Making sense of RAM

If you’re like most people, then RAM is one of the single most confusing components in your computer. We know more RAM and faster RAM are better, but what do all the abbreviations and numbers mean? At what point are you paying too much for too little performance increase?

The first thing to know when picking out RAM is motherboard compatibility: in the specifications of your motherboard, there will be a listed number of DIMM (dual in-line memory module) slots–anywhere from 2-4 is a standard amount. These slots are usually positioned near the CPU socket and have little tabs on the both ends.

DIMM slots are compatible for certain data rates (e.g., DDR, DDR2, DD3) and maximum memory per slot. For instance, the ASRock P67 EXTREME4 Motherboard featured in our Black Friday Build has 4 DIMM slots capable of 32GB total of DDR3 memory (meaning each slot can take an 8GB RAM module). DDR3 SDRAM (double data rate type three synchronous dynamic random access memory) is the current fastest standard available and the default on most motherboards. Due to scaling inherent in memory production, it’s also the most affordable RAM available. While both DDR3 and DDR2 have 240 pins each, they are electrically incompatible with one another and are prevented from wrong installation with different notch placement on the memory module.

Once you figure out the DIMM compatibility, all you have left to do is select a speed–and this is where value to performance metrics make all the difference in the world. While DDR3 transfer rates range from 6400 MB/s to 19200 MB/s, the most popular range is 10600 MB/s (DDR3 1333) to 16000 MB/s (DDR3 2000), with prices ranging from $4/GB to $10/GB, respectively. As with all things in life, when trying to find the happy marriage of price to performance, the answer lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Anandtech.com did a great review of memory scaling with Intel’s Sandy Bridge platform, and their benchmarks are extremely helpful as we try to find the best bang for our buck.

As you can see, the DDR3 1600 (12800 MB/s) comes in with performance that bumps right up against the DDR3 1866, but only costs around $5/GB. In gaming and video benchmark, the gap closes further, to the point that there’s essentially no difference at all between the RAM.  In cases like this, it makes most sense to eschew the most expensive solution in favor of the solution that best meets both performance and budget goals. Accordingly, both Anandtech.com and Tomshardware.com (and Rocket Custom Computers) recommend DDR3 1600 RAM, unless you’ve got more money than sense. And at the current prices, it makes more sense than ever to upgrade that sluggish computer you currently use to a great value, high performance machine.
Contact us at [email protected] today to find out how we can build your dream machine.


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