What is RAM memory? All you need to know

RAM (Random Access Memory) is the hardware component where the operating system processes and software of a PC are stored. It is a fast-writing and volatile memory that allows computer processes to run.

In this article we explain what RAM memory is. We answer many of the questions you may have with it.

What is RAM memory?

A RAM memory is a volatile, fast-writing memory storage that can be read and changed in any order, as long as there are storage cells; to be used later if needed.

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How does RAM work?

RAM memory stores the results of a computer's processes, which are consulted by the software and the CPU. Information is stored in storage cells, as long as they are empty. When a process ends or you want to get more dedicated RAM, the flow of electricity to the cells is cut off so that other processes can use them.

What are the types of RAM?

Currently, the types of RAM memory are as follows.

  • DIMM modules: Acronym for “Dual In-line Memory Module","dual in-line memory module" in English. DIMM modules are the most used in desktop computers, with a 64-bit data bus.
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  • SO-DIMM Modules: Acronym for “Small Outline DIMM“. The SO-DIMM format, being smaller than the DIMM, is used in laptops or small PCs.
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  • FB-DIMM: Acronyms for “Fully-Buffered Dual Inline Memory Module“. Much larger format compared to the DIMM, and used in servers and data centers.

What are RAM memory latencies?

The latency of RAM memory is a way of expressing its real speed. It encompasses the time it takes for each of the steps and processes used in information processing. The lower the latency number, the less time it takes for RAM to respond.

The latency of a RAM memory is expressed with four numbers, which indicate the time between the request and the response of the following four processes in clock cycles:

  • CL: Also referred to as Cache Latency, or cache memory latency. Indicates the time in clock cycles that it takes for RAM to respond to processor requests. This term is the one usually used in commercial RAM memories, since it is the most decisive when calculating memory performance.
  • TRCD: Response time since the information row and column are activated where the necessary data requested by the CPU process is found.
  • TRP: Latency between accesses to different data lines.
  • AFTER: Minimum number of clock cycles in which a row of information cells must remain open until data is read or written correctly. This number is closely linked to the frequency of the RAM. The faster the clock cycles, the less time the cells will have to wait to be accessed or rewritten.

The higher latency is most noticeable in the data transfer, file decompression and rendering processes.

How to calculate the performance of RAM memory?

To know the performance of a RAM kit; there is a formula to know your performance level. For this we follow the following formula:

1000 / (Actual RAM frequency) x Cache Latency

This will give us the time in nanoseconds that the RAM has in general, since it takes into account the latency of the cache.

Questions about RAM

What does it mean that RAM is volatile memory?

Volatile memory is a type of memory that only stores the information it has as long as it has an electrical flow.. By being able to download information by simply cutting off the electrical current, RAM memory is ideal for the processes of a computer or any other device, because it allows you to handle a large amount of information much faster than with a hard drive.

Can a computer run without RAM?

A computer cannot function without RAM memory. Every electronic device must have RAM. If we turn on a computer that does not have RAM memory, will not get past the POST screen, which is the power-on self-test. You won't be able to get past that screen because a computer without RAM has no place to refer the startup processes of the operating system to.


What if my PC doesn't have enough RAM?

In the event that a PC does not have enough RAM, either because it is defective, broken or because one of the modules does not have proper contacts, the motherboard will beep and the computer will not boot. Part of the hard drive or SSD may be used to move forward. But if you have to do it, it will not be as fast as a RAM module. The hard drive space will fill up as the records are saved until the computer is turned off.

What is the DDR format of RAM memory?

The DDR memory format indicates the format generation to which it belongs. The DDR is the size of the volatile memory storage chips that come attached to the PCB of the motherboard's RAM module.

Support for a particular generation of DDR is supported by the CPU and the motherboard. In the case of Intel, a CPU may be supported by hardware-level drivers to support one or two generations of DDR. But the final decision lies with the motherboard. In the case of the 12th generation Intel Core known as Alder lake, motherboards are supported to support both DDR4 and DDR5.

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However, support for DDR5 or DDR4 ultimately depends on the physical capacity of the motherboard. While a motherboard can support a CPU with support for both DDR4 and DDR5, the physical connectors on the motherboard dedicated to RAM will indicate which form factor the motherboard can support. When a new format of DDR memory is introduced for commercial use, a standardized shape is agreed that the connectors will have through a position in which the connector will have a protective notch to prevent the introduction of RAM of any other format not supported by the motherboard or the CPU.

What is the difference between DDR4 and DDR5 RAM?

The move from DDR4 to DDR5 memory involves improvements in the maximum capacity a DIMM can have, power consumption, and frequency. Those are the most basic changes, with some differences at a more advanced level.

Characteristics of DDR4 RAM

  • DIMMs up to 64 GB capacity
  • DRAM banks divided into two or four selectable bank groups.
  • Voltage of 1,2 V
  • Frequency between 800 and 1600 MHz

Characteristics of DDR5 RAM

  • Decision Feedback Equalization, to scale the data I/O rate for higher bandwidth and better performance.
  • 4,8 gigabits per second of bandwidth.
  • Capacity up to 512 GB per DIMM module.
  • Voltage 1,1 V.
  • Possibility of incorporating voltage regulators.
  • 51,2GB/s per module
  • 2 memory channels per module.

In short, DDR5 memory is more efficient with less power. Its main current problem is the low accessibility and variety of products due to the scarcity of components. Being a cutting-edge technology, in its early years you pay for the novelty. In addition, there is hardly any software that takes advantage of this RAM memory format, since they treat it as if it were DDR4 memory.

What indicates what type of RAM memory I can use in my computer?

This is indicated by both the CPU and the motherboard, with the latter having the last word on what memory format it is capable of using. Intel, with the Alder Lake series and most likely with the Raptor Lake series, will allow the use of both DDR4 and DDR5 since it has the drivers for both models in its hardware.

But in any case, the final decision will be that of the motherboard that we decide to use. Depending on the range we choose from the motherboard, it will only be compatible with DDR4 or DDR5, not both.

In the case of AMD, everything is much more direct. The AM4 platform deals with memories in DDR4, and the future AM5 platform that will be released with the first AMD Ryzen 7000, has confirmed that will allow RAM in DDR5 and abandon DDR4.

Can RAM memory be overclocked?

Yes. As usually happens with the overclocking of any electronic product, forcing the frequencies and properties of RAM memory is a use case that is not covered by the manufacturer and therefore can void the warranty.

In order to overclock RAM, we must have a motherboard that has overclocking options at the hardware level or in the BIOS. This removes the motherboard limiter and will allow RAM modules to operate without limit as long as they are physically possible. The modules will go up in frequency, reducing latencies and increasing their temperature up to a certain physical limit.

What is the difference between single channel and dual channel RAM?

The difference between single channel RAM and dual channel is that in the second case, better use of RAM memory is achieved. By dividing RAM into two channels, processes make more use of a motherboard's bandwidth. In order to put the RAM in dual channel mode, we must connect two compatible RAM modules to the motherboard. Both modules should be of the same frequency, and if not, there may be synchronization problems.


By putting the RAM in dual channel mode, you are going to give the motherboard more bandwidth to operate the RAM. In this way, a single 16 GB module can be less efficient than 8 GB modules on the same equipment and configuration, if they had the same frequency and latencies. The dual channel saturates less bandwidth and allows more information to pass through.

Can more than two RAM be added to the PC?

Some motherboards have more than two channels of RAM to include more modules. It must be taken into account that The memories should be as similar as possible to avoid stressing the motherboard. This can be solved by purchasing a pack that has all four modules, or two packs of two identical modules.

How do I know how much RAM I have and what type?

There are several ways to find out how much RAM you have, and what type it is. The most direct is open your pc case, being careful not to damage parts or cause static electricity discharge. Once you have opened it, you will be able to check how many RAM modules you have. This will tell you if you have it on single channel or dual channel depending on the number of modules connected to the motherboard. Possibly, they still have the labels of the original product, which will also indicate the frequency, type, capacity and latencies they have.

If you can't do it, or you're not confident enough in your abilities to remove the PC lid and RAM, you can always use the free downloadable CPU-Z software. After downloading and unzipping it, if you allow it to run an analysis of your software, it will give you all the information you need about your RAM memory.

cpu-z ram memory

In the memory section, you will be able to easily see the type of memory you have, if it is DDR3, DDR4 or DDR5; channel type, capacity, and frequency. If you also need it, it will inform you of the latencies of the modules in their current state. It should be noted that CPU-Z reacts to changes in the frequency and latencies of the RAM, which is also used to evaluate overclocking tasks.

What options do I have to improve the RAM of my PC?

Upgrading RAM is one of the easiest processes when it comes to handling PC hardware. Said in a simple way, the computer itself adapts to memory changes whenever and when they are in compatible formats, speeds and capacities.

Now, what can you improve regarding your RAM? The first thing is to go from single channel to dual channel. Having 16 GB of memory is fine, but if it's all concentrated on a single DIMM, you may create a certain bottleneck. It is capable of storing 16 GB of volatile memory, but the transfer capacity will be limited to a single lane. Splitting it by two can be a way to improve speed. To do this, you must acquire two memory modules as identical as possible so as not to stress the motherboard.

Then there is the capacity of the modules. Depending on the number of RAM slots your motherboard has, you can fit more DIMMs into it. If your board supports DDR4, that means it allows modules with up to 64GB of storage per drive. In a single dual channel is 128 GB of RAM capacity, and 256 GB if you allow four. If your motherboard is DDR5, it allows 512 GB per module, so if it allows four channels of RAM, it will be able to operate 2 TB of memory. This is theoretical for now, as RAM modules with such capacity are not available, at least for home use, and they are not easily accessible.

If what you want is to improve the RAM format, it already requires change motherboard and the CPU of your computer. We only recommend this if you really need to upgrade your memory format several generations, such as going from DDR3 to DDR5. You'll need to get a compatible CPU, which will need to be either a 12th Gen Intel Alder Lake and its matching motherboard, or a Ryzen 7000 and its AM5 platform motherboard.

How do I know what is the maximum RAM that my PC supports?

To find out the maximum RAM that your PC supports, you can check it in the motherboard manual. You should also check the frequencies that the CPU can support, as the processor also has a maximum frequency that it can reach.

How can a RAM memory be damaged?

RAM can be damaged for various reasons, such as dust, dirt, poor air conditioning or poor ventilation. In the case of dirt and dust, it can cause damage to the connectors. Poor ventilation or air conditioning can damage the modules themselves and cause performance problems due to damaged chips.

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Benjamin Rosa

Madrileño whose publishing career began in 2009. I love investigating curiosities that I later bring to you, readers, in articles. I studied photography, a skill that I use to create humorous photomontages.

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