One of the most important parts of a computer is the RAM, or random access memory. RAM modules are also considered to be one of the easiest parts to upgrade in a system unit. But more often than not, people make one simple mistake: mixing different RAM brands.
RAM modules are responsible for doing computations for a specific amount of time so that the processor does not redo them each time. In theory, mixing RAM modules of different brands can be done, but not without some problems.
In this article, we’ll be discussing what happens when you mix RAM modules of different brands and how big of a problem it can be to mix them.
A Quick Basic Guide To Reading RAM Specifications
Before we answer the question “can you mix RAM brands?”, first we must understand what it is we’re actually mixing. If you already know how to read RAM Modules’ specifications, you can skip this section.
There are two form factors to consider for RAM modules. You have your Dual In-Line Memory Module or DIMM, and Smal Outline DIMM or SO-DIMM.
- DIMM is a common form factor that’s used by desktop computers.
- SODIMM RAM modules are used by compact PCs and laptops. They’re roughly half the size of DIMMs.
RAM modules have gained a lot of features and functionalities over the years. Memory type or generation will determine how new the RAM currently is. You can tell how old a RAM module is by their generation, which is listed below:
- 2000 release: DDR1 SDRAM
- 2003 release: DDR2 SDRAM
- 2007 release: DDR3 SDRAM
- 2014 release: DDR4 SDRAM
- 2020 release: DDR5 SDRAM
Unfortunately, RAM modules don’t have forward or backward compatibilities if we’re talking about generations because each generation uses a different number of pins.
RAM speed is determined by its frequency. The higher the frequency, the more cycles a RAM module can perform per second.
Frequency is measured in MHz or megahertz, or million cycles per second. A 3600MHz RAM translates to 3.6 billion cycles per second. This means that a RAM can transfer this much data in a second.
RAM sizes will let you know how much information it can store per stick. You can get anywhere between 2GB to 32GB. For office tasks, a bare minimum would have to be 4GB of memory but ideally, you want 8GB. If you’re gaming or doing some heavy-duty rendering/editing, then you want 16GB or higher.
Memory latency measures the time it takes for a module to call to or respond to a command in a system. In RAM modules, you’ll find the latency labelled as CL. A CL16 RAM stick will take about 16 cycles before it can respond.
Unlike frequency, you want the CL to be lower.
Voltage refers to the power that the RAM stick consumes. You’ll find different ranges for voltages, starting from 1 V all the way to 1.4V. You can manually adjust the voltages of your RAM according to the performance and stability you want.
Lastly, memory brands are not equal. There are different assemblers or manufacturers for RAM modules, so it can be difficult to identify which one’s the best. You’ll find two RAM modules sharing the same size, frequency, speed, voltage, and latency, but the controller chips and memory may be different.
Why Is It A Problem To Mix RAM Brands?
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are different manufacturers and brands of RAM modules. While they share the same specifications, the memory and circuits will be different. When you mix RAM modules of different brands, you might end up with your system crashing or your system not booting.
When there are different RAM modules used in a single motherboard, you’ll use more Dual-In-Line memory modules or DIMM slots, which creates a lot of possibilities for conflicts.
What Would Cause These Problems To Begin With?
If you’re planning on installing RAM modules that are different from your current one, you’ll need to know that this combination might have a negative effect on your computer.
Some of the causes of the problems associated with mixing different RAM brands are as follows:
Mixing different RAM modules will result in mixing different voltages. The RAM with lesser voltage may not operate to its full capacity because it’s receiving less power.
Single vs Dual Channel Memory
There are two types of memory – single channel mode and dual channel mode. These work differently and will not always be noticeable to users. If you use a single channel RAM and a dual channel RAM, then you’ll end up with the latter running on a single channel.
Now, browsing or doing office tasks might not be a problem, but when you’re gaming, video editing, or doing 3D rendering, that’s where you’ll notice the difference in performance.
Using different sizes might also affect your system’s memory configuration. If you pair a large RAM module with a small one, you’ll have an asynchronous operation. This is what you would often refer to as FLEX MODE.
Smaller RAM modules will only pair with half of the larger RAM modules to get dual channel mode. The remaining storage capacity will only work in single channel mode.
You may know this as Flex Mode. What happens here is that the smaller RAM will pair with half of the bigger RAM module, so the remaining module will only work in single channel mode. How heavy the workload is will determine how noticeable the mismatch is.
Mixing RAM modules with different speeds can greatly affect the RAM modules’ performance. While it’s possible to set your fastest RAM to run at the speed of the slowest RAM, you’ll still have issues.
Frequency and latency will both affect your memory speed. RAM sticks with different frequencies will need to have the same latency in order for them to work together.
The Big Question: Is It Okay To Mix Different RAM Modules or RAM Types?
The straight answer is NO.
You shouldn’t mix different RAM types or modules. Motherboards are designed to only accommodate one generation of RAMs, so if you have a motherboard that can accommodate DDR5 RAMs, then those are the only RAM modules you should be getting.
And also, you can’t combine one DDR2 and one DDR3 RAM into a motherboard just because you think you’ll get a total of DDR5. That’s not how it works.
If you want to know what kind of RAM type your motherboard is capable of accommodating, go to Task Manager and go to the Performance tab. Choose the Memory option and you’ll see what DDR type your motherboard has.
You can also use software that retrieves your PC information for you, like CPU-Z.
Is It Okay To Mix Different RAM Sizes?
It’s possible to use different RAM sizes but there are disadvantages. For example, let’s say you have an 8GB and 4GB of RAM sticks for your desktop PC.
If the RAM brands, frequency, latency, and other specs are similar, you shouldn’t be having major issues,
Pairing a large capacity RAM stick with a smaller RAM stick will affect your system’s performance. The RAM stick with the lower capcity will only pair with half of the larger capacity’s storage.
With the scenario above, instead of having 12GB of RAM, you’ll only have a total of 8GB RAM in dual channel mode for the best performance possible. The remaining 4GB RAM will run on single channel mode.
Depending on the workload, you will notice a dip in performance. If you’re just doing office tasks and non-demanding work, then you won’t notice your system slowing down. On the other hand, you’ll feel a dip of about 20% in performance when gaming or doing some video editing. This is why manufacturers only mix RAM sticks of the same sizes (i.e. 2 pieces of 8GB to make up a 16GB RAM kit).
Is It Okay To Mix RAM Voltages?
If you have different RAM sticks with different voltages, there’s nothing really stopping you from mixing them. Just know that you’re not exactly guaranteed optimal performance from either RAM.
Different brands of RAM with different voltages will force your motherboard to run with the RAM with the lowest voltage and the RAM with the highest voltage won’t get enough power by default.
This won’t stop the RAM with the highest voltage from operating mind you, but again, you won’t be getting optimal performance.
Is It Okay To Mix RAM Speeds?
Combining RAM sticks with different frequencies will cause your motherboard to underclock the fastest RAM.
Using the scenario above, you have 8GB and 4GB RAM of the same brand with the same latency. Combining these two RAM sticks will result in the 8GB running according to the speed of the slowest RAM. So your 8GB RAM will only be 4GB.
You could overclock your 4GB RAM to match the 8GB stick, but that would result in overheating and frequent crashing.
As mentioned earlier, this is why RAM kits are always paired with the same speed and specs. If you are purchasing a 32GB RAM kit, you’re getting 2 pieces of 16GB RAM sticks.
Is It Better To Buy A Single RAM Kit?
The answer here is YES.
RAM kits are two RAM sticks of the same brand and specifications. These are specifically combined and tested by the manufacturers to work together flawlessly, but not with other kits.
If you want to get 64GB of RAM, you’ll want to mix RAM kits comprised of 16GB modules from the same brand. If you’re getting a BRAND X RAM kit with two pieces of 16GB modules, your second ram kit of 16GB modules should also be BRAND X.