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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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#106
Quote from redls1 View Post :
Thanks will give it a try. For what I do I read (kind late) I will never use that much but thought I got a good deal.
Although it may be true that you bought more ram than you might ever use, now that you have it, you can always feel comfortable knowing that your system is ready for virtually anything you could ever throw at it.
Back in the days when 512 megs of ram cost $50, buying 16 gigs of ram might have been considered wasteful, but in this day and age of inexpensive ram, one can look at it as being a low priced buffer.
One way to find out if Windows wants any pagefile from your hard drive, is to set the values like in the first set of screenshots, using the minimum 16 megs and a max that is similar to the amount of your physical ram, that is to say, 16,000 megs.
Once that is set and you have rebooted to apply those settings, go back to that pagefila page to confirm that the numbers have been applied.
Keep the "Change" page open, that shows the minimum amount of ram that you have set (see attached screenshot 1).
At that point, you can open everything imaginable on your computer, even being a bit excessive, perhaps even running malware and AV scanners too, while keeping an eye on that "Change" page to see if the 16 meg number has risen.
If your system only had 1 gig of ram, you can bet your bottom buck that the setting would have changed and risen above 1 gig or more.
When you have a system like yours that is rich in physical ram, the 16 meg number won't change, because Windows has no use whatsoever for hard drive pagefiling.
Once you have established that nothing you can do on your computer will make that 16 meg minimum setting change, then you can feel 100% secure in changing your settings to "no pagefiling, ie: 0 megs.
The way ram is used by Windows is widely misunderstood by the general public, which is why it is worth doing the above experiment.
Even if you don't know every detail as to why and how ram is used, seeing is believing and offering Windows the option to increase the minimum pagefile setting, in the event that it is needed, is the only sure way to know if Windows needs it or not.
Once you have established that Windows does not want or need any of the hard drive's pagefile, then changing it to 0, guarantees that none will ever be used and you will benefit from greater performance, as your physical nand flash ram, is infinitely faster than a hard drive.

In the case of the computer that I am presently using, it is normally set to 0 pagefile.
I set the min limit at 16 megs and the max at 4444 megs (the puter has 4 gigs of physical ram), for the sake of this test.
After rebooting, I open the regular 6 or 7 internet browser pages that I almost always have open, as well as MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and Skype.
Ths particular computer has a TV tuner, so I opened the Media Center and set it to record a TV show, and also opened and played a previously recorded show, to emulate the maximum that I might ever use.
As it is possible that I might use all of the above at any one given time, I also launched a malware scanner, just to exaggerate the potential maximum usage, and to see if the minimum ram setting had climbed, or remained the same.
As you can see from screenshots 2 to 4, the minimum remained at 16, proving that I have no need for any pagefiling whatsoever, unless I decide to start using software that is ram hungry, like Photoshop, or video rendering, etc, at which point, I would just change the pagefile setting to "System Managed" and let Windows take whatever it needs.
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#107
Thank You, for this explaination about the ram. I t is very helpful to me as I am currently building a pc and had intended to go with 16 GB. I now believe that 8 GB will be plenty for my use and will probably save a few bucks by reducing. I will look at the performance this evening on my current pc.
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#108
THANK YOU. What a valuable piece of information ! ! !
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#109
I have a q6600 with 8 gigs of ddr2 ram and my computer freezes and unfreezes when browsing, looking at the resource monitor I have 6mb on standby so memory isn't the issue, I'm guessing either the q6600 is dog slow or the hard drive is going bad.
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#110
Format & reload!

The Q6600 is a great processor, and WAY overkill for just browsing. If it's bogged down it's a software/OS issue, not a hardware issue.

Might be a good time to think about swapping your HD to an SSD, too.
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#111
lol, you don't need so many steps. If you see your hard drive LED blinking like crazy and it's slow every time you start or running an application, go buy some ram.
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#112
Quote from thehighroller View Post :
lol, you don't need so many steps. If you see your hard drive LED blinking like crazy and it's slow every time you start or running an application, go buy some ram.
Ha ha ha no.

That could be:

- Virus
- Malware
- Full HD
- Over fragmented HD
- Garbage in your registry
- Runaway process
- Memory leak
- Overheating
..... so many other things.

Take the 45 seconds to do an intelligent assessment.
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#113
RAM costs nothing these days. Buy as much as you can afford. It shouldn't take much for home. My min for home workstations is 16GB now but I also do a lot more RAM intensive projects on my workstations than most people such as several virtual machines which each require RAM.

Everyone can argue about how much you need, but in the end its better to have a little more than too little or just exactly the used amount -- when it is sooo cheap. If you are counting pennies, then heed this thread, otherwise just spend $80 and be done.
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#114
Quote from robertclemens View Post :
RAM costs nothing these days. Buy as much as you can afford. It shouldn't take much for home. My min for home workstations is 16GB now but I also do a lot more RAM intensive projects on my workstations than most people such as several virtual machines which each require RAM.

Everyone can argue about how much you need, but in the end its better to have a little more than too little or just exactly the used amount -- when it is sooo cheap. If you are counting pennies, then heed this thread, otherwise just spend $80 and be done.
RAM is cheap, yes, and it is better to have a bit extra RAM than not enough, but there's no point in spending even $80 for a fix that's not going to work. If not enough RAM isn't the problem, buying more RAM won't solve the problem. It's simple and free to check your RAM usage, and only takes a couple minutes. Why not do it?

$80 is not a lot compared to a $1000 workstation, but when building a cheap HTPC or $250 word-processing machine, it is a significant portion of the cost that doesn't need to be there.
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#115
there seems to be an issue where ram prices/amounts have spiked faster than programs have been using RAM.. but it will eventually go away, as programs learn to use more RAM (since they have it available) and less temp/page/cache files
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#116
Quote from mmathis View Post :
RAM is cheap, yes, and it is better to have a bit extra RAM than not enough, but there's no point in spending even $80 for a fix that's not going to work. If not enough RAM isn't the problem, buying more RAM won't solve the problem. It's simple and free to check your RAM usage, and only takes a couple minutes. Why not do it?

$80 is not a lot compared to a $1000 workstation, but when building a cheap HTPC or $250 word-processing machine, it is a significant portion of the cost that doesn't need to be there.
Which is why I said if you are counting pennies, heed this thread.

If you are not counting pennies, just buy what you can afford and seems reasonable.
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#117
Quote from robertclemens View Post :

If you are not counting pennies, just buy what you can afford and seems reasonable.
It's not quite that simple, as most people have no idea what a reasonable amount of ram is, as evidenced by the constant threads inquiring about adding ram, which led to Jeff creating this Sticky.
The other issue is going by what you can afford.
If a person is financially comfortable and doesn't know how much ram he/she might need, then he/she might buy 16 gigs for a puter that only surfs the internet.

If the issue could be summed up in one sentence, this thread wouldn't exist.
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#118
Quote from RockySosua View Post :
It's not quite that simple, as most people have no idea what a reasonable amount of ram is, as evidenced by the constant threads inquiring about adding ram, which led to Jeff creating this Sticky.
The other issue is going by what you can afford.
If a person is financially comfortable and doesn't know how much ram he/she might need, then he/she might buy 16 gigs for a puter that only surfs the internet.

If the issue could be summed up in one sentence, this thread wouldn't exist.
Will have to agree to disagree. I think computing RAM to the minimal amount necessary neglects the peak RAM usage you might be missing and therefore tasking your system. Unless you log a long period of time you are looking at small snapshots. You should ALWAYS over-purchase your RAM -- how much is up to the tasks you will be performing on the computer and your budget.

We can go on and on about this. But for the cost of RAM, and since time always has a value, it's almost always better to just error on the side of more if you lack the skills necessary to know how much RAM you need. For us tech people, this isn't even a thought or concern.

Even computers that "only surf the web" periodically can burst RAM usage for random other tasks not thought of. You'd be surprised how easily RAM is used up these days on the most basic tasks. My web browser right now is using around 600MB for three web sites.

I think the instinct is to over-analyze this to death when I really think it is much more simple than laid out, hence my post.
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#119
Quote from robertclemens View Post :
Will have to agree to disagree. I think computing RAM to the minimal amount necessary neglects the peak RAM usage you might be missing and therefore tasking your system. Unless you log a long period of time you are looking at small snapshots. You should ALWAYS over-purchase your RAM -- how much is up to the tasks you will be performing on the computer and your budget.

We can go on and on about this. But for the cost of RAM, and since time always has a value, it's almost always better to just error on the side of more if you lack the skills necessary to know how much RAM you need. For us tech people, this isn't even a thought or concern.

Even computers that "only surf the web" periodically can burst RAM usage for random other tasks not thought of. You'd be surprised how easily RAM is used up these days on the most basic tasks. My web browser right now is using around 600MB for three web sites.

I think the instinct is to over-analyze this to death when I really think it is much more simple than laid out, hence my post.
I see.
What type of technician are you?
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#120
Chief Information Officer

My tech knowledge has not been diminished by taking the role of CIO, I assure you.

I have quite a bit of experience with RAM in home applications as well as optimizing RAM across virtual platforms and clusters. I could go into a world of analysis on RAM, but for this thread my point remains the same and accurate.
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