3rd in our series, we’ll look at the RAM today.
The objective of the “About The Computer” series to provide a simplistic layman-style explanation on the various computer components that makes up a computer – whether it is a Desktop unit or Laptop / Notebook unit.
With the understanding of the components, readers will have better knowledge as to what should they pay attention when it comes to buying a computer.
What Is The RAM?
As the name states, it is the MEMORY of the computer. It’s the area of storage where the operating system uses to store data temporarily.
For humans, memory is THE place where we remember things.
For the computer, the permanent storage mediums such as hard disks are more like the human memory than the supposed computer memory. The “temporary” state is aptly described by the words used to name it – “RANDOM ACCESS memory”. 🙂 This means that the data stored in the RAM will be discarded upon system reboot or shutdown.
How Does it Work?
The RAM is where the computer stores temporary data, for example if you’re running a web-browser, the computer will acquire the data from the hard disk and have it loaded to the RAM.
Notice how the programs that I’m using are occupying the MEMORY space.
Effects of RAM Size
To understand this better – think of your hard disk as a warehouse that stores all the needed items for your projects and the RAM as a room where you work on your projects. If the room was big, you could place more items in the room without having to access the warehouse. If the room was small then you have space limitation and need to access the warehouse more often to get the things you need.
The computer works the same way – bigger RAM equates to a larger temporary area for the system to load data and also manipulate data. Smaller RAM means the computer has reduced space thus generally would need to access the hard disk more often.
For memory intensive programs, you’ll notice how the system is more responsive and works faster when there’s more RAM installed. While not all applications are RAM hogging, it is common to have multiple applications running all at once – you could be having your browser with 5 tabs opened, a few Microsoft Office documents and PDF files loaded, running Windows Live Messenger and playing MP3 all at once – every little thing takes up memory space.
What RAM Size For You?
By today’s standard, and considering the memory being quite cheap – I’d say 1GB of RAM is a good figure to start while 2GB RAM would be best.
To be more detailed, I’d say 512MB would be fine if your purpose is just web-browsing, listening to music, E-mailing and chatting on Instant messengers. Going for 1GB would be an advantage, especially if you love opening many tabs for web browsing.
For computer gaming and graphic related work, I think 2GB should be the minimum you should aim for.
My computer gaming setup is anywhere from 2GB to 4GB RAM, while my work machine (I do graphic design and photo processing) is currently with 3GB RAM.
DDR2 is the most common RAM type for now, while DDR3 is slowly gaining market as they’re commonly used on Intel Core i7 and AMD Phenom II systems. Notebooks these days use DDR2 but take note that notebook RAM is different from desktop RAM. The notebook RAM is commonly identified with the word “SODIMM“. Desktop RAM on the other hand are known as DIMM but I bet most people didn’t know that. 🙂
Older machines run DDR (no, it’s not called DDR 1, it’s just DDR) and in the past there were other rams such as SD RAM, EDO RAM, FP RAM and so on but we’re not going on a history lesson here. Use Google for that. 🙂
About Single vs Dual-Channel
I personally think that the dual-channel thing is overhyped. Tests have shown that the difference are negligible. RAM size is more important, having 3GB Single channel (which is what I am using) is still better than 2x 1GB dual-channel setup.
Browse through price lists and you’ll see RAM timings like 4-4-4-12 and 5-5-5-15 and so on. Is it important? No, you won’t feel the difference. You’ll certainly see some difference when it comes to benchmark numbers but in reality – it’s just a FEEL GOOD thing.
Should You Get Performance RAM
I do come by many who thought that you need PERFORMANCE RAM in order to do overclocking – that’s nonsense, much thanks to ridiculous shopkeepers that are willing to say anything to the uninformed just to sell performance RAM. People like myself have run many successfully overclocked systems using only standard RAMs (commonly called Value RAM, I have no idea why……… probably due to Kingston’s ValueRAM being popular here in Malaysia.). Standard RAMs are more than capable to cater for overclocking.
*The above is a PERFORMANCE RAM. Standard RAM unit looks much more simple, just a green piece with a few of chips on it.*
Some people think that all performance RAM could be pushed far beyond their stated speed – this is not true. Take the OCZ 4GB Kit I reviewed for example, it could barely be push beyond the stated speed. On the other hand my Kingston DDR2 667 ValueRAM could do more around DDR2 750. It’s all about the chip. 🙂
When should you buy performance RAM then? Enthusiasts who bought performance RAM often buy them for 2 reasons – pushing beyond the limit (again, note that not all performance RAM are capable of that) and tolerance towards tighter timings. If the price difference between the performance RAM and standard RAM is not too far apart in your locale then there’s no harm getting the performance RAM either.
It’s crucial that you know what you’re getting. It’s not nice to buy out of ignorance or misinformation as it often leads to waste or disappointment when expectations are not met.
Concluding the Article
For more technical details on RAM and how it works, there’s a good entry at Wikipedia.
Should you be interested, here’s my article on How Does RAM Settings Affect Gaming Experience?