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How Much RAM?



When it comes to the term 'memory' in computers, it is important to understand the differences between storage memory (the hard drive) and working memory (RAM).

The storage portion of the equation determines how much stuff you can store in the computer, such as pictures, programs, or music files. Think of the hard drive as a refrigerator in your computer kitchen. The "how much" question has a simple "do the math" answer. Check to see how much free space your hard drive has by opening My Computer then right-clicking on your hard drive(s) and selecting Properties. This will generate a pie chart representation of your hard drive with the blue section representing used space and the free space is in purple.

If you can't maintain at least 10% free drive space, it may be time for a larger or second hard drive.

The working memory portion of the equation is referred to as Random Access Memory (RAM) and is volatile (anything stored in it is lost when the machine is shut down). Think of RAM as the mixing bowl in the computer kitchen.

Items are loaded in the mixing bowl from the refrigerator, so the larger the mixing bowl, the better. The entire process is certainly more complicated than this, but the basic concept is you can process more 'food' with more working space.

This translates to speed in computing, which is why RAM is generally referred to as the best 'bang-for-the-buck' upgrade for improving performance.

But how much is too much? That depends upon many variables including the type and version of your operating system, the manufacturer of and the specific components used on the motherboard, and most important, what programs you are running. 

In general terms for today's computers, don't settle for less than 64MB if using Windows 98 or earlier, 128MB of RAM if using Windows 2000 and 256MB if using Windows XP, and make sure the system has the ability to be upgraded with more, because you'll want more sooner than later. Trust me.

There is, however, a point of diminishing returns when it comes to RAM. If you want a more specific method of calculating your needs, there are a number of great resources available online from

If you know what kind of motherboard you have and want to see how it performs with a specific processor and operating system and various amounts of RAM, check out their Memory Calculator. It will create a graphical chart that will show you actual performance specs with different levels of RAM for your specific configuration.

The information generated by the calculator is actual test data according to its creator Mike Sanor, who is also Tech Support Manager at

"If you have a name brand computer and have no idea what kind of motherboard you have, you can download the free Belarc Advisor, which will give you the specific information necessary to use the Memory Calculator," according to Sanor.

If you just want a general overview of memory requirements based on what you use your computer for, you can refer to their chart.

And, if all of those options are too confusing, you can actually talk to an expert online and they will walk you through the process of determining the answer to the "How much?" question.
Source: Ken Colburn of Data Doctors

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