How much RAM do you need in a laptop? Here’s how to figure it out

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Determining the specs for a new laptop (or a laptop upgrade) can be a delicate balancing act. You want to spend enough so you won’t be miserable in the future, but not so much that you don’t make use of all the hardware you get.

Memory (or RAM) is the perfect example of this. Your PC uses RAM to hold data temporarily: When you’re opening applications, working on large files in Photoshop, or even juggling dozens and dozens of browser tabs, that data is being stored in the system memory, not on your SSD or HDD. The more memory-intensive tasks you do, the more RAM you should have. It’ll keep your computer feeling fast and responsive.

Many laptop shoppers know this, but not exactly how much to get. So we’ve broken down what to expect from common RAM configurations, plus some tips at the end for purchase strategies.

2GB RAM

For modern Windows computers, 2GB of RAM will feel slow. You won’t be able to run many programs simultaneously, much less have more than a few browser tabs open at one time. These days, most Windows laptops come with 4GB as the baseline configuration, and for good reason.

(As for Apple laptops, they’ve long left even 4GB RAM behind as a baseline.)

If for some reason you encounter a laptop with only 2GB RAM—perhaps an older budget model being sold secondhand—it’s only worthwhile if you can immediately upgrade it to 4GB RAM or more. That means the laptop should have user-accessible SODIMM slots, ideally with one unpopulated so you can immediately drop in another module.

For Chromebooks, 2GB of RAM will still limit the number of browser tabs you can have open, but that amount is liveable. We recommend you buy a model with expandable memory (user-accessible SODIMM slots) so you can upgrade down the road.

4GB RAM

Budget shoppers can start with 4GB of RAM for a Windows laptop. Combined with an SSD for storage, you’ll get a responsive PC that handles the basics smoothly—e.g., having a few low-intensity programs plus a handful of browser tabs open all at the same. When possible, look for laptop models that have user-accessible RAM that can be upgraded. You can start with 4GB as your budget configuration then add more memory later as needed.



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