Adding more Random Access Memory (RAM) can increase computer speed, though it is not guaranteed and often depends on other factors. If a lack of RAM is the only reason for the slowness in an otherwise fast system, then adding more memory will typically improve the operating speed. When there are other problems aside from a shortage of RAM, adding more memory might help, but those secondary factors need to be addressed for the best possible performance. In some cases, a computer might simply be too old to run newer applications efficiently, if at all.
RAM usage on a computer can be checked in different ways, depending on the operating system (OS). On a machine running some version of Windows™, the easiest way to see how much memory the computer has is to view the System screen in the Control Panel. The Task Manager shows how this memory is being used; pressing the Ctrl + Alt + Del keys brings up this program or the option to open it. In this tool, the Performance tab shows a graph of memory resources, and how the RAM is being used may be listed as "physical memory." The Activity Monitor on systems running the Mac™ OS displays similar information on the System Memory tab.
Third-party software can also be used to monitor memory and even free up RAM when necessary, though this is not always the best way to boost computer speed. Freeing up RAM means closing programs that aren't being used, but which are using memory. If a system is low on memory or often requires freeing up RAM, installing more of it can usually improve computer speed.
Before purchasing additional RAM, it is important to check the motherboard. The motherboard is the circuit board where most of the computer's crucial components are found, and it has a limited amount of space for new memory. The board might be maxed out for the amount of RAM it will support, either in terms of physical sticks of RAM or the combined values of them. For example, a motherboard might only have three slots for RAM and a maximum allowance of 12 GB. If all three slots are filled with 4 GB sticks, then no more can be added; if the motherboard has three 2 GB sticks, then one or more could be replaced by 4 GB sticks to increase the RAM within the space available.
There are several different types of RAM, so it's important for the person who wants to add more to check the computer's user manual or online to find out what kind is needed. The wrong type of memory typically won't fit into the slots in the motherboard, and if it does, the computer usually will not boot up.
Adding RAM to a desktop computer is typically easier than a laptop. Desktops with towers or similar cases can usually be opened and RAM can be installed directly onto the motherboard. Laptop computers have much less room and use smaller sticks of memory that can be more difficult to properly install. Prebuilt computers may also have warranties that are voided by the addition of new components, so this should be considered prior to any hardware changes.
The Purpose of RAM
Within a computer system, the RAM effectively acts as part of the "brain." There are two types of storage used in a computer — long-term and short-term memory — just like a human brain. A hard drive acts as long-term memory, storing data for later use. RAM behaves like short-term memory and is used to actually process information while running a program.
The numerical value of RAM is typically represented in terms of storage quantity, such as one gigabyte. The size of the RAM indicates how much memory is available to run programs and processes at any given time. With more memory to run programs, multiple pieces of software can be used at the same time without slowing the computer too much.
Other Causes of Slow Computers
For gamers and people who work with video applications, a slow graphics card might be a contributor to poor performance. A good graphics card should have its own on-board RAM and Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), otherwise it will use system RAM and Central Processing Unit (CPU) resources. The motherboard manual typically indicates what types of hardware can be used to improve performance by upgrading to a better card. If the graphics card in a computer is top notch and the RAM seems fine, then the CPU may need to be upgraded, which can drastically improve computer speed.
Maintenance issues also affect computer speed. A lack of sufficient hard disk space will slow performance, as will a fragmented drive. Upgrading to a larger disk drive can relieve that part of the issue, and hard drives should be defragmented regularly. Spyware, keyloggers, and other malicious software, also known as malware, can also slow a computer by taking up system resources. Malware can also be used to steal or damage data and personal information, so an antivirus program and/or firewall should be used to help protect the system.
In some cases, a computer functions fine except for one specific application. Most software has minimum system requirements that must be met for it to work correctly, but more memory and processing speed is often needed for exceptional performance. If a system can only meet the minimal requirements, then it is likely to have problems running the program. Twice the recommended RAM and processing power are typically needed to ensure fast and reliable performance with a program.