- Understanding the different factors of RAM, such as DDR generation, clock speed, and size, is crucial for compatibility with your motherboard.
- DDR5 RAM is the most advanced and efficient, but compatibility depends on your motherboard’s capabilities.
- Capacity and speed are the main considerations when buying RAM, with larger sizes and faster clock speeds benefiting power users and professionals.
Making sure your RAM is compatible with your motherboard and vice versa can be a bit of a challenge if you’re not familiar with all of the terminology. Understanding just the different types of RAM alone can be intimidating. Different DDR numbers, clock speeds, and even varying sizes make picking the right option to go along with your motherboard a challenge.
When building a PC, ensuring all components work together is vital, but it isn’t as difficult as it might seem. So, in this article, we’ll focus on making sure your RAM is compatible with your motherboard and look at the considerations you should have while shopping for RAM.
Once we cover the basics of what makes these RAM types different, we’ll talk about how you can narrow down the choices, find the perfect set for you, and stay futureproof.
Understanding the Factors of RAM: What Affects You?
Most of the jargon you see about RAM is descriptive of its capability. All the numbers on the package mean something. So, let’s look at the biggest determining factors in differentiating RAM.
Almost all RAM you’ll be looking to buy will be labeled to include DDR with a number at the end from 2-5. DDR stands for “Double Data Rate,” a technology that allows data to flow extremely efficiently.
A higher DDR is better; it’ll be quicker and more energy efficient. Most RAM sold today is in generations 4 and 5, with 5 being the most efficient. This doesn’t mean you should immediately buy the first DDR5 set of RAM you see. We’ll cover that in a bit, but keep this in mind.
After finding what DDR generation you’ll be shopping for, the next consideration you’ll need to make is what clock speed you want your RAM to run at. This is as self-descriptive as possible: clock speed is how fast your RAM can operate. Clock Speed is measured in MHz.
Usually, faster RAM is more expensive than cheaper RAM. You can feel the speed, as this is how quickly your system can move data in and out. If you’re looking to load in 4K textures without dropping frames or edit large high-quality video, then a faster clock speed will benefit you.
External factors, such as your motherboard and CPU, also affect this, but generally, these won’t limit you too much.
Size or Capacity
RAM has its size measured in gigabytes, which is how much information you can have loaded in at once. Just like a higher speed is beneficial, so is a larger size (to an extent).
A lot of RAM won’t make a difference for users only interested in Facebook or browsing eBay. For the more hardcore among us, like gamers or power professionals, larger amounts of RAM are a must.
This directly affects your ability to load multiple programs at one time. If you’re a power user or have programs requiring a lot of RAM, ensure you’re looking for something large enough. Be aware that a larger size means a higher cost, just like speed. If you’re eyeing that 128GB kit, make sure you actually need it and aren’t just wasting your money — especially if you’re just checking your emails.
You may also see things like ECC and SO-DIMM when looking at RAM. These RAM types are important, but not so much to the average consumer.
ECC stands for “error correction code,” and to quickly summarize, this means the RAM is more immune to typical errors that can pop up on consumer-grade hardware since it can correct errors before they cause problems. This type of RAM is typically used in servers and situations that require much higher data reliability.
Unfortunately, this reliability comes at a cost, as ECC RAM is a touch slower than standard RAM, but not significantly. ECC RAM also requires a motherboard and processor capable of using its ECC Chip. Because ECC RAM is intended for server applications, its cost is much higher.
SO-DIMM is more straightforward, as it is another form factor of RAM. SO-DIMM fits in laptop chassis and small devices due to its smaller size. Avoid this if you’re building or upgrading a desktop.
You might also see terms like unified RAM or onboard RAM. This is bad news if you’re looking to upgrade, since it means your computer has memory that is soldered directly to the motherboard — in other words, it is not upgradeable.
Key Factors: What Affects RAM Compatibility?
Conveniently, out of the major factors discussed earlier, the only real choices you’ll have to make are with size and, to a lesser extent, speed.
Yes, even if you want to buy DDR5 RAM, you may be limited to an older generation. Your motherboard determines this. Your motherboard must be capable of using the correct DDR protocols and fitting the RAM Modules.
Each DDR generation has a slightly different pin configuration to prevent user error. A motherboard can only slot in the RAM with the correct pins.
Your motherboard will also be your speed limiter. A high-speed RAM kit won’t be effective if your motherboard can only run at slower speeds. You’ll have to find the speeds your board is compatible with.
Luckily, capacity isn’t something you’ll be too limited on. You can get RAM of almost any capacity and expect it to work. Only in rare cases can you actually get more RAM than your motherboard can handle. In some cases, even if your motherboard officially supports a maximum capacity, for instance, 64GB, you can sometimes find that installing a larger capacity will actually work.
You will be limited to how many sticks you can fit into your board, but this isn’t something most consumers have to contend with anyway.
Checking Your Motherboard’s Compatibility
There are many ways to see what RAM is compatible with your motherboard, but ensuring you have the correct info is critical.
A surefire way to see your motherboard model is by looking at it! Almost all gaming motherboards will directly list their brand name, model name, and number on their faces. The actual placement may vary, but you’ll likely be able to find the model name and number around your PCIe slots. This will usually be around the first PCIe slot, but it can be over, under, or beside.
If you’re unable to find the model number this way, don’t fret! Check for your motherboard box or any other documentation you may have lying around. These will likely have the model information you need. At best, you might even find your motherboard manual.
Once you know what motherboard you have, you can find all the information you’ll need. From here, you can see what DDR generation and clock speed your motherboard is compatible with. Go to your manufacturer’s site and locate the page corresponding to your motherboard. You can find the information on this page or a place to download the manual.
After finding your manual’s digital or physical version, search for the section on board specifications. You’ll find your board’s maximum RAM speed and DDR generation here.
What to Consider When Buying RAM?
Now that you know the limits of what you should buy, why not buy at the limit? Consider a few other things, even if it’s within your budget.
As we mentioned earlier, there isn’t much of a choice when it comes to what DDR RAM you are looking for. You’ll be getting the DDR that matches your motherboard.
Regarding speed and size, you’ll want to find the balance between what your wallet can handle and what you need. The nice thing is finding what you need is relatively simple.
Depending on the type of user you are, it’s relatively easy to determine the base capacity of RAM you should have. Speed can be determined entirely by your flexibility to price. No matter how much or little RAM you need, faster RAM will almost always benefit you.
If you’re someone who only does light browsing, then you won’t need a lot of RAM. Most users in this category can get by with anywhere from 4GB to 8GB of RAM.
Browsing a few tabs online, viewing photos, listening to music, working on documents, and other simple tasks are lightweight. The caveat here is that light users shouldn’t try to do more than a few tasks simultaneously. Any further issues may appear depending on your RAM’s clock speed.
Multitaskers and General Users
People who use their computers more heavily will likely need a bit more. 16GB is a significant jump from the previous tier, but a few nice things happen here.
A lot of programs are designed with this average in mind. You can expect everything except up to the most intensive professional programs to work. Many programs also keep this in mind to allow for multitasking with this level of RAM. This tier is the most common and also the most flexible. But you can go higher.
Power users and Professionals
If you’re in this tier, you know you need the best of the best. You likely have a job that revolves around or heavily uses computers. For this tier, 32GB and above are what you should be looking for, and potentially ECC becomes a legitimate concern.
Editing 4K movies, running engineering simulations, heavy gaming, streaming, and all of these and similar tasks benefit from being able to manipulate massive amounts of data at once.
Our Recommendations for RAM
Even with everything we’ve discussed, choosing can still be hard. With that in mind, we’ve selected a few good examples of RAM for different use cases.
Since you’ll still have to keep in mind that whatever RAM you buy should be compatible with your system, use these recommendations as a starting point. Consider the sizes and speeds for each kit and why these kits are suitable in each category.
Best RAM for Content Creators
- Lightweight and compact
- Fast DDR5 ensures your high-end CPU gets data quickly
- Plenty of room to run multiple programs
- Powerful CORSAIR iCUE Software
Being any sort of creator means you need a lot of different tools. Producing videos or streaming live content is a very intense task, and often, pros end up using two computers to split the workload. Add on recording and editing a live stream that could have gone for hours, and even two computers can start to sweat.
With the massive 64GB from these two sticks, you’ll have plenty of room to run multiple programs. Suddenly, your content generation, video processing, audio processing, and whatever else you need can all run concurrently with no issues. You’ll also benefit from the faster DDR5 and 5200MHz clock speed.
If your computer isn’t as snappy as you’d hoped, a second kit will improve multitasking and intense usage and keep your futureproof for years.
Best RAM for Hardcore Gamers
- Impressive gaming performance
- Runs at a blazing-fast 6000 Mhz
- Plug n Play
- Low-profile heat spreader design
Kingston’s Fury Beast 6000MHz RAM offers impressive gaming performance at a great price. As games have continued to become more and more graphically impressive, requirements have also been growing. Despite this, you can rest easy knowing you’ll still be able to run most games. You’ll also have no fear as this kit is DDR5 and runs at a blazing-fast 6000 Mhz.
If you’re running with a top-end processor like an Intel Core i9 or an AMD Threadripper, you’ll benefit most from something like this. It isn’t as expensive as you might think either. So, if you’re looking for 4K textures, take the money you save here to a GPU with a high amount of VRAM, as more RAM will only somewhat help your framerate compared to a better CPU or GPU.
Best RAM Overall
- Lifetime warranty
- RGB lighting
- Supports XMP2.0 overclocking technology
- Can be used with a variety of lighting control software
Great speeds, RGB lighting, and heat management — all behind a trusted name in the industry. It’s hard to find a downside with this one.
This RAM integrates with any RGB software, meaning you can match this to any build and even select 3 colors for your RAM’s body. You’ll also be able to upgrade easily if you want to get into content creation, as you can expect the price of this RAM to go down as DDR5 becomes more prominent.
Don’t worry, as DDR4 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Most machines today use DDR4, and DDR5 rollout has been slow. While it may not be the most future-proof choice, DDR4 has a long time before it becomes outdated. Overall, it’s hard to overstate how great this RAM is.
Best RAM for Budget
When building a PC, costs quickly add up. If you’re just starting out or want a machine that runs, grab this kit! While it may not be the fastest, this RAM comes at a fantastic price. An unseen benefit is this RAM is made to grow with you. If your budget increases or you need more performance, you can easily pick up a bit more RAM to fit your needs. This RAM also features a lifetime warranty, so you’ll be taken care of if you have any issues.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©veerapong takonok/Shutterstock.com.