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RAM 101

Along with a processor, hard drive and peripherals, RAM keeps a computer functioning. The term gets used often in discussions about computers, and while most users have an idea of what it entails, they only have a basic understanding. Knowing the specifics of what type of RAM to use, as well as how much, can affect how well a system works.

What is RAM?

RAM, an acronym for Random-Access Memory, gives a computer the means to store data to be worked on in realtime. Any process the computer undergoes, whether editing a document, browsing a webpage or watching a video, requires RAM. The size of the file takes up the equivalent amount of memory.

Information in RAM only exists while the file is open. It can be saved to a hard drive as permanent storage. If a sudden shutdown occurs, whatever was in RAM disappears.

RAM comes in the form of expansion cards that fit into specific slots on a motherboard. These slots run in parallel groups. Removing them requires unlocking the retaining clamps and puling by gripping the edges of the module. Never grip the metal contacts; doing so can cause problems with the transmission of current.

What Does RAM Do?

RAM provides a source of temporary memory from which the processor can retrieve, process, and output data from whatever files or programs are active. It's faster and easier for the computer to maintain active files in RAM rather than attempting to read from or write to the hard drive.

The processor communicates with RAM millions or billions of times per second. The measuremnt of this frequency is MegaHertz, for millions of hertz. Gigahertz, or billions of hertz, sees more common use because processors and RAM continue to increase in speed.

RAM holds data at whatever portion of its memory is available, or memory addresses. The processor, when it recieves input from the user, looks in the appropriate memory section of the RAM, processes the information, and outputs it through the monitor, speakers, or other peripheral.

How Much RAM Do You Need?

The amount of RAM that is best for a computer depends on what the user intends to do with it. The operating system alone requires a sizeable amount; Windows 10 needs 2GB to run. Double that amount to 4GB to get the most basic functionality out of a system.

For basic tasks, 4 GB should be enough. Most users will want to multitask, having multiple browser tabs and documents open. Depending on how extensively the user multitasks and how powerful the applications are, the recommended requirement can reach 8GB.

For users who frequently work on high-power apps, like graphics design, or do a lot of PC gaming, the RAM requirements can be even steeper. Anywhere from 8GB to 16GB will work.

Is More Better?

In most cases, more is indeed better. For example, if a user has a desktop computer he intendes to keep for several years, adding more RAM can help the machine keep pace with the incrasing memory requirements of new programs.

An ultimate limit for RAM exists for every computer: what the motherboard and processor aredesigned to support. Outside of overclocking a sytem - which voids the warranty in most cases - there is no way to increase the systme beyond a certain level of performace wthout replacing the motherboard and processor. At that point, buying a new system is more cost-effective.


RAM with higher frequencies is faster, which gives it the ability to work more efficiently with the processor than slower RAM. Again, the limit is what the processor and motherboard can support. Computer specs for a system exist in the user manual or online.