Random access memory (RAM) is a computer’s short-term memory, which it uses to handle all active tasks and apps. None of your programs, files, games, or streams would work without RAM. Here, we’ll explain exactly what RAM is, what RAM means, and why it’s so important. Then, learn how to lighten the load on your computer’s RAM with a specialized performance booster

RAM is significantly faster than a hard disk — twenty to a hundred times faster, depending on the specific hardware type and task. Because of its speed, RAM is used to process information immediately. When you want to accomplish a specific task, computer operating systems load data from the hard disk into RAM to process it, such as to sort a spreadsheet or to display it on screen. When it’s done actively “doing something,” the computer (sometimes at your instruction) saves it into long term storage.

So, for example, let’s say you want to work with a spreadsheet. When you start Excel, your computer loads the application into RAM. If you load an existing spreadsheet (which is stored on your hard disk), the operating system copies that information into RAM, too. Then you can work with Excel, crunching numbers in your usual fashion. In most circumstances, the computer responds super-fast, because RAM is fast. When you’re done with the spreadsheet, you tell Excel to save it — which means that the data gets copied to the hard disk or other long-term storage. (If you forget to save and the power fails, all that work is gone, because RAM is temporary storage.) And when you close the application, the computer operating system takes it out of RAM and clears the deck so that the space is free for you to work on the next thing.

One extended use of RAM is to help previously-accessed information be available much more quickly. When you first turn on your computer and launch any application, such as PowerPoint or Spotify, it takes a while to load

How much memory do I need?

The more RAM a computing device has, the faster it runs. If your device is old, you might need to upgrade the hardware. Every open application (including tabs in a web browser) consumes RAM. You can run out — and when that happens, the computer has to move things around on the hard disk, which slows down the computer.

Note that RAM is different from storage: if you turn off your PC, the information is gone whereas on storage (SSDs, HDDs…) that data will be saved.

How much RAM do you need? It depends on the kind of work you do, how many things you do at once, and how impatient you are. As with so many other parts of computing, we always want our devices to respond instantly!

But how much do you really need and for what? Here are our recommendations, which apply to any operating system or personal computer hardware:

  • 4 GB of RAM: If you’re only browsing the web, working with basic Office applications and maybe dabbling a bit in personal photo editing, you’ll be fine with 4 GB of memory.
  • 8 GB of RAM: Heavy multitaskers or light gamers should choose a computer with 8 GB of RAM.
  • 16+ GB of RAM: Some tasks are inherently computing intensive, such as serious gaming, video editing, and programming. “Enthusiast” users who never want to experience slowdowns will need 16+ GB of RAM to be happy.
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