What is the RAM memory?

RAM memory is an essential component of a computer and it would not be usable without it. The term RAM is an acronym for Random-Access Memory, which means that the computer’s CPU can access this memory quickly in any order according to the programs needs.

Many different RAM memory modules

What is it for?

The programs on your computer are made up of a set of instructions (or commands) for the CPU and use data, images, videos, sounds, musics which are usually stored on a hard disk drive, a USB drive, a DVD, the network or any other storage device. These storage methods can be more or less fast, but they are all very slow compared to the RAM and the computer’s CPU usually cannot access them directly. It is for this reason that when a program is executed, its instructions and data are copied (loaded) into the computer’s RAM. The CPU can then quickly access the program’s instructions as well as its data in order to execute it. When the program finishes its execution, this memory is freed so that it can be used by other programs. This description is simplified because the memory management is done by the computer operating system (Windows, macOS, Linux or other) and the RAM is also used for other needs, but this gives us a good idea of ​​its purpose: it is used temporarily for the execution of programs because it is very fast.

The amount and frequency of this RAM have an influence on the speed of your computer. A large amount of fast memory will improve its performance, we will see this in detail in another post. But it also has a cost, and therefore you should choose the amount and frequency of RAM according to the use of your computer.

What does it look like?

RAM memories are found in the form of modules installed on the motherboard. They are generally removable so that you could change the memory configuration of the computer. Be aware that it is not always the case and the RAM memories are sometimes soldered directly to the motherboard, making it impossible to change them.

4 barrettes de mémoire sur une carte mère
Four memory modules installed on a motherboard

It is usually possible to configure the capacity and frequency of the RAM memories when purchasing the computer and we will see in another post that it is often very easy to change the memory afterward.

What are the different RAM formats?

There are different formats of memory modules which depend on their use. Laptops generally use SODIMM modules that do not consume a lot of power to preserve the battery life. Desktop computer on the other side use higher performance UDIMM modules that require more power. And finally, workstations and servers use RDIMM memories which are more reliable but are also more expensive.

The technologies of memory modules are constantly evolving, their speed and capacity are both increasing. In 2023 most computers generally use DDR4 or DDR5 RAM, but computers manufactured a few years ago may still use older technology such as DDR3. The new DDR5 standard is only supported by the latest generations of processors: Intel Alder Lake and Raptor Lake or AMD Zen 3+ and Zen 4.

What are the characteristics of RAM memory?

  • One of the characteristics of memory modules is their capacity or size. It is expressed in gigabytes (GB): 4 GB, 8 GB, 16 GB pr 32 GB for instance.
  • Another characteristic is their frequency which is expressed in megahertz (MHz): 1066 MHz, 1200 MHz, 1333 MHz, 1500 MHz, 1600 MHz for instance. It is often confused with the transfer rate which is twice the frequency for DDR memory and is expressed in MT/s (millions of transfers per second): 2133 MT/s, 2400 MT/s, 2666 MT/s, 3000 MT/s, 3200 MT/s for instance. The higher the memory frequency or the transfer rate, the faster the memory will be. We will see in another post that memory modules are often used in pairs in order to improve the computer. performance.

Price and choice of RAM memory

The price will depend on the memory size and frequency. As for any other component of the computer, you should choose it according to the use of the computer. For office applications, internet browsing or social networks, 8 GB of RAM is generally sufficient in 2021. For more advanced use, such as playing high resolutions video games, 16 GB of high frequency memory are better suited. Finally for more complex use such as scientific computing or 4K video edition for example, 32 GB, 64 GB or even 128 GB (if the motherboard supports it) can be necessary.

On the other hand, in order to improve the performance of latest generation CPUs when they access the RAM, it is preferable to use pairs of RAM memory modules (with the same size and frequency) rather than a single one. You should therefore prefer two 4 GB modules to a single 8 GB module, or two 8 GB modules to a single 16 GB module for example.

You should also check the motherboard manufacturer’s website to find out which RAM modules are supported by your computer. The manufacturers of RAM memory modules sometimes offer an online tool to verify the compatibility of their products with your computer. And if you have any doubt about the RAM compatibility, verify that you can return the memory modules if they are not compatible with your computer.

We will see in a other post that it is not difficult to replace or add RAM modules to your computer.

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