Performance Penalty for Too Little RAM

by MikeM on July 24, 2008

The amount of RAM (random access memory) installed in a computer can have a dramatic effect on its performance. Older systems usually had less RAM (256MB or 512MB) installed when they were sold due to the cost of RAM. Today RAM costs significantly less than a few years ago. Computers with too little RAM can incur a significant performance penalty. Adding more RAM is the single most effective method of improving a computer’s performance.

Over the last few years the size of the Windows operating system and other application programs (such as Word, Internet Explorer, Firefox or Outlook) have grown. So more RAM is needed today to keep your computer running efficiently than when you bought your system.  Too little RAM can also cause your hard disk drive to work a lot harder.

RAM Recommendations

For systems running Windows XP I recommend at least 1 GB of RAM, but you will see definite performance improvements with increasing the amount of RAM to 2 GBs. For systems running Windows Vista we recommend a minimum of 2 GB of RAM with 3-4 GB providing additional performance benefits.

The good news is that RAM prices have fallen dramatically over the last several years so that adding 1 GB of RAM is much less expensive today.

Other Performance Factors Besides RAM

A couple situations where adding RAM might not make a significant difference: 1) if the other components of your system are slow or underpowered such as a Celeron CPU or a very low capacity hard disk drive; or 2) if you are having other system problems such as virus or spyware issues, a malfunctioning hardware component, or a hard disk drive that is almost full or heavily fragmented.



Esok0610 September 15, 2008 at 7:32 pm

Is there a maximum amount of RAM that you can put in a system? I have a three-plus year old Toshiba notebook and someone told me I could only put 2 GB of RAM in it.

MikeM September 16, 2008 at 7:38 pm

A very good question. Yes, there are limitation on how much RAM (memory) can be installed in a system. It is not uncommon for a system older than 5 years to support a maximum of 2 GB. Some older laptop/notebook computer had an even lower maximum.

A good web site to check for your computer’s RAM configuration is They also manufacturer and sell RAM modules. You can also check the system’s original manufacturer’s web site.

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