Need to learn how to free up RAM after seeing messages that your Windows PC is low on memory? Don’t fear—we’re here to help. Let’s take a look at some practical steps to clear RAM and keep your computer running smoothly.
What Is RAM?
Before we dive into tips on how to clear RAM, we’ll briefly describe what RAM does in case you’re not familiar. 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 that acts as pretend RAM. This is much slower than actual RAM, which is why you notice slowdowns when Windows uses 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.
How to Free Up Memory on Your 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 most of the time, but they come in handy when you notice a problem.
1. Restart Your PC
This is a tip you’re probably familiar with, but it’s popular for a reason. Restarting your PC will also completely clear the RAM and restart all running processes. While this obviously won’t increase the maximum RAM available, it will clean up processes running in the background that could be eating up your memory. You should restart your computer regularly to keep it from getting bogged down, especially if you use it all the time.
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 utility if needed. Then on the Processes tab, click the Memory header to sort from most to least RAM usage. Keep the apps you see here in mind, as we’ll discuss more on them later. 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 its 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 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 free up RAM is to keep programs you never use anyway from consuming it! Apps you haven’t opened in months are just wasting resources on your computer, so you should remove them. Do so by navigating to Settings > Apps 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 it from running at startup. Many apps set themselves to automatically run every time you log in, which is overkill if you rarely use them.
4. Use Lighter Apps and Manage Programs
What if you really need to cut down on RAM usage, 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. Bookmark open browser tabs that you want to read later, then close them to free up RAM. Keeping a tighter leash on what’s open will help free up RAM. 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.
5. Scan for Malware
It’s worth checking for malware on your PC. 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.
6. Adjust Virtual Memory
Earlier, we mentioned the paging file. If you see error messages that your system is low on virtual memory, you can increase this and hopefully keep performance stable. To do so, search for the Control Panel on the Start menu to open it. Switch the Category view in the top-right to Small icons (if needed) and choose System. On the left side, click Advanced system settings, which will open a new window. Here, on the Advanced tab, click the Settings button under Performance. 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 box checked and 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.
7. Try ReadyBoost
If your computer still has an older mechanical hard disk drive (HDD) 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 that Windows effectively treats 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. Plus, since computers have more RAM installed by default now, you won’t see as much gain from ReadyBoost as you would on an anemic system from many years ago. The “pretend RAM” from ReadyBoost doesn’t offer the same performance gains as actually adding more RAM.
8. 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 it’s not cheap, 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 into 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 a pretty simple upgrade. But due to the confined space on a laptop, it may be difficult or even impossible on portable machines. You’ll also 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. For more info, 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, 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.
RAM Is Just One Important Upgrade
We’ve taken a look at several ways to free up RAM on Windows 10. Ultimately, adding more physical RAM to your machine is the best solution for RAM-related issues. 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. Find out what upgrades will improve your computer’s performance the most.