If you have ever considered upgrading your laptop or desktop’s RAM, chances are that you were overwhelmed by the bombardment of a plethora of specifications such as DDR4, Bandwidth, SODIMM, and whatnot. One such aspect (not exactly a specification, technically speaking) of computer memory is Dual Channel Memory. So, what is it and how does it work? Does it result in any noticeable performance improvements in your day-to-day computer usage? How can you utilize it on your computer and how to ensure that you get the most out of this capability? If you have one or more of these questions on your mind, you have come to the right place. We will demystify everything you need to know about Dual Channel Memory. Just hang in there!
What is Dual Channel Memory?
Before we delve into what Dual Channel Memory means, let’s first understand what a memory channel itself is. In a computer, memory and CPU are connected with each other via a pathway. The data exchange that happens between the two occurs via this channel.
The CPU contains a component called a memory controller which as its name suggests controls the data that the RAM in your computer sends or receives. In the past, the memory controller used to be a part of a separate component on the motherboard known as “northbridge”. However, in recent times, it has been integrated into the CPU chip.
In Dual Channel Memory, instead of the usual single channel between memory and CPU, we have two channels instead. This effectively doubles the data transfer rate, if we keep everything else the same. Dual Channel Memory is an example of the multichannel memory architecture Other multichannel configurations include four-channel, six-channel and eight-channel.
Four-channel, also known as quad channel, is relatively uncommon in both the consumer market and enterprise use. The reason is that the four-channel configuration does not translate into significant additional performance improvements in PCs but falls short of meeting the requirements of server-level use. For servers, six-channel and eight-channel memory configurations are highly popular.
How does it work?
In the early days of computing, Dual Channel Memory worked by simply doubling the bus width that connects the RAM and the CPU from 64-bit to 128-bit. This was called the ganged model. The performance improvements in this configuration were not very significant. Later, however, two independent 64-bit channels were used. This did translate into noticeable improvements in memory bandwidth. This configuration was termed the unganged model and is the one that is in popular use in memory configurations today.
What happens in the Dual Channel scheme is that both the RAM sticks are communicating with the CPU in parallel. This means that, for instance, two CPU threads can have simultaneous access to RAM instead of one thread waiting for the other one to finish before it can begin. This saved time translates into faster real-world computing performance.
Who really benefits from multichannel memory?
There are some groups of users who significantly benefit from multichannel memory. Others, not so much. We will look at both of them in turn.
Gamers, for instance, won’t notice significant improvements in the framerates of their favorite titles as, most of the time, memory, while important, is not the primary bottleneck to gaming performance. Most games work just fine even if a single memory channel is being utilized. The main limiting factor, in this case, is the graphics card and the CPU, the former even more so than the latter.
The consumers who are likely to benefit the most from multichannel configurations are those who are running a lot of applications in parallel or are compiling long lines of code. In the latter instance, for example, multichannel memory can noticeably improve program execution times.
If you have ever used video editing software such as Adobe Premiere, you might have noticed that alongside the heavy CPU usage, RAM usage significantly increases too. This means that if you are a content creator whose typical workloads are 4K videos that span many gigabytes, you will definitely benefit from the higher bandwidth that comes with dual channel memory.
It is at the enterprise level, however, where multichannel memory comes in really handy. So much so, that dual channel memory begins to prove to be inadequate for these applications. Therefore, the most common configurations are six-channel and eight-channel ones. These computers have wider buses that are also greater in number. For example, AMD’s EPYC CPU, which is used for server applications, has 4 128-bit memory buses. In other words, it has support for 8 64-bit channels.
The bandwidth provided by these channels is necessary because of the sizeable number of users that the server farms of a typical company are “serving” at any time. More bandwidth means that more users can simultaneously access data from a website without it coming to a complete crawl, as you might already have experienced at some point in your life.
How to utilize Dual Channel Memory?
As a rule of thumb, whenever you are buying RAM, ensure that you are buying two smaller-sized sticks instead of one larger one. For example, if you desire a 16GB RAM configuration in your next PC build, don’t just buy a 16GB stick. Instead, buy two 8GB sticks if you want to benefit from dual-channel memory.
In order to configure dual channel memory in your PC, observe the color coding on the RAM slots on your motherboard. If two slots are of one color and two are of another, install the memory sticks inside the identically colored ones. For example, if the color coding on your motherboard slots is Blue-White-Blue-White, then either install both sticks in blue-colored slots or both in white-colored slots. If there is no color coding, consult the motherboard’s user manual for instructions on how to use dual channel configuration.
How to get the most out of Dual Channel Memory?
There are a number of things you need to keep in mind in order to get the most out of Dual Channel Memory. These include size, speed, model, etc. In short, get identical memory sticks, if you can. This is not to say that memory sticks of different sizes and speeds are not compatible. It is just that when there is a difference between memory specifications, the motherboard is going to use specs that are the lower of the two. For example, if your memory sticks are sized at 2GB and 4GB, a dual channel scheme is only going to work for 2GB of RAM. The remaining RAM is only going to utilize one channel. The same is true for memory clock speed: dual channel memory is going to operate at the clock speed of the slower memory.
What do laptop users need to know?
For laptop users, things are going to get a little trickier. This is because of two reasons.
First, there is a chance that your current memory stick is soldered to the motherboard. This means that you can’t get rid of it (easily, at least) and install another one in its place. In such a situation, if there is another slot for memory, you need to ensure that the extra stick you are buying matches as closely to the one that you already have as possible.
Second, laptop memory is often physically different from desktop memory. While desktops utilize DIMM (dual inline memory module), laptop memory utilizes SODIMM. The SO stands for small outline. Basically, it means that laptop memory is smaller in size. So, when you are buying RAM, ensure that it is intended for laptops and not desktops. You can check your laptop manufacturer’s user manual (which can be downloaded from their website) for detailed instructions regarding memory upgrades if it is possible at all.
In this article, we took a detailed look at Dual Channel Memory. We discussed what it is and how it works. We also covered the user segments who are the most likely to benefit from it, and some for whom it likely doesn’t make a significant difference. We also shared some instructions on how to utilize this configuration for your own computer and tips on getting the most out of this technology. Finally, we shared some guidelines that were particularly geared towards laptop users to save them from unnecessary hassle, frustration, and wastage of money.