While installing new RAM in your computer is an easy, straightforward process, it's important to check compatibility with your motherboard first. Whether you're looking to upgrade or build a new PC from scratch, the motherboard and RAM must be compatible for the new memory to fit your system.
Read on as we show you how to find and purchase RAM, explain why motherboards and RAM aren't always compatible, and provide tools and insight on how to help you check compatibility with your motherboard.
What is a motherboard and what is RAM?
What is a motherboard?
The motherboard is the circuit board on which the processor, memory modules, storage (SSD or hard drive), and other components are mounted. It connects all your parts together.
What is a RAM?
RAM stands for random access memory. It’s how your computer temporarily stores information for apps and programs to access data quickly. Upgrading RAM can help improve performance.
When you’re looking to buy new RAM for your computer, these four characteristics are essential to ensure motherboard and RAM compatibility:
1) Different RAM generations:
Since the early 2000s, many evolutions of double data rate (DDR) RAM devices have existed. Memory makers are always developing new generations of RAM to improve speed and bandwidth to keep up with increasing performance demands.
The type of memory you purchase must be compatible with your system's motherboard. Depending on the age of your computer, one of the following generations of memory technology will fit your motherboard:
2) RAM form factors:
RAM comes in two main form factors:
- Small outline dual in-line module (SODIMM): a compact component designed for laptops
- Dual in-line module (DIMM): a larger component designed for a desktops
3) RAM density:
A RAM upgrade is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to improve your system performance. In general, higher-density DRAM will improve multitasking capabilities and support more data-heavy programs.
Some motherboards have limits on how many memory modules they can support, along with their densities. A desktop motherboard will often support up to four RAM modules, so consider how much RAM you need for your typical use.
RAM clock speed can be expressed as a measurement of frequency in MHz or in a measurement of data rates in megatransfers per second (MT/s). Regardless of how it is measured, faster RAM can ultimately speed up many functions on your system.
Motherboard and RAM compatibility checkers
Whether upgrading or building from scratch, you can be sure you're purchasing the correct RAM for your laptop or desktop when using our free, easy-to-use compatibility tools.
The Crucial System Scanner is a downloadable tool that makes finding compatibility memory effortless by analyzing your system's configuration and recommending a list of compatible upgrades in seconds. Millions of users have trusted the system scanner to safely recommend upgrades based on their system BIOS, since it cannot access personal data.
The Crucial System Selector provides a list of compatible upgrades for your system, based on information you provide about your system's manufacturer, make, and model. The main difference between it and the system scanner is that it doesn't require you to download anything on your computer.
Our database has information on more than 100,000 systems, which helps us make sure that we are recommending the right memory for your particular needs
FAQs about motherboard and RAM compatibility
Why RAM and motherboards aren’t always compatible
As well as finding RAM that delivers great performance, RAM compatibility is one of the first things to consider before starting your research. Simply put, if the two components aren't compatible, they won't work, and you could be wasting your money.
What RAM speed do I need?
Since most RAM modules are backward compatible, speeds are something you need to consider a little less than the other issues discussed above. But speed is a vital concern when it comes to improving your computer’s overall performance, so it is 100% worth considering.
Which DDR generation do I need?
As a rule, each generation of memory technology has faster frequencies, runs on lower voltage, and boasts lower latencies than the previous generation. But that doesn’t mean you can simply jump to the next generation to improve performance. RAM generations are not forward or backward compatible. For example, if your system was designed for DDR4 technology, it won't be able to support DDR5 modules.
There are a couple ways to determine which DDR generation your motherboard uses. You can either manually examine the RAM sockets on your motherboard, check the specifications with your motherboard manufacturer, or run a RAM compatibility checker.
When examining the sockets, the different DDR generations look very similar. You can quickly tell them apart by examining the key (a notch in the socket) and the number of pins on your modules, since they have a slightly different configuration. These slight variations in the layout will prevent you from installing the wrong type of RAM in your computer.
Here are the main differences in the DDR generations:
What RAM form factor do I need?
All you'll need to remember is that if you're looking to upgrade your laptop, you need SODIMMs, and if you're looking to build or upgrade a desktop, you will almost always need DIMMs.
You can check your motherboard either by using a RAM compatibility checker, or by visually checking the motherboard slots. SODIMM slots are approximately 2.66 inches long, while DIMM slots are roughly 5.25 inches long.
How much RAM does my motherboard support?
Again, there are a few methods to determine how much RAM your motherboard can support. You can check the motherboard documentation and find the specifications section. Once you've located the specifications section, you should be able to see the maximum amount of system memory that can be installed and the number of available slots on your motherboard.
Don't worry if you've chucked your manuals. With just a few simple clicks, you can use our free System Scanner to select RAM that is compatible with your motherboard.