Yes, it does matter which RAM slots you use. This is because of a technology known as dual-channel memory technology that has been in vogue for quite some time now. In this article, we will familiarize you with what dual-channel memory technology is, how it works, and why you should care.
Then we will look at the hardware requirements necessary to be able to make use of dual-channel memory. We will also comprehensively touch upon RAM sticks in terms of their technology, number, and size in the context of dual-channel memory. Lastly, we will make some parting comments on choosing RAM slots.
So, what is the Dual Channel Memory technology after all?
Simply put, it is a way of increasing the number of channels for data transfer between CPU and RAM. More channels mean faster data transfer rates. Dual Channel is just one variant of the multi-channel RAMs.
Other variants include four channel, also known as quad-channel, six-channel, and eight-channel RAM. For consumer PCs, the most popular option is the one that is already under discussion, dual-channel memory that is. Quad channel configuration is also used but it’s rarer. Six and eight-channel RAMs are used for server applications.
Which RAM Slot to Use First?
In general, you should use the same strategy in choosing RAM slots as in choosing the number of RAM sticks. That is to say, use the 2nd and the 4th slot if you have two RAM sticks. Some motherboards have color-coded RAM slots for precisely this purpose, in case you didn’t know this before.
Modern motherboards are a different game though. Some manufacturers have chosen to prefer aesthetics over ease of use. This means that in a lot of motherboards, all of the RAM sticks are of the identical color.
In such a situation, you might find it helpful to consult your motherboard manual and follow the instructions on the recommended configurations based on the labels near each slot like DIMM_A1, DIMM_A2, and so on.
- Short answer: Yes, it does. Long answer: well, there is a little more to it
- Dual Channel Memory technology (Working and benefits)
- What do you need in order to make use of it?
- RAM Sticks (technology, number, and size)
- Choosing RAM slots
- Main takeaway: Use 2x8 GB sticks instead of a single 16GB stick
How exactly does it work though? Why should I care?
Let’s consider the Dual Channel version to answer this question. Inside your CPU, there is a special piece of hardware that controls how your RAM sticks interact with the rest of your system. This component is known as the memory controller. To allow the memory controller to communicate with or control the RAM module, we need a pathway. This is known as a bus or a channel. If you use a single RAM stick, there is only one channel of communication between the CPU and your RAM stick. Using two RAM sticks means you can make use of the Dual Channel technology and thus have two channels to transfer the same amount of data.
This means that the data transfer rate is faster provided everything else remains the same. Think of it like the number of lanes on a highway. Fewer vehicles can traverse through a single road than can through two roads. Analogies aside, what does it practically mean for you? Well, it means that given the option, it is better to use two smaller-sized RAM sticks instead of a single large one. For example, using 2x8GB RAM sticks would enable faster data read and write speeds compared to a single 16GB RAM stick.
What do you need in order to make use of Dual Memory technology?
Not much really. You need a CPU and a Motherboard that support this technology. These days, most of the commercially available CPUs and motherboards do support this technology so you need not worry too much about this part. Your focus, therefore, should be directed toward the RAM sticks themselves. The most basic thing to keep in mind is to have at least two RAM sticks. Besides, their number, there are a few other things regarding RAM sticks that matter too. We will discuss them in the following section.
What to keep in mind when buying RAM sticks?
The most obvious one is to ensure that the RAM sticks are compatible with your motherboard. For example, motherboards are designed in such a manner that you physically can’t insert a DDR3 RAM stick into a DDR4 slot and vice versa.
Similarly, the number of RAM sticks should be even. That is to say, either you should use two or four RAM sticks, but not three. If you use three RAM sticks, the third one won’t be able to make use of the Dual Channel technology.
The size of each RAM stick should be identical. For example, for a total of 16GB RAM, use two 8GB sticks instead of one 12GB and one 4GB stick. This is because only the common amount of RAM in both the sticks will be able to utilize the Dual Channel technology. In the 12-4 GB RAM sticks case, only 4GB RAM from the 12GB stick would be able to be utilized for Dual Channels. The remaining 8GBs would work as a single channel. We do realize the example we posed is a bit extreme, and you are unlikely to use such a combination, but it does help to illustrate the point we are trying to make.
In case you feel lost by all this barrage of information, fret not. Here is what you should remember, even if you forget everything else. Use two identical smaller-sized RAM sticks instead of one larger one when you build your next gaming PC and install them in the 2nd and 4th slot, no matter which direction you choose to count from.