How to Choose RAM – A Definitive Guide

How to Choose RAM

RAM, or random access memory, is key to your computer’s performance.

Without RAM, your computer won’t even start up.

When gaming, you’ll find that your processor and graphics card play the two most important roles in your gaming performance.

But without enough RAM, your computer will start storing data to the hard disk, which is very inefficient.

Your game will start to lock up, your computer will freeze and your framerates will drop to zero. If you’re even doing basic word processing, this can happen if a browser is taking up too much memory.

If you’re wondering how much RAM you need for gaming, we’ve covered the topic rather in-depth in the past. You would, in the ideal world, have a minimum of 8 GB of RAM, but there’s a lot to consider, especially with newer titles.

So, when building your computer, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough RAM for the tasks that you perform.

What is the Job of RAM Anyway?

Random-access memory is a way that computers store information. When you load up an application or game, information can be stored in RAM or on the hard disk. Reading information from the hard disk is intensive and slow.

RAM allows for fast access to data that’s stored by applications or games.

When data is stored in RAM, it’s considered volatile. If you reset the computer, all of the information is going to be gone.

Installed RAM

RAM is a short-term storage solution, and a hard drive is a long-term storage solution.

Since RAM stores information randomly, it also allows for random access to data.

While this method may sound slower, it’s actually far more efficient than accessing data that is stored in a consecutive manner.

Computers use RAM as the main source of memory, and the central processing unit (CPU) will store information in RAM and retrieve it quickly. Since much of this information is only used “in the moment,” it’s the perfect choice for volatile RAM.

For example, your photographs would be best stored on a hard disk, but calculations for shadows in a game are best stored in RAM because the information is only needed for a short period of time.

How Much RAM is Enough?

RAM is relatively cheap and easily upgradeable. It takes only a few seconds to install RAM properly, and it’s something that anyone can do.

Keep in mind that your motherboard will have a maximum amount of RAM that can be installed.

A general rule of thumb is:

  • High-end video and graphic editing will be very intensive, and this will require more RAM to run efficiently. These workstations should have a minimum of 16 GB or RAM, but going higher is definitely recommended. Again, this isn’t using Photoshop or a small app to edit your photos. If you plan on making 3D models for games or something along those lines, you’ll need a lot of RAM to help with rendering.
  • A general gaming computer will require a different amount of RAM, ranging from 4 GB for older games to 8 GB for some of the newer games.
  • General processing tasks are not very intensive, so you can probably get away with 2 GB – 4 GB of RAM, but I would recommend going to the 4 GB because of other tasks running in the background.

If you’re building a very basic computer, I would recommend 4 GB of RAM even if all you plan on doing is browsing the web, watching some Netflix and doing the occasional word processing.

Ballistix RAm

RAM Required by Operating Systems

I’m not going to dwell on operating systems or go into a debate on which operating system is best, but it’s important to remember that your operating system will require RAM to run properly.

The requirements for the most popular operating systems are:

  • Windows 10: 1 GB for 32-bit; 2 GB for 64-bit
  • Ubuntu: 2 GB
  • macOS High Sierra: 2 GB

You’re going to need at least 2 GB for your operating system on a 64-bit machine. So, once you start opening up your browser, Microsoft Word or a game, you’re not going to be left with much RAM if you choose 2 GB for your rig.

The Difference Between DDR3 and DDR4 RAM

When selecting the type of RAM for your new gaming rig, we suggest you run DDR4 as this is the best for gaming.

DDR3 RAM runs at 1.5-volts, while DDR4 uses 1.2-volts. While that may not sound like much of a difference, reducing wear and tear on your system and the RAM module.

Frequency is where a significant difference between the two types of RAM becomes apparent.

DDR3 operates up to 2,400MHz, while DDR4 starts at 2133Mhz and up.

This increase in frequency enhances data transfer and processing which is a vital component for running more resource-intensive modern games.

DDR4 Ram

RAM Compatibility Concerns to Consider

RAM is very easy to install, but not all RAM will be compatible with your motherboard. You’ll want to look at the motherboard’s specifications to determine what type of RAM can be installed.

For example, you may purchase DDR 4 RAM assuming that you can install it because your motherboard allows DDR 3 RAM, but no this won’t work.

RAM needs to be fully supported by the motherboard, so if your motherboard requires DDR 4, you need to purchase DDR 4 RAM. There may be two DIMM slots, or there may be four DIMM slots.

If you’re buying RAM, make sure that you buy the amount of RAM sticks you need and nothing more. Kits may come in 2 x 4 GB kits, or 4 x 4 GB or 8 GB, 16 GB, 32 GB, etc. You can also buy single sticks which are great when upgrading on a budget.

Another quick note:

  • DIMM is for your desktop
  • SO-DIMM is for your laptop

There is also a myth that you should only use RAM of the same size and frequency in your motherboard. And while you can use a 4 GB stick and an 8 GB stick in the same motherboard, the performance will be best when running dual channel mode.

Essentially, dual channel mode will make it seem like there are 2 x 4 GB sticks running and a single 4 GB stick running in single channel mode.

You’ll lose a bit of performance here compared to installing 3 x 4 GB sticks of the same frequency.

Related: single vs dual vs quad channel RAM guide

Quick Note About RAM Frequency and Performance

If you want to know how to choose RAM based off of frequency, it’s complicated.

For an easy answer, the higher the frequency or MHz, the better. MHz is the measurement of speed. But if you want to know more about frequency, then you need to consider:

  • Clock Cycles which equate to one cycle per MH. So, a 3200 MHz RAM stick will perform 3,200 cycles per second
  • CAS Latency is a short delay in the amount of clock cycles needed to respond to a command. This may be found under Column Access Strobe or CL and designates the delayed response.

CAS Latency is very important because if the latency is too high, it can result in faster RAM being less efficient.

For example, 2133 MHz RAM may perform better than 3200 MHz RAM because latency is much lower.

Every stick is different, so you’ll want to try finding the highest frequency with the lowest amount of latency to ensure you’re maximizing your speed.

Since RAM is easy to upgrade and plays such an integral role in your computer’s performance, it’s often a first choice when upgrading a system.

You don’t need to pull out any components or worry about screws or other hardware. Simply push the RAM stick into the slot, and you’re done.

Related posts:

What is VRAM and how much do I need?

PC stress test tool guide – for RAM, CPU, GPU

How can I check my PC specs?