Windows Memory Requirements - how much RAM do you need?

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How much RAM do you need in your PC for Windows?

There are many decent second PC's available on eBay and with some minor upgrading you can have a very good pc for very little money.

A common question is "How much memory do I need for Windows?"

The memory is basically the PC's short term memory - its where it works things out - so the more it has the more it can work out faster. Nowadays you should really be talking in GB (gigabytes) not MB (megabytes) as memory is so cheap now (new or second hand).

I find a simple way of knowing if a pc needs more memory is just observe the hard disk light on the pc during use. If it is flashing away like mad most of the time this is because the pc is using part of the hard drive as temporary memory because it doesn't have enough physical memory fitted. Also if the screen isnt refreshing very quickly when you open or close a program again this is because the pc is struggling. If you experience the system slowing down when you run multiple programs - again this is related to not enough memory.

Here is a summary for each version of Windows of what I think you should have to run comfortably (what I would be happy with). As speed also depends on a few other factors I will be assuming:
  • The PC is at least a Pentium 4 2.0ghz speed processor or more
  • You have an Anti-Virus like AVG or Avast! installed

Windows XP (updated to Service Pack 3):

  • 1GB (can be made up cheaply from 2x 512MB memory units)- ideal for Internet like web browsing, photo uploading / email, windows messenger and general use such as word processing, basic spreadsheets and basic games. You could get away with 512MB but it will run slow especially using Internet Explorer 8 and Windows Media Player.
  • 2GB (would normally be 2x 1GB memory units) - all of the above plus photo editing, video watching and ideal for some of the older XP games like Call Of Dutys, Far Cry, Doom, Chess Master (graphics card allowing). If you have a quick processor like a Pentium 4 3.0ghz and 2GB memory you will have a good fast pc running XP.
  • You wouldnt need any more than 2GB with XP even if your motherboard will take more - so don't go mad!

Vista (updated to Service Pack 2)

  • 2GB - Vista can be very memory hungry so I wouldn't go less than 2GB for basic functions like web and everyday use.
  • 4GB - this will be the maximum for most motherboards but bear in mind - you can fit 4GB but more that likely you will be running the 32bit version of Vista so it can only use about 3.5GB of memory fitted. This will be ideal for everyday use and if you run multiple programs at once.

Windows 7

  • 1 GB minimum for 32bit Version and 2GB minimum for 64bit Version - this would be for basic functions and as Windows 7 is less memory hungry than Vista it will run quite happily on this.
  • 2GB would be more ideal if you are looking at Windows 7 as you should be looking at giving it more to work with to keep it quick. Especially if you are looking at running multiple programs or games.
  • 4GB as with Vista if you are running the 32bit version - Windows 7 wont utilise all 4GB of memory - more like 3.5GB to get it to use the full 4GB you will need to be running the 64bit version. More than enough for everyday use, gaming and photo editing.

How can I tell what memory type I need?

Before you can buy any its always best to be 100% what type you need and what configuration you need to install it in. I would recommend using the " Scan my System" tool at:

 http://www.crucial.com/uk/

Crucial sell memory but you don't have to buy it from them - you can scan your system for free to determine what memory you have and in what configuration. It will also tell you the maximum you can have in your motherboard.


Obviously memory is just one factor in a pc but as it is very easily upgraded its an easy one to start with - upgrade the memory first - if that's solved the speed issues you had then you are done for the time being. If not then you can start to look at if you need a faster processor or graphics card depending on the programs you are trying to run.

I hope this has helped! Please vote "YES" below and feel free to view my other guides.

Some people obviously disagree with my guide and have voted no (or have blatantly voted no to force me down the reviewer ratings). Guides are mainly personal opinions and as I have been building and repairing PCs for over 20 years I hope my opinion has some worth. I have had people say "I only have 512mb memory and my pc is great" thats because they are happy to turn it on wait 20mins for it to start with the hard drive crunching away like a coffee grinder then they check their email and then shut it down. I like to think people will want to do more than that with their PC.

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