Chances are, you’re wondering: why do I need RAM on my computer? What makes it so essential for a system to operate? Why does Google Chrome eat so much of it up, and more importantly, how do I get more? Let’s get your memory on these matters up to speed, with this handy beginner’s guide to RAM.
RAM, abbreviated from ‘Random Access Memory’, is a type of computer memory used for short term storage on your system. It allows your computer(s) to perform day to day tasks like editing documents, surfing the internet, and playing media content, as most temporary data is siphoned through these chips. This speedy storage also enables your computer to quickly switch between tasks, while more of it ensures your system can handle more tasks simultaneously.
Unlike hard drives and solid-state drives, RAM only stores temporary data from your computer. When you save progress, close software, or when you completely turn off your computer, most memory on it gets wiped immediately. In exchange, RAM can usually load and unload data way faster than regular hard-drives, as well as most SSD’s.
Most everyday RAM can be divided into to form factors: DIMM and SO-DIMM. Both are elongated and modular sticks of memory, but it’s the size that sets the two apart. A regular dual in-line memory module (DIMM) measures about 133 millimeters in length, while most small outline variations top out at roughly 67 millimeters.
The use cases for DIMM and SO-DIMM may shift over time, but the division mostly comes down to their integration. Regular DIMM-sticks are the de facto memory for full-size desktop systems, while SO-DIMM is usually found in notebooks, as well as certain compact computers.
As DIMM is larger, these sticks may feature components not often found on SO-DIMM. Small controllers that automatically correct faulty data (ECC, or error correction code) are usually found on more luxurious memory sticks.
Knowing the different form factors, we can shift over to generational differences. As of recent years, most have transitioned to DDR4 RAM. The previous DDR3 generation is still used in some older systems, while the industry prepares for implementation of DDR5.
Although general size is set on DIMM and SO-DIMM modules, the actual interface differences from generation to generation. The amount of pins, as well as their relative placement, changes over the years. This is how a system is locked into a certain shape and generation of RAM, as the port is bound to a certain type of module.
This, in turn, means you can often upgrade the amount of RAM (as well as the speed, to some extent), but you cannot ‘upgrade’ from DDR3 to DDR4 without swapping motherboards and CPU.
If you need to quickly know what kind of generation RAM your desktop is currently running, check out the image below for reference.
In terms of specifications, DDR3 maxes out at 16 GB per memory module, with a maximum speed up to about 14.9 GB/s. DDR4 doesn’t have a ceiling for size, but can offer up to 25.6 GB/s. The speed at which data is transferred, is mostly bound to the clock rate of your memory sticks. Luxurious DDR4-3200 modules clock at 3.200 MHz, although it is possible to overclock these stats, should you feel the need for more speed in your hot storage.
DDR5 features even higher speeds, while also granting manufacturers more settings to tweak to their liking. Previously considered luxury features, like ECC, are by default integrated into the new generation of RAM. As of mid-2021, these new memory sticks (and components to support them), have not yet reached the consumer market.
In order to answer this question, you would first need to identify what would you be using your computer for. It is important to determine what programs and tasks you would run on your computer, and how much of it at the same time.
For normal day to day home or office use, an 8 GB memory stick would be enough to handle most workloads. On the other hand, if you are going to use your computer for intensive tasks like video editing, gaming, and especially livestreaming, having at least 16 GB is slowly becoming the standard.
If you feel like livestreaming high-end games in superb quality, or like editting videos while also animating effects on the side, 32 GB is no longer overkill. While most games don’t require hefty amounts of RAM, your tendency to multitask or quickly switch between applications does.
Also, keep in mind that your system would benefit from higher frequency RAM. Bigger is one part, but having storage run speedy and stabile, is another So, if you want to maximize your system’s performance, make sure to get memory modules with a frequency of at least 2133 MHz.
As we’ve established: more RAM comes from bigger memory modules — or more of them, for that matter. In contradiction to the meme, you can’t “download more RAM”. What you can do, is expand what you have, or replace it with something better.
To know what to upgrade, you might want to take a peek under the hood. By removing and observing your current RAM situation (with your system totally shut down, of course), you can determine what to upgrade, and how.
If you see one memory module inserted, but ports for two or more, an easy upgrade is evident. Just get more of that exact module, and get ready to stick ’em in.
Alternatively, you can check what version of RAM you need without a screwdriver, by following the steps below.
As long as you get modules with the exact same specifications, you can easily upgrade the RAM in your system. If all the RAM interfaces are already taken, the only solution is to replace the current module(s) for bigger alternatives. Just make sure the speed and size are supported by your motherboard and CPU (see the CPU-Z tool above for help on that too), and you’re good to go.
To safely expand or replace RAM on your system, follow our step-by-step guide below.
Do note that some desktop motherboards have specific orders in which to place multiple modules. If you have less memory sticks than interfaces, they should be inserted into certain slots. These DIMM orders can be found in the official booklets accompanying the hardware, as well as on the manufacturer’s website.
With the new modules safely tucked into their correct ports, you can close up your system, and get it ready for a fresh boot. In most cases, installing extra software or drivers isn’t required, as the motherboard itself should natively recognize its new memory modules.
If you want to make sure that your system actively uses the newfound storage and/or speed, you can check the Memory tab on CPU-Z or, if you’re running Windows, from the dxdiag.exe tool pre-installed on your system. As long as your motherboard and operating system recognize the new memory, you have succesfully upgraded your RAM.
This sums up our beginner’s guide on computer RAM. If you find this article helpful, make sure to sent it over to any friends inquiring “how to download more RAM”. If there is anything you missed, or any tips you want to share yourself, feel free to ask questions or hand out suggestions, in the comment section down below.
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