Choosing the RAM, or random access memory, for your computer’s build can be an important part of the process. That’s because the RAM largely dictates how much your computer can handle at any given time — the more RAM you have, the more programs you can run, or the more high-powered programs you can run.
There are a number of things to keep in mind when buying RAM for your computer build or as a replacement for the RAM in your pre-built computer. Here are a few of those things.
Type of RAM
There are a ton of different types of RAM out there, and we’re not going to talk about all of them — if you want to learn about different types of RAM, head here. Modern computer systems as the time of this writing use some flavor of DDR RAM. Generally, the best kind of RAM for most uses today is DDR3 or DDR4 RAM, however DDR5 is on its way too. The “4” in DDR4 RAM basically defines how fast data can be transferred by the RAM, and memory densities (RAM size) tend to increase as well from generation to generation. Generally speaking, DDR4 RAM available to purchase right now maxes out at 16GB on a single module (even though the theoretical limit can be up to 512GB per module), however you can obviously get multiple chips for more RAM if you so choose or your intended application requires it.
Sometimes choosing RAM isn’t as easy as choosing the best out there — some motherboards won’t accept some types of RAM. You’ll want to check what kinds of RAM your computer’s motherboard will accept before purchasing it. Some motherboards, for example, will only accept RAM that works up to DDR3’s 1600MHz. Choosing faster RAM than that will either limit how fast the RAM can work, or it just won’t work at all.
Just how much RAM do you need?
The general rule of thumb is that more RAM is better — but that doesn’t mean you need to spend thousands of dollars on dozens of GB of RAM. For most uses, 8GB of RAM is going to be enough — however if you really want to ensure that you’ve got enough RAM, then 16GB might be a better option or even 32GB, especially if you’re into super intense video games or video editing. Practically speaking, most people won’t need any more than 16GB, however.
While most RAM will require a standard voltage, some will require a little more. Before buying RAM, check the voltage of the RAM and the voltage your motherboard can supply. Also keep in mind the fact that more voltage can sometimes damage your processor — for example, more than 1.65V on RAM coupled with a Core i7 processor isn’t recommend. That’s because the RAM will run at a higher speed than the processor can handle, ultimately decreasing the processor’s life span and meaning that you’ll need to replace your processor sooner.
RAM uses a variety of different timings to determine how fast it operates. Generally, RAM timings use a number of different obscure and complex names, however the most important one to remember is CAS Latency, also known as tCL. What that tells you is how many cycles you’ll have to wait before you get a result from your RAM after sending it to a RAM controller. For more info on RAM timings, head here.
Using RAM to overclock
You may also want to use your RAM to overclock your computer, which involves applying a little extra voltage to the RAM and could result in heightened performance. In fact, to get the advertised speed from your RAM, you’ll often need to overclock it — companies generally want to show off the highest numbers their RAM can offer, which comes after a plethora of system tweaks. Of course, you may not want to overclock your RAM — particularly if your CPU can’t handle it.
Is your system 64 bit?
If you’re unsure about whether or not you have a 32 bit or 64 bit system, you probably have a 64 bit one — most modern systems are. If your computer is a little older and is only 32 bit, you’ll be limited to 4GB of RAM (due to memory addressing limits in the 32 bit architecture). Check your system on Windows by heading to My Computer then clicking the “Properties” button. There, it should say “x64 Edition” or similar if your computer is 64 bit. If it doesn’t, it’s probably 32 bit.
The last thing to keep in mind is the warranty. Some RAM manufacturers will give you a lifetime warranty, and some will even let you increase the amount of voltage given to your RAM under warranty too. You’ll want to keep those things in mind before you pull the trigger on RAM.
As you can see, there are plenty of things to remember when buying RAM. Keep these things in mind, and you should be able to get the perfect type of RAM and amount of RAM for your build.