What Is RAM? Here’s Everything to Know

Every time you look at the specs for a laptop or desktop, you’ll see references to RAM. Some machines have a higher amount of memory to handle bigger tasks like video editing, while some have much less. But what is it? And how do you know if you have enough RAM?

Computer components can be a little tricky to figure out at first, so we’ve explained how RAM works, how much you need, some tips for buying it, and a few important laptop RAM considerations in this guide.

What is RAM?

“RAM” stands for random access memory. It’s a type of information storage found in every laptop and desktop PC, among other devices. It’s incredibly fast, but it only works while the system is turned on. That makes it very different from your PC’s hard drive (HDD) or solid state drive (SSD).

How does RAM work?

RAM is temporary storage that operates at high speeds, and your PC or Mac uses it for instant memory capacity. It’s fundamentally different from the permanent storage of an HDD or SSD because it’s nearly 30 times faster.

Computers use RAM for immediate data storage. For example, if you copy some text to paste into another application, that text is stored in RAM rather than on your hard drive. Instant-messaging apps, web browsers, and your operating system all use RAM to store and restore data as quickly as possible.

How much RAM do I need?

If you only use your PC or laptop for web browsing and office software, your computer needs at least 8GB of memory. It requires more RAM for more powerful applications like video and photo editing, data science software, and 3D design.

Gamers should ensure that the next system they buy has at least 16GB of memory. That’s enough for mainstream photo-editing and video work, too.

If you want to speed up your media work, design apps, or database utilities, consider getting 32GB of computer memory. Some high-end tools work better with 64GB of memory, but it’s rare to need that much. You also have to pair it with equally powerful components, such as a solid GPU and CPU, for starters.

Top tips for buying

If you’re upgrading your computer’s short-term memory, following a few key tips can make your buying experience easier and more successful.

DDR4 RAM

DDR4 RAM is an acronym that stands for “double data rate, fourth generation random access memory.” It’s the newest of all the types of RAM on the market, and also the speediest, since every generation of RAM doubles the speed of the one before.

No matter what DDR4 you decide to slot into your motherboard, you should divide the total across two RAM sticks. This “dual-channel” configuration means your PC has twice the bandwidth available to fling files back and forth. If you rely on a single stick, your computer will be slower.

RAMming speed

Memory speed is important, too. Generally, you should buy the fastest system memory possible and there are some useful rules of thumb to follow. If you head beyond 3200MHz, you’ll spend more and get diminishing returns when it comes to performance. Only spring for top-level if you need every ounce of pace.

If you have an Intel processor, you’ll be fine with DDR4 clocked between 2666MHz and 3000MHz. If your PC uses an AMD CPU, you can buy memory at 3000MHz or beyond, because AMD chips are more receptive to higher speeds.

What about laptop memory?

Desktop RAM is relatively simple: buy DDR4 RAM. Buying memory for laptops involves considering a few more details.

When you buy a large laptop or a gaming machine, it’ll likely come with DDR4 memory just like your desktop PC. You’ll get the same speeds and the same amount as with a desktop.

Most mainstream laptops use LPDDR4 memory instead, which is a low-powered version of DDR4. It’s ideal for laptops because it offers premium power while extending battery life. But it doesn’t carry quite as much bandwidth as desktop DDR4.

Some laptops use LPDDR4X RAM, which is a faster version of LPDDR4. Some still use LPDDR3, but it’s best to avoid these types of memory chips. DDR3 is an older and slower kind of short-term memory.

If you’re in the market for new memory, Adorama has got you covered. We carry high-end desktop hardware and affordable options from brands like Crucial, Patriot, and PNY, and we sell a full range of laptop memory modules, too.