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How to know if you need more RAM

Jeffbx 2,262 July 24, 2012 at 06:28 AM in Computers (3)
I see so many people asking this question or just way, WAY overpurchasing RAM so I thought I'd post this. There is a very simple & quick way of seeing if you actually are running low on RAM before buying 16GB (this is for Windows 7).

First, use your computer! Fire it up and launch all of the apps that you generally have going. Open a few browser tabs, get your email going, etc. Try to do an average session - don't open every app on your machine. In the example below, this is my laptop that's running Outlook, IE with several tabs, Chrome with several tabs, Notepad, Windows Explorer, a couple of chat apps, Dropbox and Snag-It.

Launch Task Manager (ctrl-alt-del & then 'start task manager'; OR right click task bar at the bottom of your screen and 'start task manager')

Switch to the 'Performance' tab
Click the 'Resource Monitor...' button at the bottom of the window, and it will pop up a window that looks like this.

There are 5 different sections of memory usage on the bar graph, but only 3 of them are really important to you.

First one (in grey) is hardware reserved - this is RAM that hardware uses & there's nothing you can do about this, so not important. This amount will generally be pretty low.

Third one (in orange) is 'Modified'. Also not very important because this amount is generally low, but this is RAM that's in use by low priority tasks that can be quickly released for other use.

The green section is important - this is the total amount of physical RAM that your machine is currently using (ignoring the swap file). In the graphic below, the machine is using 3GB of RAM.

The next important section is dark blue (labeled 'Standby') - this is actually not labeled well, as this is your free or available RAM. This is memory that's available for use by whatever application needs it next. In this example, there's 3GB of RAM just waiting to be used.

Finally, the light blue section labeled 'Free' - this is also kind of misleading, as this is more like wasted RAM, not free RAM. The memory in this section is the amount that Windows is just ignoring because it has no use for it. It's not being used & it's not ready to be used by anything - it's just sitting there doing nothing.

So, if someone were to show me this display & ask if they need more RAM I'd say no way, as a matter of fact you already have too much installed. I'm only actually using 3GB with another 3GB on standby and 2GB doing nothing at all. As it's running now, having 4GB in the machine would be fine, and having 6GB would give me a safety buffer. It's got 8GB installed (see the line highlighted in yellow), so I'm wasting 2GB because Windows simply has no use for it.


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Joined Aug 2007
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Original Poster
#61
It's absolutely a reasonable question & a topic worthy of discussion, but there's no CLEAR answer on either side as far as I've seen, which is why I didn't address it in this thread. Prior discussions here on this topic generally reach the same conclusion, which is do whatever you like and it may or may not help, depending on what articles you read & who you believe.

However, I'd encourage you to start a new thread to discuss it & link to that in the wiki of this thread.
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Joined Jun 2008
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#62
This list is great to know.

Quote from Jeffbx View Post :
Correct - here are the limits (for 64-bit, obviously)

Physical Memory Limits: Windows 7

Windows 7 Ultimate 192 GB
Windows 7 Enterprise 192 GB
Windows 7 Professional 192 GB

Windows 7 Home Premium 16 GB

Windows 7 Home Basic 8 GB

Windows 7 Starter (N/A - 32-bit only)
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#63
Quote from boltman2007 View Post :
Don't forget AutoRuns to see what gets loaded at startup... another great MS SysInternals too for Virus hunts....or what loads and uses your ram.

what the hell is autoruns? Is that a 3rd party program? I just use msconfig to see what launches.
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#64
Quote from RPGROB View Post :
what the hell is autoruns? Is that a 3rd party program? I just use msconfig to see what launches.

Autoruns is by MS try it before you deny it.
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#65
I thought we all knew what Autoruns is. (AN EXCELLENT PROGRAM)

I can also either use MSCONFIG or REGSEEKER to view my startup entries..
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#66
I have a pretty old laptop (~5 years old), with only 2 gb (1gbx2) of ram. I'm no longer in school so I only use my laptop to browse the web, check email, occasional youtube, fb, etc. I can sometimes hear my laptop "struggling" and the fan going into full gear especially when I have a bunch of tabs open in my browser. In my case, would adding 1gb of ram (replace 1gb stick with a 2gb) make any difference?

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Original Poster
#67
If that screenshot was taken while your browser was struggling, then no, more RAM won't make a difference. You've got 700MB of RAM that's sitting there unused - if you were low on memory then those blue bars would be tiny.

The fan kicking on could be perfectly normal, or it could be an indication of a heat problem. In older laptops it's not unusual for heat problems to develop over time (heh esp. if it's an HP). The thermal paste may have dried up, the heatpipe may have leaked, the fan may be gunked up, etc.

I'd start by blowing out the fan (take off the KB if you're comfortable doing that, and you may be able to get at the fan from the top). Then (I know, people hate to hear this) if it's been more than a year since you've done so, format & reload that sucker. Windows machines DO slow down over time - the hardware does not get any slower, but the OS sure does. No amount of registry cleaners or junk removers are as efficient as a format/reload, so that's generally my best recommendation to speed up an older slow machine.
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#68
Quote from Jeffbx View Post :
I see SO many people asking this question or just way, WAY overpurchasing RAM so I thought I'd post this. There is a very simple & quick way of seeing if you actually ARE running low on RAM before buying 16GB (this is for Windows 7).

First, use your computer! Fire it up and launch all of the apps that you generally have going. Open a few browser tabs, get your email going, etc. Try to do an AVERAGE session - don't open every app on your machine. In the example below, this is my laptop that's running Outlook, IE with several tabs, Chrome with several tabs, Notepad, Windows Explorer, a couple of chat apps, Dropbox and Snag-It.

Launch Task Manager (ctrl-alt-del & then 'start task manager'; OR right click task bar at the bottom of your screen and 'start task manager')

Switch to the 'Performance' tab
Click the 'Resource Monitor...' button at the bottom of the window, and it will pop up a window that looks like this.

There are 5 different sections of memory usage on the bar graph, but only 3 of them are really important to you.

First one (in grey) is hardware reserved - this is RAM that hardware uses & there's nothing you can do about this, so not important. This amount will generally be pretty low.

Third one (in orange) is 'Modified'. Also not very important because this amount is generally low, but this is RAM that's in use by low priority tasks that can be quickly released for other use.

The green section is important - this is the total amount of physical RAM that your machine is currently using (ignoring the swap file). In the graphic below, the machine is using 3GB of RAM.

The next important section is dark blue (labeled 'Standby') - this is actually not labeled well, as this is your free or available RAM. This is memory that's available for use by whatever application needs it next. In this example, there's 3GB of RAM just waiting to be used.

Finally, the light blue section labeled 'Free' - this is also kind of misleading, as this is more like wasted RAM, not free RAM. The memory in this section is the amount that Windows is just ignoring because it has no use for it. It's not being used & it's not ready to be used by anything - it's just sitting there doing nothing.

SO if someone were to show me this display & ask if they need more RAM I'd chuckle and say no, as a matter of fact you already have too much installed. I'm only actually USING 3GB with another 3GB on standby and 2GB doing nothing at all. As it's running now, having 4GB in the machine would be fine, and having 6GB would give me a safety buffer. It's got 8GB installed (see the line highlighted in yellow), so I'm wasting 2GB because Windows simply has no use for it.


Thanks for info:

Im running Dell Aurora R-3 with 8gb ram (4x2gb 1333mhz). It has 6x24" monitors with a 47" HDTV. 14TB hard drives. i7-2600K 3.4ghz

The ram I have is 8gb ddr3 1333mhz
would like to upgrade 1666hz or better 16gb would max my motherboard.

One of the requirements is that if I go to 1666mhz or higher is that the memory module needs to be XMP. Can anyone explain what this XMP means? and what is a good brand for my upgrade.

Thanks in advance
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Joined Aug 2007
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Original Poster
#69
XMP essentially means the RAM is OK for overclocking. Corsair is a good brand to look at.

Are you actually running low on RAM or are you just trying to speed up your machine? What do you use the computer for?
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#70
What about using ReadyBoost? Seems an easy solution to me, writes 4x faster than HD. My RB has a small light on it so I can see when it's being accessed. Is that any indication of how much memory you need?
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#71
Ah, excellent question. And my answer, like many of my answers, is 'it depends'.

Readyboost vs. SSD? SSD will win every time. Readyboost vs. more RAM? More RAM will GENERALLY win.

If you're low on RAM, you have a slow HD and you're working with software that uses a lot of RAM, then readyboost can make a big difference. However, if you have an SSD, that will render readyboost useless (win7 won't even let you turn it on if you have an SSD), and if you have enough RAM, it'll never get used.

The one exception I've seen (and of course there may be more) is in the CAD world where the models can get unreasonably large. So say I have a graphic workstation with 16GB of RAM and 95% of the models I use are a few GB max. But once in a while I get some monster model that's 15GB - in this case, it can be a lot cheaper to keep an 8 or 16GB SD card dedicated to readyboost than to bump the machine to 24 or 32GB.

Memory cards are really cheap - if you don't have an SSD and don't think you need more RAM, it doesn't hurt to set up a readyboost drive for those 'just in case' times. I have a stack of 8GB SD cards in my office that I use for this very purpose.
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#72
i got 32GB of ram. do i need it? no! but it was so cheap.. darn you SD..
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#73
Nice answer Jeffbx. I have a gig free of RAM, but I notice it writes to Readyboost sometimes. I just thought it would write to RAM first.
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#74
Then toss in crappy HD it's slower than slow, ram yummm yummm give me some. Think it's bumped 3gb now
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#75
most flash drives/sd cards aren't made to resist "ready-boost" usage - it will wear them down very fast, especially since they don't have any wear-leveling such as SSD's do to distribute the wear evenly across the entire disk
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