How to reduce RAM usage

Woman working remotely with a laptop and coffee with better PC performance by reducing RAM usage


#GoToGetsIT: This article is part of an ongoing series from GoTo’s thought leaders on the frontlines: Our Solutions Consultants deeply understand our customers’ unique challenges and connect the right solutions to meet their goals using GoTo technology. Here, they share their industry knowledge on what it takes to help businesses everywhere thrive in a remote or hybrid world.

What is RAM?

Random Access Memory (RAM) is the open and free memory on your machine, being utilized by every service and application you have running. Every time you open an application, such as Microsoft Word or your email inbox, a portion of your machine’s available memory is used and preserved for that operation. If you have plenty of RAM available, your computer should be operating quickly and reliably. If you have a low amount of RAM available, annoying latency and inconsistent behaviors occur, as the system simply doesn’t have the resources it needs to continue processing efficiently.

If you’ve opened something like a Word document, the RAM is set aside for that action. If you close the Word document, the RAM is released. But not all of the RAM is released – only a portion of what you had initially reserved upon opening is released.

Signs of high RAM usage

Over time, if you continue opening and closing applications, or simply leaving one running, your available RAM will disappear. Eventually, at the end of a busy session of opening and closing applications, services, and webpages on your machine, the available RAM starts to run out. That’s possibly when your first click doesn’t work right away, or your website fills in strangely, and your applications start acting sluggish. Learn more about how to reduce RAM usage on Mac and Windows machines below.

Reboot your computer

When your machine starts to freeze up or act strangely, you might commonly get the suggestion to close everything that you have open, and to restart your computer. This allows the RAM to free up again, and acts as a refresher on your machine. Sometimes you have no choice but to reboot – things are locked, and on PC the trusty old Alt-Ctrl-Del won’t even function. You’ll have no choice but to hold that power button down and force the restart.

Luckily smart applications like MS Word have document recovery built in, and you might notice an option to retrieve the last item you were working on when you start the program back up.

What if I don’t want a reboot quite yet?

Close your open applications

Sometimes, the drastic step of pausing all your work and rebooting your computer can seem onerous and be undesirable. If you’re on a PC, hitting Alt-Tab might help you cycle through the open applications, allowing you to reach a new area which can then be manually closed by you. In general, you want to Alt-Tab through everything running on your desktop, and close out the items one by one, hopefully gaining a chance to save your work before a reboot is necessary.

Close open services and processes

Closing any running applications or any services running can be quite effective in freeing up RAM. Services can be closed by right clicking on the icons in your system tray, quitting them one by one, or by hitting Alt-Ctr-Del, finding Task Manager, and stopping each individual service. The Task Manager will list both services and processes, and you can close anything that you safely recognize as not being required. I’ll often close something like MS Teams if I’m joining a new meeting in a different meeting tool, as not only does this free up system resources, but it makes things like microphone and speaker access much easier.

In addition to application services, which are programs that run in the background, and do not terminate unless they encounter a problem (such as an error), the Task Manager will also list processes. A process is a program which is started by the operating system or a third-party application. The process is terminated once its purpose is done, but they do occasionally get stuck. If closing the applications and services are not having impact, then processes can be terminated also

How IT can help

If you end up in a support session with your IT department and they are using an IT management and support solution like GoTo Resolve, they’ll have quick and easy tools that stop services and processes, evoke Task Manager, and help you get the fastest performance possible.

To help prevent future issues around RAM performance, your IT team can use remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to proactively keep your software up to date, as outdated apps can use up RAM unnecessarily, and automatically run antivirus protection. They can also set you up with more RAM if needed.

Tips for great performance

1. Choose your browser wisely

If a browser is acting subpar, try a different browser. You can download Chrome from Edge and have it on hand as a backup. On my personal devices, I love Firefox Focus, because it strips out all cookies and clears its cache automatically each time I use it. Even though you are accessing a website not stored on your machine, it can still be downloading local images, cookies, storing text, and more – all of which increase not only your disk space, but also your available RAM.

2. Clear your browser cache

You should also clear your browser cache when running into poor performance. You can do this by going into the browser settings, locating the cookies and site data, and clearing out as much as possible. After clearing the cache you’ll want to close your browser and ideally reboot the computer before launching the refreshed browser again.

3. Scan for viruses and malware

If things are still sluggish, make sure you run an antivirus scan, ruling out the possibility of any malware being present that could be using up a good portion of your RAM.

4. Keep your apps updated

Make sure to keep your software updated, as the updates help ensure that malware is not able to get through, and in general typically contain tweaks and upgrades in the overall efficiencies of the applications.

5. Check your memory

Sometimes the settings for your virtual memory on a PC or MAC can be adjusted to help the RAM degradation, or if the steps above are not enough, then you may need to simply install more physical RAM, which will help in the overall capacity and give you more flexibility.

RAM is temporary

RAM impacts most of your computer’s operations and efficiencies. It is easily “wiped” when you turn your computer off, and when you turn your computer on, it is fully “reset.” The more RAM you have, the better your machine will operate.

Follow the golden rule and reboot your computer once a day, and while you’re at it, try a hard boot sometimes – simply shut down the computer and leave it off for more than five minutes. You’ll be amazed at what this simple RAM refresh can do!

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