What Is RAM in a PC? All Questions Answered

Ram Feature

If you’ve ever shopped for a laptop and seen a specification say “4GB RAM” or “8GB RAM,” you may have asked yourself, “What is RAM? Why do I need it? How much do I need?” Today, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the basics of RAM.

What Is RAM?

RAM, or Random Access Memory, is the place in your computer for temporary storage of your files and applications. The need for RAM arises because the hard disk speed cannot keep up with the CPU speed. RAM has a much higher frequency than a hard disk, which makes it ideal for storing temporary files so the CPU can process them faster without having to wait for a slow hard disk.

When you click on an icon on your computer, such as your browser, your computer finds that program on your hard drive and loads that into RAM for you to use.

One thing to note is that the file on the RAM is volatile, which means it is not permanent. Once you power off the computer, all RAM data is lost. If you’ve ever been working on something and your laptop died before you were able to save it, you lost your data because you were working on that document in RAM and it wasn’t saved back to your hard drive yet.

Is RAM the Same as Memory? 

Remember that RAM stands for Random Access Memory. In short, the terms RAM and memory refer to the same thing.

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Why Is RAM Important?

RAM is critical for the speed and usability of a system. Especially when we had much slower hard drives, it would have taken an excruciating amount of time to do anything. It’s a really fast staging area, temporary storage for the processes that your computer is working on.

For a vast majority of applications, using your hard drive is essential to a good experience. For example, if you think about your web browser, whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, you have tracking cookies and stored passwords. If your browser had to go all the way to your hard drive for absolutely every tracking cookie and password, it would be unbelievably slow. 

Why Does Getting More RAM Make My System Run Faster?

As mentioned earlier, the RAM is the buffer for the hard disk, as it stores temporary files for the CPU to process. If you only have a small amount of RAM, once it is full, the computer starts spilling its contents onto the hard drive (in a special location known as the page file/virtual memory/swap), which is a much slower piece of hardware. Once virtual memory fills up, your computer slows to a crawl. Your mouse may even fail to move, or your clicks may receive no response.

When you increase the amount of RAM in your system, you are increasing the buffer for your hard disk so your content won’t be spilled onto the virtual memory.

How Much RAM Do You Need?

That’s a question that depends on why you’re using that computer. For the majority of people, I would say that around 8GB of RAM is plenty; most modern machines ship with that much anyways. If you’re hoping to play video games, you may want to push that up to 16GB of RAM. For more memory-intensive applications, like running Virtual Machines or compiling large code bases, I would recommend upwards of 32 to 64 GB of RAM. . 

Now that you’ve learned what RAM is on a laptop and the basics of RAM, make sure to check out more articles on RAM and learn about RAM timing, how to check RAM health in Windows 10, and how to free up RAM in Windows 10.

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John Perkins John Perkins

John is a young technical professional with a passion for educating users on the best ways to use their technology. He holds technical certifications covering topics ranging from computer hardware to cybersecurity to Linux system administration.

4 comments

  1. “How Much RAM Do You Need?”
    As much as you can afford.

    As they say in muscle car circles “There’s no replacement for displacement”. The more RAM you have, the better.

  2. It seems as if you’re implying that computers can work without RAM, they will only be unbearably slow, even with SSDs; this is not true. They will not work at all without RAM.

    1. It’s absolutely true that modern computers were engineered to only work with memory, but that’s just a matter of the engineering.

      I’m not implying anything. It’s absolutely theoretically possible. Look at the IBM 650, where they had a similar mechanism to a spinning magnetic hard drive for memory. It was incredibly slow.

      It is theoretically possible to run a computer without any memory if they were engineered to. Think of virtual memory / page files / swap partitions. It’s using storage as extra, slower memory.

      1. “It is theoretically possible to run a computer without any memory if they were engineered to.”
        That statement is true ONLY if you define “memory” as RAM chip(s). Without SOME kind of memory the Boot or IPL (Initial Program Load) process will not be able to run. The IBM 650 you mention was specifically designed to use a rotating magnetic drum, instead of RAM chips, as its memory.

        The 650 was “incredibly slow” because ALL computers of that time were “incredible slow” in comparison to today’s.

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