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What is RAM and What does It Do?

What is RAM and What does It Do?

RAM is one of the integral PC components that you cannot do without. Second only to the CPU and the GPU. But just because it ranks lower than these two in terms of the overall performance impact, doesn't mean it's any easier to navigate the endless sea of technical terminology present on the RAM spec sheet.

Now, I've already talked about RAM on this website a lot and I've pretty much covered all there is to say about it. But unfortunately, this information is spread across multiple articles that have a fair bit of overlap.

That's why we'll be compiling what exactly RAM is? Why RAM is important? Types of RAM? Laptop and Desktop RAM, How to choose the Right Type of DDR? How much ram do you need? What should be RAM speed?


What is RAM and What Does It Do?

RAM is an acronym that stands for ''Random Access Memory''. It is used to store relatively small amounts of data that the CPU and GPU need to be able to access quickly in order for everything on your computer to run smoothly.

So in short, RAM is a type of storage like HDD or SSD. Only it is much faster than even SSD. Top-end solid-state drives can achieve transfer rates of more than a thousand megabytes per second. Modern RAM modules are already hitting speeds in excess of 15,000 megabytes a second. RAM is more expensive than hard drives. Even with RAM prices tumbling to new lows with each passing year, Ram will always cost more per gigabyte.

However, unlike HDDs or SSDs, RAM is a type of volatile memory. What this means is that it can only store data while it's on. The moment the power is cut off, all data stored in RAM is lost. That's why it can't be used for long-term storage like HDD or SSD despite being by far the fastest type of storage on the market. However, on the other hand, the RAM is significantly faster.

It is several times faster than even M.2 SSDs. The PC makes use of this speed by constantly overwriting and updating the data within the RAM so that the CPU and GPU can always quickly access the relevant data without having to store it anywhere permanently.

This is why you need it for efficient multitasking. So if you like to open a lot of programs at once, but it always leads to poor performance, chances are you need more RAM. So in short, RAM is a type of short-term memory that is very fast and is therefore used to store important data that other components need to be able to fetch very quickly.


Types of RAM

However, there are different types of RAM used for different purposes.

How RAM first came to be and how has it is developed since then?

Like any other technology, RAM has undergone many changes over the years. It was first conceived in the 1960s as SRAM or "Static Random Access Memory". Then we got D-RAM or "Dynamic Random Access Memory".

These 2 types of RAM have been used together until the early 1990s when "synchronous dynamic random access memory" or "SDRAM" was released. Finally, in June 1998 Samsung released the first dual date rate SDRAM chip or DDR SDRAM for short. Since then, we've been through several iterations of DDR.

DDR4, which is the latest and is still the dominant type of RAM today was released in 2011. We know that DDR5 is coming soon, but even when it hits the market, it will take some time to completely replace DDR4. That was it for the system RAM, but we have to rewind and see how the graphics RAM has developed.

We don't have to rewind all the way to the '60s through the "Synchronous Graphical Random Access Memory" or "SGRAM" that was released shortly after SDRAM. And Samsung developed the first GDDR chips together with the DDR chips. Since then, GDDR has developed more rapidly and has gone through more iterations than DDR.

Some of you reading this article already have graphics cards equipped with GDDR6 memory. But while GDDR is the dominant type of graphics RAM on the market, it is not the only one. In 2013, SK Hanks introduced a new type of graphics RAM to the world '' HBM '' or '' High-bandwidth memory '', and then in 2016, they launched HBM2.

Needless to say, HBM and HBM2 offered bandwidth levels that far exceeded GDDR's capabilities and have found a place in some graphics cards. However, most users and this includes gamers simply cannot make use of the additional bandwidth.

Only on workstations running memory-intensive software can the benefits of HBM really be seen, in which case they are significant. So due to the limited benefits and prohibited cost of making HBM chips, it never posed a threat to GDDR and the two have been able to peacefully coexist.

For the average consumer, this leaves us with DDDR4 and GDDR6 as the only two relevant types of RAM at the moment. For the rest of the article, when we say RAM, we will be referring to the DDDR4 system RAM. This is because the next segment is about how much RAM you need.

How fast should it be and how many channels should it use? With GDDR6, there is no point in asking these questions as you cannot buy GDDR6 RAM separately. It comes with your graphics card and there is no way to upgrade it unless you buy a newer and better graphics card.


Laptop and Desktop RAM

Laptops and desktop PCs use slightly different brand modules. In particular, laptop RAM which is known as SODIMM or ''Small Outline Dual Inline Memory Module'' is smaller and has fewer pins. By extension, this means that the DIMM RAM or Dual Inline Memory the desktop PCs use is larger and has more pins. 28 more pins to be exact.

For a grand total of 288 pins. As opposed to the 260 found on SODIMM. Of course, you don't need to memorize any of this but we wanted to paint a broad picture before getting to our point. And the point is this, you cannot use a laptop RAM with desktop PCs.

Just as you cannot fit desktop RAM into laptops. They should be easy enough to distinguish at first glance, but just in case we'll repeat the technical terms. You want DIMM memory for your desktop PCs whereas you should be looking for SODIMM memory if you're looking to upgrade your PC with more RAM.


Choosing the Right Type of DDR

What is RAM and What does It Do?

DDR stands for ''Double Data Rate''. There are more acronyms related to this but you don't need to concern yourself with those. DDR has gone through 4 iterations over the past 2 decades. DDR, DDR2, DDR3, and DDR4. Each one is better than the last and there's really no reason not to go with DDR4.

As it's significantly faster than DDR3. However, we have to know the DDR4 has only reached mass-market adoption somewhere around 2016. This is a crucial piece of information to keep in mind, in case, you haven't upgraded your PC since then. Because DDR3 motherboards are not compatible with DDR4 memory.

So in case, you have a DDR3 motherboard, our advice is to replace it. As DDR3 is already on the verge of becoming completely obsolete. It's also important to mention that DDR4 motherboards are not backwards compatible with DDR3 RAM.

So if you've got a DDR3 motherboard, your solutions are either to buy more DDR which isn't a real long-term solution for any serious gaming or to buy a new DDR4 motherboard and DDR4 RAM to go with which will be much more expensive and probably require a new CPU as well.

Now in case, you don't know whether you have a DDR3 or DDR4 motherboard here's how you can check.

  1. Just search for system information and then Other System Summary. You'll be able to see which motherboard you have in the system module field.
  2. Once you have this tidbit of information, you just find that model on the manufacturer's website and check to see which iteration of DDR you are dealing with.


Motherboard Form Factor, Slot Count, and Channel Configurations


What is RAM and What does It Do?


How many RAM slots you can expect to find on each motherboard?

The number varies based on the form factor of the motherboard. Mini-ITX motherboards only support 2 RAM slots while ATX motherboards support 4. Micro ATX motherboards usually have 4 slots as well but models with just2 slots do exist. There are also e ATX motherboards with up to 8 slots but this is getting outside of gaming territory and into the realm of workstations.

Do also note, that physical restrictions aren't everything. Each motherboard has a hard cap on the amount of RAM can support. However, if you're a gamer you don't really need to concern yourself with this. You'll be hard-pressed to find a motherboard. It doesn't support at least 32 gigabytes of RAM and as you'll see soon even this is an overkill for gaming PCs.

Most motherboards have several memory slots meaning you can install that many RAM modules. So if your motherboard has 4 RAM slots and you're looking to install 16 gigabytes of RAM you can go about it in 3 different ways.

You can install a single 16-gigabyte stick, two 8-gigabyte sticks, or 4-gigabyte sticks.


Does this have any bearing on performance?

It does actually, as a rule, multi-channel memory trumps single-channel memory. To understand why this is the way it is, it's best to imagine RAM configurations as a road.

If your road only has one lane, it can only accommodate so many vehicles at any given time. But if it has two lanes, well, then the traffic becomes much better. In this case, the memory channels are the leads and the data is the vehicle, the higher the bandwidth, the faster the data transfer. In other words, more channels mean better performance.

Now we should note that gaming often couldn't make use of this additional performance, so don't expect crazy fps spikes just because you've installed 28-gigabyte RAM sticks instead of a single 16-gigabyte stick.

However, there are other reasons why this is still better for starters. The lower capacity sticks are often cheaper so you can save a buck or two by opting for the multi-channel route.

If you care about aesthetics having all 4 RAM slots filled out, definitely looks more impressive inside a transparent case, and most importantly multi-channel configurations act as a great contingency against RAM failure.

If one stick dies you can just take it out and still use your computer with just the other RAM stick. But if your one and only RAM module die then that's it, no more computer time for you until you get it replaced.


CPU Limit

Just like motherboards, CPUs also have a RAM ceiling. Although once again, this really shouldn't ever be an issue with gaming PCs since modern 64-bit CPU generally supports up to 64 or 128 gigabytes of RAM. So as long as you have a relatively new 64 bit CPU, you don't really need to think about this. And if you have an older CPU, once again you can find all the relevant information on the specification page on the manufacturer's website.



Clock Speed

Clock speed is a specification that determines how fast RAM can process data and it is measured in megahertz. Now, generally speaking, higher clock speeds result in better gameplay experiences, that's certainly the case with GPUs and CPUs. But while the same holds true for RAM clock speeds.

It's important to know that the performance boost should be getting by installing faster RAM is minuscule. We're talking single-digit FPS increases but you can bet that the price difference between faster and slower RAM modules won't be in the single digits. So if you want to get the best value for your money, pay no heed to RAM clock speeds.

So long as you've got DDR4 RAM, the rest should work out just fine. For the purposes of gaming, the difference between 3200 megahertz and 2400 megahertz is really not that grand, what really counts is capacity.



RAM Capacity

As for capacity, our advice is to go with 16 gigabytes of RAM if possible. 8 gigabytes is still enough for most games but this will leave little to no RAM for other programs to use. So you want to get into the habit of turning off all background processes before running a demanding game with only 8 gigabytes of RAM to go around. The performance might be a bit choppy in some games but it will by no means be unplayable.

On the other hand, 32 gigabytes is a bit too much for gaming at the moment. If you have your sights set on more than just gaming then this is fine. But if gaming is all you're interested in then you're better off sticking to 16 gigabytes. You can always upgrade this to 32 gigabytes if you start running low on RAM, but chances are the DDR4 will become obsolete before games become that demanding.

More importantly, no matter how much RAM you cram into your PC, it won't improve gameplay performance in the way that a better GPU or CPU would. So at the very least, you should never skimp on either of these opponents for the sake of more RAM. Besides upgrading your RAM is easy but upgrading the CPU or GPU is much much trickier. So keep this in mind when deciding on the final bill for your PC.


Single, Dual, or Quad Channel Memory

Using multi-channel RAM has become a time-honored tradition among seasoned PC builders.


What are its actual benefits?

After all, 8 gigabytes of RAM is 8 gigabytes of RAM regardless of whether you use a single module or more. The same goes for any other specs like clock speed for example.

So on paper, you wouldn't really be able to see that much difference. But there is one key advantage to using multi-channel memory over a single channel memory and that is added bandwidth.

After all, there's only so much data that can be transferred between the CPU and a single RAM module. So dual and quad-channel configurations effectively served to expand the bandwidth. The more channels you have, the greater the bandwidth. And as you may have guessed more bandwidth generally means better performance.

However, this isn't all that important for gaming, rather it's servers and workstations running memory-hungry software that transfers vast amounts of data to get a tangible performance boost from all the added bandwidth.

This doesn't mean that games don't enjoy a slight performance boost from having access to multi-channel RAM, but slight is very much a key word here. However, we still urge PC builders to go with multi-channel setups not because of the added bandwidth but because of two other advantages.


Pricing and Replacement

Getting multiple low-capacity modules is generally cheaper than getting a single high-capacity one. Now, this may not always be the case as the lack of supply in some other market conditions can tip the scales in favor of single modules but generally speaking, this is how the math works out. So if you can get some added benefits at a lower cost, there really is no reason not to do.

So especially when we take into consideration replacement as another benefit of multi-channel RAM. Namely if one of your two 8 gigabyte modules were to die on you, you would still have a functioning PC. It would only operate on half the RAM but it would still operate. On the other hand, if your one and only 60 Gigabyte module malfunctions well tough luck. You are now effectively without a PC until you go out and buy a new RAM module.

So to summarize, multi-channel memory configurations carry with them the benefits of higher bandwidth, as well as a built-in failsafe option, and they typically cost less than single-channel configurations with the same capacity. As far as we are concerned the answer to this question is obvious, go multi-channel.

Although, we should mention that while they're technically interchangeable we don't advise combining different RAM modules. Especially, ones from different manufacturers. In theory, this works just fine but in actuality, it can lead to some unexpected compatibility issues, crashes, and just an overall buggy performance.


Latency

This will be noted under either caste or CL. With the actual amount given in clock cycles rather than nanoseconds. Latency is the amount of time that needs to pass before the read command being issued is available for the processor to access as data. Now in case, this sounds a little confusing. Don't sweat it.

Even if you don't quite get it it doesn't really matter because RAM latency doesn't mean much to the average gamer. So the benefits of lower latency RAM for gaming are pretty much non-existent. So this is an aspect that can comfortably go to the bottom of the list of priorities when deciding on a RAM module for gaming.

The first thing you need to check when buying RAM is whether you need laptop RAM or desktop RAM?

The two are not interchangeable, so you won't be able to proceed any further without getting this part right. Always go with DDR4 RAM as it's faster and technically superior to DDR3. The only exception is if you already have a DDR3 motherboard and don't want to upgrade it. In this case, you will have to get DDR3 RAM.

As far as the other RAM specs are concerned capacity takes precedence over speed and latency. Finally, go for multi-channel configurations. As it's not only cheaper but also performs slightly better and leaves you with a nice failsafe in case one of the RAM modules dies.


How Much RAM Do I Need?

The most important thing to consider when it comes to RAM is the volume. Everything else is secondary, and when it comes to volume, how much RAM you need depends on what you need it for.

  • 16 gigabytes of RAM is enough if you are building a gaming PC.
  • If you are a content creator & doing 720P or 1080P video and photo editing then 8 gigs of RAM is enough, if you close other background programs.
  • For 4K video editing 16 gigs with other background projects.
  • 32 gigs for heavy load video editing and running adobe programs simultaneously.
  • 64 gigs for 8k footage with other high memory use programs.

This is more than enough to run all the latest games, so it offers good future-proofing and good performance. Anything more than this is simply excessive for games. However, if you are looking for pennies, you can still survive on just 8 gigabytes of RAM.

You have to make sure you don't run any unnecessary software in the background while gaming or editing, but you can survive.

On the other hand, if you are not a gamer and use your PC mainly for browsing and multimedia content, you can manage it well even with 4 gigabytes of RAM.

More RAM is always better for multitasking, but if all your wants and needs come down to social media, youtube, etc. You can get by with just 4 gigabytes of RAM without a problem.



What is RAM speed & how fast should your RAM be?

For RAM speed, it actually refers to the clock speed of the RAM module. They are measured in hertz and a single hertz equals 1 clock cycle per second. However, since these are not processors but memory modules it is not exactly the same.

RAM does not process data, it transfers it among other components such as CPU, GPU, and storage. So you can essentially think of RAM as old bandwidth, the higher the clock speed, the more data the RAM can transfer between these components.

And DDR4 memory supports speeds between 2133 MHz and 5100 MHz which is a great range, but it's good to know that most GDDR4 devices have a limit of 3600 MHz. So you can consider this as an upper limit. There is really no need to go any further than this. How much RAM speed affects gaming performance, the answer is not much.

There's some difference when using faster RAM sure but in most cases, it's negligible and only amounts to a handful of frames. The only time where the performance bump becomes noticeable is when you're running games on triple-digit frame rates with a high refresh rate monitor.

But if you've got the cash to buy such a monitor and a graphics card that can pump out triple-digit frame rates then it's highly likely you'll purchase a faster RAM without worrying about cost-efficiency.

But for those looking to save every penny and purchase only the most cost-effective components, RAM speed doesn't matter all that much. Faster is better if you can afford it, but volume trumps speed until you reach the magic number that is 16 gigabytes.



Final thoughts

Speed is the least important RAM specification. Provided that you have enough of it for your CPU and motherboard to work without any hiccups. Faster RAM does lead to a performance bump but this bump is often too minuscule to justify the price attached to it. At the very least, it should never come at the expense of a better GPU or CPU.

So, this has been a comprehensive overview of all things RAM. We've touched on everything in this article. I hope you found this article helpful. You can let me know if you have by sharing it with friends or leaving a comment.

FAQs


Q. What is RAM used for?

A. Whenever you run a program or open a file, it is loaded temporarily from the hard drive into your RAM. Once loaded into Ram, you'll be able to access it smoothly with minimal delays. If you run out of RAM, your operating system will begin to dump some of the open programs and files into the paging file.

This is bad news because the paging file is stored on a much slower hard drive. So instead of running everything quickly off of RAM, a part of it is being accessed from your hard drive. This is when you'll begin to notice awful things like slow loading times, stuttering in general, unresponsiveness, especially, if you have a mechanical hard disk drive.


Q. What is the difference between ROM and RAM?

A. RAM is the type of volatile memory that stores relatively small amounts of data that the CPU and GPU need to be able to access quickly. ROM is the type of memory non-volatile memory that permanently stores instructions for your computer.


Q. Is RAM better than ROM?

A. RAM and ROM are two different types of memory. They are used for different purposes and have different limitations. ROM (Read Only Memory) is typically slower than RAM and is used to store the information permanently, whereas RAM is faster and is used for processing. ROM can only be read from, not written to, whereas RAM can use both read and write operations


Q. Why RAM is faster than ROM?

A. RAM is faster than ROM because writing data to a RAM chip is a faster process than ROM. ROM stands for read-only memory, which is a type of non-volatile memory. It is used to store the software that is necessary for the computer to boot up. The booting process begins when the computer is turned on.


Q. What will happen if the RAM is damaged?

A. If the ram is damaged, it will cause an incorrect output to be displayed on the monitor, apps won't run smoothly and it slows down the operating system. The damaged ram will need to be replaced. The web browser runs slower and requires more time to open.


Q. Can a computer have too much RAM?

A. A computer with too much RAM is one that is not using its memory effectively. The need for more RAM is usually determined by the size of the files you are working with. The more RAM your computer has, the more files you can work with at the same time.


Q. How to know what RAM is compatible with my PC?
  1. In the left corner of your computer search for System Information and open the app.
  2. Under System Summary, scroll down and you'll be able to see Processor.
  3. With this information, go to the manufacturer's website and search for your specific processor to see which RAM is compatible with your processor.

Q. How do I know what RAM is in my laptop?

To check your total RAM capacity -
  1. In the left corner of your computer search for System Information and open the app.
  2. Under System Summary, scroll down and you'll be able to see Installed Physical Memory (RAM) and see how much memory is installed on your computer.

Q. How do I know what speed my RAM is?
  1. Right-click on the Windows taskbar and select Task Manager.
  2. Navigate to the Performance tab
  3. Click on Memory from the left navigation panel to view your RAM speed and other details.

Q. How much RAM do most computers have?

A. Many people go up to 16 GB, and occasionally users will go for 32 GB but 8 GB is the standard amount of RAM for the average desktop computer.

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