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How to: Choose Memory (RAM) for Your Gaming PC Build


This article is part of Newb Computer Build’s “How to: Build a Gaming PC” guides to choosing your PC hardware for your Gaming PC builds. The type, the capable amount, and the speed of the Memory you put in your PC will all depend on what your motherboard supports. Generally in a Gaming PC Build you will end up having and needing more memory than a standard PC build. This is because computer memory is in huge demand for large software programs like games!

In this article I am going to give a quick overview of what Memory in a desktop computer is, followed by some terms you should be familiar with when searching for desktop Memory, and then conclude with a few steps to follow when purchasing Memory for your your gaming PC build.

What is “Memory or RAM”

In a desktop PC memory aka. RAM – Random Access Memory is the space where the Processor temporarily stores data and programs so that it can be accessed as quickly as possible for continual use. In layman’s terms RAM is usually described as a tool bench where you store your most used tools so that you do not have to keep searching for them when they need to be used. The speed of your RAM will ultimately determine how fast the data on your RAM can be transferred to and from the Processor resulting in more data being transferred in less time.

The system memory modules are stored on a stick called a DIMM (Dual inline memory module) which is the circuit board that can fit into your motherboard. There are also many different sub categories or types of RAM however since we are wanting to build a Gaming PC (and most general desktop PCs) we are concerned with DRAM aka. Dynamic RAM – which means the RAM is continually refreshed 1000s of times a second or else it loses its data.

Terms you Should Know (For RAM):

Type: There are several different types of RAM, and the type of RAM you purchase / use is determined by what your motherboard can support. When building a gaming PC right now most likely the motherboard will call for a 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM memory type, but always check to make sure!

Capacity: Most modern RAM capacities for desktop PCs will be measured in Gigabytes (GB) – For example: 8GB (2 x 4GB) means that there is a total of 8GB included using 2 4GB memory sticks. Simply stated the higher the capacity of RAM you have the more programs you can have running at once. Most motherboard will only support up to a certain maximum amount of memory capacity so you should always check this as well.

Speed: The speed of the RAM is measured in to ways: with its operating frequency and bandwidth. The bandwidth states how fast data can transfer at a time. For example: A piece of RAM that states its speed as “DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800)” means that its operating frequency is 1600Mhz, with a 12800 Mb/s Bandwidth. The higher the values the faster your RAM can transfer data.

Cas Latency / Timing: This is the amount of time it takes between a Column Address Strobe (CAS) being signaled to start and when it starts an initial transfer of data (because data on the RAM is stored in columns and rows). Yes this sounds complicated, and no you do not need to know the specifics (unless you wanted to) so when looking at a RAMs Cas Latency / Timing you will be given a number, and the smaller the number the better the latency is.

Voltage: This would be the highest supported voltage of a memory module, and would only be of concern if you ever plan to overclock your RAM. (Example: 1.65V).

Multi-channel Kit: These are just kits that include multiples of the same memory modules (one for each channel) and are supported in motherboards that support multi-channel mode. These are good because generally identical memory modules are preferred for multi-channel use because this will make sure everything is as compatible as can be.

Heatspreaders: These are added to most high end memory modules to literally spread the heat produced while the memory is functioning. This provides a more efficient cooling method.

How to: Steps to Choosing Your Gaming PC Memory (RAM):

Step One: Budget and Motherboard Support:

The very fist step when choosing which RAM to buy must be what does your motherboard support? Most modern motherboards will be using  DDR3 RAM of varying speeds. So for example if a motherboard calls for DDR3 1066/1333/1600/1866 it is asking for  DDR3 of speeds 1066 or 1333 or 1600 or 1866.

Once you have the type of memory you need to be looking for then you can sort through the many different brands offering that type of memory at all of those speeds. I am bringing up budget here because your budget may determine whether you choose a higher speed of RAM, the capacity of RAM, and which brand to choose.

Step Two: Capacity – How Much?

Well there is no magic number of RAM, but the capacity of RAM you decide on should be solely driven by what you are going to be using your PC for, and we are building our PCs for gaming! So more RAM is never a bad thing. In my own opinion a minimum amount of RAM right now would be about 4GB DDR3, 8GB DDR3 if you can afford it (this is getting really affordable) and any more you may start to not notice any differences unless you use some really high end software.

Step Three: Which Brand?

You may find that after you have decided on your exact budget, type of RAM needed, speed of RAM, and the capacity you want that there are still tons of brands offering that exact RAM specification. This is where you may want to do some personal research: Such as asking in any hardware forums, or reading consumer reviews at hardware retail sites. Generally speaking RAM won’t vary in quality as much brand by brand my experience as other computer hardware parts.

Conclusion:

Choosing RAM for your gaming PC build is not actually that tough, as there are only a few things to keep in mind. Allot of what I have written here comes down to just knowing what type of RAM your motherboard supports, what speed you want (or can afford), and what capacity of RAM you would like. If you have any more questions or any recommendations / concerns of RAM that you have used then please post your comments below!

And now finally, if you are interested in in building a Gaming PC please check out Newb Computer Build’s Gaming PC Builds of the Month.

OR if you need help choosing more hardware for your gaming PC build check out How to: Build a Gaming PC

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