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Bigger RAM sticks only matter if they help add up the overall total internal RAM in a computer. Get the most you can!

I'm thinking of purchasing a new PC. I'm purchasing a PC with 8 GB of RAM. However, I'm confused as there are 2 GB, 4 GB and 8 GB sticks available. I just want to confirm the below with respect to performance that an 8 GB will be better than a 4 GB will be better than a 2 GB.

In this excerpt from Answercast #99 I look at some possible confusion between USB drive sticks and RAM memory, and how to get enough RAM in a new computer.

Bigger RAM sticks

So I want to make sure, I want to make absolutely sure that what we're talking about here is the internal RAM in a computer because the term "stick" is often used to refer to external USB memory sticks. Those are different. They have nothing to do with your computer's RAM.

So, forget the USB sticks, forget the sizes, they just simply don't apply.

Internal RAM memory

Now, when you've got a computer that is capable of having different sizes of RAM memory installed, the "size" you choose does not impact performance. So, that statement that you made about an 8 GB RAM stick being better than a 4 GB being better than a 2GB - not true. Not true. You'd never notice a difference.

The reason that there are different capacities is essentially, cost. A motherboard inside the computer usually has room for a certain number of memory cards - memory sticks. Usually it can be either 2 or 4, although there are definitely some motherboards that have more.

Configuring your RAM

Let's say that your computer's motherboard comes with 4 slots for 4 memory sticks. You have several different approaches to how you can configure that RAM: You can put in one 8 GB memory stick and leave the other three slots empty, or you can put in four 2 GB memory sticks.

Either way you've got 8 GB of RAM. There's no performance difference.

The difference is that with a single 8 GB RAM stick, you can add more. In other words, you can add another one, and another one, and another one. You could put 32 GB of RAM in that machine, if in fact the motherboard supported it.

So that's all it really boils down to: the cost of the 8 GB RAM sticks versus the cost of the 2 GB and how much memory you eventually think you're going to need.

Start with high capacity RAM

My recommendation, again, not for performance reasons but for expansion reasons, is to always put in the highest capacity RAM stick from day one. That way, you can always add more.

My number two suggestion, by the way, is to put in the most RAM you possibly can when you get the machine. It may seem like a heck of a lot of RAM to start with - but trust me, in 3, 4, 5 years when we're running with Windows 11 (and god only knows how much room that's all gonna take) you're really gonna appreciate having all the extra RAM.

So, again, there's really no performance impact into the RAM sticks, the RAM modules that get placed inside the machine. Choose whichever set really fits your budget, erring on the side of being too large if possible - and remember that the RAM sticks that we're dealing with on the inside of your computer are completely unrelated to memory sticks that we plug into USB ports.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6360 - March 23, 2013 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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5 Comments
Joe Bonilla
March 23, 2013 7:55 PM

After being in the computer world, and even after dipping into the overclocking underworld, for the average user total capacity will trump over speed. I do agree that the more RAM the best (especially with how cheap it is today) and it is still one of the cheapest upgrades you can do to a computer to improve speed (the more RAM you got the less you will use the paging file which is leagues slower). Plus, most applications don't need fast RAM.

What i do recommend is getting enough sticks to achieve dual-channel. That means that, if you want, you can get two 8 GB sticks for 16 GB, which is way more than the average user will fully use (or you can get two 4 >GB sticks for 8 GB, which is still plenty), but it will activate that nifty feature. I did felt a noticeable change between single and dual channel setups, but anything more is a bit wasteful unless you're really using RAM-demanding applications.

Maurice Lampl
March 26, 2013 10:37 AM

You have to remember that a 32-bit OS system is not designed to recognize more than 4G RAM, despite your computer having 6G, 8G, or even 32G RAM. You need to have a 64-bit OS system in your computer before you can add more RAM memory...

Chris Calvert
March 26, 2013 11:56 AM

In a modern motherboard you should never just put in a single stick of memory because the board will almost certainly be dual channel or interleaved. So if you want a total of 8GB you must use 2 x 4GB so that interleaving will work. This does mean if you pick the wrong combination now you may have to discard the existing sticks to be able to install larger sticks latter. And expansion should also be in pairs to retain interleaving.

Gord Campbell
March 26, 2013 1:18 PM

Those numbers refer to the speed of the RAM. Just about every motherboard supports a range of different speeds, so it's possible that a 3200 would be OK where a 5400 is supposed to go, but the computer would probably run more slowly.

This article is more than you wanted to know about current RAM technology:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDR3_SDRAM

sunny
March 29, 2013 11:53 PM

Hi,
Can I put in a combination of 4GB and 8GB in a dual channel?
Thanks

It depends on your system specifics, but probably: no.
Leo
30-Mar-2013

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