- Most users need about 8 GB of RAM, but to use several apps at once, you might need 16 GB or more.
- If you don't have enough RAM, your computer will run slowly and apps will lag.
- VRAM is located on your graphics card and stores temporary graphical data from apps and games.
RAM, short for random access memory, is a vital component of your desktop or laptop computer, and even your smartphone or tablet.
However, nearly every device has a different amount of RAM. And despite how important it is, tech manufacturers don't always make it easy to tell how much you'll need.
Here's a guide to why RAM is important, how much you'll likely need, and whether it's worth it to add more RAM.
RAM is an essential part of any computer
If you plan on multitasking on your computer — even if that just means having multiple apps open at once — then you're relying heavily on your system's RAM. Without adequate RAM, multitasking can slow your device down to a crawl.
You can think of RAM as your device's short term memory. When you leave a program running in the background, RAM keeps track of where you left off, so you can switch back to it without waiting for it to load again. This goes for browser tabs too, which is great if you're the type to leave dozens of tabs open at once.
This means that if you don't have enough RAM, your device will be frustratingly slow to respond when you try to switch tasks.
How much RAM do you need?
8 GB is the standard amount of RAM for your average desktop computer. Past that, many people go up to 16 GB, and occasionally users will go for 32 GB.
RAM is contained inside "memory sticks" in your computer. When buying RAM, you'll see that these sticks come in various combinations — for example, if you're getting 16 GB, you can buy it in:
- One 16 GB stick
- Two 8 GB sticks
- Four 4 GB sticks
And so on. The combination you get doesn't really matter. You just need to make sure that it all fits into your computer case, and is compatible with the rest of your computer's parts.
So how much RAM do you need?
8 GB RAM
If you spend most of your computer time composing Word documents and playing Solitaire, your PC probably doesn't need a significant amount of RAM. The standard 8 GB will do fine, as it can cover most of your basic computer needs. You'll even be able to open a couple of tabs in your browser without experiencing a huge hit on performance.
If you like using design software, you might be able to get away with the less resource-demanding options like basic Blender or Photoshop projects. Your computer might struggle with something like Maya or Unreal Engine 5.
And if you're into modern gaming, you can comfortably play a few titles, but shouldn't expect your PC to run Cyberpunk 2077 without a hitch since the recommended RAM is 12 GB.
16 GB RAM
To meet the demands of modern software, 16 GB of RAM is what most people will need. This amount will help strike a good balance between running standing and resource-hungry apps on your computer. So if you're prone to opening lots of tabs in Google Chrome, you find that your computer will barely complain.
Also, gamers will find that 16 GB meets the need to run demanding games on their highest settings (although other factors like graphics card and CPU speed play a role). It's also ideal for artists who'd work with Photoshop, Blender, and Adobe Premier professionals, but as the projects get more and more complex, they'll eventually need more RAM.
32 GB RAM
If all you want to do is work with standard apps and on the internet and play games, then 32 GB is kind of too much. As mentioned 16 GB is more than suitable for most people and even gives some extra wiggle room to push their PC to the limit without running into significant bottlenecks.
However, if you're a professional designer or editor whose projects tend to get complex, then 32 GB is ideal. For instance, if you're rendering 4K resolution videos or textures in Adobe Premiere or Photoshop, you'll need at least 32 GB RAM.
RAM on phones and tablets
As far as phones and tablets go, there's been a race to the top recently when it comes to RAM.
So although you reasonably only need 4 GB of RAM on your Android or iPhone, the standard for newly released smartphones is 8 GB. And unless you're really tech savvy, you can't upgrade your phone's RAM.
What to do if you need more RAM
RAM is one of the easiest parts of a PC to upgrade. It's simply a matter of identifying how much RAM you currently have, buying more, and putting it into the correct slot inside your case. Where exactly this slot is will depend on your motherboard.
That is, if you're working with a desktop. Most modern laptops have their RAM sticks soldered in, so they can't be replaced without tearing out all the internal parts. If you want to upgrade the RAM on your laptop, you might be better off buying a new one, or sending it into a professional repair and upgrade shop.
However, upgrading your RAM can come with diminishing returns. A jump from 8 GB to 16 GB will be pretty noticeable. Unless you're doing very intensive work, 16 GB to 32 GB probably won't give your system a big boost. And past 32 GB, any boost will likely be negligible.
What is VRAM?
In addition to RAM, you also have VRAM, which stands for video RAM. VRAM is where graphically-demanding games and applications temporarily store the graphical information needed for rendering the next frame. This includes textures, images, meshes, and shaders.
VRAM is found on your graphics card (GPU), and 8 GB is usually what you'll need for most gaming or design use cases. But if you can get 12 GB of VRAM, you're guaranteed to have plenty of headroom, especially if you're fond of maxing out graphical settings.
Emma Witman is an Asheville, NC-based freelance journalist with a keen interest in writing about hardware, PC gaming, politics, and personal finance. She is a former crime reporter for a daily newspaper, and has also written extensively about bartending for Insider. She may or may not judge your drink order when behind the bar. Follow her on Twitter at @emwity.