Surely RAM sounds a lot to you, but I bet you also don't know what its function is on your PC or cell phone. Well, random access memory or RAM is one of the most important components of the devices. It serves to temporarily store all the information that your PC needs now and in the near future. It is where the computer loads all the things you use so that, when you need them again, you can read them very quickly. It is very different from hard disk storage, where information is stored in the long term.
Short term memory
Perhaps the best analogue of what RAM is is to think of it as the short-term memory of your system. It is quick to learn new things and you can load all the information about your web browser, the image editing tool you are using or the game you are enjoying so you can access it quickly.
Like short-term memory, RAM is not designed to store something forever but is ready to move on to the next task at any time. This makes it perfect for handling the multitude of high-speed tasks that your system launches daily. That's why we need storage systems like hard drives and SSDs, which keep the information when you turn off your system.
Different types of RAM
RAM is a wild card term, like "memory," but there are different types. Most of the time, when people talk about RAM or memory, what they are actually talking about is technically DRAM or, more exactly for modern systems, SDRAM. The terminology does not matter beyond the technicalities, but it is useful to know that the terms are relatively colloquially interchangeable.
The most common type of RAM sold now is DDR4, although older systems can use DDR2 or DDR3. These simply denote the generation of RAM used in that particular system, with each of them offering faster speeds through a greater bandwidth: a higher megahertz (MHz) rating. Each generation brings physical changes, so they are not interchangeable.
Another common term, especially in the field of video games, is VRAM or video RAM. Although it was once an independent piece of technology in its own right, VRAM is currently used to indicate the memory available on a graphics chip or built on a graphics card. It's actually called Graphics DDR SDRAM or, more commonly, GDDR. Most modern graphics cards use GDDR5, although some use the new standard GDDR5X and the new RTX Turing graphics cards from Nvidia use GDDR6.
Some niche graphics cards use a form of RAM, called High-Bandwidth-Memory (HBM and HBM2), which has some unique performance advantages, although it is expensive and the supply problems have caused it not to be widely adopted. .
Quantity is not everything
The biggest consideration when buying a RAM is the amount of RAM it offers. A minimum amount of RAM is needed to run an operating system from a desktop or laptop PC and also for many games and applications. These requirements are numbered in gigabytes or GB: they often range between 1 GB and 8 GB, depending on how demanding the application is. Having a minimum amount is important, since it is unlikely that you are only running one application at a time, but having massive amounts does not necessarily make your system faster.
Nor is it the only aspect of RAM that is important. While more GB of RAM can help with multitasking, you can see more improvements in the speed of your system, certain games and applications, through the use of faster memory. Memory, like the CPU, has its own clock speed, which effectively controls the amount of data it can handle per second when combined with other factors. Total memory speed is referred to as bandwidth, in megabytes per second, but traditionally memory is marketed with a MHz speed.
Common DDR4 memory offers between 2,133MHz and 3,000MHz, but there are some that can work at more than 4,000MHz for the fastest kits available. These will be marketed as DDR4-2133 or similar, and sometimes with the confusing "PC" label applied as well. The number that follows is simply the MHz speed multiplied by eight and then rounded. You might see it as DDR4-2133 PC4-17000, for example.
Timing is another aspect of memory that can have an impact on RAM performance, although they are no longer as important as before. It is usually indicated with several numbers separated by dashes, such as 15-15-15-35 or similar. When it comes to buying memory, times are only really important if you are considering high performance memory for the benchmarking or high level games. They are not a real concern for the average consumer.
Finally, it is important to know the channels. Most of the memories sold now are at least dual channel and allow two RAM bars of the same type and speed to function faster by providing better access to the CPU memory controller. However, high-end RAM kits sold with three or four modules can support three or even four channel memory.
In practice, it does not make a big difference in daily performance, but if you want to take advantage of the memory of two or more channels, you just have to make sure you install it in the appropriate color slots of your motherboard. Check your manual for help.
How important is RAM?
RAM is very important, since devices without a lot of RAM tend to run very slowly. However, having tons of RAM or the highest MHz rating means that your system is super fast? Not necessarily.
Having enough RAM and one that is not too slow is a good idea, especially if you plan to do complicated image editing or video tasks or play certain games. However, when it comes to improving the overall performance of your system, it is important to weigh the costs involved. A faster CPU or graphics card will almost always have a greater impact on the overall speed of your systems than a faster memory, although some CPUs, such as the AMD Ryzen line, benefit more than others from faster memory.
Changing a hard drive for an SSD is also a big step, as it greatly speeds up the slower storage of your system and greatly contributes to it feeling faster.
Unless you are doing something particularly intensive, make sure you have a little more than you need and that it is not the worst available, then you will probably be fine. If you want something more powerful, there is a wide range of speed, size and latency settings from which you can choose. Some even have RGB LED lighting too.