How Random Access Memory (RAM) Affects Performance

Computer RAM image

“I want to add more RAM to my system”. It is a request we get often from users frustrated with their system performance. But should you add more RAM and will that actually help in alleviating system slowness? Follow along to find out if that’s the case.

What is Random Access Memory (RAM)?

RAM is made of one or multiple chips that are either plugged into your main logic board, or sometimes soldered to the board. It helps programs like Chrome, Excel and even Windows or MacOS to run. When not loaded into the RAM, these programs are ‘dormant’ and they simply reside on your hard drive.

Close up of ram

What Does RAM Do?

RAM is being used when we launch applications. In other words, applications like Chrome or Word are ‘dormant’ and ‘sit’ on your internal storage which we will call a hard drive since everyone is more familiar with this term. When we launch these applications, they ‘load’ into the RAM and take up a specific amount of it. The more applications we open, the more RAM is being used. However, closing those applications will unload the RAM making it available for the next application to use. That is what makes RAM ‘volatile memory’. You can look at RAM as a place where applications can fully ‘expand’ and become malleable. The CPU can perform changes to these programs while loaded into RAM, and once done they can be closed and saved back to the disk.

There are three major components in any computer that affect overall performance. These are the CPU or the brain of the computer, the storage device, which could be a conventional magnetic hard drive or a solid-state drive, and the RAM or Random Access Memory. They all work together as a team and are heavily dependent on each other. If any of them is falling behind, then the entire team and system will suffer performance issues.

Whenever you use a program on your computer, the CPU is performing calculations (or changes to that program) and stores these in the RAM temporarily. Take for example opening a word document. When you open that specific document, Microsoft Word, along with the document itself loads into the RAM. The CPU is performing operations or changes on your document as you type and ‘hold’ these changes into the RAM until you ‘Save’ and close Microsoft Word. When you do so, Word unloads from RAM and all those changes that were performed by the CPU into the RAM, are stored back onto your hard drive.

What Does RAM Affect?

As I mentioned before, every application you open takes up a specific amount of RAM. When you multitask and open up multiple applications, the RAM can eventually fill up, causing this specific resource to become unavailable for the proper operation of our system.

However, on most systems, both Windows and Mac, the system turns to the hard drive, when not enough memory is present for the needed tasks. This is called virtual memory or pagefile on Windows and swap file on MacOS. It is a dedicated amount of disk space that the system uses as virtualized RAM. This ensures your system does not crash in the event of insufficient RAM when opening multiple applications. When the system needs to use this virtualized memory due to insufficient RAM, it will become slower.

Does More RAM Make Your Computer Faster?

The only time upgrading the RAM will make your computer faster, is when your computer is using this specific resource at 100%. It makes no sense to add more RAM if the entire amount is not being utilized. Your computer will run just as fast with 30% or 70% of RAM available. So in order to determine if adding RAM will improve performance, is by checking how much is being utilized when using the computer at maximum capacity.

How To Check Your RAM On Windows PC

Finding out how much RAM you are using at any given time is easy. Just launch Task Manager by hitting Ctrl+Shift+Esc keys simultaneously or simply by typing ‘taskmgr’ in the search bar and hitting enter. You will be presented with a real-time resources consumption table, that should help you identify how much RAM you are using while working on your computer.

On the ‘Processes’ tab, look at the ‘Memory’ column and check the percentage of RAM you are using. This will fluctuate up and down in real-time, according to how many programs or services are needing access to the memory. Should the percentage get close to 100% utilization, then adding more RAM will surely improve your system’s performance. Otherwise, check the other resources like CPU and Disk, as they may be the ones slowing down your computer.

Task manager screenshot

How To Check Your RAM On a Mac

On a mac computer, you want to launch the ‘Activity Monitor’ tool. You can either launch it from Finder, by navigating to the /Applications/Utilities folder, or if unsure how to do that, by typing ‘Activity Monitor’ in your search (search can be started by pressing command+space keys simultaneously or by clicking on the magnifier in the upper right corner).

Once in Activity Monitor, select the ‘Memory’ tab up top and check the amount of ‘Physical Memory’ installed on your mac as well as the amount of ‘Memory Used’. These are displayed at the bottom of the window, as you can see in the screenshot below. If when using the mac, the amount of ‘Memory Used’ gets close to the amount of ‘Physical Memory’, then chances are you need to upgrade the RAM.

Unfortunately, many new MacBook laptops nowadays come with RAM soldered to the board and it cannot be upgraded. However, most iMacs as well as some MacBooks can still be upgraded. If you would like to know if the RAM on your mac is upgradeable, you can check websites like Type in your mac serial number and your product should show up. Check the ‘Tech Specs’ page and it will state if the RAM is upgradable or not.

Activity Monitor Screenshot

Should You Upgrade Your Ram?

You should only upgrade your RAM if you notice a performance issue and only after you have proven that the performance is indeed affected by the lack of RAM, by following the procedure described above. Always remember to check with your friend Task Manager, which will give you a clear view of which specific resource is slowing down your computer.

Key Takeaways

Just because your computer is acting slow, doesn’t necessarily mean that increasing the amount of RAM will solve the problem. We first need to determine which resource is under heavy stress and act accordingly. Narrowing this down shouldn’t be too hard, but upgrading your system may be a bit more complicated. While a lot of desktop computers allow easy access to the memory RAM, numerous laptops or all-in-one computers out there will require a trained technician to perform this task. Should you need help troubleshooting your computer’s slowness or upgrading it, EezIT’s computer repair technicians are here to help. Contact us for more information, or book an appointment with one of our techs.