The easiest way to tell if a certain RAM stick will work with your motherboard or not is to look at the motherboard specifications. This should give the details regarding the type, amount and the RAM characteristics that the motherboard can support.
It should be noted that as far as the RAM type is concerned, i.e DDR 2, DDR 3 and DDR 4, a motherboard is not NOT backwards compatible. Meaning you cannot install a DDR4 RAM on a motherboard that is designed to support DDR3 RAM and vice versa.
However, as far as the frequency and CAS latency goes, the RAM sticks ARE backward compatible. Meaning a DDR4 RAM stick with a frequency of 3200 MHz CAN work on a motherboard that is designed to support a max frequency of 3000 MHz.
In the following text, we will look different ways on how to tell if RAM will work with your motherboard or not.
We will also talk about how to tell the specifications of the RAM stick in your hand.
How to Tell If RAM Will Work With Your Motherboard?
There are two important points to consider when figuring out if the RAM stick will work with your motherboard or not.
- Figure out the memory specifications of your motherboard
- Identifying the RAM STICK specifications
1. Figure out the Memory Specifications of Your Motherboard
From the motherboard specifications, there is a plethora of information that you can find regarding the RAM that it can support.
Head over to the specification for your motherboard online, you will find something similar to the following:
The motherboard above is a premium motherboard featuring a high end Intel Z590 chipset. It can support a DDR4 RAM sticks with super overclocked frequencies of upto 5333 MHz.
Now your motherboard may not have the same specifications. But generally, you can expect to find the following information from the motherboard technical specs:
- Type of RAM it supports
- The amount of RAM it can support
- The frequency of the RAM it can support
- Whether it can support ECC memory or not
1. Type of RAM
The latest motherboards at the moment support the DDR5 RAM. However, DDR4 is still the most common type out there. DDR stands for Double Data Rate and it is essentially a type of high bandwidth RAM.
The DDR4 version was released back in 2014 however, it became widespread starting from 2016 and onwards.
If you are using an older system, there are high chances that your motherboard would be supporting the older DDR3 or even DDR2 version.
Hence, checking the type of RAM is the first step in determining whether a RAM stick will work on your motherboard or not.
DDR is not Cross Compatible – Generations have Different Physical Profiles
As mentioned earlier, the DDR RAM generations are NOT backward compatible. This is because every generation of DDR RAM has a different circuit design, signalling voltage and even physical profile.
You can use the physical notches to determine what RAM stick you have.
So Can You Install DDR3 RAM on a DDR4 Motherboard?
The answer is simply no, given what is stated above regarding the fact that RAM types are not backward compatible.
Obsolete RAM Type are More Expensive
Common logic will entail that a RAM that is slower and older would cost you less. However, that is hardly the case.
This has more to do with the supply and demand factor. Older RAMs such as DDR2 or DDR1 are harder to find. As such, they are also more expensive.
If you have an older motherboard, say a motherboard that is compatible with DDR2, procuring a DDR2 stick would be more expensive than acquiring a newer DDR4 RAM stick of the same capacity.
Also Read: Why is a Motherboard Important?
2. Amount of RAM Supported by Your Motherboard – TOTAL AND PER SLOT
Another important characteristic is the amount of RAM your motherboard can support.
In the current market, you can expect to find the following max support.
- 64 GB DDR4 on budget motherboards i.e Intel H series
- 128 GB DDR4 on high end motherboards i.e Intel Z series
- 256 GB DDR4 on workstation motherboards i.e AMD TRX40 series
If you have an older budget motherboard, there are chances that it could only have a max support for 32 GB RAM.
Maximum RAM per Slot
While most builds do not come close to utilizing even the 64 GB RAM on budget motherboards, the total amount is worth noting because it TELLS YOU THE MAX SIZE OF THE RAM STICK EACH SLOT CAN SUPPORT.
So for instance, if your motherboard supports 64 GB of RAM across 4 slots, then that translates to a max amount of 16 GB per slot.
Also Read: Which Motherboards Support DDR5 RAM?
3. Determining the Frequency of the RAM Supported
The final critical RAM characteristic that you can determine from the motherboard is the clock speed that it can support.
Each generation of DDR RAM has a varying range of frequency the modules can operate at. While a DDR4 RAM has a higher frequency generally than a DDR3 RAM, even DDR 4 RAMs come in different speeds within the generation.
The higher the frequency, the better is the performance. However, at the same time, the higher the frequency the more expensive is the RAM stick.
For instance, DDR4 RAM can have a frequency ranging from 2133MHz all the way to a whopping 5333 MHz (over clocked).
Enthusiasts, gamers and high performance users often opt for the high frequency RAM. However, RAM overclocking and extraordinary RAM frequencies are only supported by certain motherboards.
Take for instance the following budget Intel H310 motherboard by Gigabyte, this can support a max of only 2666 MHz RAM stick:
In contrast to this, an Intel Z590 motherboard can support DDR4 RAM sticks with frequencies all the way to 5333 MHz.
RAM Frequencies are Backward Compatible
If you install a 3000 MHz DDR4 RAM on a motherboard which is designed to support a max frequency of 2666 MHz (DDR4), then it WILL work but at the slower speed of the two.
In other words, the 3000 MHz RAM will be bottlenecked by the motherboard, BUT, it will work.
Also Read: Where is Motherboard in Device Manager?
4. ECC vs Non-ECC RAM
The final, relatively important, RAM characteristic that you can find from your motherboard specs is whether it can support ECC (Error Correction Code) memory or not.
ECC RAM are expensive and specialized RAM modules that are more reliable than your average RAM sticks.
These are used in enterprise grade PCs, servers and Data Centers where there is no room for data corruption.
Most, if not all, AMD motherboards come ready with support for ECC RAM, even the budget A series motherboards do i.e Gigabyte GA-A520I-DASH.
With Intel, however, ECC RAM is supported ONLY by server grade motherboard such as those featuring the C series chipset i.e C242 Gigabyte MX32-BS0.
Motherboards Often Have Labels for RAM Specifications
There are certain aspects regarding the supported RAM that you can find from physically inspecting the motherboard and reading the label.
For instance, on the following motherboard I can see that it has 4 physical slots and the version that this motherboard supports is DDR3.
2. Identifying the RAM STICK Specifications
The other part of the equation is to determine what RAM stick you have.
Once you have identified the memory specifications for your motherboard, you will be better suited in understanding the type of RAM stick you have.
You can determine what RAM you have in two ways:
- Physical Inspections
- Reading the RAM Manual
1. Physically Inspecting the RAM
We have already mentioned above that RAM types have different notch positions.
You can consider the notch as keys for determining what RAM stick you have.
Another way to determine what RAM stick you have is to count the number of pins it has on the front AND on the back side.
Desktop Based (DIMM)
- DDR4 has 288 Pins
- DDR 3 has 240 Pins
Laptop Based (SO-DIMMS)
- DDR4 has 260 pins
- DDR3 has 204 pins
Also Read: Can You Use Laptop RAM in Desktop?
Determining RAM Stick from Its Voltage
Most of the time the RAM sticks make mention of their rated voltage on the label.
You can determine the type of RAM you have by reading their rated voltage:
- DDR 2: 1.8 Volts
- DDR 3: 1.35-1.5 Volts
- DDR 4: 1.05-1.2 Volts
The voltage rating can be a bit misleading. There are most certainly exceptions. For instance, a high performance DDR3 RAM stick can be rated at 1.65 volts as well.
2. Reading the RAM Manual
The best and the most comprehensive way to determine what RAM stick you have is to read its manual.
To find out the manual for your RAM stick, you have to first determine its model. You can determine the model number of your RAM by its label.
For instance, my RAM stick has the model number: Kingston khx1600c9d3k2/4gx. A simple search for this online leads to its comprehensive manual.
Here I can determine a myriad of characteristics such as the fact that it is a DDR3 stick with 2 GB module, has 1600 MHz frequency, CAS Latency of 9 and has 240 pins.
Hence from here, I can know determine that this would only work on a motherboard designed for DDR3 RAM with ideal frequency support for at least 1600 MHz.
Incompatible RAM Issues
When your RAM and board are incompatible, chances are that you won’t even get as far as installing it on the board as the slots will have different notch positions compared to the RAM.
Just don’t try and force it even if the slot and the module are of the same size. Doing so could permanently damage the board or the RAM module. If you find yourself in this situation, check if you can exchange the module for an appropriate one.
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Hopefully, this has given you some insight into memory and motherboard compatibility. Here we looked in depth at how to tell if RAM will work with your motherboard or not.
In confused, you can always leave a comment below, but basically, you have to determine the specification of your motherboard as well as the RAM stick you have in order to determine if they are compatible with each other.
From the manuals you will get great insights about the kind of slot the board has for memory, the number of slots, the maximum memory it can support and the type of RAM that is compatible.
But in the most basics of sense, determining the RAM type supported ( i.e DDR2, DDR3, DDR4 etc.) is the most important step in determining whether it will work on your motherboard or not.