We get asked regularly about how much RAM does a small business really need for a computer. We have figured out an excellent and affordable setup through research and our knowledge from being computer engineers and IT providers for many small businesses for a long time.
As of 2020, 8GB minimum amount of RAM that you would want to get. If it is affordable without sacrificing other requirements, such as processor(CPU) and hard drive type, we recommend getting 16GB for RAM.
Memory or RAM is, of course, an essential computer component. You can think of it like a sheet of scratch paper that you are using to calculate something on. It is not permanent but needed as a location to complete a task at hand. However, unlike other components, higher numbers do not necessarily mean more performance. Every piece of running software in your computer uses memory—the operating system, running program, background programs (of which there are many), etc. Once the available memory in a system is in use, the computer will start using free drive space as additional memory. Hard drives are permanent storage and are much larger and, more importantly, slower than memory. So when this happens, a process called paging or swapping starts operating, and your computer’s performance plummets.
So, if your normal workload frequently uses most or all of available memory, your computer will perform much more slowly, and adding RAM can help. If you are not using most of your RAM during everyday use, having more will not affect performance much, if at all.
Most users have a few programs open for general office use, such as Office programs, like Word, often some custom software specific to the business, and a web browser. Web browsers are consistently a memory hog. This is because they have to download and display a large amount of text and other media, such as images, videos, or interactions, for the user. Depending on the workflow, many users may have multiple tabs open, increasing memory usage. A typical browser consumes a minimum of 2-4GB of memory, but this minimum increases as more tabs are opened and utilized. Windows and other background tasks like antivirus typically sit at 2-4GB as well. This means for a computer with 4GB of RAM, just having the basic software and a web browser can use all or more - resulting in swapping and slow performance. Most of the time, memory is installed in multiples of 4, so the next step up from 4GB is 8GB. This is where we get our current minimum recommendation from.
Our recommendation is suitable for everyday home and office users. However, you may want to opt for more RAM if you have custom software, your workload consists of having many more programs open, or your workload consists of memory-intensive tasks like image editing, video editing, audio editing, etc. If you are looking to replacing or upgrading computers in your office, we can help profile how users work and their memory requirements.
When it comes to actually upgrading the memory in a computer, things can get a little more complicated than just a single number. Memory standards have changed over the years. Most modern PCs will take only one of several types of RAM, DDR3, DDR3L, DDR3U, DDR4. To further complicate matters, each of those types comes in several speeds, and each speed comes in several ‘timing’ variants. Just one example would be PC3-1333 (7-7-7-18). This means it is DDR 3 ram and operates at 1333Mhz speed. Since DDR 3 transfers 8 times per each clock cycle (the 1333Mhx), it could also be referred to as PC3-10666 (1333 times 8). The number in parentheses is a designator for which parts of each clock cycle the memory can read, write, etc.
Are you confused yet? It is confusing, even for seasoned IT geeks. Then you add in the fact that different computers have other limitations, such as which clock speeds it supports, the fact that ordinarily multiple memory chips have to be matched in speed and timings, and it can be tricky. Some computers will even run with unsupported memory speeds, but you may have stability problems like application crashes and the dreaded Blue Screen of Death errors. When upgrading, it is crucial to correctly research what is compatible with a given PC and use that. However, the good news is that different RAM speeds, like DDR3-10600 vs. DDR3-12800, do not mean much difference in performance. Technically 12800 is faster, but the difference is typically only discernible in benchmark tests or hefty use (like servers). Most people using computers that were identical except for RAM speed would not notice a difference.
So, if you are looking to buy a new computer, get 16GB of RAM if you can. 8GB usually is enough, but 16GB gives headroom for more extensive programs or more intensive use of the computer. If you have special software or other needs, contact an expert - like us - to profile your usage and see what your needs might be. If you are upgrading an existing computer - do your research first; computer memory can be a pretty confusing subject when you have not dealt with it before - or give us a call. We will be glad to help!
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