What is RAM?
RAM (Random Access Memory) provides fast access and temporary storage for data in computers. RAM sits in-between the processor and permanent data storage, like an HDD/SSD. When a computer is turned on, the processor requests data (such as the operating system) from the HDD/SSD and loads this into RAM. RAM is thousands of times faster than even the fastest SSDs, so having more RAM capacity to hold applications and data near the processor helps make computing quick and efficient.
System RAM shouldn’t be confused with the dedicated memory used by discrete graphic cards. High-end 3D games rely on video RAM, or VRAM, to temporarily store image data, like textures. Most current-generation graphics cards use GDDR5, GDDR6, and GDDR6X.
Meanwhile, system RAM is identified with DDR3 or DDR4, with the number identifying the generation. The newer term DDR5 indicates the latest RAM generation, although compatible devices may not appear in the wild for a while. You can stay up to date on what to expect with our guide to DDR5. DDR6 is in development but not readily available.
How much RAM do you need?
Determining the specs for a new laptop (or a laptop upgrade) can be a delicate balancing act. You want to spend enough so you won’t be miserable in the future, but not so much that you don’t make use of all the hardware you get. Memory (or RAM) is the perfect example of this. Your PC uses RAM to hold data temporarily: When you’re opening applications, working on large files in Photoshop, or even juggling dozens and dozens of browser tabs, that data is being stored in the system memory, not on your SSD or HDD. The more memory-intensive tasks you do, the more RAM you should have. It’ll keep your computer feeling fast and responsive.
Many laptop shoppers know this, but not exactly how much to get. So we’ve broken down what to expect from common RAM configurations, plus some tips at the end for purchase strategies.
- 4GB: Low-end Chromebooks and some tablets come with 4GB of RAM, but it’s only worth considering if you’re on an extreme budget.
- 8GB: Typically installed in entry-level notebooks. This is fine for basic Windows gaming at lower settings, but rapidly runs out of steam.
- 16GB: Excellent for Windows and MacOS systems and also good for gaming, especially if it is fast RAM.
- 32GB: This is the sweet spot for professionals. Gamers can enjoy a small performance improvement in some demanding games, too.
- 64GB and more: For enthusiasts and purpose-built workstations only. Engineers, professional A/V editors, and similar types need to start here and go higher if needed.
These recommendations are valid for the following Operating Systems:
Windows 10/Windows 8/8.1: 1GB (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit) to 128GB (Win8)–512GB (Win8 Professional and Enterprise)
- Windows 7: 1GB (32-bit) or 2 GB to 192GB max (64-bit).
- Windows Vista®: 1GB (32-bit) or 2 GB to 128GB (64-bit)
- OS X 10.10 Yosemite: 2GB+
- OS X 10.9 Mavericks: 2GB+
- Linux: 1GB (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
For older laptops capable of RAM upgrades, first determine how much RAM is already in your system. If the amount matches your use case (as described above), consider a different upgrade instead—for example, if your system has a hard disk drive instead of an SSD, change that out first before adding more RAM.
If you think you can benefit from more RAM, verify first what SODIMMs are already installed. Is it a single stick? You can buy a second one with matching specs and pop it in for both a capacity bump and a faster dual-channel configuration. If both slots are already populated, you should then buy a larger capacity set to replace both sticks. Follow our guide on upgrading RAM to make this process plus installation a breeze.