Working memory (RAM) is one of the most important components in all devices, from PCs to smartphones to game consoles. Without RAM it would be much, much slower to do almost everything on one system. If you don't have enough for the application or game you want to run, it can crawl or even prevent them from running at all.
But what exactly is RAM? In short, it is an extremely fast component that temporarily stores all the information your PC needs now and in the near future. Accessing this information in RAM is incredibly fast, unlike slower hard drives that offer longer-term storage.
If this is all semantics and you just need to know how to install RAM or want to find out how much RAM you need, we also have instructions for that.
RAM is essentially your device's short-term memory. It temporarily stores everything that is running on your PC, e.g. B. all services in Windows, your web browser, your image editing program or the game you play. You don't want the CPU to dig through your slower memory like a hard drive or even a solid-state drive (SSD) every time you request a new browser tab or load a new enemy to shoot. As fast as the memory is compared to drives from previous years, they are still much slower than the RAM.
Data stored in short-term memory or RAM can be read from anywhere at almost the same speed. Since it has a hard-wired connection to your system, there is no real latency in cabling or connection.
However, RAM cannot remember everything forever. It is a "fleeting" technology, meaning that once it loses energy, it forgets everything. That makes it perfect for handling the multitude of high-speed tasks that your system does every day. But it's also why we need storage systems like hard drives and SSDs that actually contain our information when you turn off the system.
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Different types of RAM
RAM is a collective term like "memory" and actually covers several different types. In most cases where RAM or memory is spoken of, they relate technically to DRAM (dynamic random access memory) or more specifically to modern systems to SDRAM (synchronous dynamic random access memory). The terminology does not matter beyond the technical aspects, but it is useful to know that the terms are relatively interchangeable.
The most common type of RAM sold today is DDR4, although older systems may use DDR3 or even DDR2. The numbers simply denote the generation of RAM, with each subsequent generation offering faster speeds through greater bandwidth – a higher megahertz rating (MHz). Every generation also has physical changes so that they are not interchangeable.
Another common term, especially in the field of video games, is VRAM or video RAM. Although VRAM was once a stand-alone technology, it is currently used to identify memory on the graphics card. In game consoles, it can also refer to system memory, but in both cases it is memory that is reserved exclusively for the GPU. It is most commonly referred to as graphics DDR or GDDR, usually with a generation name like GDDR6.
Most modern graphics cards use GDDR6. However, some graphics cards may use a different form of VRAM called high bandwidth memory (HBM, HBM2 and HBM2e). It has unique performance advantages, although it is usually expensive, and delivery problems hinder wide acceptance.
Size is not everything
The biggest consideration when buying RAM is how much you need. A minimum amount is required to run an operating system, while a minimum amount is also required for many games and applications. These requirements are expressed in gigabytes or GB and are often between 1 GB and 8 GB, depending on the hardware requirements of the application.
It is important to have more than the minimum because not only the current application but also other services and tasks are running in the background on your device. Of course, huge system memory doesn't necessarily make your device faster.
The amount is not the only important aspect of memory. While more gigabytes can help with multitasking, faster storage can help you improve the speed of your device, certain games, and applications. Like a CPU, RAM has its own clock speed that effectively controls how much data can be processed per second when combined with some other factors. The total speed of the memory is given as the bandwidth in megabytes per second. However, memory is traditionally marketed at a speed in MHz.
Typical DDR4 memory runs between 2,133 MHz and 3,000 MHz, but there are some that can run up to 4,866 MHz for the fastest kits available. You will see them marketed as DDR4-2133 or similar and sometimes with the confusing "PC" label. The number after "PC" is simply the MHz speed, multiplied by eight and then rounded. For example, it may be listed as DDR4-2133 PC4-17000.
Timings are another aspect of memory that can affect RAM performance, although they are no longer so important. It is effectively the time between clock cycles, and as memory speed increases, the timing increases, reducing latency. Typically, timing is listed as multiple numbers separated by hyphens, e.g. B. 15-15-15-35 or the like.
When buying memory, timing is only really important if you are considering high-performance memory for benchmarking or top-tier games. Timing is not really an issue for the average consumer.
Finally, you should know about channels. Most of the memory sold today supports at least two channels, ie there are two lanes (buses) between a memory slot and the memory controller of the CPU on the main board. However, this design requires two RAM sticks of the same type and speed that support two channels. You can also find high-end RAM kits with three or four modules that support three- or four-channel memory designs on motherboards.
For practical reasons, multi-channel designs don't make a big difference in daily performance. However, if you want to use the memory with two or more channels, you have to install the sticks in the correct colored slots on your motherboard. Check your manual for help on this front.
How important is RAM?
RAM is extremely important. Too little can lead to sluggish performance, although smaller devices like tablets and smartphones don't need as much as high-end gaming desktops. However, installing large quantities or using the highest MHz rating does not mean that your device will run at lightning speed. Remember RAM is only part of the overall equation.
However, it is important to have enough RAM, and having RAM that is not too expensive is also a good idea, especially for complicated image or video editing tasks and playing games with limited CPU.
However, if you want to improve the overall performance of your system, you need to consider the costs involved. A faster CPU or graphics card usually has a greater impact on the overall speed of your system than faster memory, although some CPUs, like AMD's Ryzen range, benefit more than others from faster memory.
Upgrading from hard drive to SSD is also a big step if you haven't already. Switching to an SSD speeds up the slowest storage component on your system many times over and makes a huge contribution to making it feel snappier.
As with any computer, the slowest component typically limits performance, so slow memory can hold you back if that's the worst part of your configuration. If you're not doing anything particularly intense, just make sure that you have something more than what you need and that it's not the worst there is.
If you want something stronger, you can choose from a variety of configurations for speed, size, and latency. Some even have RGB LED lighting as shown above.