I was in Best Buy the other day, drooling over a couple of new computers that I neither need nor can afford, and I overheard a woman talking to two salespeople about what computer to buy. They were telling her that she really wants an i3 processor, but she’s going to need at least 2GB of RAM to run Windows 7 properly and that an SSD is great but expensive. The woman looked helplessly around, and goes, “I don’t know any of what you just said.”
I’m pretty sure she’s not alone in that. Most of us, when buying technology of any kind, get benchmarks, specs and features thrown at us without any idea of what they mean, or how we can use them. So I’m going to try and fix that, along with help from some smart people who know more about these things than I do.
The first task is RAM. Next to hard drive space, RAM is the most commonly talked about feature in a computer – but what is it? And how much do you need? To answer this question, I enlisted Michael Blumreich, a contributor to LaptopReviews.com.
RAM, also known as the Big Horned Sheep or scientifically as Ovis Canadensis…I’m kidding! RAM stands for Random Access Memory and is an incredibly important part of your computer setup. It’s your computer’s temporary storage, where instructions from programs and files in use are stored for quick access. The memory can be accessed “randomly,” meaning any particular point can be grabbed, instead of the hard drive, which has to go through everything in a particular order to find the right thing. RAM is the iTunes library to the hard drive’s vinyl collection.
Generally, more RAM is better. Before you get too excited and go and load up your computer with a ton of RAM thinking it will make everything better and faster, though, we need to lay down a few facts.
What exactly is RAM?
Like I said above, RAM is Random Access Memory. Think of it like this: if you call ahead (opening a program) and have something waiting for you at the front desk of (the RAM), then when you come to get it (using the program) it is right there ready to go! If your computer didn’t have RAM, every time you wanted to access a program or use it, it would take a lot longer (like going through the entire store searching for what you need, even though you’ve asked for it a hundred times.)
So more RAM = better, right?
I hate to burst your bubble, but not exactly. The RAM in your computer doesn’t determine the speed, (that still depends on your processor) but what RAM does is give your processor (and you) more room for multi-tasking (such as having multiple windows and programs open at once). You need to remember this if you don’t get anything else out of this article: if you don’t have a good processor (a dual core is the minimum), then don’t bother getting more RAM!
What do you actually need?
You can buy pre-configured computers with 1 GB of RAM and sometimes more, and if you are an average user this will be fine. When it comes to customizing options for computers, RAM can hurt you, or help you. The last thing you want is to not get enough RAM and have your computer not running to its full potential, meaning you’ll eventually have to upgrade. The opposite end of that, though is overloading your computer with RAM that you won’t use and spending some unnecessary cash.
For the average to slightly above average user, 1-3 GB of RAM is perfect (depending on the programs you will be running). If most of what you are running is an Internet browser, a couple of Microsoft Office programs, AIM and iTunes, 1-3 GB of RAM will be perfect. For the power user running the calculations, the intense games and the like, you will need more, to ensure your computer doesn’t skip or lag or slow down while the hard drive constantly searches for things. Your best bet is 4-8 GB of RAM depending on what you are doing and how much you are doing, though RAM can get expensive by the time you get up to those numbers.
Hopefully now you know what RAM is and how it works/what it does. Like I said, don’t go crazy and buy up all the RAM you can, make sure you start with a good base and depending on the user you are, add the RAM accordingly. Happy Computing!
Michael Blumreich is a contributor for the aptly named LaptopReviews.com. He’s currently a university student and lover of all things tech.