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How to Choose the Best RAM for Your PC (2023)

A guide for choosing the perfect balance of speed, capacity, timings, and price for your next PC memory purchase.

How to Choose the Best RAM for Your PC (2023) Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: March 18, 2023

Written by Kevin Jones

Perhaps you are upgrading your PC and would like to know how to choose the best RAM. There are various factors in choosing memory for your PC. One type of memory isn't suitable for every PC build.

This article will discuss the various considerations to help you choose the best RAM for your situation.

What Is RAM?

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RAM (Random Access Memory) is a PC component used to store temporary data. It is used for just about everything you do on your computer. Games and browsers use RAM for storing the current state of a game or webpage. They also keep graphical assets, textures, and content loaded in RAM because computer memory is faster to access than a storage device. The more applications you have open at once, the more RAM you will need to keep your system running quickly.

Memory Form Factors

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When purchasing RAM, ensure that you get the correct form factor (i.e., physical size) for the device to ensure compatibility.

DIMM (Dual In-line Memory Module)
DIMMs are larger memory sticks made for desktop computer motherboards.
SO-DIMM (Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Module)
SO-DIMMs are smaller memory sticks made for laptops and some mini-PC small form-factor motherboards.

DDR Versions

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DDR (Double Data Rate) SDRAM is the memory used in nearly all computers today.

With each version of DDR, faster memory speeds become available.

Check out my Recommended RAM below.

Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

What Is DDR5?

DDR5 is the latest generation of PC memory. DDR5 SDRAM is short for Double Data Rate 5 Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory.

DDR5 provides twice the bandwidth and density of DDR4 while reducing power consumption. Higher bandwidth translates to faster processing for memory-intensive applications such as games, video and image editors, 3D tools, and browsers.

Additionally, all DDR5 memory will have on-die ECC, which provides error detection and correction before sending data to a CPU. DDR5 ECC is expected to improve reliability and reduce defect rates.

DDR3 vs. DDR4 vs. DDR5

DDR Generations (Without Overclocking)
Max UDIMM (Unbuffered) Capacity 16 GB 32 GB 128 GB
Bandwidth 6400–17067 MB/s 12800–25600 MB/s 38400–57600 MB/s
Transfer Rate 800–2133 MT/s 1600–3200 MT/s 4800–7200 MT/s
Base Frequency 400–1067 MHz 800–1600 MHz 2400–3600 MHz
Effective Frequency 800–2133 MHz 1600–3200 MHz 4800–7200 MHz
Voltage 1.5 V 1.2 V 1.1 V
On-die ECC No No Yes

Because DDR4 and DDR5 are not backward or forward compatible, you must decide which one you want to go with before selecting a motherboard.

DDR5 memory is currently more expensive than DDR4.

However, it offers up to double the stock data rates of DDR4. Overclockers could push this limit even further.

Additionally, DDR5 supports higher-capacity UDIMMs (128 GB vs. 32 GB).

DDR5 may experience slower timings at initial release but should be much better than DDR4 as the technology matures. However, keep in mind that the timings scale inversely with the clock rate (frequency). The timing values are in units of clock cycles, but more cycles are happening per second with DDR5. For example, DDR3-2133 CL10 has nearly the same latency as DDR5-8400 CL40. So don't let the CL40 latency of DDR5 scare you away; the number just looks bigger!

Check out my Recommended RAM below.

Memory Speed

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DDR module speeds, also known as "data rates," are measured in megatransfers per second (MT/s). MT/s measures how fast data can be read and written per second to and from RAM.

This same number in units of MHz is called the "effective frequency." The effective frequency is the base frequency times two because it is double data rate (DDR) RAM.

For example, DDR5-5600 has a data rate of 5600 MT/s, an effective frequency of 5600 MHz, and a base frequency of 2800 MHz.

Faster PC memory can improve game performance and frame rates, but using the fastest RAM may have less impact than upgrading your CPU and graphics card or adding more RAM.

Suppose you do not use your computer for memory-intensive games or video processing applications. You may see little benefit in using the fastest memory in that case.

Look up the motherboard model on the manufacturer's website to determine which speeds are supported. Price typically scales with the memory speeds, so choose one in your price range that meets your needs.

Memory Timings

Similar and related to memory speed, memory timings can also impact performance. Timings measure how many clock cycles it takes to perform an action. Manufacturers often reference timings as a series of numbers, such as 16-18-18-38. Assuming memory sticks have a constant memory speed, lower timing values indicate a shorter time between commands. Because timings are measured in clock cycles, they scale down as the memory speed increases.

While memory timings can impact performance, they are typically less critical than speed and capacity.

Memory Capacity

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DDR ram capacities are measured in gigabytes (GB).

What Happens if You Run Out of RAM?

Many people underestimate how important it is to have enough memory (RAM) in their computer. When the amount of memory your applications need is more than the amount of memory available, your computer may slow to a crawl. Typically, in this case, the computer (operating system) will begin swapping data back and forth between your memory and virtual memory. Virtual memory is a large chunk of space on your storage device (SSD or hard drive) used to store data that can't fit in RAM. Because RAM is much faster than an SSD, your experience can quickly become unpleasant once you run out of free RAM (available memory).

How Many Programs Do You Want Open at Once?

One strategy for dealing with a low amount of memory is to have only a few applications open at a time. Basically, instead of having your operating system swap an idle program's data to virtual memory, you are manually closing the application. This strategy will likely reduce the amount of memory your computer needs. However, it would replace it with a potentially slower workflow. For example, whenever your computer starts to get slow, you'd have to decide which applications to close.

I am a fan of leaving many applications open and switching between them as my work or focus requires.

Shared Dependence on RAM

Most people don't have a problem with one application or process consuming all their RAM. Instead, it's the cumulative effect of many applications fighting for a scarce resource.

If your OS and applications are not using your memory, adding more will not improve your experience. However, once you reach the capacity of your system, all applications can slow to a crawl when you switch tasks. Your OS has to decide which data to copy to and from virtual memory once there is no more free memory.

While it may not bother you that your browser slows down when you're low on available RAM, you probably don't want that to interrupt your Zoom video call.

How Much RAM Do You Need for Gaming?

To run games smoothly while having a few apps open in the background, such as a browser window or music, 16 GB is generally the recommended minimum amount. Newer games are beginning to list 16 GB as the recommended amount.

Suppose you want the flexibility to do even more with your computer while playing games. Perhaps you want to host a live stream or play high-resolution YouTube videos and Twitch streams. In that case, 32 GB may be beneficial. 32 GB of memory would give you the flexibility to open multiple apps without worrying about closing some to free up memory resources.

How Much RAM Do You Need for General PC Usage?

Even if you are not an enthusiast PC user, I recommend at least 16 GB of ram. This amount of RAM will allow you to keep several browser windows, video streams, and documents open simultaneously without worrying about your computer slowing down.

Suppose you use more memory-hungry software, such as Adobe graphics products, 3d or physics tools, or high-resolution video editors. In that case, you might consider 32 GB of memory for peak PC performance. However, you could likely get by with 16 GB of memory if you are okay with closing some applications before opening others.

Motherboard Support

Look up the motherboard model on the manufacturer's website to determine which memory capacities and module sizes are supported. Also, refer to your motherboard's documentation for guidance on which slots to use.

Memory is typically purchased in a pack of two or four modules (sticks). Make sure to use the same speeds, capacities, and timings. The lowest values will be used if multiple speeds or timings are used. If multiple sizes are used, you may need to use single-channel mode, which will be slower.

The easiest way to get matching sticks for peak performance is to buy them together in a pack.

Precautions When Selecting RAM Speed

When overclocking, you may be able to exceed speeds that are officially supported by CPUs. Motherboard specifications will indicate their supported overclocked-memory speeds. To be able to overclock DDR memory, your motherboard chipset needs to support memory overclocking.

RAM can also be underclocked to achieve compatibility. Underclocking can be used when you purchase memory that is faster than the maximum speed supported by the CPU or motherboard. However, precise underclocking also requires a motherboard that supports memory overclocking. Without this support, the memory may fall back to a slower speed than the maximum supported memory speed. To achieve the maximum memory speed without overclocking support, use the maximum speed supported by the motherboard and CPU.

By looking up a motherboard's specifications, you can verify whether it supports a particular speed. Additionally, the motherboard manufacturer's website will typically indicate which memory kits have been confirmed to be compatible.

LED Lighting

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If you'd like to customize your PC to look a bit cooler, consider using RAM sticks with LED lighting. With some fancy RAM sticks and a compatible motherboard, you can choose the LED color or lighting animation.

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Before purchasing memory, review your motherboard specification to verify which speeds are supported. For example, if a DDR4 motherboard stated that it supports "DDR4 3400(O.C.) / 3333(O.C.) / 3300(O.C.) / 3200 / 3000," that would mean that it could support DDR4-3400, DDR4-3333, and DDR4-3300 with memory overclocking, and DDR4-3200 and DDR4-3000 at stock speeds. Motherboard specifications also indicate the maximum capacity per stick of RAM (DIMM) and across all slots.

Get RAM recommendations
for a specific Intel CPU:
Get RAM recommendations
for a specific AMD CPU:
  • At an effective frequency of 3200 MHz, this memory hits the fastest supported stock DDR4 speeds. Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link
  • It is also available in other (effective) frequencies for overclockers, including 3600 MHz and 4000 MHz.
  • Lower-speed versions are also available on Amazon, in various capacities, including DDR4-2933 (affiliate link), DDR4-2666 (affiliate link), and DDR4-2400 (affiliate link).
  • The low-profile form factor ensures that the heat spreaders don't get in the way of other devices, including your CPU heatsink.

Which CPUs Support DDR5?

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Intel's 12th and 13th generation Core processors, code-named "Alder Lake" and "Raptor Lake," support DDR5.

AMD introduced support for DDR5 with their Ryzen 7000-series processors in Q4 2022.

Learn more in my article Which Intel and AMD CPUs Support DDR5?.

Other Considerations When Building a PC

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Want to brush up on other new technologies to consider when building a computer? Check out these articles:

A Note From the Authors

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