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Too Little Ram? Too Much Ram? What’s Perfect?

Margie from Pueblo West, CO writes:

We just bought a new computer and it has a 4GB memory and am reading we should avoid buying. Oh my…why should it be more and what is the bad part about the 4 GB memory?

Mark from Brampton writes:

In your article ‘Does The Brand Of Computer Matter?’ you said “Avoid 4 GB or lower of system memory and over 16 GB”. The ideal range is 8 to 16 GB”. Why is more than 16 GB something to avoid? I always thought the more RAM the better.


Normally we don’t group questions together at WorldStart, but both of these questions were submitted as a followup to my article Does The Brand Of Computer Matter? [1] and it seemed appropriate to answer them both in the same article. In that article when discussing specs to look for I stated:

“Memory: Avoid 4 GB or lower of system memory and over 16 GB. The ideal range is 8 to 16 GB.”

So to answer Margie’s question first, having under 4GB of memory is not a disaster, but it’s definitely something you may consider upgrading in the future. A modern operating system such as Windows or MacOS runs many applications in the background as part of its normal functions. Everything from core operating system functions to virus scanners to background e-mail checkers are running even when you’re simply browsing a web page.

Each of these applications uses RAM and the more of them you have in the background, the more of your system’s memory is used before you even begin to launch applications. For example the screenshot below shows my Windows 8 computer with only my web browser open, but you can see that already 2.4 GB of memory is used.

The next question was asked by Mark:  if more RAM is better then why not get as much as you can? Why stop at 16GB? While there is nothing technically wrong with having more than 16GB of RAM, the benefits of having more RAM only come into effect if you’re using the existing RAM fully. If you use 70% of 8 GB of RAM on a typical day, then you won’t see any performance improvement with 16GB of RAM since over 10 GB of it would sit unused.

For example, below I loaded my machine up with my typical daily grouping of mail clients, web browsers, image editing programs, office suite programs and various other things I regularly use. While my RAM usage did spike up to 4.6 GB, (which would leave me out of memory if I had 4 GB) there would of been no benefit to having 32 GB of RAN instead of the 8 I currently have.

The final recommend total in my article of 8 GB to 16 GB of memory, is based on the average usage of memory by most users and the current price of RAM. Third party sellers of memory will typically offer 16 GB of RAM in a two chip (8 GB per chip) configuration for $110 to $150 and 8 GB of RAM in a two chip (4 GB per chip) configuration for $50 to $80. Buying increased memory from the PC manufacturer will often cost you significantly more then buying it from a third party and doing the upgrade yourself.


P.S. Wondering why I recommended two chip configurations instead of a single larger chip? Most modern computers will run memory in dual channel mode if there are two identical memory chips present, which offers significantly faster memory transfer speeds than running single channel configurations. Check your motherboard specifications or computer specifications to see how many memory slots are present, and try to upgrade in even numbers. Example: If you have four slots use sets of two with identical RAM chips.