How to Choose the Memory You Need

 

Selecting the memory to use for your build or even just to upgrade your system can probably seem a bit daunting. You need to figure out what capacity you want, what speed, how many sticks you’ll need, and potentially even which version as mobile Haswell systems overwhelmingly require DDR3L as opposed to standard voltage DDR3.

If you break the process down to the individual specs, though, it becomes much easier. We offer a tremendously varied selection of memory, so you really can just figure out which combination of specs you require and we should have that available.

Number of Slots Available

The first thing you want to know is how many memory slots you have available. If you have a notebook, odds are you’ll only have two memory slots to work with. On the desktop, you’ll typically have four. That excludes Intel’s i7-38xx, i7-39xx, i7-48xx, and i7-49xx lines of chips, which will often be in motherboards that support eight. If you’re not completely certain, you can always pop the side off of your case and check.

Capacity

Once you know how many slots you have available total, you can get an idea of how much memory you can actually fit into your system. Note that while you can always augment existing memory with new memory, we recommend against doing so as it’s not guaranteed to be compatible and may produce system instability.

The highest density stick of memory you can get is 8GB, so assuming you have the standard four slots available, you’ll be able to max out at a staggering 32GB. Typically you want to install memory in pairs, excepting the i7 models I specified earlier, which should have memory installed in fours.

So the question then becomes: how much do you actually need? That’s actually pretty simple.

4GB: Bare minimum. Adequate only for word processing, e-mail, and using the internet.

8GB: Standard. Minimum required for gaming.

16GB: Ideal for gaming and most systems and tasks.

32GB+: Any kind of system intensive, workstation-grade tasks; programming, virtual machines, photo and video editing and compositing. When you get to this point, you’re better off just installing as much memory in your system as it will accept.

Speed

The nice thing about how memory works is that if you buy memory specced for a high speed and your system can’t handle it, it will simply clock down to where you need it. With that said, here’s a pretty basic rundown of memory speed.

DDR3-1066 or DDR3-1333: Too slow for any modern system.

DDR3-1600: Bare minimum. This is fine for any Intel system bought prior to 2013, or an Intel Core i7-38xx, i7-39xx, i7-48xx, or i7-49xx.

DDR3-1866: Minimum for an AMD A-series processor or Intel 4th Generation CPU.

DDR3-2000+: An AMD A-series processor will make use of the fastest memory you can plug into it, but Intel chips see diminishing returns in performance after DDR3-2133. Anything after that is enthusiast-class memory.

DDR3 or DDR3L

This is fairly simple: on the desktop, with rare exception, you’re fine with conventional DDR3. On any notebook released within the last year, you will likely need DDR3L, which runs at a lower voltage.

Series

We have several different series of memory, and all are covered under our lifetime warranty. Each is for a specific purpose. If you’re on a Mac, that narrows things down entirely to our line of Mac memory, but for desktop users the options are broader. Notebook users also have their choice of ValueSelect and Vengeance SO-DIMMs.

ValueSelect: Barebones memory, suited to basic systems.

XMS3: Budget mainstream memory. Suitable for most systems, but not designed to run at high speeds.

Vengeance/Vengeance LP: Mainstream memory. Ideal for performance systems, and mild overclocking. Note that for systems that have large coolers on the CPU, Vengeance LP (for Low Profile) may be necessary to avoid clearance issues.

Vengeance Pro: High end mainstream memory. Ideal for overclocking.

Dominator Platinum: The best of the best, highest-quality memory we offer. Primarily for enthusiast builds.

Bringing it All Together

Once you’ve gone through and figured out which of each spec you need or want, you can pretty much compile them together and find the right kit for your system. As I mentioned, we have just about any combination of specs you could be looking for, although higher-density kits at extreme high speeds (beyond DDR3-2400) are extremely rare to downright nonexistent, as it’s difficult to get high density memory to run at those blistering speeds. That’s not an issue for 99.9% of users, who will likely hit their performance ceiling at DDR3-2133, but the users who want the absolute fastest or most overclockable memory they can get may have to choose between speed and capacity, and under those circumstances you generally want to prefer capacity as those extreme kits tend to be for users who are specifically and knowingly seeking them out.

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Comments

  • Mark Connell's gravatar Mark Connell said:
    12/13/2016 6:48 PM

    I'm planning to purchase a Dominator Platinum kit for my new DAW build. But in order to make the most realistic comparison of RAM modules possible, I need to convert CL (CAS) latency to True Latency (measured in nanoseconds) . The formula is: True Latency (ns) = Clock Cycle Time (ns) x Number of Clock Cycles (CL) The problem is that I don't know if the Clock Cycle Time is calculated from other factors or if it is a constant for each given SPD speed (e.g. 2133 MHz,  2400MHz, etc). How do I determine the Clock Cycle Time in nanoseconds for any given RAM module? Can someone please help?

  • Mark Connell's gravatar Mark Connell said:
    12/13/2016 5:25 PM

    I'm planning to purchase a Dominator Platinum kit for my new DAW build. But in order to make the most realistic comparison of RAM modules possible, I need to convert CL (CAS) latency to True Latency (measured in nanoseconds) . The formula is: True Latency (ns) = Clock Cycle Time (ns) x Number of Clock Cycles (CL) The problem is that I don't know if the Clock Cycle Time is calculated from other factors or if it is a constant for each given SPD speed (e.g. 2133 MHz,  2400MHz, etc). How do I determine the Clock Cycle Time in nanoseconds for any given RAM module? Can someone please help?

  • chino rivera's gravatar chino rivera said:
    12/10/2014 3:34 AM

    hello corsair staff, i wanted to ask before i purchase a corsair vengeance pro dimm 8gb (2x4gb) 2133mhz on my gigabyte fx 990 ud7, running on amd 8350. thanks in advance

  • 's gravatar said:
    10/9/2014 6:46 AM

 
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