If you use your computer only to browse the Internet or check your emails, then its amount of random access memory isn't much of an issue. For activities such as gaming, video transcoding or graphic design -- or if you are in the habit of running several applications at once -- you will more than likely run into performance issues if your computer RAM is not sufficient. Whether you want to assemble a new computer or upgrade your existing system, a few factors influence the amount and type of memory that you need.

Know If RAM Is Really Needed

RAM is not as costly to upgrade as some other components, but you won't see any performance increase your computer is experiencing other bottlenecks. Adding more memory to a computer that is sluggish also won't help if the problem is caused by issues such as hardware failure or malware infection. Perform a full system scan with a reputable malware scanner and perform a benchmark test on your computer before upgrading. When you are sure that your computer will benefit from adding more RAM, you can look at the factors that influence your options.

Know What RAM Is Compatible

Before purchasing memory for your computer, first determine what type of RAM is compatible with your system. Depending on the age of your motherboard, you might not be able to add the latest type of memory. Consult your motherboard documentation or the manufacturer's website to see exactly what type of RAM is compatible with the board. Some memory manufacturers, such as Crucial, offer a system scanner tool (link in Resources) that analyzes your computer and suggests compatible RAM. If you have a very old motherboard, it might be more cost effective to purchase an upgrade instead of trying to find older RAM that is compatible with the board.

Know How Much RAM IS Needed

The amount of memory to purchase depends on your budget, what you use the computer for and your operating system. For example, if you are running a 32-bit version of Windows, it is no use installing more than 4GB of RAM as it won't be utilized. Unless you plan on upgrading to a 64-bit operating system in the future you won't see any speed increases from adding more than 4GB of RAM to the computer. If you have a 64-bit operating system and perform memory intensive operations, such as gaming or transcoding videos, you will see a benefit from adding more RAM.

Know How Much RAM Your Computer Can Take

An average computer motherboard has four to six slots available for RAM. If you are assembling a new computer and have all the slots free, you can maximize the amount of RAM. If your system already has RAM installed, you may need to replace the old RAM with higher capacity new RAM. Adding higher capacity RAM also allows you to leave a few slots open for future upgrades, although this is less important on older motherboards where it might become more cost effective to replace everything when upgrading.