So you’ve bought a shiny new 16 GB memory kit with two RAM sticks and full-on RGB features. Excitedly, you install the new RAM sticks in the motherboard and boot up your system.
Everything seems fine till your PC starts stuttering. Your games start taking significantly longer to load and your FPS are taking a hit.
Is the RAM defective? Did you get ripped off at the PC store? Chances are, you’ve installed your RAM incorrectly, and the two RAM sticks aren’t working in dual channel mode.
What is RAM dual channel? how to check if RAM is dual channel or single channel. In the following article I will attempt to demystify this all.
What is Dual Channel Memory?
Dual-channel memory is a type of multi-channel memory configuration.
To understand what multi-channel memory is, and how it affects a computer’s performance, you need to know how RAM works.
Your PC doesn’t fetch data directly from the hard drive or SSD. When you launch your favorite game, it is first loaded into the memory (RAM).
Your RAM and CPU have to communicate through a memory controller before giving you that juicy 120 frames per second. Some memory controllers have multiple channels to allow for faster communication with the RAM.
Dual-channel RAM configuration means there are two sets of 64-bit buses, lanes or channels available (instead of one in a single channel config) for the CPU to communicate with the memory modules, thus effectively reducing any possible chance of a bottleneck.
Simply put, the more channels a CPU has to communicate with the memory, the faster everything works.
Dual-channel means your CPU can talk to two RAM modules simultaneously, effectively distributing the workload evenly across both RAMs.
Motherboards that support multi-channel memory have dedicated slots (often color-coded, more on that later) that lets the RAM ‘talk’ to the memory controller.
Also Read: Which RAM Slots to Use? Does it Matter?
It is NOT the RAM That is Dual Channel
It should be noted that Dual Channel is NOT the characteristic of the RAM, but that of the CPU and the motherboard.
In other words, any RAM can work in dual or even triple channel mode so long as your CPU and motherboard support it.
Expected Difference Dual Channel Memory can Make
The answer is: it depends. You will have people who swear by dual-channel memory, claiming it increases performance. On the flip side, you will find people who say it doesn’t really make a difference. So which one is it?
GamersNexus.net has a comprehensive study on this. According their tests, dual channel memory configuration can provide a boost of upto 30% in performance.
The actual boost depends upon what program and tasks you run.
Hence, if your RAM sticks are in the wrong slots, it doesn’t matter if you’re using the latest shiny memory, your CPU and RAM communication will be bottlenecked severely.
So How to Check if RAM is Dual Channel?
Now that you know the advantage of using memory in dual-channel mode, let’s see how to check if you have installed your RAM sticks correctly. There are various methods of doing so. We’ll focus on the 3 most common ones:
- Checking with CPU-Z
- Checking with HWiNFO64
- Checking the RAM sticks physically
Checking through CPU-Z
You can easily check a lot of your PC’s hardware information by using a nifty tool like CPU-Z.
To use it, you can download and install it from here. There’s also a portable version that requires no installation. The program is totally free to use.
Once you’ve downloaded CPU-Z, head over to the Memory tab. There you can see the configuration of your PC’s RAM.
As you can see, our HP Pavilion gaming laptop is running 16 GBs of memory in a single-channel configuration.
This is probably the reason for its rather sluggish performance in games. If you see Dual in the “Channel #” field, you are already running your memory in an optimal configuration.
You can also watch the following video for checking if RAM is in Dual Channel mode or not:
Checking with HWinfo64
HWiNFO64 is another program you can use to get the hardware details of your PC. Just like CPU-Z, HWiNFO64 also has a portable version.
To download the installers, click here.
Open the program once it finishes installing. Unlike CPU-Z, HWiNFO64 seems a bit daunting to use at first because it throws a lot of information at you upon starting up.
Simply in the Motherboard section look for the field named “Mode.” If it shows “dual-channel”, unlike our laptop, you’re good to go!
Checking the RAM Sticks Physically
You can also open up your PC and check the slots occupied by the RAM. If you have an older motherboard, then chances are that it may have color-coded RAM slots to help you place the memory.
For example, if the motherboard you’re using has 4 RAM slots, slots 1 and 3 will be of the same color, whereas slots 2 and 4 will be of another color.
If you have two RAM sticks and a motherboard like the one pictured above, placing both sticks in the same colored slots will set your RAM to work in a dual-channel mode.
Placing the two sticks in different colored slots will not only cause your RAM to run in a single-channel mode but can also potentially downclock your RAM.
So which slots should you fill first? Well, that depends on the motherboard you have.
Check the instructional manual to see the order in which the slots should be filled. You can find manuals for the commonly used motherboards here.
Let’s say you’re using a relatively modern motherboard and it does not have any colored slots – most modern motherboard have all black colored RAM slots for aesthetic appeal.
In that case, you can play it safe and fill slots 2 and 4 first. Not only will the RAM run in dual-channel, but it will also probably be in the correct order.
How Much of a Difference Does Dual-Channel Config Make in Gaming?
Well, repeated tests show that dual-channel memory does indeed make a difference.
I am going to reference here a study conducted by Testing Games YouTube Channel. They tested several games on the following specifications:
- Intel i7 8700k 3.7Ghz
- Asus ROG Strix Z390-F Gaming
- RTX 2080 8Gb
- 16 GB DDR4 3200 MHz RAM
Let’s take Battlefield V as an example. *Test rig specifications:
The average FPS on dual-channel memory was 162 whereas, on single-channel memory, they tested a measly 143.
Hence you can see a fair amount of FPS improvement here.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider showed a similar story, clocking at around 132 FPS on the dual-channel configuration. A substantial difference over single-channel config which struggled around 104 FPS.
The pattern remained similar to other games such as Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Batman: Arkham Knight and Star Wars: Battlefront.
It is safe to say dual-channel RAM does help you squeeze out more performance. Most modern motherboards support dual-channel RAM setups so there is no reason to use your RAM in a single-channel mode.
Also Read: How to Check RAM Type in Windows 10?
Why Does RAM Come in Kits
If you’ve bought RAM recently, you might’ve noticed that it comes in kits or bundles. This is to ensure maximum compatibility across your PC and to give you access to dual channel mode.
You don’t want to mix and match RAM of different frequencies as all the RAM sticks will be downclocked to the lowest common denominator.
You don’t want your shiny new 3600 MHz RAM running at a measly 2600 MHz, now do you?
It is generally a good idea to use RAM of the same frequencies and manufacturer.
Of course, you cannot mix DDR3 and DDR4 RAM as they are built for different slots, but often times novice PC builders mix different RAM models and end up with a PC that performs sub-optimally.
These days, it is often cheaper to buy two 8 GB sticks than a single 16 GB stick so you might as well utilize dual-channel configurations.
Some motherboards also support triple-channel, quad channel configs, or even higher channel memory. These are often reserved for servers or workstation though.
Also Read: What to Do After Upgrading RAM?
Summing It Up
This article should have given you a good insight into why it is a good idea to learn how to check if RAM is dual channel.
Dual channel mode gives your PC a very noticeable performance boost. So, if you’re going to build a PC, make sure you install the RAM correctly, and while you are at, make sure you always get your RAM sticks in pair.