How much computer memory you actually need

Installing more RAM is one of the easiest, least expensive upgrades you can do. But it's not always worth it.

The amount of computer RAM you have installed can greatly impact your computer's performance. If your system often slows down (or grinds to a halt) when you're multi-tasking or pushing it, you might need to add more memory. However, how much you actually need depends on the kinds of applications you're running and how you're using them.

Our sister site Macworld ran several tests after upgrading the RAM in several configurations on a MacBook Pro. Though the tests were specific to those Macs, the results should be similar across all systems.

They found that for memory-intensive apps like Photoshop, the larger the file, the greater the performance improvement. Working on a 250MB file, going from 4GB to 8GB cut the processing time by more than half (265 seconds vs. 130 seconds, respectively), but the increase from 8GB to 16GB wasn't that much of an improvement (130 seconds vs. 122 seconds, respectively). Working on a 500MB file, going from 4GB to 16GB is, however, significant: a whopping 796 seconds versus just 178 seconds.

For using a virtual machine, Macworld notes they didn't see much improvement with more than 4GB, but your experience might be different depending on what you're running in the virtual machine.

And then for everything else, such as using iTunes or copying a 6GB folder, RAM upgrades from 4GB to 8GB or 16GB didn't seem to make much difference.

In short, the standard memory configuration these days of 4GB or 8GB should suffice for most general use. If you tend to work on large files in memory-intensive programs like Photoshop, however, or keep several browser windows open with many tabs in each, more RAM will definitely help. This might not be news to PC pros, but it's nice to see the performance numbers and research to back it up.

Photo by MIKI Yoshihito. Read more of Melanie Pinola’s Tech IT Out blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Melanie on Twitter at @melaniepinola. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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