When I went car shopping recently, I was presented with technical words that I didn’t fully understand. As usual, I nodded my head and pretended to understand what a powertrain was and the difference between 4 and 6 cylinders. I bluffed my way past them again, hoping I didn’t screw things up (like later asking why not 5 or 3 cylinders and does the powertrain take AA or AAA batteries).

When purchasing a computer, people are faced with a similar dilemma of not understanding the technical terms associated with modern electronics. RAM is one term I see people get confused with. We’ve heard it called memory, and might even know it stands for Random Access Memory, but do we really know WHAT it does?

Despite the fact it’s called memory, RAM is not the long-term storage for the machine. That storage is there already in the form of your Hard Drive or in more recent machines your Flash storage. If I had to put an analogy to it, storage is like a filing cabinet in your digital office. That would make RAM your desk, as it’s job is that of the workspace for your computer.


Depending on how much RAM you have on your computer is how big this virtual desk is to work on. If you have 4 gigs, it’s a lot like getting that $30 student desk at your local Target. Now get yourself 64 gigs and it’s a gorgeous long workstation like you would see in an audio mixing studio! Do you need all that space for writing emails and checking your Facebook? Not necessarily if you manage what you have.

Start an application, say your web browser. Like putting a TV on your desk, the program uses up a certain amount of space in RAM. As you launch more and more apps, picture your desk getting cluttered with physical objects: Outlook is a typewriter, iTunes a CD player, and so forth. Computers no longer give you daily “out of memory” warnings as the machine will just keep stacking one item upon another on the virtual desk. This is what really slows down your computer. “Does having too many pictures slow my computer down?” is a common question. Short answer is no IF you are exiting/quitting the application you are storing them in. While open, it’s like having 50 photo albums sitting on your desk.

So if you aren’t using that item anymore, you should try removing it from the desk. AKA; exit the program. Make sure you are actually quitting it, as some Mac users are in a bad habit of thinking the red X in a window does that when 75% of the time it just closes the window leaving the Application open in RAM. Shortcut: to quickly close a program hit Command and “Q”.

How to Quit.jpg

As you remove virtual typewriters and rolodexes and CD players from our virtual desk, it makes room for other items to be accessed easier. So, quitting programs will remove them from RAM and give your computer the ability to run other programs more smoothly. If you don’t clutter your real life desk with items you aren’t using then don’t do the same to your computer. Quit those programs and be more efficient.

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