RAM is short-term memory that enables your computer to process information at lightning-fast speeds. It can be a complicated component to understand and picking the right RAM for your build can make a significant difference in performance.
There are many factors to consider, including voltage, timings, channels and more. But the most important factor is to get enough RAM for your needs and budget.
What Is RAM?
Every PC component has more specifications than most people know, and RAM is no exception. While most folks just know that more RAM is better, a little extra knowledge can go a long way when shopping for a new build or upgrading an existing one.
Computer RAM is temporary memory that allows your CPU to quickly access data. RAM isn’t as slow as a hard drive or SSD, but it can still take some time to load and execute programs. The amount and speed of RAM you need depends on what you use your computer for.
You may see RAM referred to with a set of numbers, like DDR3-1600 or DDR5-6400. The letter D and the number paired with it refer to the generation of RAM, while the number after the hyphen indicates how fast it’s capable of operating at (in megatransfers per second). For the best performance results, you should pair RAM modules of matching frequency and timing performance.
How Much RAM Do I Need?
While it’s not as common as a hard drive or solid-state storage, RAM is still important. It helps your computer run faster by storing frequently-used data on hand for immediate access, rather than having to retrieve the information from a long-term storage drive (like your hard drive or SSD).
Generally, 2GB of RAM should be enough to allow you to surf the web and use basic programs like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop. However, more RAM is required for demanding applications, like 4K video editing or game-making software.
If you’re gaming, 8GB is a good baseline. But since the demands of games are increasing, you may want to consider a 16GB kit. Also, keep in mind that it is generally ill-advised to mix RAM units of different storage sizes and speeds, as they need to be factory tested as a set in order to guarantee compatibility. This is why purchasing a complete RAM kit is often cheaper than buying individual modules individually.
How Do I Know if I Need More RAM?
If you’re finding that programs aren’t opening immediately or lagging in use, you may have a RAM problem. Faster memory allows a computer to perform better in games, and it can also help with tasks like video editing or 3D modeling.
Adding more memory is a simple and relatively inexpensive upgrade for desktops, laptops, and Intel(r) NUC mini-PCs. But you’ll need to make sure the new sticks are compatible with your motherboard and processor. Incompatible modules won’t fit or function properly.
The most important factor in choosing the right RAM is capacity, followed by speed. However, a balance should be struck between the two, as faster RAM doesn’t necessarily mean your PC will run more quickly. RAM is volatile, which means it loses its data when the system reboots — unlike non-volatile storage drives like hard disks and SSDs. That’s why it’s important to check the physical form factor and DDR type of RAM before buying.
How Can I Upgrade My RAM?
Over time, computer applications have become unabashed memory hogs. If you have a lot of programs open, multiple tabs in Chrome and video games running, your PC may be reaching its limit on RAM usage, slowing down or even crashing. Upgrading your RAM is one of the simplest and quickest hardware upgrades you can make to improve PC performance.
Before you begin working with your motherboard, make sure it’s shut down completely and that any power cables are disconnected. Also, remember to ground yourself to prevent static discharge from frying any important components inside your computer.
Start by removing your old RAM by toggling the plastic retention clips on either end of each RAM module. Then pick up your new RAM kit and gently push each stick into its slot until you feel/hear a snap and the tabs close. It is important to install RAM in pairs, as most modern motherboards only accept two modules at a time.