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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.
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.”
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.
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”
“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.
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”
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.
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?
4. “You Should Clear RAM to Improve Speed”
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.
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 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 can answer most questions.