Picking memory to put into a budget build is a pretty straight forward and easy decision, and there are only a few pieces of information to really look at.
The catch is there aren’t quick and easy comparison solutions like benchmarks. Due to this, the few things anyone needs to know are more critical. What I thought was going to be a quick explanation of a straightforward piece of gear ended up with more than anticipated. Since memory isn’t flashy like CPUs or GPUs, it is easy to overlook some of the details. Hunkering down and taking the time to learn is the only way to make the right choice for any budget build upgrade.
DDR, or Double Data Rate memory, is the standard for memory in modern PCs. Specifically, DDR3 and DDR4 memory are the only kinds of memory still in rotation. Sometimes this is instead listed with the bandwidth in MB/s and is referred to as PC. DDR3 would be the same as PC3, and DDR4 is the same as PC4. The important thing here is to make sure that the memory type matches the motherboard.
Size simply refers to how much memory a system has. Every program running on a computer will require a certain amount of memory to operate. Running out of space means crashes or poor performance. Just like Hard Disk Drives, the size of modern memory is denoted in GBs.
Speed is how quick the memory is able to transfer data. It is either listed by the Data Rate (DDR3-1600) or Peak Transfer Rate (PC3-12800). Note that both speeds listed are the same, but listed differently. As expected, higher numbers mean faster memory.
Rank has to do with the number of chips on the individual stick. There is no real discernible difference when it comes to rank, the important thing is to make sure they all match.For example, for 2Rx8 memory, using 2Rx4 won’t fit a build.
DDR4 vs DDR3
DDR4 is the newest iteration of desktop and laptop memory. Despite being the new big thing, there are actually very few changes between the two. While DDR4 memory is capable of higher speeds, that increase often has little to no impact on actual performance. There may be some better results in benchmarks, or with some very specialized cases. For the average user, the performance is just about the same.
Differences between the two are seen with their power consumption. Standard DDR3 memory uses 1.5v where DDR4 uses 1.2v. This small difference starts to make an impact over time, especially when multiple sticks are being used and when multiple systems are running. In areas where power costs are high, having all home systems running DDR4 memory might make a noticeable impact.
Overall, there isn’t a reason to upgrade a motherboard in order to move to DDR4 memory. If a motherboard upgrade is already planned, then it is best to make that jump. Some power is saved, and the PC will be further future proofed. At of the time of publication, prices are just about the same between the two, so there is no reason not to invest in DDR4 where applicable.
How Much Memory?
When it comes to memory, more is not always better. Usually, an average user can get by with 8GB without any issue. These days, there are programs and games that are starting to push that boundary, and now users should probably aim for 16GB. In part one of this series, we talked about what to look for to determine if that limit is being reached.
Try to aim for having enough to cover what’s needed, and avoid too much waste. If a user is utilizing 7GB on average, 16GB is definitely recommended, but 32GB is complete overkill. To be fair, a build could instead make this jump by using two sticks of 4GB memory, and two sticks of 2GB memory. Unless there is completely certainty and knowledge of user needs, it is generally best to only add the same exact sticks.
To Upgrade, Add, or Neither
It might seem natural to want to upgrade system memory. After all, it’s a core component, and usually those are a priority to upgrade. Memory is the exception to this, in that there is no need to upgrade or add any at all most of the time. There are only two situations that really call for more or new memory.
- It’s time to add memory if the current memory in a system is being pushed to the limit. To check if this is the case, refer to our guide where we talk about how to note system status.
- It’s time to upgrade memory only when a new motherboard won’t support existing memory sticks. If the slot on a new motherboard is the same as the old, upgrading for faster speeds isn’t really required. If replacing a motherboard is on the table though, aiming for DDR4 and getting new memory could be a benefit.
Unlike the limited brand options for CPUs, there are a lot of different options for memory. As different manufacturers create their parts with different speeds and sizes in mind, the decision comes down to less technical comparisons. How reliable is the brand? How do they price against their competitors? Are they easy to deal with?
When it came to my system, I currently have HyperX Fury 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4 2666MHz installed. Kingston is a brand that I have used for personal and enterprise environment use for a decade. Kingston’s HyperX offerings brings low prices to a trusted and reliable brand.
The memory I settled on (HX426C16FB2K2/16) has performed exactly as expected. The mid range for speed makes a negligible difference compared to the faster speeds, and slower speeds would have also performed just about the same. Mid range speeds also provide the option to overclock to higher speeds if needed. Currently, I see no reason to push overclocking, and that is just the way I like it.
If anyone wants a reliable brand at a great price, HyperX is a perfect choice. Their Fury lineup is based on affordable prices without the sacrifice of power or performance. If absolute power is key, the Savage lineup is there to answer it. There are other brands out there, but none that I trust more than Kingston/HyperX.
Budget Build Upgrade is a series of articles on learning the resources and tools to create a modern PC on a budget. To see the first article in this series, click here.