Just because people say we need more memory/RAM, it doesn’t always mean better performance – in fact, you may need less RAM than you think!

Characteristically, today’s budget PCs come with 4GB of RAM. A mid-range configuration may offer double that, and high-end gaming systems and workstations go as high as 32GB or more.
In my mind there’s little doubt which way the waters flowing, either: Windows 8 supports up to 128GB of physical memory (assuming you’re running the 64-bit edition), while Windows 8 Pro can go up to 512GB.
So the question is……does anyone really need this much RAM? Memory isn’t as expensive as it used to be, but there’s obviously no point paying for gigabytes of RAM from which you’ll receive no material gain.

Does more equivalent to faster?
Many people assume that adding memory makes their PC or Laptop significantly faster, and in some cases it does. Sticking an extra pair of sticks into a motherboard won’t change the speed at which the processor implements code, but it can help in other ways, especially on older systems with 2GB of RAM or less, since adding RAM reduces the need for Windows to rely on “virtual memory”.
Basically put, virtual memory is a file on your hard disk that serves as temporary storage when your PC’s “actual” memory is full. Virtual memory makes it possible, for example, to have several heavyweight applications running at once, even if they won’t fit simultaneously in RAM. When you switch from one to another, Windows quickly swaps the relevant data from the disk into real memory, which explains why the virtual memory file is sometimes called a swap file
If you’ve ever used Windows XP on a machine from the late 1990s or early 2000s, you’ll almost certainly have sat through your fair share of disk-thrashing sessions. Although contemporary 32-bit PCs were theoretically able to address up to 4GB of RAM, memory was extremely expensive, and a high-end system may have come with only 256MB installed. A reliance on virtual memory was a fact of life – hence the rule of thumb that you should install as much memory as you can afford.

Lessening returns…..
This rule is much less applicable today than it was a decade ago. Today, a new PC will come with multiple gigabytes of RAM, so Windows relies much less on virtual memory. It’s almost certain to come with a solid-state system drive rather than a motorized one, making the process of swapping data between RAM and virtual memory much smoother. Also, since SSDs have no problem reading from one flash memory cell while writing to a different one, it also efficiently eliminates the problem of “thrashing”.
All the same, real memory is still faster. While a high-end SSD might read and write data at around 600MB/sec, a DDR3 DIMM running at 1333MHz can transfer more than 10GB/sec (you can calculate the peak transfer rate of a DDR3 memory module in megabytes per second by multiplying its operating frequency by eight). This means your system will be more responsive if you can fit all your applications and documents into physical memory.

For current tasks, however, adding memory beyond 4GB seems to yield sharply diminishing returns: we’ve yet to see any application – outside of extremely specialist data-processing tasks – that genuinely benefits from 16GB. It seems the days when you could never have enough RAM are, thankfully, behind us.

Memory and performance
We’ve mentioned that the high transfer speeds of a modern SSD make virtual memory less painful than it once was. But what does this mean in practice? To find out, we ran our Real World Benchmarks on our test system, equipped with 2GB, 4GB and 8GB of RAM.
Clearly, even with an SSD, adding more memory speeds things up. We saw the most pronounced effect in our Windows test, which involves repeatedly opening and switching between applications. With only 2GB on board, Windows had to make regular use of virtual memory.
Overall, the difference between a 4GB system and an 8GB one was only 3%. You might consider that significant enough to justify an upgrade, but it’s nowhere near as transformative as you might expect.