Motherboard and RAM – What I need to know?

Now you know about PCI Express slots of a motherboard, good! Next step – learning about the connections between a motherboard and RAMRandom Acess Memory.4 RAM Modules of G.Skill Trident Z.

But what is RAM?

In a nutshell, it’s an extremely fast type of
computer memory which temporarily stores all the information your PC
needs right now and will need in the nearest future.

It’s where your computer loads
up all the things it will need to find out soon, so that when
it does need something, it can read it super fast.

That is quite different
from your system’s storage (be it Hard Disk Drive – HDD – or Solid State Drive – SSD), where information is
stored long term – almost permanently if there are no physical threats to them.

Sounds like… Short-term memory!

It surely is!

The best analogy for what RAM is to think of it as like your
system’s short-term memory – It’s quick at learning new things and can
extremely quickly load most of the important information about currently important things –  like your web browser, the image editing tool you’re using, or the game you’re playing so that you can access it

You don’t want to have to dig through your “long-term memory” – slower storage like a hard disk drive or even a solid-state drive every single time you want
to open a new tab or load a new enemy to kill. Sure, they are
faster compared to the storage of years gone by, but they’re still many times slower than RAM.

Data that are in the short-term memory, or RAM, can be read from
anywhere at almost the same speed and because it has a hard-wired
connection to your system, there’s no real latency in cabling or

Just like short-term memory, though, RAM is not designed to stay focused
and is ready to move on to the next task in a moment.

It’s what is described in computing as “volatile” or “temporarily”:
once it
loses power, it forgets everything it’s learned.

(That is not how humans work, I know – you can’t just be turned off by pressing one button, and that is a great thing, you know! ~_^ )

Because of these characteristics, this kind of memory is perfect
for handling lots of high-speed
tasks that your system throws
at it on a daily basis,

but it’s also why we need storage systems like HDDs and SSDs to actually hold our information when you turn
your system off – this is called “non-volatile” or “permanent” in computing.

Now I can tell you about the different characteristics of RAM.

“The more RAM – the better” – not only size matters, there are other characteristics!

Firstly, let’s talk about the amount of RAM…

The biggest consideration when buying RAM is how much you need.

Basically, you need a minimum amount of RAM to run a desktop or laptop operating
system and many games and applications also have a minimum amount.

requirements are listed in the gigabytes, or GB, and are often between
1 GB and 8, very rarely 16 GB, depending on how demanding the application is.

Having more
than the minimum is important – you don’t want to use only one program at a time, don’t ya?

As for nowadays standards, you need minimum 8 GB of RAM – and I greatly recommend having at least 16 GB in configuration 2×8 GB (2 modules of memory by 8 GB).

It’s also not the only aspect of RAM that’s important…

Speed of RAM – Faster is better, but it’s not that simple…

While more
gigabytes of RAM can help with multitasking, you can also see more
improvement in the speed of your system, certain games, and
applications using faster memory.

Memory, like CPUs, has its
own clock speed, which effectively controls how much data it can handle
per second when combined with a few other factors. The total speed of
the memory is discussed as bandwidth, in megabytes per second, but
traditionally memory is marketed with MHz speed.

Usual DDR4 memory runs between 2,133MHz and 3,200 MHz but there are
some instances that can run upwards of 4,000+ MHz for the fastest Hi-End kits available.

You will see these marketed as DDR4-2133 (DDR-2400, DDR-2666, DDR-2800, DDR-2933, etc.), and sometimes with
the confusing “PC” label applied too.

Picture of Corsair Vengeance RAM Kit in Newegg.

Don’t you love marketing? Such a simple name of a product!

The number that follows “PC” is
simply the MHz speed multiplied by eight and then rounded. You might see
it listed as DDR4-2133 PC4-17000, for example.

2133 x 8 = 17064 ≈ 17000, so don’t be scared by all these numbers – you only need to know the speed in MHz and type of RAM you buying – DDR4 is a current standard that is highly recommended.

So what kind of speed you should choose?

If you want good, balanced performance at a good price, I recommend 3000-3200 Mhz – that kind of memory won’t cause any bottlenecks for your system and is not too high on price.

Everything higher than that is for enthusiasts with extremely powerful processors and systems overall.

“15-15-15-35” – timings of RAM. Scary? Believe me, you don’t have to worry about them.

Timings are another aspect of memory that can have some impact on RAM
performance, though they aren’t as important as they used to be in the past.

Typically they listed as several numbers separated by dashes, such as 15-15-15-35, or similar.

effectively the time between clock cycles, and as memory speed has
increased, timings, or the latency of the memory, has increased (gotten
slower) too.

You see, in the old-old times CPUs didn’t have L3 Cache, so there was no amount of buffer memory for CPUs to use, so CPU was CONSTANTLY asking RAM for another portion of the information – so every extra +1 (ms – milliseconds) in timings translated to HUUUGE delays and drops of performance.

Now processors have very large L3 Cache and can store most commonly used information in that special memory (CPU find needed information in L3 Cache in 90% of cases), so don’t worry:

Timings are only really important if you’re considering high-performance memory for benchmarking or top-tier gaming. Then you should aim to a combination of fastest speed and lowest timings. But that is an entirely different story…

Channels of RAM – dual-channel and quad-channel. Not that important, but useful to know.

Also, it’s useful to know about channels of RAM.

Most of RAM sold today is at least dual-channel: that allows two sticks (modules) of RAM of the same
type and speed to operate faster by providing better access to the CPU’s memory controller.

However, high-end RAM can also support quad-channel memory (and there is a possibility for 8-channel memory in the faraway future).

Dual-channel is always good to have, but gains from quad-channel are extremely small (as for today, that can change in future, of course) for now.

Picture of motherboard with dual-channel RAM slots.Here is an example of a motherboard with 4 dual-channel RAM slots.

Even if you super-top-performance-chaser, 4 dual-channel RAM modules with faster clocks will increase performance significantly more than 4 quad-channel RAM modules that will naturally have lower maximal clocks of every module because of extremally high load on a CPU memory controller that quad-channel cause.

Picture of motherboard with 8 quad-channel RAM slots.And here is an example of a motherboard with 8 quad-channel RAM slots.

That can change in the future, but for now… quad-channel is almost useless. Theoretically, it’s twice quicker than dual-channel, but practically it’s 1-5% faster at best case scenario.

And now – about the connection between RAM and motherboard!

Alright, lecture about RAM is over – now I can tell you about the relationship between motherboard and RAM.

Just like I mentioned in my general article about the basics of a motherboard, motherboard connects all computer hardware into one whole system – here is the scheme:

Simple scheme about relations of components of a computer system.

As you can see, processor and RAM exchange information through an intermediary – the motherboard. That is pretty understandable.

To organize that exchange, the motherboard has special slots for every component of computer system and also a special system of buses (you don’t need to know about them in detail, only about the general principle of work).

That is why the characteristics of a motherboard are extremely important in terms of the potential capabilities of RAM.

Here is a list of them:

  • Supported type of RAM
  • Amount of slots for RAM modules (sticks)
  • Maximal supported amount of RAM for motherboard
  • Diapason of officially supported RAM speed (in MHz)

You can gain all needed information about RAM capabilities of the motherboard on the official site of the manufacturer:

Supported type of RAM – DDR4/3/2/1

DDR4 is the quickest and most modern type of RAM, so you always want that in your progressive build of PC.

See for yourself:

Diapason of possible speeds of DDR4 if from 2133 MHz to 4266+ MHz, when the speed of DDR3 can be from 800 MHz to 2133 Mhz.

DDR3 is getting old and is fully non-compatible with DDR4 slots – both physically and architecturally.

Picture of physical differences between DDR4 and DDR3 RAM memory.

DDR2 and 1 are already in history – the maximal speed of DDR2 is 1066 MHz, DDR1 – 400 Mhz.

Here is information about the supported type of RAM of the motherboard:Screenshot of ASUS Crosshair VII RAM type.

Amount of slots for RAM on the motherboard

There is not much to say – If you building a normal, non-compact computer, always pick motherboard with at least 4 slots for DDR4 RAM. This way you can upgrade from 1-2 modules of RAM to 4, making your computer future-proof in that regard.

If you building compact or cheap PC, 2 slots are fine for that kind of build.

And if you want a really top beast PC… well, you still only need 4 slots of RAM: 4 x 16 GB in one memory module =64 GB of RAM. That is a tremendous amount of RAM.

But you can always buy a motherboard with 8 slots – your beast PC is yours, after all. =)

Here is information about that:

Screenshot - ASUS Crosshair VII amount of RAM slots.

Maximal supported amount of RAM

Sometimes there is also characteristic such as the maximal supported amount of RAM. It almost always the same as physical capabilities of the motherboard (for example, for this motherboard that is 4 x 16 GB – 64).

Screenshot - ASUS Crosshair VII amount of RAM slots specifications.

Diapason of officially supported RAM speed (in MHz)

Every motherboard manufacturer have information about supported speeds of RAM modules – you can see that information in specifications of the motherboard.

This information means that if you put in this motherboard certain CPU and memory module(s) with that speed (from trusted RAM manufacturer, of course), they will definitely support that kind of memory without almost any problems.

Screensot of diapason of ofillially supported RAM speeds of ASUS Crosshair VII.

You can still use modules with higher speed that these values – there is just maybe some problems with getting memory started without any troubles.

And in the end…

And that is all for now.

Just as always, I hope that this article helped you a lot, my wonderful reader.

If you don’t understand something in this article or something about chipsets in general, then use comments to ask a question.

I will answer any question with great pleasure and will be more than happy to help anyone.

And if you just enjoyed this article, you can leave your opinion in the comments too – every opinion of my readers is very important to me!

I wish you all the best and remember:

Computer technology is not rocket science!

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