Computer memory or RAM, also known as RAM cards, sticks, or modules, is the critical component of a computer that stores temporary data. This Random Access Memory directly connects to the computer’s motherboard and allows the processor to execute tasks like editing documents, opening folders, and launching applications. As computing hardware technology advances, so do the requirements for RAM. Here’s what you need to know when looking for an upgrade to your existing RAM.

Table of contents

  1. Factors to consider
  2. What is the ‘right amount’ of RAM to have?
  3. Key terms to know

Factors to consider to get the right RAM for your computer

RAM Slots on Motherboard

Compatibility is important with almost any PC Component purchase include RAM. You must get the right type of RAM for your motherboard and CPU. The wrong RAM may not even fit on the motherboard, or may result in poorer performance for your computer. So before making a purchase, check your motherboard’s available RAM slots, the type of RAM it can use, and what configurations it will allow to gauge its capacity. If there are no free RAM slots then you might be able to switch a small capacity card with a higher capacity card (e.g., replace a 4GB card with a new 8GB card). When adding RAM to an existing setup, ensure that you are buying a similar kind and speed to those occupying the other RAM slots. You may be able to physically mix different RAM modules that are different speeds, but it’s not recommended for performance. Keeping everything as consistent as possible is key. If you mix slower and faster RAM, the faster modules will not be able to perform at their best because they are hampered by the slower module.

The biggest key is making sure that your RAM modules all match up and line up with what your motherboard and CPU are equipped to handle. If replacing all of the RAM, you might opt for a faster new version of RAM. You can learn more about this kind of upgrade from this article: Should you upgrade your PC to DDR5 RAM?

What is the ‘right amount’ of RAM to have?

RAM is important to keeping your computer operating smoothly and most computer users run multiple tasks at a time, from games to Word documents to video and photo editing applications. Without enough RAM to help your CPU do resource allocation, your computer’s performance is going to slow down to a crawl. As a result, operations might become choppy, extremely slow, or even non-existent. Even the fastest solid state drives (SSDs) will benefit from the presence of more RAM to work with.

Having enough RAM supports the processor’s ability to deliver quality results with whatever you do on your computer, whether it’s gaming, process modelling, or anything in between. Making sure your desktop has enough RAM is critical to ensuring your computer can operate at its best. An optimal amount of RAM will keep your workflow speedy, while helping to prevent crashing, and hanging.

Right now, 16GB is the sweet spot for most computer owners. However, if you’re planning on doing things like video editing (especially at high resolutions,) you may even need more RAM than most PC games need nowadays. In fact, if you’ll be editing large 4K videos, you probably want a minimum of 32GB of RAM. That may be excessive for everyday tasks, but it will likely become the norm—RAM requirements never go down as technology evolves, only up. It might be best to think through everything you’re going to use your computer for and then do some research into how much RAM is recommended for those functions.

You can check how much RAM you currently have by accessing the System Information for your computer. RAM generally comes in multiples of two and four, from 4GB to 128GB (though some older computers may have 2GB RAM). Your computer’s system and memory information may also show the speed of your existing RAM, how many slots you have available to add more, and what type of RAM you have. If not you are not able to find this information, it is easy to get the information online by searching your computer’s brand and model number.

Note: You’ll have to consider whether your current setup can even support your desired RAM upgrade and whether you need to upgrade your other PC components as well. If your computer is already a few years old, it may be necessary to give more than just your RAM a facelift.

Should you get more RAM than you need?

It’s important to remember that minimum system requirements for any piece of software are just that—the minimum—and overshooting the amount of RAM you need to run a specific software is not a bad thing. Some software will need a minimum of 8GB onboard, while some more intense video games, or animation and video creation software will require 12GB minimum with 16GB or 32GB recommended (in addition to the required operating system and graphics card support.)

At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with preparing for the future and getting a little bit more than you need now. It’s only a matter of time before technology catches up with your PC, and you’ll be glad you planned for the future …. Your computer will ignore what it doesn’t need for now and it might save a headache down the road if you need to add more components, want them all to match up, and then have trouble finding inventory.

Key RAM terms to know

In your search for RAM upgrades, you may come across the acronyms DIMM (Dual In-Line Memory Module) and SO-DIMM (Small Outline Dual In-Line Memory Module). The difference between these two is that SO-DIMMs are RAM cards created for smaller spaces and systems with limited space (typically laptops and notebooks, for example.) For a desktop computer, you’ll be looking for standard sized RAM sticks, or DIMMs.

Aside from DIMM/SO-DIMM, there are a few other keywords you’ll see along the way. Here’s a brief breakdown of some of them:

  • Capacity and capacity per module: This is essentially how much RAM your motherboard is equipped to handle and thus the maximum capacity per open slot.
  • Speed and clock cycles: Different RAM sticks perform at different max speeds. Some can perform at 3600MHz, meaning they run up to 3.6 billion cycles per second. This is why you’ll want to make sure that all of your RAM matches. If you run two high speed sticks with two lower ones, they’ll perform at the lower speed.
  • Voltage rate: This is the specification of what voltage the type of RAM you’re looking to buy requires. One really crucial thing here is that you cannot mix and match Double Data Rate (DDR) types because they require different voltages to run. If you have DDR3 for example, you cannot buy and add DDR4 modules. DDR4 and DDR5 DIMMs are most commonly found in newer computers.
  • Timing: You might see a string of numbers (i.e. 14-15-13-35 or 11-13-13-31) which corresponds to RAM timing. In the least technical terms, this comes down to the amount of time it takes your RAM to perform tasks. Essentially, the smaller these numbers are, the faster performance you’ll get.

Upgrade your RAM

Finding the right RAM for your computer’s configuration can be a simple task when you understand the key terms and what type of RAM would be best for your needs. However, while it’s a really important one, RAM is only one component of your computer and must be compatible with the other components to perform smoothly. The PC components buying guide will help you understand all the different parts that make up a computer and how they work together.

Find the right RAM upgrade for your computer at Best Buy and ensure that your computer’s performance keeps up with the latest advances in technology.

Best Buy
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