Computer Parts | RAM – DDR or otherwise

One huge and cheap upgrade in every computer system is the RAM. There are limitations as to how much is too much, but it will give you an instant boost in your computer system. There are different types of computer memory and technical developments mean that it is not all compatible. This is why you need to shop smart with your next purchase of SDRAM or DDR.

Random Access Memory is a type of memory that is designed to be able to be accessed at random. You can read any section of its chips without reading or writing any other byte, but if you switch the power off of your computer this volatile memory is wiped clean.

Computers use your RAM to load programs and information quicker than most hard drives. A traditional hard disk drive relies on a needle passing over the disk and SSD hard drives are designed for longevity of data. How each operating system uses RAM is slightly different from Windows, to Mac, to Android; but without them devices simply would not work. Each time you add memory, it should (and usually will) allow you to run more applications simultaneously and can offer better system performance.

How Much Memory?

The most important thing to remember is more is not always the answer; some hardware limits the amount of memory that you can use and there will always be a point where adding more will not enhance your computer. If you are still using 32-Bit versions of Microsoft Windows, you are limited to your computer using a maximum of 3.5GB~ish of RAM regardless of how much is installed.

Top Tip: Installing more than 4GB of RAM for a 32-Bit Operating System is wasting your money

A 32-Bit processor has a 32-Bit limit to physical addresses; equivalent to 4,294,967,296 slots.

4GB of RAM has 4,294,967,296 bytes; each byte needs a bit… that’s before the 512MB Graphics card, USB, sound card,…..

New Means More

Adding new software or upgrading your operating system might mean that you will need new RAM. There will always be minimum requirements for this and we can look at operating systems as an example of what you are likely to need; Windows 10 for example needs a minimum of 1GB (32-bit) or 2GB (for the 64-bit variant), compared to 16MB for the much older (and less powerful) Windows 98.

That being said, once you start upgrading to the latest motherboards requiring DDR4, you won’t see anything less than a 2GB module. Personally, I would not even recommend buying a 2GB RAM stick unless it is for a specific purpose.

More Intensive Means More

If you are using more intensive programs then it goes without saying that you will probably need more RAM. If you are simply browsing the Internet then you will find that the computer is relatively untaxed, whereas if you were editing video files then it will be doing that much more, needing more RAM.

What is Too Much RAM?

There comes a time when there is too much RAM and we have already touched on this. Programs will only continue to use more RAM up to the point where they are designed otherwise. Just because you have 3GB of RAM not being used, it does not mean that when you open a Microsoft Word document that it will use all of it.

We have also already discussed the limitations that come about from the hardware. It is not unknown for budget motherboards to restrict the maximum amount of RAM it can support; it is not unknown for some budget motherboards supporting just 4GB per slot on DDR3.

But remember:

Installing more than 4GB of RAM for a 32-Bit Operating System is wasting your money


Corsair Vengeance LED RAM - DDR4If you are buying your motherboard and RAM at the same time then you should check the specification on the web-page that you are buying from or the box if you are buying in a shop to find out what type of RAM you need. If it unlikely that a new motherboard will use anything other than DDR3 or DDR4 unless –

again – you are buying from a specialist retailer for a specific reason.

If you are upgrading the RAM or adding more then you could have a range of RAM capabilities which are generally not compatible with each other. There is a really easy way of finding out what RAM you need though thanks to Crucial Memory; the Crucial System Scanner can use a small program that you download to your computer to work out what memory you need; SD RAM, DDR, DDR2, DDR3 or DDR4. It also offers you it’s choices of memory upgrade which are not usually massively different to what you can buy memory for on your other computer component sources such as Novatech or Amazon.

On a test on the laptop I am writing some of this page on, System Scanner correctly identified the make and model of the laptop. It could also accurately tell me that I currently have the maximum amount of memory it takes installed.

Understanding RAM

When you are buying your new RAM then there are a few things to look out for when deciding what you are going to install. Firstly, as we have already mentioned there are the different “generations” but there are many other factors that affect how good it is. The problem is that there is much more to it. For those that are building a computer for the first time going beyond whether it is DDR3 or DDR4 might not be important, but it is.

Clock Speed

DDR  is published at it’s maximum speeds. Retailers advertise their stock within the strict classification of DDRxxx and PC-xxxx which will always correlate. DDR classifications refer to the maximum clock speed of the memory whereas the PC classification refers to the maximum data transfer rate that the memory can achieve; if you want more comprehensive details then you should read an excellent Hardware Secrets tutorial on the subject.

It should be noted that many motherboards will specify which clock speeds it can run at.

Memory Timings

Another specification you will see is about memory timings. These describe the timings taken to perform certain tasks. It should be noted that lower is better, however these are dependent on the clock speed as to how good they can be. Wikipedia describes memory timings  far better than I could.

Installing Memory is Easy

It is so easy that is is far easier for HowStuffWorks to show you

RAM is Cheap

When you consider all the parts of your computer RAM is a quick and simple upgrade if your computer needs it, but a complete waste of money if it doesn’t. If you want a guaranteed compatible RAM for a new build then check out my page on Motherboard Bundles where many retailers supply compatible RAM as part of the package.

So how much RAM do you need? If you have some spare cutlets, then please send them my way; otherwise I would not be building a computer today that does not have at least 8GB, while considering that increasingly you are going to need more.