Need to learn how to free up RAM on your computer, perhaps after seeing messages that your Windows PC is low on memory? Don’t fear; we have many tips to reduce your RAM usage on Windows.
Let’s take a look at some practical steps to clear RAM and keep your computer running smoothly. These apply to both Windows 10 and Windows 11.
What Is RAM and What Is It For?
Before we dive into tips on how to clear RAM on Windows, let’s briefly describe what RAM does in case you’re not familiar. See our full explanation of RAM for more details.
RAM stands for Random Access Memory. It’s a short-term storage medium that holds programs and processes currently running on your computer.
The more RAM that’s in your machine, the more programs you can run at once without negatively affecting performance. When your computer runs low on RAM, it uses a part of the storage drive called the page file, which acts as pretend RAM. This is much slower than actual RAM, which is why you notice slowdowns when Windows has to use it.
Because RAM is volatile, you’ll lose its contents when your computer shuts off. Anything you want to keep must save to permanent storage, like a hard drive or solid-state drive. This is why, for example, you’ll lose an open Word document that you haven’t saved yet when your computer shuts off.
How to Free Up RAM on Your Windows PC: 8 Methods
Let’s look at the ways to reduce the amount of RAM you’re using. You shouldn’t need to do this often, but these methods come in handy when you notice a memory problem.
1. Restart Your PC
This is a tip you’re probably familiar with for troubleshooting other problems, but it’s popular for a reason.
Restarting your PC will also completely clear the contents of RAM and restart all running processes. While this obviously won’t increase the maximum RAM you have available, it will clean up processes running in the background that could be eating up your memory. Some processes might be running that you didn’t realize.
You should restart your computer regularly to keep it from getting bogged down, especially if you use it all the time. If you haven’t restarted in a week and your PC feels sluggish, it’s time to reboot.
2. Check RAM Usage With Windows Tools
You don’t have to guess what’s using your RAM; Windows provides tools to show you. To get started, open the Task Manager by searching for it in the Start menu, or use the Ctrl + Shift + Esc shortcut.
Click More details to expand to the full view, if needed. Then, on the Processes tab, click the Memory header to sort all processes from most to least RAM usage. Keep the apps you see here in mind, as we’ll discuss more on them later. Keep in mind that heavier apps need more RAM, so using a lot of RAM isn’t necessarily the sign of an issue. A browser with a dozen tabs open is going to take more RAM than a simple notepad app, for instance.
For more information, switch to the Performance tab. In the Memory section, you’ll see a chart of your RAM usage over time. Click Open Resource Monitor at the bottom and you can get further details on this utility’s Memory tab.
The chart at the bottom will show you how much RAM you have free. Sort by Commit (KB) on the top list to see which programs use the most RAM. If you suspect you have a deep problem based on what you see here, see the complete guide to troubleshooting memory leaks.
3. Uninstall or Disable Unneeded Software
Now that you’ve seen what apps use the most RAM on your system, think about whether you really use them. An easy way to reduce RAM usage is to prevent programs you never use anyway from consuming it.
Apps you haven’t opened in months but that still run in the background are just wasting resources on your computer, so you should remove them. Do so by navigating to Settings > Apps > Apps & features and clicking Uninstall on any app you want to remove.
If you don’t want to uninstall an app because you use it sometimes, you can instead prevent that program from running at startup. Many apps set themselves to automatically run every time you log in, which is unnecessary if you rarely use them.
4. Update Your Apps
You should always install app updates in a timely manner for security reasons, but doing this can help you reduce RAM waste, too.
Some apps suffer from memory leaks, which occur when a program doesn’t return RAM to the pool once it’s done using those resources. Over time, such apps will use more and more RAM, leading to a lack of resources for the other apps on your system. If there’s a memory leak issue with an app, installing the latest update will hopefully include a fix for this problem.
Aside from this, the latest versions of apps can include optimization and improvements so that the software doesn’t need to use as much RAM in general.
5. Use Lighter Apps and Manage Running Programs
What if you really need to clear RAM on your computer, but the apps hogging RAM are necessary to your workflow? You can handle this in two ways.
First, try using lighter app alternatives when you can. If your computer struggles when you have Photoshop open, try using a smaller app like Paint.NET or GIMP for minor edits. Only use Photoshop when you’re fully dedicated to working on a project.
Second, pay closer attention to the programs you have open. Close any software that you’re not actively working with. Make a habit of saving files when you’re done working on them, then close the app they’re open in. Bookmark open browser tabs that you want to read later (or use a read-it-later service like Pocket), then close them to free up RAM. Keeping a tighter leash on what’s running at once will help free up RAM.
Be sure to expand the System Tray section of the taskbar, located at the bottom-right of your screen, by clicking the small arrow. Each program that has an icon here is running in the background, so you should right-click and choose Close or Exit on anything you don’t need (then use the steps above to prevent it from running at startup every time).
Google Chrome is in its own category here, as it’s notorious for gobbling RAM. See how to control Chrome’s memory usage for tips. If you work in your browser a lot, it might be better to switch away from Chrome in favor of another option (such as Edge) that’s easier on RAM.
No matter what browser you use, you should check your browser extensions and remove any you don’t need. Every extension you add to your browser consumes extra memory, so getting rid of those is an easy way to reduce RAM usage further.
6. Scan for Malware
It’s worth checking for malware on your PC if your RAM always seems to disappear. Rogue software stealing resources will obviously suck up your available RAM.
We recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes. Hopefully, it won’t find anything, but at least you can rule out the possibility.
7. Adjust Virtual Memory in Windows
Earlier, we mentioned the paging file. If you see error messages that your system is low on virtual memory, you can increase this to hopefully keep performance stable.
To do so, head to Settings > System > About. On this page, click Advanced system settings, which will open a new window. If you don’t see this link on Windows 10, expand the Settings window horizontally until it appears. On Windows 11, it’s in the Related links section under Device specifications.
In the new box, on the Advanced tab, click the Settings button under Performance. This will open a new window; switch to the Advanced tab once again and click the Change button in the Virtual memory section.
Now you’ll see the paging file size for your main drive. In most cases, you can leave the Automatically manage paging file size for all drives box checked to let Windows take care of it. However, if you’re running low on virtual memory, you may need to uncheck this and set the Initial size and Maximum size to higher values.
8. Try ReadyBoost to Add More RAM
If your computer is old and has a tiny amount of RAM inside, you can try a lesser-known Windows feature called ReadyBoost to increase RAM. This allows you to plug in a flash drive or SD card and have Windows effectively treat it as extra RAM.
While it sounds great, this feature offers limited use today. If your computer has an SSD, ReadyBoost won’t do anything. This is because an SSD is faster than a flash drive, so the paging file is more efficient than using the USB drive as RAM.
Plus, since computers have more RAM installed by default now, you won’t see as much gain from ReadyBoost as you would on a weak system from many years ago. The “pretend RAM” from ReadyBoost doesn’t offer the same performance gains as actually adding more RAM.
As such, ReadyBoost only lets you increase the effective amount of RAM on ancient systems. In all other cases, the only way to get more RAM in your computer is by adding it yourself.
9. Install More RAM
If you’re always running low on RAM or want to run more programs at once, there’s really no way around it: you need to add some more RAM to your machine. While this does involve some cost, adding RAM will grant much-improved performance if your computer hasn’t had much until now.
If you’re wondering how to get more RAM, know that it’s only possible to increase your RAM by adding physical sticks of memory to your machine. Claims online about “downloading more RAM” are jokes; it’s impossible to add memory this way.
On a desktop, increasing your RAM is usually a simple upgrade. But due to the confined space on a laptop, it may be difficult or even impossible to add more RAM on a laptop. See our guide to upgrading your laptop’s RAM for a walkthrough.
In either case, you’ll need to make sure you buy RAM that’s compatible with your system. Take a look at your PC manufacturer’s documentation to learn what kind of RAM works with your system and whether the upgrade is easy. Online forums will also help with this.
To help you make the most of the upgrade, we’ve compared whether faster RAM or the overall amount of RAM is more important.
What About RAM Cleaners?
You’ve likely seen RAM cleaning utilities that promise to help you boost your RAM in various ways. While these sound great in theory, we recommend avoiding them.
Have a look at our coverage of CleanMem, one such app, for the reasons why. In summary, RAM boosters are placebos at best, as they “free up” RAM by taking it from programs that probably need it.
Memory management is a complex computing issue. The developers of Windows, who are experts in their field, have a much better grasp on how to do this than some random developer who publishes a RAM cleaner. Your computer using most of its available RAM isn’t necessarily a problem—it’s making the most of the resources it has available.
RAM Is Just One Important Computer Upgrade
We’ve taken a look at several ways to free up RAM on Windows 10 and 11. Ultimately, adding more physical RAM to your machine is the best solution for RAM-related issues, especially if they happen consistently. Walking through the above steps will help you decide if this is necessary, though.
With all this talk of RAM, don’t forget that other PC components are important too. Upgrading certain types of hardware will have more of an effect on your PC’s performance than others.
Which Upgrades Will Improve Your PC Performance the Most?
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