PC Memory Buying Guide

Computer memory is physical hardware for your PC that is capable of storing either temporary or permanent information. Memory storage is different from drive storage in that it allows better communication between active programs and your processor. Instead of pulling and running information from a massive storage device, computer memory pushes the information for each open item to the top of the list of your processor's task priorities in order to run the software you have selected in a quick and efficient way.

Types of Memory

Volatile

Volatile memory, more commonly referred to as random access memory (RAM) is the primary storage that maintains its data only when your device is powered on. The purpose of this type of memory is so that temporary memory from the programs you are currently running on your computer are able to be recalled faster than if they were selected from a mass storage unit such as a hard disk drive. There are many different types of RAM, but the most commonly used in today's world are dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and double data rate (DDR). DDR in particular also branches off into DDR2, DDR3, and DDR4. The difference between these types of RAM is how quickly they perform and their storage capacity. For basic computer builds, users often opt for DDR3, while users looking to push their systems to their benchmark limits (such as gamers) more often than not will use DDR4 for their computers.

Non-Volatile

Non-volatile memory is different from volatile in that it does not require your system to be on in order to store information and will be able to recall said information after a computer has been power cycled. Like volatile memory, there are several different types of non-volatile memory that all have their own pros and cons. These types are broken down into two categories: electrically addressed systems (read-only memory, flash memory, F-RAM and MRAM) and mechanically addresses systems (hard disks and optical disks). The biggest difference between the two is how the memory is stored and how it can be recalled later. With an electronically addressed system the data is stored by physically burning storage sites into the device whereas a mechanically addressed system utilized a contact structure to read and write onto a designated storage medium. Mechanically addressed systems generally have more storage capacity than their electronic counterparts.

Pay attention to

Clock speed

The clock speed of your memory directly relates to how quickly you will be able to pull up the content on your computer. Users who use their computers for basic functionality don't have to worry too much about their memory clock speed, but those who are pushing their hardware to their benchmark limits are going to want to make sure they have a very high clock speed in order to keep their system from getting bogged down.

Storage capacity

It's important to know how much RAM will be on a single chip within your computer. This will help to determine how many you will need in order to carry out the functions you are expecting of your PC. Software that is very graphics intensive will need a higher amount of storage capacity (generally 8GB or more) whereas general software and applications, such as office tools and web browsers, will run just fine with a smaller storage capacity (generally 4GB).

Compatibility

Your motherboard is going to be a key player in which type of RAM you can use and how much of it you will need. Some motherboards contain more memory sockets than others and each motherboard has a specific RAM storage capacity it can safely handle. When shopping for your memory it is a good idea to know what your motherboard specifications are as well.

Cooling

Most consumer RAM does not require cooling, however users who are using high intensity applications or building gaming personal computers will want to consider chips that feature their own heat sinks. This is to ensure you will not harm your system when creating a high stress environment.

Performance

CAS Latency is important for knowing how quickly your memory will be able to talk to your processor and perform the requested task. This latency is measured in clock cycles and the smaller CAS Latency value is the better your memory is going to perform.

Top Brands and Product Lines

Corsair

This brand has been manufacturing high performance PC memory longer than anyone else. Corsair has the widest selection of memory products and offers memory solutions for any type of computer from basic upgrades to high end gaming builds and everything in between.

G. Skill

They are known for their range of DDR, DDR2, DDR3, and DDR4 memory. Their products are available for desktops, laptops, and workstations and they've been noted as the only DDR4 manufacturer not vulnerable to row hammer.

Micron

Micron Technology, Inc. is an American based manufacturer that produces a wide array of memory devices including DRAM, flash memory, and SSDs. Their consumer products are also sold the brand names Crucial and Lexar.