Thursday, August 09, 2018

RAM - What you Need to Know Beyond Size

When a computer device runs slow, there are a few main culprits that are often the cause. The task manager provides information about what is currently going on with a device and is a good thing to check as a problem is occuring. A couple of the components that often cause slowness are:
  • Memory/RAM - too little memory can cause the system to start swapping in use applications to disk, then from disk back into memory as requested, which causes noticeable lag
  • CPU - older CPU's typically have less cores with less threads which means there are fewer resources to handle requests so responses are slower
  • Hard drive - traditional hard drives use spinning platters to access and write information: this process is slower than solid state drives (SSDs) which access data on chipsets directly similar to RAM
This post specifically covers what you need to know beyond the size of RAM if you plan to replace or add RAM to a system as this is the easiest component to modify of the 3 that often cause slowness.

RAM - What you Need to Know Beyond Size

Listed below are some of the technical specifications to consider when purchasing additional or replacement RAM for a device. The purpose of this information is to help ensure the correct RAM is purchased and alleviate wasted time and money purchasing the wrong RAM. Most device operating systems will display the amount of RAM, but the following specs are typically only found on the stickers on the physical RAM modules.

RAM Iteration

There are different iterations of RAM that have come out over the years, increasing in number with each new version. Currently, DDR3 and DDR4 are the most common types you will find in devices. Each new version supports faster transfer rates and is often more efficient, requiring a lower voltage to operate. The higher the number, the newer the iteration.

RAM Type

There are 2 physical sizes of RAM known as DIMM and SODIMM. DIMM stands for dual in-line memory module while SODIMM stands for small outline dual in-line memory module. SODIMM is about 1/2 the size of DIMM memory modules which makes it perfect for notebooks, tablets, all-in-one machines and other small devices. Desktops and servers use full size DIMM memory modules.

An example of a SODIMM module.

There are a vast array of pin counts to DIMM and SODIMM memory modules. The pin counts correlate to a notch on the module that allows it to snap into the memory sockets on the motherboard. Purchasing a memory module that does not line up with the memory socket on a motherboard means you cannot install it and there is no way around this limitation.

RAM Speeds

Each iteration of RAM comes in different speeds represented by MB/s and the maximum speed supported is dependent upon the motherboard. Common speeds are 12800, 19200 and 21333 MB/s. These specifications stand for the peak transfer rate in Megabytes of data per second. The higher the speed number, the greater the amount of data that can transfer per second

While it is possible for RAM of varying speeds to work together on the same motherboard if other specs match, the faster RAM will only operate at the speed of the slower RAM. This makes it a waste to purchase faster RAM if pairing it up with slower RAM. 

RAM Voltage

The voltage required to run RAM changes with most DDR iterations, but can also be different between DIMM and SODIMM types. The amount of voltage available to memory sockets are also controlled by the motherboard. Like anything using electrical current, having compatible components is important to prevent heat issues caused by components expecting more power than the motherboard is able to give, or inconsistent behavior caused by lack of current or voltage.

There are many specifications about RAM that are important. Beyond size, the iteration and speed should be considered when purchasing a new device. If replacing or adding RAM to an existing device, the iteration, type, speed and voltage are all important to consider. It is important to get the correct RAM to ensure it will work properly with the existing RAM and motherboard. Information beyond the amount of RAM installed is difficult to find in the device interface, but can be located on the labels on the RAM.

As always, knowing what to get saves time, money, and a lot of effort! Luckily, adding RAM to a device that is running slow can be one of the easiest ways to speed up a device.

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