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Everything You Need To Know About RAM Compatibility

RAM, or Random Access Memory, is a crucial part of any computer. A RAM module is responsible for the PC’s short-term memory, which allows helps the PC carry out its numerous processes.

In this article, we’ll be discussing a topic that’s sometimes overlooked by most novice PC builders: RAM compatibility.

How Do You Know Which RAM is Compatible With Your Current Motherboard?

Gaming RAM RAM Compatibility

There are several factors in determining RAM compatibility with motherboards. Some are easy to figure out, while there are a few that might require you to do some added work.

These four are the most important specifications to look out for when determining compatibility:

  • DDR Generation – RAM modules come in different types, or generations. You have DDr1, DDR2, DDR3, DDR4, and DDR5. DDR5 is the newest generation of RAM modules, but DDR4 is the most widely used generation to date. If you’re building a new computer, you’re looking at using either a DDR4 or DDR5. If you’re using an old motherboard, chances are you’ll need a DDR3.
  • Storage Capacity – Storage capacity determines your PC’s ability to multitask. Storage capacity is measured in Gigabytes (GB), so the higher the storage capcity, the better your PC will run resource-intensive games or apps.
  • Speed – Your RAM speed is measured in MHz, or megahertz. Much like storage capacity, the higher the MHz, the faster the RAM will carry out the processes. RAM also has backward compatibility with motherboards. Your RAM will still run on a motherboard that’s slower, but we’ll talk more about this later on.
  • Form Factor – RAM modules come in two forms: dual in-line module or DIMM and small outline dual in-line memory module (SO-DIMM or SODIMM). DIMMs are bigger than SODIMMs and take up a lot of space, so they’re reserved for desktop computers. In contrast, SODIMMs are used for laptops.

Does Your Motherboard Need SODIMM or DIMM?

As mentioned, SODIMM ram sticks are for laptops, and DIMM RAM sticks are for desktops. However, there is an exception. Desktops with a small form factor motherboard use SO DIMM RAM sticks instead of DIMMs.

DIMM slots also look different compared to SODIMM slots. The former’s longer than the latter, so even just by looking at your motherboard’s RAM slot, you’ll know what compatible memory sticks to use.

How Do You Know Which DDR Generation You Need?

There are three ways how to determine what generation of RAM your motherboard is currently using, or compatible with.

  • First, you can check with the motherboard manufacturer.
  • Second, you can use a system-checking tool.
  • Third, manually inspect the RAM sockets inside the motherboard.

For the last one, different DDR generations will have sockets that more or less look the same. The difference lies in the number of pins and notches present. These minor nuances will prevent you from using the wrong kind of memory modules.

For modern motherboards, you’re probably looking at DDR4 RAM sticks. DDR5 RAM sticks are new and there are only a handful of motherboards out there that can accommodate DDR 5.

If you want to know how to tell the difference between DDR generations just by looking at the slot, this is the cheat sheet:

  1. DDR will have 184 pins and a notch near the center
  2. DDR2 will have 244 pins and a notch near the center
  3. DDR3 will have 240 pins with a notch offset to one side
  4. DDR4 will have 288 pins with a notch near the center

Computer memory modules will almost always have their specs listed on their packaging, so there’s no need for you to double-check unless you’re buying secondhand RAM.

What’s the Maximum RAM Can A Motherboard Support?

Part of knowing and understanding RAM specifications is motherboard compatibility to the max amount of storage capacity. You can’t expect an old motherboard to be able to handle RAM beyond its memory specifications.

Your DIMM slots will usually tell you how many sticks of RAM your motherboard can accommodate. The number of slots will range from 2 to 8 slots. Exactly what kind of RAM these slots can accommodate is another question in itself.

The easiest way to determine compatibility in terms of memory capacity is to check with your motherboard’s manufacturer. For example, a gaming motherboard like the ASUS ROG Strix B550-F Gaming has 4 DIMM slots that accommodate up to 128GB of DDR4 4400MHz RAM.

Now, how much RAM and the type of RAM you need will depend on your expected tasks. If you’re just going to do productivity tasks, like encoding, then 8GB of RAM will suffice. If you want better performance for gaming, video editing, and 3D modeling, you might want to go for the maximum amount of RAM that your motherboard can handle. If your motherboard can accommodate up to 32GB of RAM, then you could go for either 16GB or 32GB.

Is Any Type of RAM Compatible with All Motherboards?

If you want to know what compatible upgrades are suited for your motherboard, you’ll need to use a third party software that gives you a summary of your entire system. A good example would be CPUID.

But to answer the question, the type of RAM you’ll use may or may not be compatible with all motherboards. Here are certain scenarios:

  • For example, pretend you have a desktop PC and a motherboard that can accommodate only 8GB of RAM. You upgrade with more RAM by purchasing a 16GB RAM stick. Your new RAM won’t run at its max capacity, might not even be properly read by the motherboard.
  • How many slots your current motherboard has might determine compatibility. Just because you have two RAM slots doesn’t mean you can install 2 sticks of 64GB right off the bat, unless it’s actually specified by the manufacturer that the maximum amount of RAM for said motherboard is 128GB.
  • A motherboard that uses DDR3 RAM only might have issues running DDR4 RAM because they use different clocking technologies. If a motherboard specifies DDR3, then you should only be using a DDR3 RAM. Anything else wouldn’t work, no matter new the RAM is.

Do You Want More RAM or More Speed?

RAM speed is crucial because it will guarantee better performance on your computer, but it’s mostly a secondary specification as you’re focused more on capacity.

RAM and motherboard compatibility, however, will be dictated in terms of much MHz it’s capable of. Motherboards have different speeds, and yes, there’s backward compatibility too. If you have a motherboard that only supports up to 2133Mhz but you upgraded with 3000MHz RAM, the RAM will still work as intended. However, it will slow down to 2133MHz to match the motherboard’s speed.

You can use a third-party software like CPUID to get your computers’ system information.

Does Your RAM Need To Match Its Capacity and Speed With The Motherboard?

The answer is YES and NO. Again, due to backward compatibility, a faster RAM could make do with a slower motherboard. But if you’re building a new PC, the best practice is to match the motherboard’s speed with the RAM speed so you’re getting the best possible performance.

There are cases when higher clock speeds for RAMs that beat the motherboard’s supported clock speed have no issues whatsoever other than not running at the desired clock speed.

And in line with your RAM being compatible with the motherboard, capacity is also as important for consideration. A motherboard that supports a lower RAM capacity than your RAM upgrade might not be able to utilize the RAM’s full power. Simply put, if you have a motherboard that can only support up to 16GB RAM and you got a 32GB RAM stick, you’re not getting 32GB.

The Wrap Up

RAM compatibility is definitely something to consider when it comes to your PC build. How much RAM your motherboard supports will determine the kind of RAM upgrade you’re going to need.

If money is not an option, try to get a motherboard that supports DDR4 or DDR5 RAM. This way, you won’t have trouble finding what kind of RAM is compatible with your system.

James Stephenson

james stephenson profile picJames is a gaming and tech enthusiast. He has been playing computer games since the Commodore 64 days in the 80s. He has worked as a Broadcast Engineer with BBC News and knows a thing or two about building, fixing, and playing with PCs.