System Memory: What You Didn’t Know About Laptop RAM

System MemoryAs the saying goes, “You can never be too rich, or have too much system memory”. More RAM means a faster machine.

Along with the processor and GPU. RAM is one of the pricier components to consider when buying a laptop. But it’s important not to overlook it as system memory allotment is partially responsible for the performance of the CPU and graphics processing unit.

Laptops featuring newer generations of RAM will run faster. And consume less power. We’ll get into more about this in a moment.

For now, you want to know how system memory affects your laptop. And how much RAM you should get for the work you do. So, let’s dive in.


Laptop System Memory

System Memory/ RAM

Random Access Memory (RAM), or system memory is considered volatile storage because once you power your laptop off. All the information stored disappears.

RAM is where data is stored before it’s processed. It consists of a memory chip that can be written and rewritten. It’s a short-term type of memory that lets you work with data needed to run programs and open files.

Data is randomly accessed in a byte. When you want to run a program. RAM pulls data from the comparatively slow long-term storage (either the hard disk drive or solid-state drive). And temporarily stores it in the much faster short-term storage so it can be accessed quickly for smooth operation.

In order for this flow from short-term to long-term storage to happen. RAM needs a certain amount of free space to function. The operating system is in charge of controlling the writing of data to physical locations on the memory chip.

Once the limit for how much data the system memory can hold is reached. The operating system will make up for it by using long-term storage to hold a page file. Also known as Virtual Memory, the storage drive is used as an extension of RAM.

While Virtual Memory will let you get some work done. The hard disk or SSD simply isn’t cut-out to move data as quickly as DRAM (more about what DRAM is in a minute). That’s why it’s typically advised to purchase the laptop that offers the most amount of RAM. Even if you’re just shopping for a budget notebook.


Benefits of More System Memory

It all has to do with multitasking. The amount of RAM your laptop has affects how productive you are able to be. More RAM lets you:

  1. open more programs and applications simultaneously (without slowing down the laptop)
  2. helps the CPU handle more tasks at once
  3. and, accesses more data quickly at one time.

You especially want more RAM if the laptop you want has an integrated graphics card since this type of GPU shares system memory.


Most Common Types of RAM

A laptop’s system memory differs in the technology it uses to hold data.

DRAM (Dynamic Random-Access Memory) is a common type of RAM. Refreshed thousands of times per second, access times are about 60 nanoseconds.

SRAM (Static Random-Access Memory) is much faster. Since it needs no refreshing it can achieve access times in up to 10 nanoseconds. As you can imagine it’s less common. Therefore, more expensive.

SDRAM (Synchronous DRAM) is faster still and measured in MHz instead of nanoseconds. It’s the name given to various kinds of DRAM synched to the clock speed optimized for the CPU.



How Much RAM Do I Need for My Laptop?

It depends on what you want to do. Ideally, you want a laptop with as much RAM as the highest listed recommended requirement for the programs you use most often, including the operating system.

Here’s a guideline to help you determine how much RAM you need:

2GB of RAM: Absolute entry level when buying a laptop. Some sub-$250 laptops will come with only 2GB of RAM, which will be fine for office work and basic internet browsing. But you may find your laptop occasionally slowing down.

4GB of RAM: This is where every laptop user should start. You’ll need at least this much to get the best performance out of your laptop. It’s a nice balance for 3D gaming, graphics work and video editing. Ideally you want 4GB, even on a budget laptop as it will give you a decent laptop experience.

8GB of RAM: Recommended if you have more to spend! It should ensure that you’re able to tackle all of your tasks just fine. 8GB is the sweet spot if you’re strictly planning to use your laptop for 3D gaming, video and image editing.

16GB of RAM: Most users will never exhaust all that 16GB of RAM has to offer. But if you want your laptop to work on big projects. You should opt for a model with 16GB of RAM when buying a laptop.

32GB of RAM: With laptop brands offering as much as 32GB of RAM, you’re inclined to think that more is better. But the truth is unless you’re a video editor, or visual content creator. You don’t even really need 16GB.

(If you’re buying a laptop with 4GB of RAM or more, run a 64-bit operating system to take advantage of all the memory. A 32-bit OS won’t be able to access everything.)


Types of System Memory

Current laptops will come with a DDR3 or DDR4 generation memory module. You may even see higher-end laptops like those in the gaming and desktop replacement arena with GDDR5 RAM, which is a technology for VRAM.

DDR is a dual data rate memory standard developed in 2012. Understanding the DDR of the RAM in the laptop you’re considering will help you gage how fast the system can operate.

Speeds are measured in mega-hertz (MHz). A DDR3 memory module for instance will have a base speed of 1600MHz. DDR4 has a base speed of 2133MHz.

You may find laptops with DDR3 RAM boasting speeds north of 3000MHz. But these are overclock speeds, which will rob your laptop of battery power in order to push it.

Newer generation RAM require less power. DDR3 requires 1.5 volts. And DDR4 only requires 1.2 volts. The less volts the RAM uses. The longer your laptop will work away from an outlet. This is good news if you’re buying a new laptop.

The bad news is if you want to simply upgrade the memory module on your old laptop. You’ll have to upgrade the motherboard too since the memory controllers are now built into the processor.

Also, to ensure users don’t try to use DDR4 RAM with DDR3 based systems. The DIMM package is up to 260-pins from to 204.


I Can’t Afford the Amount of RAM I Need for My Laptop

If budget is a major concern. Don’t feel obligated to buy the laptop with the most amount of RAM. You’ll still want to get one with at least the highest minimum recommendation for the programs you use to avoid bottlenecks.

Get one with as RAM as you can afford. But make sure the laptop gives you the option to expand memory in the future to extend the useful life of your laptop because not all will.

You can find out if the laptop you’re considering will let you expand RAM by going to the manufacturer’s website.



Next up in the series, we take a look at different types of internal drives to help you decide the best one for your new laptop.

Was there anything we forgot to include about system memory as you choose the best laptop for your needs? Please let us know in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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