Computer memory is a big deal for anyone looking to buy a new desktop PC for work or gaming. The system needs the capacity to store information and retrieve it whenever you need it elsewhere for another task, so all processes are not loading from scratch every single time (Random Access Memory – RAM).
Nowadays, the minimum temporary storage you’d find on a PC is 4GB. However, when you pick the next motherboard for your prebuilt or custom desktop, you have to ensure that there is enough capacity for all the RAM you’re going to need.
In this article, we’ll highlight some of the standards you should consider in primary and secondary memory for motherboards and some notable examples you can consider, as well as explain how motherboard memory slots work.
Motherboard Memory Composition
Generally, you’ll need primary and secondary memory for your motherboard, and each of them has its unique specifications. You must ensure that both have the necessary speeds and architecture to make the desktop PC you need.
Primary Storage (RAM)
Random Access Memory allows the system to keep data and information when you power on your PC so that all files do not need to be loaded again every time you need them, but can be temporarily stored in RAM and called upon when needed. 4GB should be the minimum RAM count on any modern laptop nowadays. Still, you should start considering options starting from 8GB if you’re a light PC user, and really, 16GB for gamers. Heavier workflows should find 16GB of RAM adequate for the most part, and you can increase the RAM up to 32GB or 64GB depending on your specific needs. The exciting part about RAM upgrades is that most motherboards allow you to do it, so you don’t have to worry about being looked in from the start.
Modern motherboards use slots to accept more RAM modules when you need them. These slots have names similar to the memory module they support. For instance, the most common motherboard memory slot you can get is the DIMM (Dual Inline Memory Module).
DIMMs have variable slot numbers, determining how many RAM modules you can add. Typically, you can find 4 to 8 slots per motherboard DIMM. You can set all the slots up in a matched pair of RAM modules for the best output.
Furthermore, DIMM slots can take a total maximum RAM of 128GB. Expectedly, filling up the slots with 128GB can be pricey and only needed for server duties and other intensive networking projects. Therefore, 8-64GB is the average operation range for consumer PCs, with 16-32GB likely perfect for most casual users and occasional gamers.
If you’re looking to buy RAM for your motherboard, you may have to get multiple DIMMs in certain scenarios. For instance, you’ll need 2 DIMM slots of 4GB RAM to have 8GB or 4 DIMM slots of 4GB for 16GB RAM. Therefore, it bears mentioning that you should go for a motherboard with enough DIMM slots to hold the number of RAM modules you intend to add in the future.
The last part of a DIMM RAM motherboard port, is the version that it is. DDR4 is the most common one out there, with DDR5 slowly but surely rolling out since its launch in November 2021. For more information about the intricacies and advantages of DDR5 vs. DDR4, read this article by PCMag.
Secondary storage handles all the information your PC needs to store for more time than a RAM would, even when the system is off. These are essentially the computer’s actual storage for applications and files.
Generally, secondary storages live directly on the motherboard or connects to it externally via connectors. Below are the two main storage types we currently have:
HDDs are large secondary storage types that are within the computer itself. They utilize spinning drums to read and write data into memory. A turntable record player would give you an idea of how HDDs work, as there is a spinning drum and an arm to write on it.
HDDs have been around for a long time, and the industry considers them to be legacy memory types. They have limited read and write speeds but are much cheaper than anything else on the market.
SSDs are an improvement over HDDs. They have a much smaller footprint and faster operating time (read and write speeds). As the name implies, SSDs exist in a solid-state (in their separate encasing), away from the computer itself. Instead of using magnetic drums and needle arm readers, an SSD uses a smaller and faster-integrated circuit system.
Furthermore, SSDs often are much smaller than HDDs, making the overall motherboard footprint smaller as well. They are also blisteringly fast, reaching read and write speeds eclipsing HDDs.
Overall, HDDs are cheaper than SSDs; however, it may interest you to know that SSDs are becoming cheaper due to their popularity and technological advancements. Picking between an HDD and an SSD is a personal choice, but many PC builds opt for both; with a larger HDD for large and infrequently-used files, and the SSD for files they use more often such as system launch files.
Motherboard Memory Connections
If you’re looking to include custom and modular memory in your motherboard, it’s essential to get the right storage connections you might need. Below are the major storage connections to note:
ATA stands for Advanced Technology Attachment. It’s a secondary storage protocol that allows the computer to access secondary memory without the need for a controller. It supports speeds up to 32 bits per second, which is abysmally slow by today’s standards. SATA has since replaced ATA.
SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) is one of the most common memory connections you can find at the moment. It’s in its third revision, delivering speeds of up to 6GBps. You can have SATA connections on HDD or SSD storage type.
NVMe is a fairly new storage connection type. It works by connecting directly to a PCIe port, which makes for much faster read and write speeds compared to SATA. You either have NVMe storage as a card that plugs into the motherboard or smaller chips that fit into an existing m2 connection.
Choosing the right memory options for your motherboard is crucial for building your PC. But, first, you’ll have to consider the connection types and memory sizes that your motherboard ports can support.
Please remember that RAM management and upgrades on your motherboard depend on the number of ports the DIMM modules have. Therefore, it’s good practice to leave some ports unused for quick and seamless upgrades in the future.
This article aims to give you a better idea about setting up your RAM memory configurations the right way, while helping you choose between an HDD and SSD by settling for the read and write speed you need for your use case.
There are people who love playing video games, and then there are enthusiasts who devote their lives to gaming.
Corey has been playing games since The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy III were still young.
Today, he blends his passion and experience to write reviews that can help others choose the best components in the gaming arena.