What Are RAM Sticks? [The Simple Answer]

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RAM sticks – also known as RAM modules – are a component that functions as a short term memory for a computer.

RAM, which stands for Random Access Memory, is where temporary data is stored while the processor taps into it. Data stored in RAM can be accessed much faster when compared to other long-term storage devices like hard disk drives (HDD) or solid-state drives (SSD).  

The performance and speed of your computer is dependent on the type and amount of RAM installed. So although it might sound daunting it is really useful for everyone that uses a computer to have a basic understanding of what RAM is and what it does.

RAM stores data temporarily and for a short amount of time, which is essential for applications such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Office or Photoshop to operate. As soon as you close these applications or turn the computer off, that data vacates the RAM.

These days you can find RAM in almost every ‘smart’ electronic device. From PC’s, laptops and smartphones to data servers and even smart fridges! If there is a computer involved, however small it may be, somewhere there will be a stick of RAM. 

Having said that, not all RAM is created equal and below, in addition to why RAM is needed, we’ll take a look at different types of RAM sticks you might come across.

What does RAM do?

Beginning with the basics, the processor is where all the requested commands are processed, the motherboard is where all the components of a computer are held together and the hard disk drive is where all the data is stored.

Similar to the hard disk drive, RAM is also a storage device. Where it differs from a hard disk is that RAM is a high-speed storage device. Meaning that data can be moved to and from it rapidly. Speed that is not possible for a hard disk drive to achieve.

But that begs another question, why do we need such high-speed storage? 

Well because a lot of everyday tasks that you do on the computer like browsing the internet, opening a word file, or working on an Excel spreadsheet require the computer to store data temporarily somewhere while those applications are in operation. All the data is temporarily stored on the RAM.

When you save a file, then a more permanent image of that file is stored on a more long-term storage component like an HDD or an SSD. 

Image by Athena from Pexels

Why are RAM sticks needed?

Why can’t data simply be stored temporarily on already available storage components like a hard disk drive? The answer to that is simple, speed!

RAM is a rapid storage solution that makes your system much faster and more responsive.

This is down to the type of chips used for RAM and a more rapid interface between the RAM and your processor.

When commands place a heavy load on your RAM to the point where it is running low on memory or reaches maximum capacity, there is something called memory paging or virtual RAM. This is when your computer uses a part of your HDD or SSD to move data away from your RAM to your local storage, which then acts as a temporary RAM.

This is however very slow and sluggish as compared to using RAM to store files temporarily, and the reason why the responsiveness and speed of your computer is directly tied to your RAM.

If you do reach your RAM’s limits you might be best simply closing one or two applications to allow your machine to operate at its normal speed.

How much RAM do I need?

So now that we have established how RAM works and why it is an important part of your computer, the next logical question is, how much RAM do you need?

How much RAM you need depends on your computer usage and needs but generally speaking, the accepted wisdom presently is that you need at least 8GB of RAM in your system. This is suitable for light tasks like browsing the internet, making presentations and word processing, etc.

If you are someone that needs a little bit more juice out of their computer, then 16GB of RAM should be considered your minimum. This is for users that demand a little more from their systems like playing video games or editing videos, and will also future proof your computer somewhat as more detailed 

A computer can have too much RAM, and anything beyond that like 32GB or 64GB is required only really for highly specialized tasks.

RAM sticks can be added to a PC relatively easily by Maraksot78 in the short video below. 

Different types of RAMs?

RAM over the years has gone through different generations, which can become problematic as you want to do everything possible to  avoid mixing RAM sticks.

Different generations of RAM are indicated by the terms like DDR4 or DDR5. While going into what DDR is beyond the scope of this article, here is a brief guide to what these terms mean.

DDR3:  This RAM generation came out back in 2007. It is old by today’s standards but still pretty common in a lot of systems. You will still find a lot of computers running DDR3 RAM.

DDR4:  Currently, in 2022 this is the most common RAM type you will find out there. It is decently fast for anything you throw at it. But it is slowly being phased out for the newest generation. Having said that, DDR4 still has a few good years ahead of it before it is likely to become obsolete.

DDR5:  This is the latest generation of RAM. The absolute fastest out there. But the adoption of DDR5 has been slow because it’s comparatively more expensive and difficult to support. 

Things to keep in mind when installing RAM

The first thing to keep in mind is to ensure that you are buying the correct type of RAM for your system. For example, you can’t plug a DDR3 RAM into a motherboard that supports DDR4.

Having said that, you don’t have to worry about accidentally plugging in the wrong RAM stick and blowing up your computer. All generations of RAMs are shaped differently, so no one can plug in the wrong memory on their computer. But this tip will most definitely save you a trip back to the store to get the RAM replaced for the correct type.

Another important tip to keep in mind is to install your RAM in a ‘dual channel’. What that means is having two separate RAM sticks instead of one. For example, if you plan to have 16GB of RAM, it is better to get 2 x sticks of 8GB RAM instead of 1x stick of 16GB. A dual channel setup such as this allows your computer to run faster. Skip to 03:01 in the above video for a detailed explanation on why this is the case.

Four DIMM slots populated with RAM sticks
Image by A's Images on Canva Pro

Can I download RAM?

No, you can’t download more RAM. This is a popular online joke made at the expense of people that are not that knowledgeable about computers. We can’t download more RAM just like we can’t download more tires for our cars. RAM is a physical component that can only be upgraded by physically installing more sticks.

Conclusion

RAM sticks are a crucial part of a computer that  is responsible for temporarily holding data during processing and is directly related to the speed and performance of your computer.

Reference List

https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/tech-tips-and-tricks/computer-ram.html

https://www.avast.com/c-what-is-ram-memory

https://www.webopedia.com/definitions/ram/

https://www.techtarget.com/searchstorage/definition/RAM-random-access-memory

Huzaifah Muhabat

Huzaifah Muhabat

Tech Writer

STEM Graduate with an engineering background and an insatiable curiosity to understand how things work.

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