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How to check RAM speed and size on your computer

It's always useful to know how to check RAM speed on your PC, especially if you want to upgrade performance

Learning how to check RAM speed and size on your computer is crucial if you are looking to optimise performance, but many users find this process challenging.

Memory can often get confused with storage. But while both are crucial to ensure your computer runs smoothly, random access memory (RAM) is the most influential in determining how effectively a device can handle the variety of business applications required in modern work life.

One way of speeding up a laptop or desktop machine is to replace or upgrade RAM. However, this may not be a simple task for everyone or every computer. Not only does it require a degree of technical knowledge, but the type of memory a system uses can also vary significantly; learning how to check RAM speed and size, as well as RAM configuration type, will all be required if you're looking to replace or add to an existing setup.

Before we get to identifying what type your system needs, it's important to understand exactly how RAM affects your system.

What is RAM?

RAM is typically fitted to machines in the form of removable sticks and stores information the computer thinks the user will need in the immediate future, ready for fast and easy access.

RAM is possibly best illustrated by comparing the makeup of a computer to human anatomy. In this analogy, the central processing unit (CPU), often referred to simply as the ‘processor’, can be seen as the computer’s 'brain', and is at the core of all of a system's capabilities.

Larger pieces of storage hardware like hard drive disks (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs) are most like a person’s long-term memory, allowing users to store data for long periods of time, but under the assumption that they may not need all of it in their current session.

There is also cache memory which is stored near the computer's CPU or on the die itself and holds recently accessed data that needs to be used over and again.

RAM, on the other hand, is most like short-term memory, in that it has a comparatively limited capacity for storage but does so in a way that increases the processing capacity to handle flows of data through the machine so that the CPU can process tasks quicker. It’s why having a large amount of RAM is often linked with faster computer performance, as it allows users extra capacity for efficient multitasking, like running Microsoft Teams alongside a Google Chrome browser with multiple tabs open.

RAM is also one of the more easily upgradable components of a computer; RAM sticks can be bought in various capacities and modern motherboards often have slots for multiple RAM sticks making it easy to add more when needed.

How to check RAM speed and size

If you’ve firmly decided that a RAM upgrade is right for your machine, the next challenge is to figure out what to buy. But, before you start shopping, it’s important to understand how much you’re working with to determine how much more replacement RAM to buy. It is also a good idea to check RAM speed. Along with other factors like your motherboard’s RAM capacity, this may limit the amount of RAM you want to buy for each stick, or if you want to just buy an additional stick to augment the one you already have.

How to check RAM speed and size on Windows 10 and Windows 11

Unfortunately, Windows doesn't provide much information on how to check RAM speed and size, but the process is identical on both Windows 10 and Windows 11.

To see this, you'll want to navigate to the "About" section of your control panel. This can easily be done by typing "RAM" into your Windows 10 search bar and selecting "View RAM info". Another option to get there is by accessing the "System" settings and navigating down the page to "About".

On the About screen you should see information on the device name, processor type and speed, installed RAM, device and product ID, whether it’s running a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system, and some miscellaneous data.

Windows 10 system page showing total RAM

If you're using Windows 11, you’ll notice that installed RAM shows two numbers. The first is the total amount of RAM installed on the system, and the second shows ‘usable’ RAM, which indicates how much RAM your apps and processes can utilise at any given time. This latter number will always be slightly lower, as it accounts for some capacity that's always reserved for critical Windows processes.

Important: Given the way it interacts with the system, it’s most efficient to install RAM in multiples of four. That means your total installed RAM should show as 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, and so on. Some older machines may have 2GB of RAM but given that Windows 11's system requirements suggest at least 4GB to run efficiently, you’ll find that machines come with at least that amount these days.

If you have a number displayed that’s not a multiple of four (for example, 6GB), it’s possible that a RAM stick has failed or is not installed correctly. For example, having an installed RAM of 12GB could indicate that of your four sticks of 4GB of RAM, one has failed.

How to check RAM speed and size on macOS

Mac owners are in luck, as the process of how to check RAM speed and size on your machine is easier than it is on Windows, with the added bonus of Apple providing additional information on the type of RAM that’s installed too.

A screenshot of the settings menu in Mac OS showing CPU, RAM, storage and version number

To get the RAM figures, click on the Apple logo in the menu bar, this is the one situated at the top of the display and the one that’s hidden when a program is in Full Screen mode. From there, click About This Mac and a window should appear with all the machine’s basic information and hardware specifications. You should be able to see the RAM’s size, its speed (the technical term is ‘frequency’), and type, in that order.

What RAM should I buy?

Now that you've learned how to check RAM speed and size and establish how much you’re using, it’s good to explore your uses of this memory a little more, and understand how much is needed in other use cases. You can usually get away with 4GB of RAM if all you plan on using your PC for is standard office functions such as running office software like Microsoft Word or Excel, using a collaboration platform, or even running your web browser.

However, if you find that you already have this amount of RAM and tend to find your device’s performance isn’t up to scratch, it could mean that the issue isn’t with how much RAM you have, so it might be worth carrying out a triage.

If you work in an industry that needs to use more demanding programs, you’re probably going to need more RAM to get the job done. Engineers might use programs like computer-aided design (CAD) software while videographers might go for editing suites like the Adobe Creative Cloud apps. For these workloads, and others like programming, your PC is going to need around 8GB of RAM, but it’s recommended to get at least 16GB or 32GB. This doesn’t stop you from installing more RAM and going even higher, but this will depend on the RAM capacity of your motherboard. Some desktop users running 64-bit versions of Windows will find they’re able to install a huge 6TB of RAM.

It’s a good idea to search for a little more information on this before heading out to make your purchase. A great source for collecting this data is CPUID’s free CPU-Z utility. Simply download and install it on your device, get it up and running, and then head to the Memory tab.

Don’t get swamped by the amount of information in this tab, as most of it isn’t relevant for what you’re looking for. Instead, focus on:

  • The type of memory your motherboard uses. This will usually be displayed using DDR
  • Your motherboard’s memory frequency, which can be referred to as the RAM speed
  • How many memory slots are found on your motherboard. Usually it will be two, but you might find it will have one or, sometimes, four

RAM frequency and RAM type

Although it’s advisable (especially for inexperienced buyers), you don’t necessarily need to stick to the specifications of the RAM already installed on the system – you can shop around as much as you want so long as your motherboard supports it. Motherboards generally support a variety of RAM frequencies and you may find what’s installed is the lowest end of this range.

It's important to note that the exact frequency of the RAM doesn't really matter here, only that your motherboard supports it. RAM frequencies don't operate in the same way as, say, a CPU, so higher numbers don't necessarily mean massive performance boosts. You may be tempted to upgrade your existing 2,400 MHz RAM to something that's listed as 3,600 MHz, but there's very little point.

The type of RAM, on the other hand, absolutely does matter, as motherboards are generally far more restrictive in this regard. It's common to see DDR3, DDR4, and DDR5 RAM types listed online, with each number representing a newer generation of architecture. It's important to check the specs of your motherboard, as support for multiple RAM types, or support for the latest generation of RAM, isn't always common and usually comes at a premium.

Tips for buying RAM

RAM sticks in a motherboard

Make sure you have space: Before you do anything, it's important you check that your system allows for RAM expandability. While most modern PCs and laptops will have an extra slot for adding in more memory, some older machines might not. The same is true for unusual form factors, as in some devices – such as convertible 2-in-1 devices – the RAM is probably glued to the motherboard, in which case, you’re stuck with it.

Be wary of MacBooks: Many models of MacBook are the same in that they do not offer upgradeable RAM. iMacs are similarly strict with RAM upgrades and Apple forces buyers to select it in the initial configuration. With the newer Apple silicon chips, memory is baked into the chip itself and thus cannot be upgraded at a later date. Integrated RAM is also increasingly seen on Windows-based PCs, so these will need to be checked as well before embarking on a RAM spending spree.

Keep things consistent: If you’re using more than one slot, put identical RAM sticks in every slot. That means that unless you're 100% sure what you’re doing, don’t be tempted to buy a single stick of RAM to sit alongside another of a smaller size. This can actually leave you with a less stable computer than you started with and you won't enjoy the speed benefits of a faster RAM. It really is worth investing in a matching pair of identical chips – same speed, same RAM, same brand. This is one of those jobs that is worth doing well. We’d also recommend a top brand like Samsung, Crucial or Kingston, bought from a reputable supplier rather than a no-name brand bought from an online marketplace.

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Avoid used RAM: We’d always recommend getting it new, unless it has a cast-iron guarantee, as RAM chips are pretty fragile. Simply touching them at the wrong moment can fry them, and their golden connector pins can be easily damaged with repeated installs.

Check for CAS values if relevant: CAS Latency, often listed as CL or CAS, is a measure of latency, which in simple terms means the time the memory has to wait to deliver data to the CPU. While this won't be too important unless you're building a high-spec PC, it's worth noting that the lower the CAS value, the faster the latency.

Keep it cool: Heat spreaders, too, are worth looking out for. While unlikely to offer a major performance boost to your machine, having this feature can help to reduce how hot the memory get which should prolong the life of your RAM.

Handle RAM with care: RAM is fragile stuff and needs to be handled with the best possible care. That’s why getting it right the first time is so important – retailers are often reticent about taking back RAM, as once it’s been out of the protective bag, it can break if mishandled even slightly.

The good news is, RAM upgrades can bring a lagging computer back to life, and even make a cheap, low-spec computer feel more top-shelf. It’s easy to fit, and you should feel a difference in responsiveness the very next time you turn it on.

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