Importance of RAM for Computer Speed

By David Nield

RAM modules are measured in megabytes or gigabytes.
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The Random Access Memory modules inside a computer store temporary data for the Central Processing Unit. Data that cannot be stored inside the RAM must be accessed from the hard drive, slowing down the machine. More RAM means that more programs and larger files can be used simultaneously without any impact on performance.

How RAM Works

Computer RAM is used to store information that the system needs quickly. This includes open files and data related to open programs. Running several programs simultaneously, running one or two complex programs, or opening up a series of large files (such as photos or videos) can quickly fill up the available space. Once the RAM is all used up, the hard drive must be used as a replacement. As data cannot be loaded from the hard drive as quickly, tasks such as opening programs and files take longer to complete.

How RAM Affects Performance

The RAM does not change the speed of the CPU. Nor will adding more RAM necessarily speed up your computer. However, your computer will slow down whenever the RAM is full. Therefore having as much RAM installed as possible is important for maintaining the performance of a system. Working with larger files, working with complex software (such as video editors and games) and running many programs at once all require more RAM than average day-to-day tasks. Browsing the Web, working with smaller documents and checking email require only a small amount of memory.

Other Factors Affecting Performance

It's important to know how the other parts of a computer system affect the speed at which it runs. The CPU is the most important component in terms of overall speed. It handles all the calculations required by the system, so a faster CPU runs through these calculations more quickly. The graphics card or onboard graphics chip also plays a significant role, particularly with graphically intensive tasks such as video editing or gaming. Graphics cards have their own processor and memory, taking some of the strain off the system's CPU and RAM and improving overall performance.

Upgrading RAM Modules

Upgrading RAM in a desktop computer is a relatively straightforward process. Existing RAM modules can be replaced, or you can add additional ones. The module slots are typically located close to the CPU socket. Consult the motherboard manual or manufacturer's website for details of compatible RAM modules that will work with your system. Once new modules are purchased, they can be slotted into place by applying firm, even pressure until the plastic holders snap into place. The system must be turned off and unplugged from a power source before RAM is fitted or replaced. Installing RAM inside a laptop is more difficult because of the smaller spaces involved, but some manufacturers do allow access to the module slots.