Not sure whether mixing different brands of RAM is a good idea? In this article, we’re going to explain the potential risks and downsides to help you decide the best way to set up your PC.
RAM, or random-access memory, is an integral part of every computer system, and it’s super easy to upgrade if that’s something you’re looking to do. You simply unclip your old RAM stick from your motherboard and replace it. Easy, right?
Now, if you’re in the market for a RAM upgrade, you may be thinking to yourself: is it possible, or even safe, to mix two different brands of RAM in one setup? Is it okay to insert, say, a Corsair RAM stick next to a Kingston one? The short answer is yes, for the most part, but issues may arise.
We’re going to cover everything you need to know about mixing RAM below, and hopefully answer all your questions, so be sure to stick around if you want to know more.
How do different brands of RAM differ?
Brands all design their RAM sticks slightly differently, and have varying specifications for things like size, frequency, latency, voltage, and clock speed. Although you can mostly mix RAM sticks that have different specs, you can’t mix ones from different generations e.g. DDR2 RAM and DDR3 RAM, so just bear this in mind.
When mixing compatible RAM, you should make sure to consider how the aforementioned specifications of your different sticks match up, because too much variation can ultimately lead to performance limitations as we’ll talk about next.
RAM speed limit
One major drawback of mixing RAM is that all the RAM modules you use will be downclocked to meet the settings of the slowest one. This includes things like speed and latency.
For example, if you have one RAM stick running at 3200MHz and 15 CAS latency, and another running at 2400MHz and 19 CAS latency, both will be set to run at the latter settings, matching the slowest speed.
Having a slower RAM speed shouldn’t matter too much if your other PC components are good, but nonetheless, it can affect performance in a lot of cases.
Single-channel memory and Flex mode
Assuming your motherboard has dual-channel architecture implemented into it, having two RAM sticks of the same size will usually let you take advantage of dual-channel memory, essentially making data transfer from your RAM to the memory controller faster.
It’s a neat feature, but once you start mixing RAM sticks, you risk losing the dual-channel performance. There is however a workaround on Intel motherboards using Flex mode.
Flex mode lets you take advantage of multi-channel memory whenever possible. For example, if you have an 8GB RAM stick and a 4GB one, then you’ll have 4GB from each working in dual-channel mode, and the remaining 4GB of the 8GB stick working in single-channel mode. This is useful for when you want to mix RAM, but you’ll still always get worse performance than if you simply go with two sticks from the same brand.
If you want to guarantee solid performance from your RAM, then you should consider getting a RAM kit rather than buying sticks from different brands individually.
A RAM kits is essentially a bundle of identical specced RAM sticks, so you won’t have to worry about incompatibility or performance issues. You’ll also be guaranteed to benefit from full dual- or even quad-channel memory depending on how many sticks are in your kit, so long as your motherboard has the built-in architecture to support it.
When to upgrade your RAM
So, we’ve talked about how to upgrade your RAM and the drawbacks of mixing brands, but now let’s talk about the reasons for upgrading your RAM and when to do it.
First things first, what are you aiming to get out of your PC? Because if you’re just looking to do basic work on it and watch videos, you probably don’t need an upgrade, but if you’re looking to do complex multitasking, video editing, high-end gaming, or just want your setup to run faster in general, then switching out your old RAM for new RAM, or adding additional RAM to your system, may be a good idea.
Here’s a quick guide to how much RAM you may need for various tasks:
- 4GB – If you’re just looking to casually browse the web, write up documents, or send emails, then 4GB will suffice. If you want to do any more than that though, you’ll start to run into performance issues.
- 8GB – This is a good size if you’re looking to have a few different programs open at once and multitask. Most videos and games will run fine, though your PC may struggle to keep up at the highest graphical settings.
- 16GB – The sweet spot. If you’re looking for solid performance all-around then 16GB is the perfect RAM size to go for. You’ll be able to do most things you’ll want to do, whether that be gaming or heavy multitasking, and your RAM will hold up. 16GB can make a world of difference when compared to 8GB of RAM for a lot of users.
Anything below 4GB isn’t recommended, as your computer will feel very sluggish whenever you try to do anything, and above 16GB is just a bit overkill. If you want to run 32GB of RAM and have the funds for it, then go for it, but you almost certainly won’t need all that memory unless you’re doing something super intensive on your PC. You’re probably better off investing that money into a better CPU or GPU instead.
So, let’s get back to the question at hand and wrap this up once and for all. Is mixing RAM okay? Yes, but it’s not recommended for the reasons we outlined above.
If you want to guarantee good performance, you’re better off buying a RAM kit that has been tried and tested, otherwise, you risk running into all sorts of unforeseen issues that will be a pain to fix.