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How to Choose the Best RAM for Your PC (2022)

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

Motherboard Timur Garifov / Unsplash

Last Updated: January 13, 2022

Written by Kevin Jones

Perhaps you are upgrading your PC and would like to know how to choose the best type of RAM. There are various factors in choosing memory for your PC. One type, size, or capacity is not suitable for everyone.

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

Check out my Recommended RAM below. Crucial Ballistix RGB DDR4 Crucial Ballistix RGB DDR4 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

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.

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

Consumer DDR Comparison
DDR3DDR4DDR5
Max DIMM Size 16 GB 64 GB 128 GB
Bandwidth 6400–17067 MB/s 12800–25600 MB/s 25600–67200 MB/s
Transfer Rate 800–2133 MT/s 1600–3200 MT/s 3200–8400 MT/s
Base Frequency 400–1067 MHz 800–1600 MHz 1600–4200 MHz
Effective Frequency 800–2133 MHz 1600–3200 MHz 3200–8400 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 DIMMs (128 GB vs. 64 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 timings of DDR5 scare you away; the number just looks bigger!

Check out my Recommended RAM below.

Memory Speed

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DDR ram speed is measured in megatransfers per second (MT/s). MT/s measure how fast data can be read and written per second to and from RAM.

Faster PC memory can improve game performance and frame rates, but using the fastest RAM may not have as much of an impact as upgrading your CPU and graphics card.

Suppose you do not use your computer for memory-hungry applications such as games or video processing. In that case, you may see little benefit in using the fastest memory.

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. Manufacturers often reference timings as a series of numbers, such as 16-18-18-38. Timings measure how many clock cycles it takes to perform an action. 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 having to worry 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 having to worry 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.

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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  • At an effective frequency of 4800 MHz, this memory hits the fastest speeds supported by Intel Alder Lake (e.g., 12th Gen Core) CPUs without overclocking.
  • Compact heat spreaders avoid conflicting with a CPU cooler.
  • 32 GB provides ample memory for gaming and multitasking. Corsair Vengeance DDR5 32GB (2x16GB) DDR5 4800MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR5 32GB (2x16GB) DDR5 4800MHz Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link
  • It comes in a variety of (effective) frequencies, including 3000 MHz, 3200 MHz, 3600 MHz, 4000 MHz, and 4400 MHz
  • Reasonable CL16 timings (CAS Latency)
  • The low-profile form factor ensures that the heat spreaders don't get in the way of other devices, including your CPU heatsink
  • Crucial is a reputable brand, and I have used their memory in my machines
  • The customizable LEDs zones are a pretty cool bonus Crucial Ballistix RGB DDR4 Crucial Ballistix RGB DDR4 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

Which CPUs Support DDR5?

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Intel's 12th generation Core processors, code-named "Alder Lake," support DDR5. Additionally, Intel is expected to support DDR5 with its next-generation Xeon server processor, code-named "Sapphire Rapids."

AMD has not yet released processors which support DDR5 but is expected to include DDR5 support in their next-generation Zen 4 architecture, which AMD will release in 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: