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What Are the Different Types of Desktop Computer Memory?

Daphne Mallory
Daphne Mallory

Desktop computer memory is known as random access memory, or RAM for short. The RAM is what the computer uses to run its operating system and programs, and it keeps data available for easy access when it’s in use. For example, if a user opens a photo or video on their computer and then minimizes it to the desktop, the file is still open in the RAM until the user clicks out of it. The type and amount of RAM determines the speed at which the computer can run programs and applications. The types of RAM for desktop computer memory include DDR2 and DDR3 chips. Previous iterations of RAM which are now largely obsolete were DDR and SIMM chips. Most desktop computers come with either DDR2 or DDR3 RAM installed, and the user can often upgrade the computer with more RAM if they find it necessary.

DDR2 and DDR3 chips are the main types of desktop computer memory that are sold. DDR stands for “Double Data Rate,” which means that the chip doubles the speed at which data can be transferred. Both types of chip contain 240 pins along one edge, which is inserted into a memory slot on the motherboard of the computer. DDR2 and DDR3 chips are constructed differently, so they cannot be inserted into the incorrect slot. New desktop computers often come with slots for both types of chip, although DDR2 is expected to be phased out eventually. DDR 3 chips offer a slight speed increase over the DDR2 version.

A computer motherboard.
A computer motherboard.

Desktop computer memory chips are often configured in pairs for optimal performance. For example, most computers are sold with two chips, totaling 2 GB, 4 GB, 6 GB or 8 GB of RAM. The higher the amount of RAM is, the faster the computer will be able to process tasks, load programs and switch between functions. Slots are often provided on the motherboard to match up in pairs, in order to operate 64-bit systems. The speed of the memory chips is often displayed in megahertz (MHz), and manufacturers often display the speed as if the chip is sold in a pair. For example, a pair of desktop computer memory chips advertised as having a speed of 1,600 MHz is actually two 800 MHz individual chips. The top DDR2 chip has a clock speed of 533 MHz, while the top DDR3 chip has a speed of 800 MHz, although this will eventually change.

A RAM card.
A RAM card.

Desktop computer memory is often an easy part of a system to upgrade. If the user removes the side panel of the computer, the RAM sticks should be visible on the motherboard. After disengaging the tabs that hold the original memory sticks in place, the user can insert and install new RAM sticks to upgrade their computer’s performance.

Discussion Comments


@Melonlity -- There are some standards to be sure, but it is still very easy to get the wrong speed of RAM for your machine or something like that. Good call on using one of those online tools -- you would be surprised at the variations in RAM there actually are.

By the way, one great thing about RAM these days is that is so easy to install. Remember the late 1970s and the 1980s when RAM upgrades were best left to professionals? We "do it yourself types" wound up doing a lot of soldering and it was easy to mess up something. I do love the "plug and plug" RAM upgrades we have now.


Fortunately, computer memory is pretty much standard between laptops and desktops. It is important to make sure you are getting exactly the RAM you need (there are online tools that are free and will help you do just that), but at least there are some standards and there have been for a very long time.

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