Now I am going to discuss something about another important part of a computer, that is the memory. And to be more precise, this is about RAM memory, which is also the main (or largest) memory zone of a computer in most cases [PC cases involved too :)]. There are also other kinds of memory in a computer, like the video card(s), the memory that’s allocated for the BIOS; but when we talk about PC memory, the first thing coming in our minds is of course the “big” one, that is called RAM. And naturally we may also desire what’s best for our configurations at the present time, hence the best RAM memory for 2019, and within less than two months we will change that number too. So let’s go!
What is RAM? Why using it in a computer?
Computers need memory for their operations. And it’s not only about storage memory in hard disks, USB pen drives, SSDs, Thunderbolts and so on. We are not doubting at all about their usefulness, but our computers (and also laptops, tablets, phone devices, and other gadgets) need fast memory for doing what they need to do, starting from booting and loading the operating system and ending up with our desired activities. And what happens is that storage devices mentioned above are not fast enough for satisfying the required memory speed needs.
Making an analogy with our brains, the memory is divided into two types, depending on its scope or length: long-term memory and short-term memory. Obviously we need both memories for living our lives. And so do computers!
Disk drives serve as long-term memory for computers (we can keep our data there for an undefined term). Also, that little read-only memory (ROM) that is used for the flash BIOS section is a long-term one (we need the BIOS settings permanently).
However, computers also need a short-term memory for “knowing” what they must do shortly (now and in the near future), when working with our data and applications. Also, this memory has to be pretty fast, and although SSDs are fast devices too, our computers’ “now working” short-term memory has to be even faster than they are. That is the idea: short-term memory must move fast forward. And years ago, storage devices were definately slower than nowadays’ SSDs, so there was indeed a need for a special type of computer memory in order to accomplish the short-term tasks.
Moreover, this memory has to be accessed randomly (from anywhere in the system) while keeping high speed, and also it cannot stay focused for much time on the same thing – just like human short-term memory does.
And this is RAM (random-access memory). It is a fast memory that the computer uses for storing data about the running operating system and applications, so that the processor can access all this information in a fast and a timely manner.
And because this memory must permanently change focus depending on what data is about to be stored in it, RAM is also (intended to be) volatile. It means that if we power off the computer, all the program data that was stored in RAM at that point disappears, and when we turn the PC on again, the memory is fresh and ready to load our system and app data from the beginning, over and over again. And remember: in a fast way.
Given all these reasons, it’s obvious why RAM memory needed to be invented as it is. And its absence from a computer would just make our PC user lives unlivable.
Types and generations of RAM
The RAM memory domain is not a single-element one – there are several types, and also generations. As for types, if we are curious and search over the Internet, we will find more names: SDRAM, DDR, SRAM and DRAM.
Let’s now see what they mean:
- SDRAM means either synchronous dynamic RAM or single-data rate. In 1996 it made its first appearance. The single-data term is about how many times data is tackled per clock cycle (one single time in this case), whereas the synchronous term (when all memory operations – read, write, refresh – are controlled by a special system clock, hence synchronously treated) is used in opposition with asynchronous, but the absence of synchronization means lower speeds: synchronous dynamic RAM can be 3x faster in clock speeds, which makes it more preferrable. When synchronous, the memory controller knows exactly when the data is ready, and the CPU does not have to wait between two consecutive memory accesses. This gain in time is a real progress, so your RAM in the computer really has to be synchronous!
- DDR stands for Double Data Rate, which is also related to how many times per clock the data is “transferred” (Read, Write or Refresh). In synchronous RAM, the clock signal (or cycle) has two alternated states: the rising edge and the falling edge. In Single Data Rate, the synchronous dynamic RAM reads or writes data one single time per clock cycle, but Double Data Rate means that data is operated twice per cycle, so on both rising and falling edge – which leads to doubling the data transfer rate (greater bandwidth) without also doubling the frequency of the clock. In conclusion, DDR is a progress!
- SRAM is Static Random Access Memory.
- DRAM is Dynamic Random Access Memory and in fact it describes the principle of work for most of the available RAM of today. It is less costly than the Static RAM, and over the decades there were made serious efforts for reducing its price. So be sure that the memory you have in your computers belongs to the DRAM branch, and it’s synchronous!
There have also been successive generations of RAM like DDR2, DDR3, and of course the current, widely-spread DDR4, with the next generation DDR5 to follow, perhaps starting from the next year in 2020.
The PC hardware domain uses also the GDDR term, but this one is related to graphic DDR memory aka video card memories, which are a different matter that does not match he subject of this article. Just for knowing that GDDR exists too, and for avoiding confusions.
When it comes to measuring the memory speed, there is a special unity called Mega Transfer – million of transfers – per second, or MT/s, which must not be confused with MHz (megahertz), that expresses a million of cycles per second. When the RAM is of type SDR (single data rate), the number of transfers per second is equal to the cycles (remember, one single transfer – read, or write, or refresh the data – per second), but in DDR the transfers are 2x more, while the MHz (the frequency, that means how many cycles per second happen there) does not increase.
By example, suppose your RAM in the computer is a DDR4 that claims to be operating at a base speed of 2400 MHz (no overclocking), but this is actually its data transfer rate (not its internal clock or bus clock frequency), and as the memory is manufactured as double data rate, its number of data transfers per second is greater. So you have 2.4 billion data transfers per second, but the bus clock frequency is just 1200 MHz (1.2 billion operations per second), and its internal rate has an even less frequency. We will see the difference between “bus” and “internal rate” frequencies a bit later. And more precisely, we use that MT/s unit of measure for expressing the memory bandwidth.
Chronologically speaking about the synchronous dynamic RAM we have been using in our PCs for over 20 years, the first generation was the single data rate (SDR) SDRAM, whose frequencies featured the same values as their transfer rates, so PC66, PC100, PC133 whose clocks were running at 66/100/133 MHz and having the same MT/s rates. Their voltage was 3.3 volts, so their power consumption was relatively high.
DDR SDRAM (let’s call it “simple DDR” or DDR-1 if we like) was the first double-data-rate SDRAM implementation, and its transfer rates per second (Bandwidth) ranged between 266 and 400 MT/S (DDR266 and DDR400, but their internal rate and bus clock frequencies were 133 and respectively 200 MHz – half the bandwidth, thanks to the double data rate). We easily understand that SDR and first DDR synchronous dynamic RAM models are pretty old – back in 2006 I had a computer that was already somewhat old, having an AMD Athlon XP 1800+ processor – class of 2001! – and featuring DDR memory. Their voltage was about 2.5/2.6 V.
DDR2 SDRAM (from this moment on I will call it simply DDR2, as we are moving forward to our current DDRs) made progress by improving bus signal, thus becoming able to operate the external data bus two times faster than the simple DDR. Some models were DDR2-533 and DDR2-800, and this is where the so-called “internal rate” frequency started to stay separated from the bus frequency. The internal clock speeds stayed those of DDR (133 MHz, 200 MHz), but the bus clocks were 266 or 400 MHz, and the transfer rates were… you guessed, 533 MT/s and 800 MT/s. Its prefetch buffer was 4-bit, whereas DDR had only 2 bits in that buffer. This generation had 1.8V as a voltage.
DDR3 memories further doubled the bus clock frequencies and the data transfer rates (while internal clocks stayed forever at 133 to 200 MHz), having 8 bits in that prefetch buffer. So their bus clocks were from 533 up to 800 MHz, the transfer rates ranged from 800 MT/s up to 1.6 GT/s, with even smaller voltages such as 1.35 to 1.5 V. It looks like we are wrong when saying things like “DDR3-1333 MHz”, since that 1333 is for the Mega Transfers per second (the bus clock is 666 MHz, and the internal rate is only 133 MHz).
DDR4 memories are our most recent RAM in the computers. Internal rates stay the same as the previous (133 to 200 MHz), but buses range from 1066 up to 2600 MHz and data transfer rates are between 2133 and 5200 MT/s (as we can see DDR4-5200 pieces). Usually DDR4 is rated at 1.20 volts, but there are also some newer pieces (like DDR4-5200) that have only 1.1 V, thus their power consumption is even more efficient. So the strongest RAM that is available so far is the DDR4-5200.
How to choose the best RAM memory for 2019?
When asking ourselves what sort of RAM would be the best for us, it would be good not to rush into thinking that only the highest available frequency matters for that. And after all, as seen above, those over-3000 numbers in DDR4 name parts are not even their real frequencies, but transfer rates – still, a very important and meaningful parameter of performance. Of course we can force a “MHz” interpretation for those Mega Transfers per second too, stating that those are 5.2 billion operations that happen every second (either read or write/refresh some piece of data). Everywhere on the online shops, when looking for memory modules, we can see the “MHz” term in the specifications, but for our improved knowledge we have to make it clear about what these “megahertz” really are.
The 5200 MT/s (and not MHz) parts, as far as I can see on the Internet, come in 2*8GB kits (it means two modules at 8 GB each, making 16 gigabytes in total) provided by Trident Z Royal. And speaking of the variety of criteria for choosing the best RAM at your home, here comes the “channel” thing too.
In the RAM domain there are some architectures called single channel, dual channel and quad channel.
These terms tell us how many memory modules we have installed on a bank. A bank is a region on the motherboard, where RAM memories can be mounted on, and it contains several side-by-side slots, regularly four, called DIMMs (Dual Inline Memory Module), the DIMM is the physical part (or slot) of the motherboard where we plug a memory module in.
Modern motherboards usually have one or two banks, each of them containing four DIMM slots (hence supporting four modules), and we have several mounting options to choose from: if we put one single memory module (like one DDR4-3000 16GB Corsair piece) on the bank, then it’s a single-channel architecture; if there are two 8GBs instead, then we say dual channel; if we prefer 4*4GB modules and fill the bank up, then that is quad.
RAM theory teaches us that the more channels we have, the greater our memory bandwidth is, which would lead us to the conclusion that Quad is best. Although the gaming performance would nearly stay the same as when using a single-channel configuration, there are of course some advantages of using multi-channel arrangements. Smaller memory modules (like those of 4 GB) are naturally cheaper than those with higher capacity, and we may end up seeing how four 4GB DDR4 modules are cheaper than a single 16GB module – so we have a price advantage when preferring to go quad-channel.
However, this is not applicable to people who want the maximum extent of memory for their motherboards, since they have to fill all slots on the banks with higher capacity modules, getting to the upper limit of RAM the motherboard supports.
As far as PC gaming people are concerned, they would not need very large amounts of RAM (it is stated that 8 gigabytes is the minimum recommended for gaming this year, though) – aiming at maximum amounts is rather suitable for workstations or intensive content creators.
Another practical benefit from having more modules (hence a multi-channel architecture), besides bandwidth and a possibly cheaper configuration, is that if it happens for a certain module to fail, then at least you have other RAM pieces plugged in, whereas when you go single-channel, having just one module and it crashes, then you run out of memory and cannot use your computer unless you buy some new memory.
RAM memory is organized as a rectangular-like or grid structure having rows and columns that are accessed by electrical signals, also called strobes, which is why there exist also specific terms like RAS (Row Access Signal/Strobe) and CAS (Column Access Signal or Strobe).
Also, an important parameter of RAM performance is the latency, its complete name is CAS latency or CL. The latency tells us how many clock cycles are there needed for the RAM module in order to access a certain data set in one column, making this data available on the memory output pins. So it is about some timing for rendering the data, and the lower these CL numbers, the better the memory performs. These latencies are measured in nanoseconds, so let’s discuss about a real quad-channel kit coming from G.Skill: the Extreme Low Latency DDR4-4000 32GB Kit.
Its four 8GB modules feature a data transfer rate of 4000 MT/s (remember, no real MHz), and they have a CL15 latency (15 clock cycles are needed, and they are expressed in nanoseconds).
By the way, the G.Skill DDR4-5200 16GB dual channel kit (2*8GB) exposed earlier has a CL18 latency, it means it’s somewhat slower in accessing data towards strobes, but the 5200 MT/s rate still provides better overall performance, since the (15/18) * (5200/4000) product is greater than 1. The transfer rate difference is big enough to ensure that this kit (which has to be doubled in order to get to 32 GB) has a better performance, but you must expect the overall cost to be higher of course. Gaming users who want extreme performance from RAM may opt for the 5200 MHz part.
DDR4 memories have higher latencies than the previous DDR3 modules (like 15 versus 9), but their overall performance is still greater due to the doubled transfer rates per second. And DDR5 RAM will be even better, but we have to see it launch first. And this won’t happen in 2019, that’s for sure!
Best RAM memory in 2019: Gaming or Workstation/Creation? At what cost?
When looking for best memory configurations for your computers, you should also take into consideration what your using purposes are. If you want to go for games, the memory does not necessarily have to reach high thresholds like 64 GB or more. 16 or 32 GB of very fast DDR4 like the G.Skill modules above would be very helpful and provide you with enough resources.
If you cannot find the DDR4-5200, then a DDR4-5000 dual channel kit would still be very strong for you: Corsair Vengeance LPX Dual Channel 16GB (2*8GB) CL18, and you should allocate almost $1000 US for one kit. You may also want to buy two such kits and make a quad-channel 32 GB set of DDR4-5000 for gaming or overclocking purposes.
But if you know that your tasks would require large memory support (while also affording it, of course), then you should search for multi-channel and at the same time high-capacity modules up to 128 GB (or even 256 GB if you buy one of the newest AMD X570 Desktop motherboards). Servers do support even larger quantities of RAM, but that galaxy is too far – it fits ABBA’s Rich Man’s world. So we are not discussing server RAM here. And when it comes to frequency (oh, excuse me, data transfer rate) on huge memory kits, numbers are somewhat smaller.
By example, if you want a 256GB 8*32GB quad channel kit (the eight pieces can cover two memory banks of four DIMMS each), then expect it to be like DDR4-2400. The “frequency” is less than half the one of the strongest DDR4 G.Skill kit described above. Corsair Vengeance LPX provides such a DDR4-2400 kit, having CL=16, and it costs over $1500-1600 US, so you should be “swimming in money” for building a computer configuration with that kit.
- Important: I am not posting links yet, since I still have not entered the affiliate program of the site I found the above kits on. I will be posting affiliate links at the right time. But be sure that dedicated stores like NewEgg, Amazon, eBay, and other places in this world may delight our eyes with plenty of memory kits and offers.
Or if your motherboard supports “only” a maximum of 128 GB, then you can find a Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB 128GB (8*16) DDR4-3800 kit with CAS latency=19 (still over $1500 US); well, its frequency is better, but still not the highest possible in the DDR4 area. It means that we cannot have “the most and the fastest” RAM at the same time in the same computer.
Also, mixing different types of modules (in terms of frequencies, capacity, CL) is a bad practice – when empowering our computers with memory, we have to be consistent and uniform about it. Well, the brands may differ, but we still have to ensure that all modules share the same set of parameters.
And of course do NOT try to mix DDR4 with DDR3 and to plug in memories whose set of pins does not match your motherboard. That means DAMAGE!
Speaking of maximum supported memory and GT/s on 128GB motherboards, where eight 16GB DDR4 modules are welcome, the maximum “DDR4 frequency” that I found on 16GB modules is 4133 MHz. So Corsair Vengeance LPX Dual Channel Kit 32GB (2*16) 4133 MHz CL19, multiplied by four, which gives us 128 GB of DDR4-4133 RAM. But this deal can cost you towards $3000 US.
I have also made some research in order to know the highest MT/s (aka “frequency”) for 32GB modules, and there are Corsair Vengeance LPX 64GB (2*32GB, that is dual channel) DDR4-3200 modules with CL=16. If you buy four such kits, then you get 256 GB of DDR4-3200 (not to mention the overclocking possibilities), and it should cost you less than $1400 US.
Again, I am not posting product links without being an Affiliate, least of all the “exact” prices (which may vary by time), but I am still giving you an idea about what prices might be implied by buying the best RAM.
Also, speaking by personal experience, I bought components and assembled several computers at my home with 128 GB of DDR4 on the corresponding motherboards (DDR4-4133 included), but one of the mobos (the MSI X299 XPOWER GAMING AC with i9-7980XE CPU) refused to see all the DDR4-4133 128 GBs in BIOS if they were clocked above 3733 (I was seeing 96 GBs at 3800, or only 16 GBs for the 4133 value).
Another motherboard (GIGABYTE X299 AORUS GAMING 9) was accepting in BIOS the DDR4-4133 128 GB, overclocked to DDR4-4200, however my operating system was repeatedly getting unstable as its i9-7980XE CPU (yes, I have two of them…) was overclocked too, and I had to lower the RAM frequency (MT/s) down to 3400 MHz in the BIOS settings.
I also put 128 GB of DDR4-4000 memory on an ASUS PRIME X299-A motherboard with an i9-7900X processor, that was overclocked; but the system instability made me lower the RAM MT/s down to 3200. But let’s not forget that these matters were about overclocking the CPU a the same time, and I did not make experiments on purpose, in order to see if my memories were accepted at their stock 4000+ frequencies (with little to no overclock on them) if the CPUs ran at normal speeds.
So, if you have high frequency, large amounts of RAM and you also plan some CPU overclock rounds on your RAM-rich PCs, then expect to have to lower the frequencies in order to enjoy OS stability and large memory quantities. This is from some personal experience stuff.
And anyway, remember that we cannot have maximum RAM dimensions and maximum freq… transfer rates at the same time. Not to mention the attention we must pay to other memory parameters like the latency. Gaming and RAM overclocking enthusiasts may enjoy the highest frequencies, while workstation and intensive content-creating users may benefit from the highest capacities.
Computers need to have a very fast memory for doing their activities under best conditions. This is what RAM is for. There are many kinds of memory, and when we target the best products we must know what to search for, have some technical knowledge in order to understand what the memory will exactly bring us, and also be clear about which tasks our memory will take care of.
Some people want speed (for games and overclocking races), others want space (for content and workstations). And of course stability is important. The best RAM solutions mean the best speed/space/price balance. And as technology goes further, new generations of memory are yet to come.