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How to Choose the Correct RAM Upgrade

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Think of Random Access Memory (RAM), sometimes referred to simply as memory, as the short-term memory of your computer. RAM data can be recalled without having to access the hard drive, which is why having the right amount of memory in your computer directly correlates with performance.  Without diving too deeply into the science behind computer memory, understand that RAM lets your computer run faster and more smoothly—especially when multi-tasking—if you are someone who likes to have several programs open at once.

Why might you consider a RAM upgrade?

Making a RAM upgrade is a question of performance. If you notice that performance is slower than you would like it to be during a specific time, the Task Manager in Windows is a good way to check whether you are overtaxing your available RAM.

Open the Task Manager in Windows 7 or Windows 8 by pressing ALT + CTL + DEL. Click the Performance tab. The box called Physical Memory (MB) gauges your RAM usage.

task manager

A good rule of thumb is that if the Available Memory is less than 25 percent of your Total Memory, a RAM upgrade will provide a tangible performance boost for the end user.

Watch your RAM performance especially when you open a new application. If this occurs slower than you would like, and you notice that usage spikes closer to 100 percent of capacity, then a RAM upgrade might serve you well.

Finding the right RAM upgrade for your system

First, note that laptop memory and desktop memory are different and not interchangeable! Let this be the first step in selecting the right RAM for your specific computer.

The two components that most affect the type of RAM you should select are your motherboard and your operating system.

The operating system you are running can affect the maximum amount of RAM you can use in your computer. The maximum RAM limit for 32-bit Windows 7 edition is 4 GB. Here are the limits for other Windows 7 editions:

  • Windows 7 Home Basic: 8 GB
  • Windows 7 Home Premium: 16 GB
  • Windows 7 Professional: 192 GB
  • Enterprise: 192 GB
  • Ultimate: 192 GB

For Windows 8.1 32-bit, the limit is 4 GB of RAM. For the other Windows 8 editions:

Your computer’s motherboard will also determine RAM capacity, as it has a limited number of dual in-line memory module slots (DIMM slots) which is where you plug in the RAM. Consult your computer or motherboard manual to find this information.

Additionally, the motherboard determines what kind of RAM you should pick. The most common varieties for desktop PCs include:

  • DDR2 SDRAM (double data rate synchronous dynamic random-access memory) – Commonly found in computers made after 2003.
  • DDR3 SDRAM (double data rate type three synchronous dynamic random-access memory) – Found in computers made after 2007.
  • DDR4 SDRAM (double data rate fourth generation synchronous dynamic random-access memory) – The newest generation of RAM that is found in the latest PC builds.

There are other RAM specifications to note as well:

  • Speed (MHz) – Unless you are benchmarking performance you probably will not notice the difference between an 1866 MHz memory module and one that is 1333 MHz. Speed considerations are more important for server workstations that handle larger computing loads.
  • Timings (Latency) – Timing or latency of RAM is represented as four numerals separated by dashes. Typically, lower numbers mean better performance.
  • Multi-Channel Kits – If your motherboard supports multi-channel memory, a matching kit optimizes performance. To accommodate this, RAM can be shopped on the basis of system-specific memory.

Tools for finding the right RAM upgrade for your system

NeweggBusiness has a memory finder built into our site. It provides vendor-neutral specifications and product suggestions to locate find memory that fits a specific system. You can access it here.

Several memory vendors have similar tools. Remember to shop smart—write down the model numbers suggested by these tools and check the pricing against the NeweggBusiness memory store.

Select a brand to start your search

Related content

Please share any additional tips for choosing a RAM upgrade in the comments section.

Photo by Matsouka Kahei, from Flickr Creative Commons
How to Choose the Correct RAM Upgrade
Article Name
How to Choose the Correct RAM Upgrade
Random Access Memory (RAM) helps your computer run faster when multi-tasking. Here is what to take into account for making a RAM upgrade.
Adam Lovinus

Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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