Computer Idle Memory (RAM) Usage: How Much?

Here’s how much physical memory or RAM your computer or laptop should use when it’s idle:

Memory is used for every process on your computer, including your operating system or OS.

During idle time, Windows reserves anywhere from 1.8 to 2.4 GB of RAM.

MacOS uses as much memory as possible to have it available for all of your other applications and programs.

Any number can make sense.

If you want to learn all about how much RAM or physical memory your computer or laptop is supposed to use when it’s idle and how to reduce the usage, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s jump right in!

Computer Idle Memory (RAM) Usage: How Much? (All the Info)

How Much Memory Should My Computer Be Using When Idle?

The bottom line is that your computer is using memory the whole time it is on.

As for the question of how much physical memory should my computer be using?

It’s hard to give an exact answer because every computer is so different. 

It is easier to answer questions about the computer’s performance, like is your computer running slow because you don’t have enough memory, or is your computer wasting your memory on things it shouldn’t be?

To learn the answer to those questions, you have to look at where your computer uses its memory.

Just running the operating system takes up some memory.

So when you check your computer’s memory, a portion will always be in use.

How Much of My Memory Should I Be Using?

Memory is measured in Gigabytes (GBs) of RAM.

RAM stands for Random Access Memory.

RAM is memory that allows you to open up programs.

Memory is used for every process on your computer, including your Operating System or OS. 

When you talk about relative memory, you are looking at the percentage of memory used.

For example, say your computer is using 50% of its memory.

If you have 4 GBs of RAM, that means your computer is using 2 GBs.

If your friend has 8 GBs, they would be using 4 GBs.

You’re using the same percentage of memory, but that comparison is apples to oranges when your overall memory isn’t exactly the same.

When you talk about non-relative memory, you are using specific numbers.

For example, my computer is using 4 GBs of memory.

If you only have 4 GBs, this could be a problem.

If you have 8 GBs, it would be less concerning. 

Some computer experts say that unused RAM is wasted RAM.

So let’s pivot the question from how much physical memory should my computer be using, to the more useful, how do you use your RAM more efficiently? 

What is the Average Memory Usage Percentage?

It is convenient to look for an average memory usage percentage, but unfortunately, this isn’t a number that exists.

Every system and situation is unique.  

You might be using 30% of 16 GBs of RAM, and your buddy may be using 30% of 32 GBs of RAM on average.

It depends on what specs your device has and what you do on it.

If your friend is using high-end graphics programs, and you are just writing an email, your average RAM usage will vary widely. 

Is 40% Memory Usage at Idle Normal?

Normal depends on the system.

Some Macs would be completely fine using 40% of their RAM at idle.

Man takes a break from his work and laptop, leans back on chair.

Some Windows computers could be working too hard if they were using that much.

You may want to see how many programs are running in the background if this is your normal idle.

Is 25% RAM Usage while Idle Normal?

If your system is idling around 25%, that shouldn’t raise any flags at all.

When you take into account everything your computer is doing in the background, it would be pretty easy to account for that memory usage. 

Why Does My Computer Use Memory When Idle?

What is your computer using its memory for when you’re not using it? Lots of things. 

First, your computer has to run your operating systems. Different operating systems use memory differently, so a low idle on a Mac could be considered a high idle on Windows. 

Every operating system has a kernel. That is the portion of the operating system that is always in the memory.

The kernel can use as little as 1 Megabyte and up to 10 MBs of memory.

That means that your system has to be using 1 MB of memory at an absolute bare minimum.

Then your computer has to run every interaction it is responsible for, even if you aren’t using them at that moment.

These programs are called drivers.

Drivers allow you to use keyboards, speakers, monitors, and all other pieces of hardware attached to your computer. 

Factors That Affect Memory Consumption?

You don’t have a specific answer for how much physical memory should my computer be using because there are a ton of factors that can affect it. 

The OS you use, the quality of the components, and what you have running in the background will all change the memory your computer uses at idle. 

Each of these factors must be considered when you ask to understand what percentage of memory should your computer be using.

Normal RAM Usage Windows

How much RAM should be used at idle for Windows?

Windows holds some of your memory in reserve right off the top, even if there is no need for it currently.

It does this in anticipation of being used. This reserve can be anywhere from 1.8 to 2.4 GBs of RAM. 

The operating system runs between .8 and 2.0 GBs of RAM.

In general, the absolute lowest you are running is nearly a GB of RAM for your operating system. 

So Windows 10 using 4 GB ram only has 2 to 3 GBs available for other programs with just the OS running.

Normal Ram Usage macOS

Apple has a slightly different approach to RAM.

The macOS is designed to use as much memory available to have it ready to hand out at any time for your other apps and programs.

Woman thinking and working with big computer monitor at the office.

This design means that if you have 8 GBs, your Mac will try to idle using all of it.

This factor doesn’t mean that your Mac is using all of it to run your OS.

It means that your system is preparing to hand out RAM as you need it efficiently. 

For example, if you aren’t running anything, your Mac will be using a lot of memory for the OS.

The minute you open up your Internet browser, the Mac allocates the appropriate memory to that program, which makes the transition smoother, and lowers the memory the OS is using (however slightly). 

So how much RAM should be used at idle for Mac?

In theory, it varies so much that almost any number makes sense.

Quality of the Parts 

The old adage that you get what you pay for still applies to RAM.

RAM has speed ratings.

The speed rating is how fast your system can access the RAM. This term is called latency.

Lower latency means more immediate access to the RAM your system has. 

In the most general terms, the better the quality of RAM you purchase, the faster your system can access it.

This speed means that even when your system uses all your RAM at once, you won’t be experiencing as much slow down. 

The quality of your processor also pairs with your RAM latency.

If you have the fastest RAM out there but a slower processor, the system may have a bottleneck effect.

You want to make sure that you pair the right equipment together to get the best performance.  

Apps Running in the Background

Even when you aren’t doing things on your computer, there can be programs running in the background using up memory.

These could be useful apps that you want running, like Antivirus software. Or, apps like Rainmeter for animated desktop backgrounds. By the way, learn all about whether Rainmeter slows down your computer here.

They may also be apps you don’t need, so it is worth checking on RAM usage just to ensure nothing is flying under your radar. 

The worst background apps are malware and viruses that have latched on to your system and now use RAM, sometimes for nefarious means, but often just to be annoying.

Finding out what apps are running at all times will help you control how much RAM you are using. 

What percentage of RAM should be used for these programs? That answer can vary widely on what you plan to do.

For Windows, if your idle memory is over 50% with your programs, you’ll likely notice a lag.

For both Mac and Windows, you’ll likely feel the slowdown, but the percentages you experience it at can vary wildly. 

How Do Reduce Your RAM Usage When the Computer Is Idle?

The bottom line?

You’ll never get to 0 Memory usage.

But there are things that you can do to make sure you use your RAM more productively.

The goal is to stop slowdowns.

You want to make sure that your memory is being used where it will help performance the most.

Restart Your Computer Regularly

When your computer has been running for a long time without a restart, your system starts holding on to and running extra programs that can use RAM.

When you restart your system, you’re clearing the slate in terms of what’s up and running.

If you have a serious memory problem, or spyware messing with your OS, restarting may not help.

But in most cases, some downtime by way of powering off is good for your system.

Upgrade Hardware 

Find RAM with a low enough latency to work the best with your processor.

Pair of RAM placed on top of motherboard.

Remember that you want to match these items so that you get the best results.

There is no point in getting a lower latency than your processor can use. 

Sometimes your current RAM can go bad.

You can test your RAM with either Windows Memory Diagnostic or the Apple Hardware Test.

These can tell you if there are any problems with your current RAM. 

If your memory has “gone bad,” you can look into solutions via hardware upgrade.

Update Software

Software updates are a bit of a puzzle. Sometimes, updates to the software can use more RAM, but it will use the RAM more efficiently when the software is up to date.

This efficiency can help you use the program safer and more smoothly. 

If you update your drivers, you will make sure that every piece of hardware on your computer is working better, which can cut off higher RAM usage problems. 

Keeping everything up to date will make your whole system run better overall, not just in terms of memory usage. 

Stop Unused Background Programs

Now that you have seen the programs that are running in your background. It may be time to turn them off.

Make sure that every program that runs on startup is something that you use regularly and often. 

Not recognizing the name of a program or process isn’t enough reason to stop it. There are a lot of important processes tied to your OS.

Research every process you don’t recognize before stopping it, or you could crash your computer. 

You may also want to run malware and antivirus programs.

Getting rid of useless or harmful programs will make your computer more secure, of course.

It will also open up more RAM for more important programs and processes. 

How to Reduce RAM Usage Windows 

For Windows, press Ctrl + Shift + Del to open up the task manager and then check the process.

This program will let you know what is using RAM at the moment. 

If you find anything you don’t recognize, search the name and see if it is something you need.

If it isn’t, you can take it off the startup list and use less RAM with every startup. 

How to Reduce RAM Usage Mac

For Macs, look in the utility section and check your Activity Monitor. This program will tell you everything that is running. 

Once you identify programs that you don’t use or need, you can turn them off by right-clicking on the app.

Look at the options and see if open at login is checked. If so, you can uncheck it, which will stop it. 

Cleaning up the startup will let your system have more RAM at startup to use on your favorite programs.

Mac users, you may not want to read this, but you have to check for viruses and malware.

Macs aren’t immune to these problems. Macs are often more resilient, though. But if you can’t figure out what is causing increased memory usage, a virus may be the culprit. 

How to Know if You Have Enough RAM?

How much physical memory should my computer be using might be a hard question to answer directly.

Knowing if you need more RAM is much more straightforward. 

Here are the basic symptoms of insufficient RAM:

  • Computer freezes or stops responding 
  • Programs have to reload all the time 
  • Your computer reboots randomly 
  • Lag when typing  

Every computer can experience one or more of these symptoms at times.

It may not be anything to worry about, especially if you’re doing more than you usually plan on doing. 

Bored woman checking her laptop on a desk at home.

However, if you notice this behavior a lot, even when you are doing very little on your computer, it may be time to bulk up the RAM. 

How Do I Know If I Need More RAM for Windows?

First, you want to make sure that you have done everything to use your RAM effectively. 

How much free memory should I have after that?

If, after all that cleanup, your system is still using 50% of its RAM when idle, that could indicate you need to upgrade your RAM. 

How Do I Know If I Need More RAM for Mac? 

Luckily, Apple makes this step easy.

For Macs, there is a section called the memory pressure graph on the Activity Monitor.

This graph gauges how efficiently you are using your RAM. 

If the graph is most often in the green, you probably have enough RAM.

If it’s yellow, it’s a sign that you might need to add some more RAM. If it’s in the red, you should look into adding more RAM for better function. 

How to Know If You Need More RAM for Gaming?

Games can use a lot of RAM, and if they are competing with too many other programs for memory, they are often the first ones to fail and glitch. 

If you are noticing that your games take forever to load, crash at random times, freeze up a lot, or slow down to the point where it is difficult to play them, it might be time to upgrade your memory. 

Check your RAM usage while playing.

Gaming is one of the major activities where latency matters. 

So if you are experiencing memory problems when gaming but not when doing anything else, a higher quality RAM may be more important than just more of it.

Disappointed and upset gamer after he lost a game.

Better RAM can help if you are out of memory slots on your system. 

Do Smartphones Use Memory While Idling?

Smartphones are basically small computers that you keep in your pocket, and they use memory as well.

Just like a computer, smartphones have a kernel.

So at a minimum, a smartphone will be using some memory, even idle.

Apples tend to use memory more efficiently than Android.

For Android, you can expect about .5 GB just to run their OS.

Apple’s iOS is similar to its macOS, so it has a wider range of memory use.

Apps running in the background can add to that memory use significantly for both phones.

Does Your Computer Slow Down if Your Internal Storage (HDD, SDD, NVMe) Is Full?

Now you know how much RAM your computer should use when it is idle and if it is time to increase the RAM to prevent your computer from slowing down.

What about your internal storage, though?

Does your computer slows down if your internal storage is full?


No matter what kind of device your computer uses for its primary data storage, if that storage is full enough, it will bog down your computer’s performance. 

In extreme cases, your computer will slow down to a point that makes it feel completely unusable. 

Fortunately, there are remedies to the problem.

Learn all about how a full internal storage slows down your computer exactly here.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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