RAM, RAM, RAM. Experts tell you it's never enough and it's true. Most newbies fall for processor speed and never think about the effect RAM has on the overall performance of their system. Even a super-fast processor cannot make up for insufficient RAM, and experts will tell you that there is never sufficient RAM.
Let's compare a system with a slower CPU like a Core 2 Duo E6300 and 2 GB of memory against a system with a faster CPU like a Core 2 Duo E6600 but with only 512 MB of memory. You may think that the second system will be faster and you would be proven right by a CPU benchmark. However, if you actually use the system, the first system will feel much faster. Applications load quickly, multitasking with multiple applications is effortless, everything just feels faster.
This is not because less RAM reduces the performance of your CPU. Your CPU runs just fine. But if there's not enough RAM, the operating system has to make use of your hard drive as virtual memory. This slows down the delivery of data to the CPU and it ends up idling while the operating system transfers data from the slow hard drive. So, it really pays to invest in more RAM.
In this guide, I will teach you how to choose RAM, both the easy way as well as the hardcore way. I will also tell you about avoiding problems with the built-in memory controller in AMD's processors, as well as RAM-motherboard compatibility.
RAM Performance For Newbies
Frankly, the performance of your memory modules does not really matter unless you are into hardware tweaking and/or overclocking. The performance difference between different memory modules is really insignificant. It is certainly far less important than the quantity of RAM. It's better to have lots of slow RAM than a smaller quantity of faster RAM.
Besides, unless you know how to tweak your memory modules by adjusting the BIOS settings, your memory modules will run at the official clock speed and timings (usually following standards set out by JEDEC) stored in a small onboard SPD (Serial Presence Detect) chip. The BIOS automatically detects the proper RAM speed and timings at startup by querying this very chip.
The only way to improve your memory modules' performance would be to manually change those timings and clock speed. However, that will require some knowledge of modifying the BIOS settings. Unless you are comfortable messing around with the BIOS, there's really no performance difference between a high-performance PC2-6400 DDR2 module from a renown manufacturer, and a generic, commodity-grade PC2-6400 DDR2 module from an unknown manufacturer.
There are some exceptions. Some manufacturers like Corsair and OCZ offer special high-performance memory modules that are SLI- or CrossFire-certified and have SPD chips loaded with special clock speed and timing profiles (called EPP or Enhanced Performance Profiles in some cases). However, these modules and their special SPD profiles are only designed to work with certain NVIDIA- and ATI-based motherboards. Unless you use those motherboards, the special profiles that these modules offer are worthless.