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Adding More Memory or RAM Is the Most Cost Effective Upgrade to Increase Performance

Jeremiah is a jr. network administrator that enjoys all things tech-related and adjacent, including clean energy and fuel-efficient cars.

Are You Tempted to Upgrade Your Computer?

Admit it, your laptop or desktop just doesn't feel as fast as it did when you first bought it. Opening the browser and loading a few applications seem like an exercise in patience as the hard drive activity light flashes at a pace that you're sure could trigger an epileptic seizure. Yes, upgrading to a new computer is a really nice idea, though it can cost quite a bit, especially when buying brand new from the manufacturer or a retail store.

Perhaps all you really need is a boost from an increase in the amount of RAM, Random Access Memory, installed in your PC or Mac. In the past few years, RAM has become very cheap and can be found and bought from just about anywhere online or locally. It is also very easy to install on your own without having to pay an expensive fee for having a third party installer like someone at Best Buy to do a simple upgrade for you. And best of all, a RAM upgrade may be all you need to get back that speed you experienced when you first used your computer after unpacking it from the box.

Why Shouldn’t I Upgrade the Hard Drive or Processor First?

Let me emphasize this as much as possible, you can never have too much RAM installed in a system. Modern operating systems and applications perform best with an abundance of RAM installed on a machine. If you've heard of virtual memory or have a vague understanding of what a page file is, then you must know that the reason for their existence is because most computers never had a large amount of RAM installed and the operating system had to have some way to support its own needs for memory and the needs of any applications. Multitasking, or having more than one application open at once, complicates this further. The less RAM you have installed, the more applications you have open at once, the more your PC or Mac will have to rely on virtual memory to keep things going and the slower your computer will feel.

Virtual memory is great in that it allows us to have more than one application open at once, yet it is so terribly slow as it is nothing more than some amount of space on your hard drive, which is tremendously slower at transferring data than RAM is. Yes, upgrading your hard drive and replacing it with a larger and faster one would help this some and perhaps even quiet the thrashing as all of your applications are still using virtual memory, but it won’t get rid of the reason you need to use virtual memory so often or so much.

Upgrading the processor or CPU would help speed up your computer, however you will find that unless you also upgrade the amount of RAM installed in your PC or Mac, it won’t speed things up as much as it could. Since the slowest component within most computers is the hard drive, your CPU will spend a significant amount of time waiting for the hard drive to transfer data between virtual memory and RAM.

What Is the Minimum Amount of RAM I Should Have Installed?

2 GB of RAM should really be considered the bare minimum that any user should have installed.

OSBasic Functions (Email, Browsing, Word Processing, Youtube, etc)Graphics Design, Audio Processing, Large Database Manipulation Or Games


2 GB

4 GB+

How Much RAM Should I Have Installed?

As with just about anything in life, your mileage may vary. Depending on what OS you have installed, the kind of applications you most frequently use and how many at any given time will determine how much RAM you need. For the purposes of this article and to keep things as simple as possible, I will assume you are planning on upgrading an older computer that isn’t used for particularly demanding activities such as gaming, graphics design, or other highly intensive tasks.

If you have Windows XP installed and typically use it for light activities such as word processing and spreadsheets, I would highly recommend having at least 1 GB of RAM installed. For XP, since support for it has ended, I don't even recommend using XP online anymore, unless you are very diligent about using anti-viral and anti-spyware applications to protect yourself. If you are brave enough to go online with XP this day and age, then bump on up to 2 GB of RAM for a smoother experience.

If you have Windows Vista or Windows 7 installed, I would recommend having a minimum of 2 GB of RAM installed. When browsing online with multiple tabs open, 1 GB of RAM can make it lag and otherwise just a poor experience. 2 GB of RAM makes it a much more enjoyable experience, as I've found when I upgraded the RAM in my Dell Latitude D430 notebook. If you plan on doing any sort of work with Photoshop or audio/video editing, you'll want to go ahead and spring for 4 GB of RAM or more to leave yourself room to grow.

For Mac OS X 10.4-10.5, like XP, it is recommended to have at least a minimum of 1 GB of RAM. Considering these are legacy OS versions as well with rather limited support for newer apps, such as browsers. You probably won't be going online to sites like Youtube or Facebook, but if you're running older versions of applications that you require, then it may be a good idea to bump it up to 2 GB of RAM on these machines.

For more recent Apple computers, if you are running anything from Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and up through 10.10 Yosemite, then 2 GB of RAM is going to be the minimum you should have. Snow Leopard feels very smooth with 2 GB of RAM, unless I open up every application I have available to me, like Open Office, Chrome with multiple tabs, iTunes, GIMP, etc. In that case, if you're an individual that needs to have multiple applications open the majority of the time, then you will definitely benefit from 4 GB of RAM or more, depending on the nature of your work. On my MacBook, I have both Snow Leopard and Yosemite installed so I can dual boot both, depending on my needs. With 2 GB of RAM, Snow Leopard is quite smooth, but Yosemite lags a bit and pages the hard drive more often. Bumping it up to 4 GB of RAM made Yosemite perk up to about the same performance as Snow Leopard and made applications launch faster and startup times shorter.

Remember, more is better and I’m only making suggestions for what you should at least have installed for particularly simple tasks such as what an older PC or Mac might experience in an office or home setting instead of being used for gaming.

How Do I Find Out What Kind of RAM to Purchase?

It's really quite easy. You can simply use Google and perform a search for your computer’s brand and model number and add “specifications” or “RAM” or similar terms to find out what type of and how much RAM your computer supports. There are many types of RAM out there, ranging from SDRAM, RDRAM and all the way from DDR through DDR3 RAM used in newer computers. If you can find the manufacturer’s page detailing the specifications of the type of RAM your computer uses and how much it will support, you can simply search any major retailer’s website for the specifications of the RAM you need and find what will work with your computer.

For example, I have an Acer Aspire One D250. Searching for the specifications of it on Google reveals that it has a single slot for RAM on the motherboard and that it uses DDR2 PC2-5300 type RAM and supports up to 2 GB of total installed RAM. This means that I should search Amazon or other retailers for 2GB of PC2-5300 RAM. Note, desktop and laptop RAM differs physically, even though they are all listed with similar speed ratings. Most retailers allow you to specify whether you are seeking desktop or laptop type RAM. An easy way to find out what type of RAM your PC or Mac uses is to visit Crucial markets and sells their own brand of RAM upgrades for just about every PC or Mac under the sun and they have an easy to use menu to find out exactly what and how much your computer can take. They also have a downloadable scanner tool that you can use if you have no idea what brand or model of PC or Mac you have.

Crucial will give you a listing of what sizes of their own RAM will work with your PC or Mac. However, I highly recommend that you don’t purchase from them as just about any other retailer will be much cheaper.

Installing RAM In a Laptop or Notebook

Installing RAM in laptops is quite easy for most models, usually involving loosening a few screws to lift off an access panel.  The screws holding the access panel on this model are circled in red.

Installing RAM in laptops is quite easy for most models, usually involving loosening a few screws to lift off an access panel. The screws holding the access panel on this model are circled in red.

Open RAM slot on a Latitude D430.

Open RAM slot on a Latitude D430.

RAM module installed in Latitude D430.  Along with the 1 GB of RAM underneath this card, this bumps the D430 up to a total of 2 GB of RAM.

RAM module installed in Latitude D430. Along with the 1 GB of RAM underneath this card, this bumps the D430 up to a total of 2 GB of RAM.

How Do I Install RAM Myself?

It's really quite easy to install RAM by yourself. Simply shutdown your computer and unplug it. Remove the case panel or open the side of the computer (For example, my Power Mac G4 has a simple latched side panel that opens up to reveal the motherboard). Touch the power supply casing or chassis to ground yourself and discharge any static electricity. If your computer’s RAM slots are all full, then remove the older card(s) by unlatching them until the pop out slightly from their sockets and remove them. Install the new RAM cards by lining up the notch(es) on the card(s) with the notch(es) in the slots and apply gentle, even pressure until they lock into place and the latches on both sides are closed around them.

It's really quite easy and can be done in less than five minutes if you have a screwdriver handy and you know what you’re doing. However, the five measly minutes you can spend on this will greatly improve the performance of your PC or Mac, especially if you’re installing significantly more RAM than what you originally had installed. Plug everything back in and boot up and make sure that your operating system recognizes all of the new RAM you’ve added. If so, enjoy the smoother performance that more RAM will bring to you and enjoy a quieter system (without the constant thrashing of the hard drive thanks to virtual memory).

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Jeremiah Simpkins (author) from Pulaski, VA on April 08, 2015:

This is all very true Romulo. When this Hub was written, it was focused mainly on desktop or laptops that may have only come with 512 MB to 1 GB of RAM from the manufacturer, yet supported a max between 2 GB (netbooks) and 4 GB of RAM, where, maxing those out you would by all means see a difference in performance for casual users. Myself, I currently don't find any reason to go beyond 4 GB for any laptop I use, even if its running a 64-bit OS. For others, maybe they do need the extra RAM for the reasons you have mentioned or, like gazook, they may be using several virtual machines. But then again, we are leaps and bounds from "640 k ought to be enough for anyone," and I can only begin to imagine what memory requirements may be even 2 years from now.

Romulo on April 08, 2015:

The rule is, if you're not going out of RAM, you don't need more, if you day to day don't demand more than 60% of your RAM now, it will do less than 3% (max) impact... Yes, nothing... People that need abundance of RAM?

1. anyone working with graphic edition, from 3d to 2d.

2. anyone working with simulation.

4. anyone working with big data.

5. media/data encoding/compression.

Really rare to use more than 16 GB still, more common in scientific mathematics models and so from there I suggest you buy a server if you really want to speed your work.

Jeremiah Simpkins (author) from Pulaski, VA on March 31, 2012:

Thanks gazook! Its amazing how much RAM the latest laptops and desktops support, and with the price of RAM so low, it's a no brainer to max out a PC or Mac.

Jesper Berg on March 31, 2012:

Good guide! RAM is so cheap these days that a maximum upgrade is almost a given. I have 16GB in my laptop right now and that really comes in handy when running virtual machines along with 50 or so open tabs in Firefox :)