Slow Computer? Upgrade Your Computer’s RAM

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The term RAM is probably pretty familiar. You may know it as memory and that it affects the speed of your PC, laptop, or handheld electronics. But will upgrading and adding more RAM speed up a slow computer?

If you need a clear distinction, check out our article on memory vs storage here.

The amount of RAM in your system is the primary factor in how fast it boots up, launches programs, navigates between them, and responds to your inputs. If you have too little RAM for the amount of tasks you ask your system to perform, it will run slowly, freeze, or crash.

Upgrading your RAM doesn’t necessarily make programs run faster. It lets your system handle more tasks simultaneously, which is really important if you have a slow computer. Let’s imagine your computer is a home office. The hard drive is like a filing cabinet where your data and applications are stored. RAM is the desk in your office. Every time you launch a program, it’s as if you take a file from your filing cabinet and put it on your desk. Larger applications take up more space on your desk. A small desk will quickly run out of space to hold additional files. A larger desk (more RAM) allows your system to run more programs at the same time without performance lag.

When you don’t have enough RAM to support all the programs you want to run, your computer will file away what you’re not actively using to make room to run the new application. Let’s say you’re surfing the net through your Firefox browser when you launch Photoshop. Since Photoshop is a large program, it requires a lot of available RAM to run. If you don’t have enough RAM to run both Photoshop and your browser, your system will push the files for your browser out of RAM and onto your hard drive. When you navigate back to your browser, your system has to retrieve the data from your hard drive to re-launch your web surfing capability. This process takes longer than accessing a program that’s actively running. If you have enough RAM to run both applications, your system can leave your Firefox fully functioning while you use Photoshop, allowing you to use both applications seamlessly.

Every time your system has to dump data from RAM to make room for something else, or go to the hard drive to retrieve data to run a program, it takes time and can make your slow computer slower. This leads to a less responsive system. If you instruct your system to launch an application that it can’t support, it may crash – imagine the desk in the office scenario buckling under the weight of too many files.

Most applications instruct your system to automatically launch certain files from their program every time you start your computer. This makes it faster for the program to load when you select it. However, having fifteen programs all launch to your RAM simultaneously slows your system’s boot up if you don’t have enough RAM to support the load.

When buying a new computer, few people purchase enough RAM to accommodate their future use. Software writers expect that systems will support progressively larger amounts of RAM in the future, so they often write bulkier programs that require more resources to run. As you install system and program updates, the applications grow larger. Suddenly, the RAM that was more than sufficient when you bought your system two years ago is now woefully lacking. And your new computer becomes a slow computer.

After nearly a decade in the computer repair business, I’ve never had anyone complain that their computer had too much RAM. The most common grievance: a slow computer or an unresponsive system. RAM is the most noticeable upgrade for the average user. Luckily, it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to add more RAM to your computer or laptop, resulting in a good bang for your buck compared to other hardware upgrades.

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, a computer repair company that specializes in on-site and online service for homes and businesses. Andrea is the writer of a weekly column, Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She prepares TV segments for and appears regularly on CBS, CW and FOX on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, More Good Day Portland, and CBS 13 News, offering viewers technology and lifestyle tips. See Andrea in action at callnerds.com/andrea/.