Adding more memory is the best way to boost your desktop or laptop performance. This buyer’s guide covers the most important criteria you should keep in mind when upgrading your RAM.
Upgrading RAM is not a straightforward decision, as it depends on a number of upgrade limit factors. By following this guide, you will be be able to check each factor properly, thus greatly narrowing your choices.
If you are not sure what a RAM is, check out this post.
Know Your Existing RAM and Maximum Capacity
Before going for an upgrade, gain proper knowledge of your computer’s existing RAM and the maximum RAM limits it can support. This procedure has been covered extensively in this article for macOS, Windows, and Linux computers. The article also helps you determine your processor clock speeds and whether the laptop has a DDR3 or DDR4 RAM, since both values govern your purchase decision.
Factors that Govern RAM Upgrade Limits
Every computer chipset has limits in terms of the RAM it can support. The final amount of RAM you can upgrade to depends on the following factors.
1. Number of memory slots
First, know whether your motherboard has two, three or four memory slots. (Again, this topic has been covered in the previous article.) To reduce stress on the computer, it’s always better to divide your RAM between the multiple slots. The processor should be able to access all available slots at the same time. Therefore, for a two-slot motherboard, a 2×8 GB RAM is always superior to a 1×16 GB RAM.
2. Operating system
Your operating system gives an indication of the maximum upgradable RAM. For example, Windows 10 Professional may support up to 2 TB compared to 128 GB for Windows 10 Home. However, these operating system limits are “only theoretical.” In the end, everything boils down to how much your processor and memory slots can accommodate. The actual RAM values would be far less compared to your operating system limits.
3. Clock speed
If you are adding more RAM to your machine, make sure the newly added RAM is running at the same clock speed as your existing RAM.
If you are switching out your existing RAM with a new set of RAM, make sure the RAM you upgrade to matches your processor’s clock speed. When they are not same, the processor has to wait until the RAM supplies it with instructions, wasting precious computing time. That said, some amount of overclocking is permissible within certain limits. If a processor runs at a clock speed of 2666 MHz for DDR4, then you can easily find a 2666 MHz DDR4 RAM online. And that is what we recommend here!
One thing, though – this is not a hard rule. Don’t be too upset if your RAM’s clock speed doesn’t match your processor clock speed. It won’t affect your computer performance a great deal.
How Much RAM Is “Too Much?”
Your processor’s specifications hold the key to how much RAM is too much for your computer. For Intel, you can find how much maximum RAM your processor will support at this link. An example is shown here.
The processor, Intel Core i5-10400T, can support two slots (memory channels) for a “theoretical” combined maximum memory size of 128 GB. In practice, however, you will be hard-pressed to find a single stick 64 GB DDR4 RAM multiplied by two, which is both affordable and compatible with your laptop or PC model.
Typically, buying a pair of single-stick 64 GB DDR4 can set you back a whopping $1024 ($512×2). Instead of going for such an overpriced, single 64 GB stick, you could instead upgrade to a new laptop running Core i7 or even Core i9.
Moreover, you don’t want to underutilize your RAM, so even 64 GB is not a good choice. Thus, this 32 GB DDR4 RAM, 2666 MHz (2×16 GB) is the maximum RAM upgrade for your Core i5 with two slots, costing less than $160. In this particular example, the maximum upgradable RAM is one-fourth the theoretical limit. Thus, in this example, anything more than 32 GB is way too much!
Discussed here is the analytical process to determine optimal RAM values for any given Intel chipset. You can similarly perform due diligence for AMD Ryzen processors at this link.
How Much RAM Should I Get in 2020?
The above section gives a quantitative overview of maximum possible RAM upgrades for any given chipset. However, even then you don’t want to stretch it to its full limit. That is why we summarized our recommendations with a more realistic and optimal RAM upgrade value.
As of 2020, 16 GB or even 8 GB RAM is sufficient for browsing, software development, full-HD video entertainment, and most business activities. If you play heavy-duty games, you will probably need more GPU memory than physical RAM, and a 16 GB maximum RAM can easily support most games out there. This is the ideal RAM we recommend upgrading to if your device does not already support it.
The good thing about RAM is that it is generally inexpensive and will get cheaper as time goes by. It is pointless to upgrade your RAM right now to crazy limits such as 64 or 128 GB and underutilize it. Even when you have the need to upgrade to 32 GB of RAM (from 16GB) in the future, you can be sure it will be much cheaper than the price you are paying now.