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Beginners Guide To RAM Memory

Updated on March 20, 2011

Your PC is so slow that you want to toss it out the nearest window. Before you do anything rash, you may find that you can upgrade the motherboard and CPU to a much faster, more expensive type and not gain the performance advantage you could have realized with your current system if you had just added some more RAM memory.

Here are the basics so any computer user can master the lingo:

Total Amount: Don't believe the nonsense that either XP or Vista will run adequately on 512MB, plunk as much RAM as you can afford into your system and watch your desktop fly. Keep in mind that you're wasting anything more than 3 GB in a 32 bit Operating System as it can't be accessed. Step up to a 64 bit XP or Vista and experience what life is like above 3 GB. Depending on your flavor of OS you can access 128 GB of RAM or more! Yikes!

Type: For any modern CPU and motherboard, it has to be DDR2 and should be matched in speed to your system's requirements. There is a great free tool at Crucial that will scan your system and tell you exactly what you can fit in there. Once you know the type and speed, you should shop around as all major brand RAM is pretty well the same. It is an urban myth that you should go with the highest speed RAM you can get. Follow the information generated by that scan tool and you'll be fine. Any faster RAM will just be a waste of cash. DDR3 is the next generation and it's obscenely expensive right now, but watch for prices on this to drop bigtime when Nehalem premieres for common mortals in the Spring of 2009.

Desktop vs. Laptop: The two types of RAM are not usually compatible. Make sure that you have the right kind for your system. Again, the system scanner will provide that info.

Dual Channel: In order to gain the bandwidth benefits of this function, you should have identical RAM fitted into the slots in your motherboard that have the same color. If your motherboard only has two slots, its not a question, but with four or more, make sure that if you have, for example, a 2 GB unit in one red slot, there is another identical 2 GB unit in the other red slot.

Latency: Fuggedaboutit! This specification is only valid for really rabid gamers and lunatic overclockers. You can pay double or triple for lower latency RAM and you'd never know why you spent the money. Any latency sold by major etailers will work in your system just fine.

ECC Buffered: Another fuggedaboutit. This is a type of RAM that is used almost exclusively in enterprise applications. Many server and workstation CPUs require expensive ECC Buffered RAM called FB-DIMMs. You don't. If anyone tells you that you do need it, tell them they're crazy and run away.

Value Series: They are usually the best buys and feel free to give raspberries to all the high-falutin tech experts who pooh-pooh this type of RAM. As long as its from one of the top manufacturers like Kingston, Corsair, Crucial, or OCZ, and you're purchasing it from a major etailer with a solid RMA policy, you can buy in full confidence.

Don't pay some geek $50 or $100 to upgrade your RAM. You can do it yourself in a couple of minutes!


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      Joseph 7 years ago

      Hey hal I'm building a new system and I'm thinking about getting an i5, what I'm wondering is should i get what most people get is a 1600 ddr3 or should i just get a slower speed? i love to to game, and often have other things open at the same time. also is getting a motherboard with dual ddr3 a waste of money?

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks! Much appreciated!

    • profile image

      SirDent 9 years ago

      I feel inadequate because all I have is 256 MB ram. I run windows XP pro OS. It does pretty good but many times falls short of what is needed. Good hub, Hal.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto

      Depends on what you run on your OS. I have PCs with both XP and Vista and if I ran them with the RAM you've stated, I'd be spending half my day watching the hourglass. Your ECC statement is wrong too. Ever heard of Skulltrail? I love it when commenters try to prove me wrong by making completely erroneous statements. Please keep entertaining me! DUH! :)

    • profile image

      9 years ago

      More misinformation...

      512mb is enough for XP and 1.5gb for vista. Getting much more than that for your computer is actually quite wasteful since often you won't ever use it (unless you use photoshop, a lot of browser windows, virtualisation, etc). Often its the CPU or graphics card that is the bottleneck.

      ECC buffered RAM isn't always FB-DIMM. ECC and/or buffered RAM is often only useful is 24/7 server environments.