The easiest way to describe RAM for computers is to use the analogy of human memory.
RAM stands for ‘Random Access Memory’ and describes a type of memory that PCs use. However, what’s important to note is that this type of memory is different from the hard drive memory that you use to save files and install software.
That’s because RAM is short term and is used for running programs. And to describe this in human terms, you can think of your own ‘working memory’.
How RAM Works
Working memory describes the type of memory we use to hold numbers in our head and to perform maths. If someone asks you to do some complex math, then you need to remember the numbers involved while performing the sum and possibly carry some numbers over. This requires ‘memory’ but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to remember those numbers for ever – they haven’t gone into your hard drive or ‘long term memory’.
RAM works very similarly to this but of course there are differences. For instance, one thing you do with RAM that doesn’t really happen with human memory, is to ‘load’ things into it. If you have a piece of software installed on your hard drive and you want to run it, then you’ll load it and this basically moves some aspects into the RAM to work with.
This is why computers with more RAM are better at multitasking and running multiple pieces of software at once.
All computers need some RAM then but the amount of RAM you choose will depend on how much multitasking you do. Your phone has little need to run many things at once for instance and so probably has 2GB or 3GB of RAM maximum. It could make do with just 1!
For a decent PC though, 4GB is probably the lower end of what you can get away with. But if you’re a performance nut you’ll want to go much higher. 8GB or 16GB can do pretty much anything you could want to do but you can get individual sticks of RAM up to 32GB or even 64GB. And seeing as you can have more than one stick installed at once, you can really go as high as you want to.
But this gets very expensive. And the question you have to ask is whether you really are ever going to need that much RAM… Your CPU and GPU will have much more of an influence on your computer’s performance so once you’ve gone up to 16GB or even 8GB you’re probably better off spending your money elsewhere.
Types of RAM
More important is to make sure that the RAM you do have is as fast as possible. This means you’re going to be looking at getting either DDR, DDR2 or DDR3. You’ll hear people refer to DDR4 and DDR5 but really they’re only applicable for GPUs. But if you’ve in the process of building a PC and you’re currently absolutely fed up of complicated numbers and options there’s good news – DDR3 has pretty much replaced DDR and DDR2 and so you’ll never really have any reason to look for anything else. You need to make sure that your motherboard supports the type of RAM you’re planning to get but if you bought this recently, you can all but guarantee it will be DDR3, which means it will be nice and nippy. (DDR stands for Double Date Rate.)
Note that your mother board also determines how much RAM you can install at any point, so it’s important to take this into account right at the start when choosing one.