Technology Explained

4 Myths and Misconceptions About RAM You Need to Stop Believing

Mihir Patkar Updated 16-12-2019

RAM (random access memory) is one of the basic components of a computer or a smartphone. But a lot of misconceptions are floating about, like whether you can mix RAM size or brands. Let’s bust some myths about RAM.

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The job of RAM is to remember computations for a limited amount of time, so that your processor does not need to redo those computations each time. But there are misconceptions about using different sizes of RAM together—does RAM have to match? In this article, we’ll attempt to answer them all.

1. “You Can’t Mix RAM Size.”

Can you mix RAM size? Yes.

Generally, most laptops or computers come with two slots for RAM sticks, and sometimes more. And there’s a prevailing misconception that you can’t use different RAM size together, or mix RAM brands. That’s not true. Can you mix RAM size? Yes. But it might not be best for performance.

It is advisable to use RAM sticks by the same manufacturer, of the same size, and of the same frequency. But there’s a simple reason behind why mixing RAM sizes is usually not the best way. RAM has several components that all come together to make it perform well.

For two different size RAM sticks to perform optimally together, they need to use the same voltage and their respective controllers should play well with each other and the motherboard. That’s why it’s best to use the same model in all slots.

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However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use different size RAM sticks together. For example, if your first stick is 4GB, you can still add a new 8GB stick. Once you switch on dual channel mode (also called flex mode), it will perform as two 4GB sticks running side by side in optimal performance.

The remaining 4GB of the new stick will run in single channel mode. Overall, it’s not as fast as using two sticks of the same size, but it’s still faster than what you had before.

It’s the same with frequency or speed. Your RAM sticks will work together at the frequency of the lower stick, by default. So do RAM sticks have to match? No, but it’s better if they do.

2. “I Don’t Need More RAM”

More RAM is better, even if you use different size RAM together

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“This amount of RAM is enough to run the software, you don’t need any more,” is common advice you’ll find. Yes, it might be enough to run apps, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be faster. More RAM does help, even if you use different size RAM together. And that’s because of how programs are made.

Most developers write their programs in a way where the app requests for a certain percentage of the RAM available. So if you have more RAM installed, the same requested percentage will mean more size for the program.

Just because you’re using only 60 percent (or any small percentage) of your total RAM capacity, it doesn’t mean you don’t need more RAM. Your regular tasks might only request 60 percent of RAM, saving the rest for other tasks that you might start in the future.

As a general thumb rule for computers, for regular users, 4GB is the minimum and 8GB is the recommended size for best performance. Gamers, PC enthusiasts, and professionals who work with graphics, video or sound should look for 16GB.

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In Android phones, Android Authority ran an experiment to estimate ideal RAM requirements. They advise about 2.5GB for regular users, 3GB for social users, and 5GB for gamers.

3. “RAM Size Is All That Matters”

Faster RAM is better, but be careful of mismatched RAM speed and motherboard speed when buying faster RAM

You probably know how much RAM your phone or PC has. And when someone says they have more RAM in their PC, you automatically assume their system runs faster. But that’s not necessarily true. The capacity or size of the RAM isn’t all that matters.

Among the determining factors of RAM performance are speed and frequency. Like with a CPU, RAM has clock speeds. The higher the clock speed, the more functions it can perform in a second. You’ll often find RAM sticks with 2400 MHz or 3000 MHz frequency.

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However, be careful of mismatched RAM here. If the RAM runs at 2000 MHz frequency but your motherboard supports only 1333 MHz, you aren’t going to get that speed boost. So buy RAM based on your motherboard’s capacity.

Generally speaking, the regular computer user won’t see much of a difference between 8GB and 16GB of RAM. However, changing it to a faster RAM of the same 8GB can lead to a significant boost. Depending on how you use your machine, you should figure out which is more important for you, faster RAM or more RAM? Which Is More Important: Faster RAM or More RAM? You've narrowed the source of your PC's sluggishness to RAM. What do you do? Increase the amount of RAM? Or would you be better off with faster RAM? It isn't that straightforward. Read More

4. “You Should Clear RAM to Improve Speed”

Don't use memory cleaner apps on Android or PC, they don't make RAM faster

This is the most frustrating and persistent myth about how memory works. It’s one of the misconceptions that came out out of an influx of “RAM booster” or “memory optimizer” software. If your RAM is full, that’s a good thing! Don’t clear RAM, it doesn’t improve speed.

The job of RAM isn’t to sit empty. In fact, your operating system and your software should be using up every little bit of RAM available. Freeing up RAM with one of those booster programs does nothing. If anything, it might actually slow down your system, since “freeing up” means you are removing certain computations from the RAM’s memory.

RAM or memory isn’t the same as a hard drive or storage! RAM auto-adjusts itself. If you have 4GB of RAM, then it is constantly writing, erasing, and rewriting data in those 4GB. And all of that is data which you don’t want to store for posterity. “Storage” is what your hard drive does, and it doesn’t auto-adjust.

In a nutshell, having free space on your hard drive is a good thing, but having free space on your RAM is a bad thing.

Please don’t use memory cleaning apps, they do more harm than good. Instead, if you’re facing a problem, try these Android memory management tips for low RAM Low RAM on Your Phone? 6 Android Memory Management Tips You Need to Know Worried about the amount of RAM on your Android phone? Here's how to manage memory on Android, plus what not to do. Read More .

RAM Works Differently on Macs and iPhones

Apple has a different approach to RAM than PCs and Android phones, so a lot of the above rules go out the window. But don’t worry, we have excellent guides to explain the differences.

The iPhone’s base architecture is much different from Android. That’s why you won’t find Apple talking about how much RAM its iPhones have, while they’re still as fast as the best Android phones. We have a quick explanation of why iPhones use less RAM than Android phones.

On Macs, you can’t easily replace or upgrade RAM like with a PC. You need to know if your Mac can accept an upgrade and pick the right components. Check out our guide on how to upgrade RAM on your Mac How to Upgrade the RAM on Your Mac Learn how to check if you can replace your Mac's RAM, where to buy RAM, and how to upgrade it in this Mac RAM upgrade guide. Read More to know more.

Learn More About RAM

By now you should understand that while it is okay to mix and match RAM types, you’ll face some limitations. But what is RAM and how does it work? Why are modules different and why do RAM speeds differ?

Our quick and dirty guide to understanding RAM A Quick and Dirty Guide to RAM: What You Need to Know RAM is a crucial component of every computer, but it can be confusing. We break it down in easy-to-grasp terms you'll understand. Read More can answer most questions.

Related topics: Computer Memory, Debunking Myths, Hardware Tips.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. TheVest
    August 13, 2020 at 3:33 am

    The idea that you want your RAM to be full is a half-truth used by low-grade developers who want to excuse writing inefficient software with poor memory management. What you want to see is a lot of standby/modified/cache usage (basically the computer dumping things it will thinks it will need at some point into RAM but allowing it to be overwritten by other things if necessary) but not a lot of RAM actually in use (which is only usable by whatever program is using it). If your computer is straight up using a lot of RAM (not standby/modified/cache) then there's less space for the computer to use to cache, which means the computer then has to access the hard drive more, which is slower.

  2. Aaron
    May 31, 2020 at 11:58 am

    "Most developers write their programs in a way where the app requests for a certain percentage of the RAM available" This is not true in the slightest. I am a developer. I've developed all kinds of software from websites to operating systems. 99.9% of applications use a static the amount of memory, if it's doing that same thing. Memory usage will change if you open more tabs in chrome for example, or have more text in a document, etc. Few applications scale memory allocation(server applications and games mostly), based on available memory, and even fewer scale their memory allocation automatically (Mostly just games, and normally just on first startup).

  3. John Darrell
    January 25, 2020 at 9:49 am

    For a program to run, it needs its data. Whatever data it is working with actively, such as the photos on the webpage you are currently browsing, and even the instructions of the program itself, is kept in ram because ram is fast. Way faster than hard drives, where data is stored long term. If everything ran off your hard drive you'd be like, wtf is this bs. The CPU in general is iterating through program data so you want to feed it quickly. RAM is just storage space designed to be able to do this quickly. So every thing the program needs while it is open gets loaded ahead of time and also dynamically as the program creates and discards data. It's simply a faster little temporary world to hold data. Depending on the situation memory cleaning apps absolutely can help a lot. Not every program is written or designed well, and phones really don't have that much ram. So by the time you've run many apps you're bound to have some that are holding space in ram that you no longer care about. Also, due to crappy design some memory can become essentially permanently consumed by accident. Good to clear this stuff out. You do not want ram to be full, if it is any new program, or even ones that are already running and try doing something new will be waiting for space.

  4. C.Thanga
    January 2, 2020 at 4:22 am

    I was using a 4GB RAM then I added a 8GB stick. Its showing as a 12 GB in MY Computer. So my question is will it work as 12 GB RAM

    • James
      June 23, 2020 at 9:05 am

      Yes, it will work as 12GB.

      As the RAM fills up, 4GB+4GB will provide dual channel speed. If you go over 8GB RAM usage, you will start to use the remaining 4GB in the 8GB stick. This will mean the system drops to single channel speed.

      The single channel and dual channel use is only a few percent difference, most of the time. If you’re gaming however, and you have a system configuration which heavily depends on RAM being in dual channel mode, a significant decrease in performance could occur if you breach 8GB, in your 4GB and 8GB machine.

  5. Tai The Guy
    September 28, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Coulda been a fluke, but a couple weeks ago, i upgraded a laptop from 4gb+4gb, to 4gb+8gb... Passmark performance test b4 & after. The shit actually went DOWN a tiny bit at 1st! Even after that, it just barely went up. Results went from like 1250, to 1235, then randomly to like 1270ish. That's like nothing. I've seen 3-400 point jumps from a single cpu, or ssd upgrade before

  6. k2k
    September 9, 2017 at 3:49 am

    nah, my Notebook have 4gb RAM only. I usually open more than 10 tabs in Chrome, Runnung Spotify in Background and MS Word or PowerPoint. It doesn't bottleneck at all. Gamers and Graphic/Video editor need more RAM for sure. In my conclusion, 4gb is more than enough for regular user.

    • dragonmouth
      September 9, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      "4gb is more than enough for regular user."
      At one time the pronouncement was "640k is more than enough for a regular user." :-)

      • Ryan
        December 27, 2017 at 7:36 pm

        Yes, and in the future we will be saying the same thing about 4GB. However, this isn't the future or the past. This is the present, and at the present 4GB is enough.

        • dragonmouth
          December 27, 2017 at 7:59 pm

          It's not the future, it is the present. Maybe 4gb of RAM is 'good enough' for you and K2k but many regular users run their PCs with 8, 16, 32 or even 64gb of RAM. Where do you and K2k get the chutzpah to decree what is or is not enough?!

        • robin
          June 18, 2019 at 7:56 am

          Haha, excellent, spot-on reply! (And the mouthpiece Dragonmouth couldn't handle it.)

        • B-rad
          July 25, 2019 at 6:08 am

          Greetings from the future. I’m here to let you know 4 GB isn’t enough.

        • pepo.work
          May 19, 2020 at 10:22 am

          I'm in the future, in the year of 2020. Honestly, 4GB is barely enough for regular user (typing and light browsing, watching videos, etc). If you do a lot of browsing, gaming, or anything more, even 8GB is almost not enough (if you want smooth experience, that is). Only apply to Windows 10 PCs though. I usually open a lot of browser tabs, word processors, music player, sometimes also editing some videos and encoding while running all those other programs. Mine is 8GB and I need at least another 8GB stick!

        • TheVest
          August 13, 2020 at 3:25 am

          Another comment from the future. I actually remember managing to fill up 16GB of RAM playing Kerbal Space Program with a ton of mods and having it crash with an access violation error as a result back in 2017. 4GB was never sufficient back then. It wasn't even sufficient back when Windows Vista came out since that shitshow of an OS would take up 2GB just on its own.

  7. Mike Huang
    September 8, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Ram speed doesn't make much of a difference for the vast majority of platforms and applications. You should look up the benchmarks before making your recommendations.

  8. PiNG
    September 8, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Hate to bash on this but much of this is quite off.

    Windows and associated processes can take up to 4gb of RAM. Setting up your pagefile can help, but honestly running any non-32bit system with less than 16gb will work, but limit the OS and applications. Anyone who uses any internet browser will see definitive benefits from having a minimum of 8gb, but a drastic increase in system performance from doubling that to 16gb.

    The point you should be making is to max out a single slot, if that's 4, 8, or 16gb, a single stick will perform similarly with two in dual channel (within ~5%). The only area where this isn't true is serious simulation (CFD, parametric analysis)where it will heavily benefit from dual-channel configurations (~17.7% advantage).

    There have been rigorous lab testing if this for the last decade plus.

    Max out each slot, with the highest speed natively supported, and you'll have the best it can be without overclocking, or using XMP settings.

  9. Raja Sekar
    September 8, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    You've said every bit of RAM has to be used but why does phones get slow when there is no more free RAM is Available and faster when there is more free RAM available?

    • JMJ
      September 9, 2017 at 5:38 am

      Free RAM required must not be more then what the new process of an app requires. If it's lesser than that Android Garbage collector must free RAM "enough" for the app. Mostly 70 MB of really free RAM( excluding cache) is enough (except for games (they will get more if they want , but takes time). You can modify these values on a rooted Android device

      • Doc
        September 10, 2017 at 8:33 pm

        "...more then what..." Then than; "then" refers to time, "than" to comparisons.

      • Doc
        September 10, 2017 at 8:34 pm

        Funny, I've NEVER heard of a DRAM controller that will enable dual-channel on two or more sticks of RAM of dissimilar size. This must be something with the new DDR4 chipsets...

        • mike
          February 25, 2019 at 10:12 pm

          you idiot

  10. dragonmouth
    September 8, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    In #1 seems to be saying that I need as much RAM as I can get for my programs to run faster but in #2 you are saying that it is not necessarily true.