Making sure your desktop has enough RAM is critical to ensuring your computer can operate at its best. An optimal amount of RAM will ensure your computer is speedy, while helping to prevent crashing, and hanging. Having enough RAM increases the capacity to deliver quality results with whatever you do on your computer, from gaming to video editing, process modelling, and all things in between. In this blog, I’m going to focus solely on your desktop. This post is one of many that you’ll see for assistance with ensuring sure you have the right components for your needs. There may be something down the line that focuses on laptops.
This article is part of an educational series about PC components. Click here to see the rest of the series.
At any point throughout all of this, if nothing makes sense or you just want some expert advice, Geek Squad is available to help; from confirming your current configurations to walking you through an upgrade or new purchase.
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Why having the right amount of RAM is crucial to your computer’s operation
RAM is important to keeping your computer operating smoothly and if you’re like me, you’re not running just one thing at a time. In between games, I have a ton of browser windows and other apps open. Without enough RAM to help your CPU do resource allocation, your PC is going to slow down to a crawl. As a result, your operations might become choppy, extremely slow or even non-existent. Even the fastest solid state drives will benefit from the presence of more RAM to work with. Right now, I’d say that 16 GB is the sweet spot for most desktop owners.
If you’re like me, however, and your computer is for way more than gaming, you then have an interesting task ahead of you. If you’re planning on doing things like video editing (especially at high resolutions,) you may even need more desktop RAM than most PC games need nowadays. In fact, if you’ll be editing large 4K videos, you probably want a minimum of 32GB. That might be slightly excessive for today’s games, but it will change within the next year or two—RAM requirements never go down, only up. It might be best to think through everything you’re going to need your PC for and then do some research into how much RAM is recommended for those functions.
How much RAM do I need?
It’s important to remember that minimum system requirements for any piece of software are just that, and I don’t think that overshooting the amount of RAM you need to run a specific game is a bad thing. Some titles like Metro Exodus need a minimum of 8GB onboard, while the recently released Godfall needs 12GB minimum with 16GB recommended (in addition to the required operating system and GPU 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 obviously ignore what it doesn’t need, but it might save a headache down the road if you need to add more, want it to all match up, and then have trouble finding inventory of what you’d previously purchased.
One thing you’ll need to always remember, however, is whether your current setup can even support your RAM and whether you need to upgrade other components in your PC as well. If your computer is already a few years old, you might need to look at giving more than just your desktop RAM a facelift.
By the way, you should be able to check how much RAM you currently have pretty easily. If you’re running Windows 10, for example, just open up Task Manager, click the “More Details” arrow and open the “Performance” tab.
Figuring out how to buy the right desktop RAM
Make sure you’ve checked your motherboard’s available RAM slots and understood what configurations it will allow to gauge its capacity. Be sure that you’ve checked to see how many slots you might have free, whether what you’re looking at will physically fit inside your configuration and you might even have to consider what you have today for compatibility. If you’re looking at adding RAM, be sure that you are buying a similar kind and speed. You may be able to physically mix different RAM modules that are different speeds, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Keeping everything as consistent as possible is key. Think about it this way. Remember when you were hanging out with your friends as a kid and all of you had bicycles except for the one friend who always insisted on walking? This is kind of what will happen 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.
In the previous section, I mentioned how a Windows 10 user could check how much RAM they currently had. If you follow those instructions and click on “memory,” you can also see what speed your existing RAM is, along with how many slots you have available to add more, and what type of RAM you have (which I’ll discuss in the next section.)
You may come across the acronyms DIMM (Dual In-Line Memory Module) and SO-DIMM (Small Outline Dual In-Line Memory Module) while you’re browsing, and might be curious about what the difference is. The long and short of it is that SO-DIMMs are created for smaller spaces and systems with limited space (typically laptops and notebooks, for example.) For your desktop, you’ll be looking for standard sized RAM sticks, or DIMMs in this case. Here’s a link that’ll take you directly to the Desktop Memory section of BestBuy.ca.
While shopping, make sure that whatever you choose is compatible with your computer, whether you’re a Mac or Windows PC owner. There is less variance now between Mac and Windows-compatible RAM since most Macs currently use Intel Processors. You can still get Mac-specific RAM to help remove the guesswork if you’re concerned, but just make sure you spot check before buying.
Other basic specs quickly defined
Aside from DIMM/SO-DIMM, there are a few other keywords you’ll see along the way. Here’s a really 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. The Corsair Vengence LPX DDR4 DIMM can perform at 3600Mhz, meaning it runs up to 3.6 billion cycles per second. This is also why you’ll want to make sure that all of your RAM matches. If you run 2 high paired sticks with 2 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 DDR types because they require different voltages to run. If you have DDR3 for example, you cannot buy and add DDR4 as a result. DDR4 is what you’ll see most commonly these days in newer PCs, though you can expect that DDR5 DIMMs should be commonly available soon.
Timing – You might see a string of numbers (ie. 14-15-13-35 or 11-13-13-31) which corresponds to RAM timing. In the least technical terms, it 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.
The biggest key to all of this is making sure that your RAM sticks/DIMMs all match up and they all line up with what your motherboard is equipped to handle.
At the end, it’s just one component
While it’s a really important one, just remember that RAM is only one component of ensuring that your desktop PC is configured the way you want it. Remember, if you need help with any of this, including putting your next PC together, Geek Squad is at an arm’s reach and will be more than happy to help you.
In the meantime, I hope you found this informative! If you’re ready to start searching for that next RAM upgrade, you’re sure to find everything you need at Best Buy. You can find everything else you might need on your PC Component Upgrade journey by clicking here. And don’t forget to read our detailed series on all things related to PC components, PC upgrades and building your own PC.