When you turn on your PC, your OS loads into RAM. That means that you need some minimum amount of memory just to get your PC up and running. Today’s most common operating systems are Windows 10, macOS, and Chrome OS. Of these, Chrome OS is the least demanding, but even it will benefit from having enough RAM.
Of course, nobody buys a PC just to run the operating system. At the very least, most people are going to use a web browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge, along with an email client and some mix of productivity apps such as those that are a part of Microsoft’s Office suite.
Here’s a quick overview of our RAM recommendations:
< 4GBThis is not recommended for anyone but the lightest Chrome OS user.
4GB to 8GB4GB of RAM is recommended as a minimum configuration for the typical productivity user.
8GB to 16GB8GB of RAM is the sweet spot for the majority of users, providing enough RAM for virtually all
productivity tasks and less demanding games.
16GB or moreIf you’re running demanding applications like video editing and CAD, or you’re a hardcore gamer, then we recommend that you start at 16GB and go up from there.
Less than 4GB: Not recommended
Today, most PCs come with at least 4GB of RAM, leaving only the most basic budget systems available with just 2GB. Unless you’re using Chrome OS, and even then only if you’re only going to be working with a minimal set of browser tabs and Chrome OS or Android apps, we recommend against buying or configuring a PC with less than 4GB of RAM.
Chances are, you’re just not going to be happy with the performance.
4GB to 8GB: A minimal configuration for productivity users
If you’re running Windows 10 or macOS, or you’re a heavy Chrome OS user, then you’ll want at least 4GB of RAM. Unsurprisingly, you’ll find that to be the most common minimum RAM configuration with PCs available for purchase today.
Having at least 4GB of RAM will let users load up a reasonable number of browser tabs and leave enough RAM for using email, working with applications like Microsoft Word, and playing casual games. That makes 4GB a good minimum specification for most users.
8GB to 16GB: The sweet spot
Many of the most commonly used applications don’t use a ton of RAM on their own. However, it’s very common for users to run many of these applications at once. Many people also like to open multiple browser tabs at once, and they can access web sites that display a lot of graphics, run various web applications, and play video. Taken together, this all means that available RAM can quickly get used up.
The bottom line is that if you’re a heavy multi-tasker and you open a lot of tabs, then you’ll want more RAM. For most people, this means configuring a system with at least 8GB, and that’s why this amount is increasingly an option even for value-oriented PCs.
If you’re buying a notebook that doesn’t allow for upgrading RAM, then 8GB is a great baseline choice, while 16GB is likely to provide you with plenty of headroom for whatever you’ll need from your PC for as long as you’re likely to own it.
16GB to 32GB+: Power users
Some applications, such as Adobe’s creative apps, various computer-aided design (CAD) solutions, and very demanding games, can use a large amount of RAM all by themselves. If you’re a photographer using Adobe Photoshop or another advanced photo editing application, a videographer using Adobe Premiere or another video editor, or you’re using something like AutoCAD, then 8GB might not be enough RAM.
For those people, we recommend at least 16GB. The same goes for hardcore gamers, and even for demanding productivity users who know they’ll be using a huge number of applications at once. Starting with 16GB provides a cushion for most users and allows for working with very large spreadsheets and databases as well.