If your Windows computer is operating at or near your it’s memory capacity, your computer can slow down considerably. If your current RAM is small than what’s required, then upgrading the quantity of RAM is an easy way of dramatically improving your computer’s performance. If you have plenty of RAM, however, adding more won’t make any difference.
There exist six constraints which determine your best, if not only course of action:
- How much memory you have
- How much you need
- How much you want
- How much your system can handle
- How much your budget can handle
- Your system’s memory configuration
How much you have
2 GB: The absolute bare minimum required for a basic Windows 10 installation. Upgrade, if at all possible
4 GB: The minimum recommended RAM. Upgrade, if possible.
8 GB: The old “sweet spot.” If Task Manager shows your usage is half this or less, you’re good. If it’s 6.5 GB or higher, I recommend you upgrade
16 GB: The new “sweet spot.” If you’re already here, you have more than enough for nearly all tasks, even high-end gaming.
32 GB: Why are you even reading this? You already have more RAM than 99% of everyone else. Go play!
How much you need
16 GB is the sweet spot for the vast majority of computing tasks under Windows 10. Rarely will your computing needs crest 8 GB, but when they do, you’ll have excess capacity to spare. If you fire up any number of modern games, you’ll quickly discover that many of the higher end games will peak about 12 GB, but will still leave you with plenty of memory headroom with 16 GB on board. Adding more than 16 GB of RAM is, as of this writing (April 13, 2021), a waste of money for the foreseeable future (2 to 5 years). So, whether you’re upgrading your old machine or buying a new one, 16 GB should be ample for most people’s needs.
If you’re a program developer running multiple virtual machines or an extreme gamer with a very high-end system including extreme graphics, then you may encounter situations where 16 GB isn’t enough. For gamers, there’s no foreseeable scenario, even running 4k graphics, where you’ll need more than 32 GB. Program developers and other IT specialists, however, may require more memory for certain tasks. Fortunately, they’re usually savvy about their computing requirements and the systems they need to exceed those requirements.
How much you want
If you’re upgrading your current system, you need to check your system’s maximum allowable memory (next section). If you’re buying a new system, you should always establish a reasonable budget, first, and stick with it.
Yes, both gamers and executives suffer from “bragging rightsitis.” If you’re suffering from this potential poverty-inducing disease, but currently have money to spare, I still recommend you cap things at 16 GB (or 32 GB if you must) and spend your remaining dollars on a better processor, graphics, SSD, system, monitor, peripherals, etc.
Before you spend any time shopping for new RAM, however, you might want to first determine whether your computer supports an upgrade, and if so, how much.
How much your system can handle
If you wish to upgrade, there’s a very easy way to determine your computer’s maximum memory capacity – just ask your computer! Here’s how:
- Press the Windows key + R simultaneously. This opens the Run box.
- Type cmd in the Run box and press Enter. This opens your Command Prompt.
- In Command Prompt window, type: wmic memphysical get maxcapacity
- Press Enter.
Your computer will return the absolute maximum amount of memory, in KB, your system can handle. My 2012 system, for example, returned “16777216.” With the commas, that’s 16,777,216, or 16 GB of memory. Here’s a few common memory configurations. If your numbers fall between one of those given below, then it’s probably 6, 12, 24, 48 or 92 GB.
2097152 – 2 GB
4194304 – 4 GB
8388608 – 8 GB
16777216 – 16 GB
33554432 – 32 GB
67108864 – 64 GB
134217728 – 128 GB
Once you’ve determined how much memory you have and how much memory your system can handle, consult the following chart to gain a better idea as to where you are:
How much your budget can handle
While budgeting is outside the scope of this article, I would like to remind you that RAM is but one of several components of a computing system, all of which work together to determine the total “speed” experienced by the user. If you’re short on memory, increasing it can indeed speed up the system. Adding more than your system is using, however, has no effect. Similarly, if you’re using a hard disk drive (HDD), then migrating to a solid state drive (SSD) for about $100 will provide a major reduction in boot and program load times, as SSD’s are at least 5x faster than HDDs.
Here’s the basic list of components: motherboard, processor, memory (RAM), graphics card, storage (HDD/SSD). With laptops, you’re limited to upgrading memory and storage. With workstations, you can upgrade any of these. Well designed systems optimize these components to work with one another. Thus, upgrading one will result in bottlenecks in the others. It’ll still speed up your system, but probably not as much as you’d hoped. That said, ensuring you have more memory than your system needs will prevent that from being a bottleneck, and upgrading to an SSD will greatly reduce the HDD’s read/write bottleneck.
Your system’s memory configuration
This topic is a bit beyond this discussion, but I want you to be aware of it, as different computers have different ways you can upgrade memory. Nearly all computers have more than one bank of memory, but most are limited to two banks of memory. Nearly all laptops will only have two banks of memory. Higher-end workstations and gaming platforms can have four, six, or even eight banks of memory, although they’re usually limited to four.
Memory is usually replaced in pairs. That is, there are usually two banks of memory per memory controller, and each memory controller must see identical memory in both of the two slots allotted to it. This section isn’t intended to describe what you need to do, but rather, to redirect you to your system’s owner’s manual, which usually includes detailed directions on how to upgrade memory and what types of memory chips are allowed.
If your system memory is low and there’s little or no room to grow, it’s probably time for a new computer. Shoot for one with 16 GB on board and the ability to upgrade to 32 GB or more. Don’t pay more than a $150 premium for an SSD, as upgrading a high-quality 1 TB SSD costs between $100 and $150. In fact, if you’re going to upgrade from an HDD to an SSD on a new computer, don’t waste money buying a large HDD, either. Opt for the smallest one you can, provided it’s still 64 GB or larger, and use the bucks you just saved to buy an SSD.
If your system memory is being maxed out, but you’ve plenty of room to add upwards of 32 GB or more, you probably already have a high-end machine. Upgrade the memory to 16 GB (or more, but only if you absolutely must), and if you only have an HDD, I highly suggest you upgrade to an SSD.