those operating systems that were limited to utilizing 4GB of RAM.

Go back just 5 years in time and someone running Windows 7/8, or Apple MacOS 10.10 Yosemite, was able to get away with 8GB for typical use, including gaming. Fast-forward to now and that 8 GB that once seemed more than enough for your needs, can be chewed up by just running a single low-end gaming title, some computer-aided drawing (CAD) or rendering, or just browsing the web with several tabs open on Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

So Why Does RAM Matter & Should You Even Care?

If your existing RAM gets used up, your computer will write out anything else to the page file on your hard disk drive or SSD. If whatever you’re doing needs to exchange that information frequently, it slows down the system and impacts on its responsiveness. No matter how fast your storage drive might be, its performance is still exponentially slower than if your applications are run directly from RAM.

Whilst not having enough RAM is a problem that impacts on system performance, having too much or an unnecessarily high amount that can’t be utilized is a waste of money and impacts on your budget. So, what is the right amount of RAM for your needs?

8GB is The Bare Minimum For Most People, But Not Recommended For Gamers

For starters, forget about 4GB. Why? Unless you’re refurbishing an old computer for your children to use, or to have as a spare PC, or to run a version Linux or if you’re buying something like a Chromebook, 8GB is the bare minimum for most peoples’ needs. These days, a system with only 4GB is reserved for use as a web/email/casual use machine only.

Most current PC games use a fair amount of memory, and whilst running a system with only 8GB may be possible, we recommend going for a system with 16GB.  So if you are a gamer, you may be able to get away with 8GB, but we recommend going for a system with 16GB – possibly more if the budget allows, or buy a system that allows you to add RAM in future.

8GB of RAM is fine for those who stick to basic productivity tasks, or those who aren’t playing modern games. You can do plenty of productivity work without swapping out to the page file, but if you plan on running a memory-intensive process and doing additional tasks at the same time, you could end up exceeding your limit.

The Sweet Spot Is 16GB – Even For Gamers

Today, a system equipped with 16GB is the “sweet spot” between price and performance for most computer users, enthusiasts and gamers included. That amount gives you the headroom to perform a couple of tasks at once, without having to close tabs or applications to exceed your available RAM. Most people will find that 16GB RAM is sufficient for their needs.

If you’re a creative professional, however, your needs will be different. Those who are rendering large files or doing other memory intensive work, music, photo and video editing should consider going with 32GB or more.

Is Having 32GB (or more) Just a Case of Overkill?

Stepping up to 32GB yields quite a bit of flexibility as far as running multiple applications and different tasks are concerned, without worrying about a negative impact on system performance or resulting in a system crash. Some users on the productivity side of things who manipulate large files (or more than one at once) work with CAD, music/sound editing, photo and video editing, you should consider 32GB or more. These are situations where more than 16GB is often utilized, and 32GB is justified and even mandatory. But for many users (probably most) including gamers, this situation isn’t common.

So what can we do with the extra capacity that 32 or even 64 GB affords if you’re not making use of it regularly? Some movie and photo editing tasks (among other uses), especially when working in 4K+ resolutions, can benefit from the use of a RAM disk, which takes some of the ultra-fast volatile RAM capacity and turns it into a drive. That drive can also be used as a scratch disk for projects, which is notably faster than having it on a traditional drive – even a very fast PCIe SSD. In those cases, having a RAM disk can cut project times down, and make general performance smoother and more responsive.

Final Thoughts On RAM

If you are currently running Windows 10 or one of the current MacOS releases (ie. Sierra, High Sierra or Mojave) and doing so on an older system running with its original 4 GB RAM, it is a fair bet that it’s struggling under the load. It might pay to upgrade your older Windows desktop or laptop, MacBook Pro or iMac and boost the RAM to 8 or 16 Gb.

Alternately, it might be time to replace your old computer with a new Windows PC or Apple Mac but check the specifications first before making that purchase. Avoid any system with less than 8 GB.

Also, be aware that an increasing number of new computer systems are designed in such a way that you are no longer given the option or ability to upgrade and increase the RAM in the computer down the track.  In other words, if your needs change, you are stuck with a system in its original configuration.  Anyone having purchased a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro Retina or iMac 21.5 inch (from late-2012) onwards will have discovered this at their cost.

An increasing number of laptops running the Windows operating system (from manufacturers like HP, Lenovo, Dell, ASUS, Toshiba, etc) are adopting this same design principle, so it pays to consider your future needs, assesses the options and chooses wisely.  If you plan on buying a new computer every 2 or 3 years, this may not be a problem you experience.

For more information on this subject, including our recommendations, contact us on 3397 1215 or 0409 974 707.

How Much RAM Or Memory Do You Need In Your Computer?