September 27, 2023

How to Choose the Best RAM for Your PC

RAM modules are one of the most important parts of your PC. Good RAM can give you plenty of benefits, including sizable performance gains and the power to multitask. Here’s how to properly choose RAM, and how to avoid overspending.

Buy at Least Two Sticks

First off, perhaps the most important thing you should have in mind is that you should never buy single sticks of RAM. If you want to put 16GB of RAM on your PC, you should either buy two 8GB sticks or four 4GB sticks.

If you put a single stick of RAM on your PC, it’ll work, but you’ll be leaving a lot of performance on the table since your memory will essentially be running at half of its total potential speed.

Why? Because of something called “dual-channel memory.” By using two memory modules simultaneously, you get increased data transfer rates and bandwidth. Your computer can access data in parallel from both memory modules, and the system can process information more efficiently and quickly, leading to improved overall performance.

Dual-channel memory reduces bottlenecks and enhances the computer’s ability to handle memory-intensive tasks, such as gaming, multimedia editing, and running multiple applications simultaneously. So it wouldn’t be wise to deny your PC of those gains, especially since, price-wise, it isn’t really cheaper to buy one single stick of RAM.

Of course, it’s not a matter of just buying it and installing it. You need to make sure it’s installed in the appropriate slots, which are usually slots 2 and 4 on most motherboards, in order to take advantage of dual-channel mode.

Check Memory Timings

When people look at the specifications of a memory kit they’re buying, many look at the clock speed. For DDR5 RAM, it could go as high as 4,800 MHz, or 5,600 MHz. But an equally important factor to consider is memory timings, rather than just memory clock speeds.

RAM timings can be thought of as the “response time” of the computer’s memory. It represents the time it takes for the memory to react and provide the data that the computer needs. Lower timings translate to faster response times, which is, ultimately, better for performance.

You’ll see RAM timings as a series of numbers, such as 9-9-9-24 or 5-5-5-15, printed on the RAM’s spec sheet, but the most commonly looked-at parameter here is CAS latency or CL. This is essentially the delay that exists between the time a command is received and the time the RAM can actually deliver the data that was requested, and it’s measured in clock cycles. If a RAM stick says that it has a CL of 9, that means that the RAM will take nine clock cycles to deliver the requested data from the time of the actual request. If it has a CL of 15, it’ll take fifteen clock cycles. The lower, the better.

On DDR4 memory, you can see RAM sticks with CLs ranging from 14 to 18, and on DDR5 memory, as of the time of writing, they can range from 30 to 40 — and lower-latency RAM could very well show up within the next few years.

RELATED: DDR4 vs. DDR5 RAM: Is an Upgrade Worth It?

In practical terms, lower timings (faster response) are more noticeable in everyday tasks like gaming or using multiple applications, while higher clock speeds (faster data transfer) are more beneficial in tasks involving large file transfers or working with heavy software. A good balance between both is ideal for optimal performance.

Check Speed/Capacity

Now, we’re reaching the most noticeable specs. We’re talking, of course, about clock speeds and capacity.

RAM clock speed, often measured in MHz, determines how many data cycles the RAM module can complete in a second. Higher clock speeds allow for faster data transfer rates and can result in increased bandwidth. As you can imagine, the faster, the better, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to go all-out and buy a DDR5-6000 kit — faster RAM will give you a performance boost, but it won’t make up for slower parts. In fact, if you have a bottleneck of any kind, any performance gains that the fast RAM could’ve given you would’ve gone to the trash.

Get the best RAM that fits your budget. If you have a certain amount of money set aside for a 32GB RAM kit, make sure you buy whatever is fastest within that budget while confirming, of course, that it comes from a reputable brand and has a warranty. Don’t blow your budget because your favorite tech YouTuber recommended an ultra-fast kit and promised crazy performance gains with it.

As for capacity, it really comes down to your specific needs, but you should also avoid going overkill unless you really need it. 8GB of RAM should be the bare minimum, and you should aim to put at least 16GB of RAM on your PC. 32GB is probably the sweet spot, but anything above it will be overkill unless you have very demanding multitasking needs.

Heatsinks Don’t Matter

Fans and Four G Skill 8GB DDR4 RAM inside a computer tower

Finally, you’ve probably seen a lot of RAM designs with different kinds of heatsinks, and even some specific, perhaps cheaper, modules without any kind of heatsink at all.

You’re probably wondering whether the heatsink makes a difference at all or not. So we’ll break it to you: they don’t matter at all in RAM modules.

Sure, RAM will heat up under use, but really, unless you really put it through its paces and do some heavy overclocking, the heat is minimal enough to be dissipated normally with air. A heatsink serves mostly a cosmetic purpose — it’s where RGB lights live, and manufacturers will put all kinds of cosmetic details in there to make the RAM modules look more appealing.

So if you’ve been debating on different RAM modules because of heatsinks, don’t. Unless you really want to splurge on that pretty RGB stick, you can safely buy any module from a reputable brand you want while prioritizing other, more important RAM specs like timings and speed.

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