RAM (Random Access Memory), also referred to as system memory, is a computer part which temporarily carries software and files in current use. It enables the processor to access data much faster in comparison to storage devices such as hard drives or solid state drives. HDDs and SSDs hold software and files in a more permanent way, until a user uninstalls or deletes them. Data in RAM is loaded from these storage devices. On the other side, software is removed from RAM when an application is closed or operating system and computer are shut down. The most important positive effect of having a larger RAM size in a laptop or other kind of computer is its greater multi-tasking potential or capability to run more programs simultaneously without slowing down overall computing speed or crashing the operating system. In this article we will explain how many Gigabytes of RAM you actually need and how does its size and other characteristics affect laptops’ performance.
Common Laptop RAM Sizes
The most common RAM size you can find in laptop PCs nowadays is 4GB. Some lowest-end models come with only 2GB. It appears 8GB is slowly becoming the new standard for the mainstream laptops, but right now it’s still predominantly used in higher-end models, together with 12GB and 16GB. You can find gaming laptops and mobile workstations with 24 or even 32 Gigabytes, too. Available laptop memory modules (SODIMM format versus desktop-use DIMM) have either 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB capacity. 16GB SODIMM modules are still a rarity and aren’t compatible with many notebook models on the market. 6GB SODIMMs don’t exist on the market. Select laptops do come with 6GB RAM, but these have a 4GB module paired with a 2GB module. Today’s laptops usually have two RAM slots. Some small and budget models have with only one or no slots. The latter have RAM soldered onto the motherboard. On the other side, select gaming and mobile workstation notebooks have four.
How Much RAM You Need in Laptop with Windows?
The best way to find out how much RAM you need in a laptop or any other kind of computer is to calculate it by summing RAM footprints of software you typically use. In the table below, you can see typical RAM usage of Windows 8.1 operating system and its background services, as well as RAM usage of some popular Windows software and game titles. Using the table, you can easily calculate what RAM capacity you need and how many programs you can run at the same time without exceeding RAM size and choking the system. For instance, if you add heavy web browsing in Chrome and 10 images opened in Paint.net image editor on top of RAM used by OS itself and an antivirus running in the background (Avast for example), you will get a needed RAM amount of at least 2.64 Gigabytes. Or, if you run only the latest Call of Duty game on Windows with no additional programs opened you’ll need more than 4GB right of the bat.
|Software||RAM Usage in Gigabytes (GB)*|
|Windows 8.1 (Latest, with Default Services Running) – Idle||1.20|
|Avast Security Software: Idle||0.03|
|Avast Security Software: Antivirus Scan||0.05|
|Chrome: Light Web Browsing (Facebook, NBA.com, Gmail and Google Search opened)||0.30|
|Internet Explorer: Light Web Browsing (Facebook, NBA.com, Gmail and Google Search opened)||0.28|
|Chrome: Heavy Web Browsing (Facebook, NBA.com, Gmail, Google Search, 9GAG, Reddit, Pinterest, and 10-Minute YouTube 480p video opened)||0.70|
|Internet Explorer: Heavy Web Browsing (Facebook, NBA.com, Gmail, Google Search, 9GAG, Reddit, Pinterest, and 10-Minute YouTube 480p video
|YouTube 10-Minute 1080p Video Playback in Chrome||0.35|
|YouTube 10-Minute 1080p Video Playback in Internet Explorer||0.40|
|VLC Media Player: 120-Minute 1080p Video Playback||0.10|
|Windows Media Player: 4-Minute MP3 Audio Track Playback||0.01|
|Windows Photo Viewier: 4928x3264px Photo Opened||0.02|
|Microsoft Word: 1,000-Word 1-Image Document Editing||0.10|
|Excel: 100-Row 10-Column Spreadsheet Editing||0.03|
|Adobe Reader: 100-Page PDF Document Viewing||0.09|
|Paint.net Image Editor: 1 5MB 4928x3264px Photo Opened||0.10|
|Paint.net Image Editor: 10 5MB 4928x3264px Photos Opened||0.71|
|Paint.net Image Editor: Applying Blur Effect on 5MB 4928x3264px Photo||0.17|
|Windows Movie Maker: Importing 5-Minute 1080p Video for Editing (Transcoding)||0.16|
|Windows Movie Maker: Editing 1080p Video with Transition Effects||0.10|
|Windows Movie Maker: Exporting 1080p MOV Video to MP4 File||0.75|
|Skype: Voice Call||0.20|
|uTorrent: Movie Download||0.09|
|Steam Game Client||0.01|
|League of Legends Game||0.75|
|Counter Strike – Global Offensive Game||1.10|
|Dota 2 Game||1.00|
|The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim Game||0.50|
|Call of Duty – Advanced Warfare Game||3.70|
*Values in the table are approximate.
As a side note, if you own a laptop with integrated graphics, such as the Intel HD series, it will take a certain amount of RAM for graphics processing purposes. For instance, the Intel HD in a laptop with 4GB reduces the available size to 3.9GB by default. During gaming, it can occupy up to 2GB. Discrete laptop video cards like the Nvidia GeForce series don’t use RAM for graphics, since they have their own dedicated video memory.
It’s also worth noting that 32-bit versions of operating systems can’t utilize more than 4GB of RAM, even if you physically have more in your laptop. Thankfully, most laptops on the market have 64-bit Windows pre-installed.
RAM and Laptop’s Performance
If your RAM needs exceed the amount you have in your computer and you still decide to run all programs you wish at the same time, that doesn’t mean your system will automatically crash. Windows will use your notebook’s storage space – hard drive or solid state drive – for RAM purposes thanks to so called virtual memory technology. But that’ll slow down operation a lot, since reading and writing data on HDDs and SSDs is much slower in comparison with RAM’s read/write speeds. In the worst case scenario, the system will become completely unresponsive, so you’ll have to restart it by pressing the power button on your machine and lose unsaved documents you worked on during the session.
On the other side, having a large RAM size in cases your usage doesn’t exceed it has no significant positive impact on overall performance of the system. True, having larger RAM than needed won’t hurt. SuperFetch technology included in Windows 8 and 7 will make use of it. SuperFetch monitors which applications you run often and pre-loads them into free RAM space. This enables faster loading of commonly used software, without reducing multitasking performance of already opened programs.
What can also have an effect performance-wise, but a minor one, is speed of memory. More precisely, speed of communication between RAM and the processor. Motherboards and processors of modern laptops usually support 1,600 MHz memory speed. So, when buying a notebook or memory modules for an upgrade, you should look for 1,600 MHz memory and avoid slower ones, such as those at 1333 or 1066 MHz. Faster SODIMM modules at 1866 MHz and 2133 MHz do exist too, but only a few notebook processor / motherboard combinations support them at the time of this writing.
Other RAM characteristics such as latencies and single-channel versus dual-channel RAM configurations are maybe important for PC enthusiasts who want to make use of every bit of PCs’ potential, but they don’t impact performance in a meaningful way for the vast majority of laptop users. In short, if other parameters are the same, lower latency and use of dual-channel memory setups (i.e. 2 x 4GB versus 1 x 8GB) are better.
As for RAM upgrades, it’s important to know there are different types of SODIMM memory, such as DDR3, DDR3L, or older DDR2 and DDR. If you plan to upgrade RAM in your laptop these differences are of a crucial importance, since RAM modules have to be compatible with the device you’re upgrading. To find out which RAM module you need for an upgrade, you can check out online compatibility tools, such as this one by Crucial.
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