What is RAM memory? Everything you need to know about DDR3, DDR4 and more

Learn everything you need to know about RAM, DDR and how it affects your computer

People often draw parallels between computers and the human brain, and sometimes it's an apt comparison. For example, both the brain and the computer have both short-term and long-term memory. RAM is where your computer stores its short-term memory. Here you will understand how it works and, of course, what RAM memory is.

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what is ram memory
What is RAM?

What is RAM?

But then what is RAM? RAM stands for Random Access Memory, and if you've ever opened a notebook or desktop computer, you've seen it. In the image above, you see modern RAM devices for desktop PCs. They have a sleek case that doubles as a heat sink. However, unless you are a powerful overclocker, what matters is the appearance (and making them easier to install).

Laptops, in turn, tend to have more basic RAM memories, as space concerns are fundamental. Also, unlike modern PC cases with transparent sides, people rarely see the inside of a notebook. However, you can get RAM for notebooks (especially for gaming models) with heatsinks.

Why do you need RAM?

Your computer's random access memory (RAM) is one of the most important components in determining system performance. RAM gives applications a place to store and access data at short notice. It stores the information your computer is currently actively using so it can be accessed quickly.

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The more programs your system is running, the more you will need. Hds (Hard Drive) and SSDs (Solid State Drives) are also important components and will help your system reach its peak performance. In other words, RAM would be your “short term memory”, the one you'll access at all times to remember things quickly, and HD is your “long term memory”, meaning the one where you'll store everything else .

The speed and performance of your system is directly related to the amount of RAM installed. If your system is low on RAM, it may be sluggish and have difficulty doing multiple tasks at once. But at the opposite end, you can install a lot with little or no added benefit. In other words, it's no use putting 16 GB of RAM memory if the rest of your system is not compatible with that amount of RAM.

There are ways to see if your computer needs more memory, and be sure to buy memory compatible with the other system components. Components are generally created to the highest standard at the time of manufacture, but with the expectation that technology will continue to change.

To prevent users from inserting incompatible memory, modules are physically different for each generation memory technology. These physical differences are standard across the memory sector. One of the reasons for memory standardization across the industry is that computer manufacturers need to know the electrical parameters and physical form of memory that can be installed in their computers (and it makes you buy new memory, but this is something that happens everywhere).

What does RAM do?

what is ram memory
What does RAM do?

So now we know what RAM is and that these devices on your PC's motherboard are system RAM and act as short-term memory, but what does this all mean in practice? Well, when you perform actions on your computer, like opening a text document, it requires access to the data contained in that file. When you are not working on this document or click save, the most recent copy of this file is saved to your hard drive for long-term storage.

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When you're working on the file, however, the latest data is stored in RAM for faster access. This is true for spreadsheets, text documents, web pages and video streaming.

It's not just about document data. RAM can also store program files and operating systems to keep applications and your computer running. RAM isn't the only source of short-term memory, however. For example, a video card has its own graphics RAM and the processor has smaller data caches.

However, RAM is the key location for data that is actively being used by the system.

How does RAM work?

what is ram memory
How does RAM work?

RAM memory is made up of tiny capacitors and transistors capable of holding an electrical charge that represents bits of data, similar to processors and other parts of your computer. This electrical charge needs to be constantly updated. Otherwise, the capacitors lose their charge too quickly and data disappears from RAM.

The fact that data can be lost so quickly when the charge runs out is why saving all changed data on the hard drive or SSD is so important. It's also why so many programs have auto-save capabilities or cache unsaved changes in the event of an unexpected shutdown.

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Forensic specialists can retrieve data from RAM under special circumstances. However, most of the time, when you complete the file or the computer is turned off, the information in RAM disappears.

What is DDR?

what is ram memory
What is DDR?

The most common form of RAM used today is DDR4. It is the fourth version of Dual Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory (DDR SDRAM). “Double data rate” means that data can be transferred twice per clock cycle instead of just once. Effectively, it means you double the memory bandwidth and also refers to how quickly data can be moved in and out of RAM.

Before DDR4, computers used (amazingly) DDR3. It's not uncommon for computers to still have DDR3 RAM. DDR4 was released in late 2014 and didn't become the most common type of RAM until a few years later.

RAM sticks are “keyed” to prevent people from mixing and matching different incompatible generations. If you look at the RAM stick shown above, for example, you will see a small hole in the bottom row. In DDR4, this divot is in a different place, so that (along with other differences) it makes it impossible to put a DDR3 stick in a DDR4 slot.

RAM also comes in two types: DIMM and SODIMM. DIMM is used in desktop PCs and servers, while SODIMM is used in smaller devices such as notebooks and compact desktops. Some pre-made computers (especially notebooks) also have RAM modules soldered directly to the motherboard. When this is the case, there are no RAM sticks, which makes upgrading impractical.

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Speeds, voltages and capacities

what is ram memory
RAM sticks can also come with RGB lighting.

Although what is RAM memory AND the basics of what RAM does is very simple, there are very different types, even among DDR4. For example, RAM functions at variable speeds like 2.400, 3.000 or 3.200 MHz. It also comes in different sizes like 4, 8 or 16 GB.

Generally, modern computers need two RAM sticks (called a kit) of the same size to function in what is called “dual channel mode”. Basically this just means that a PC is running on two RAM drives.

Many people claim that you can mix and match different RAM settings, and that's true. However, it's much easier to maintain a PC if its RAM has the same speed and capacity, and it comes from the same manufacturer, in that order of importance.

If you are looking for quality RAM that will meet most of your needs, and not let your games choke, we recommend Memory HyperX 8GB or 16GB Fury, DDR4 and 2666Mhz. Secure yours now and enjoy!

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Getting RAM at the same voltage is also a concern, but many DDR4 desktops are stocked at 1,35 volts, making this less of an issue. Laptops and previous generations of RAM, however, are a different story.

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If you can't get the same brand of RAM for a notebook, at least make sure you use the same voltage, speed and capacity. The amount of RAM you can use also depends on what your motherboard can support. An older notebook, for example, might be able to handle up to 8GB DDR3.

A modern desktop PC, however, might be able to support something like a 4GB DDR128, depending on its processor and motherboard. For most people, however, 8 to 16 GB is enough. There's a lot more RAM than this basic overview. If you are overclocking, voltages and times become important.

Different types of RAM

RAM is a generic term like “memory” and covers a few different types. “RAM” or “memory” usually refers to dynamic random access memory (DRAM), or more precisely for modern systems, synchronous dynamic random access memory (SDRAM). The terminology doesn't matter beyond the technical details, but it's helpful to know that the terms are relatively interchangeable.

The most common type of RAM sold today is DDR4, although older systems may use DDR3 or even DDR2. The numbers denote the generation of RAM, with each successive generation offering faster speeds through greater bandwidth – a higher rating in megahertz (MHz). Each generation also has physical changes, so they are not interchangeable.

Another common term, especially in the gaming space, is VRAM (video RAM). Although once a standalone piece of technology, VRAM is currently used to define dedicated memory on the graphics card. For consoles, it can also refer to system memory, but in both cases it has to do with the amount of memory reserved exclusively for the But by the full GPU acceleration tech. RAM memory is critical for DDR, or GDDR graphics, often with a generation designation such as GDDR6.

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Most modern graphics cards use GDDR6. However, some graphics cards may use a different VRAM format called High Bandwidth Memory (HBM, HBM2 and HBM2e). It has unique performance advantages, yet is typically expensive, and current parts supply issues prevent widespread adoption and cost-effectiveness of the technology.

How much RAM do you need?

The most important consideration when buying RAM for a PC is the amount needed. A minimal amount is needed to run an operating system, while many games and applications also have a minimal requirement. These requirements are listed in gigabytes (GB) and are typically between 1GB and 8GB, depending on the application's hardware demands.

Having more than the minimum amount of RAM is essential. A PC not only runs the current application, but also other services and tasks in the background. However, having large amounts of system memory doesn't necessarily make a PC run any faster.

Quantity is not the only important aspect of RAM. While more gigabytes can help with multitasking, faster memory improves overall speed in certain games and applications.

Like a CPU, RAM has its clock speed, which effectively controls how much data it can handle per second when combined with a few other factors. Total memory speed is known as bandwidth and measured in megabytes per second (MBps), but traditionally, you will see memory marketed at rates in megahertz (MHz).

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What is ram memory? Everything you need to know about ddr3, ddr4 and more | 26e27281 memory | married games tips/guides | hyperx, ram, pc, ram, technology | RAM memory
RAM memory

Typical DDR4 memory runs between 2.133 MHz and 3.000 MHz, but some can run above 4.866 MHz for the fastest kits available. You'll see them marketed as DDR4-2133 or similar, sometimes with the confusing “PC” label. The number after “PC” is simply the speed in MHz multiplied by eight and then rounded up. For example, you might see it listed as DDR4-2133 PC4-17000.

Timings are another aspect of memory that can affect RAM performance, although they are no longer as important. It is effectively the time between clock cycles, and as memory speed increases, timings also increase, reducing latency. Typically, time is listed as several numbers separated by dashes, such as 15-15-15-35 or similar.

When buying memory, times are only crucial when considering high-performance memory for benchmarking or very heavy gaming. Time is not a real concern for the average consumer.

Lastly, we have channels. Most memory cards sold today support at least two channels, which means there are two lanes (buses) between a memory slot and the CPU memory controller on the motherboard.

However, this design requires two RAM devices of the same type and speed that support dual channels. Next-generation RAM kits with three or four modules that support triple- or quad-channel memory designs on motherboards are also available.

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For practical purposes, multi-channel designs don't make a big difference to everyday performance. However, if you want to take advantage of dual channel memory or more, make sure you install the sticks in the correct colored slots on the motherboard. Check the manual for help with this issue.

Quick FAQ

What does RAM do?

The purpose of RAM is to store the short-term data that a PC needs to operate properly. But unlike a hard disk drive or SSD (Solid State Drive), which stores data indefinitely, RAM is erased every time the system restarts.

Is 8GB of RAM enough?

Most people on a moderate budget for a laptop should aim for at least 8GB of RAM. Generally this amount of memory is recommended for most people doing office work and other basic tasks, as well as gamers – especially if you're buying a model with soldered RAM and can't upgrade later.

What is better more RAM or processor?

RAM is essentially the core of any computer or smartphone and, in most cases, the more the better. RAM is as significant as the processor. A certain amount of RAM in your smartphone or computer optimizes performance and the ability to support various types of software.

Is 8GB of RAM enough for gaming?

8GB of RAM is the minimum amount of RAM for any gaming PC. With 8GB of RAM, you will be able to play most released games without too many problems, but some games may not run at the highest quality and you may have to close other applications.

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We hope that you now have a better understanding of what RAM is and what RAM does and why it is such an important component of your PC. Now, leave there in the comments what you thought about the explanation of the memories and if you had any questions. If you want, take the opportunity to read more about Technology on our website.


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Paulo Fabris is a journalist, writer, RPG player, gamer, cosplayer, nerd and fan of anime since the time of TV Manchete.