Best Designed RAM
- G.Skill Trident Z Royal
Best Performance RAM
- HyperX Predator DDR4
Best Budget RAM
- HyperX Fury RGB
All computers need RAM in order to run. As fast as modern SSDs are, they can’t provide data to a CPU fast enough to keep them fed. Theoretically, this would result either in the CPU sitting idle waiting for data, or just outright crashing, however, things don’t even get that far as RAM is actually required. A computer with no RAM will fail its POST checks and won’t even get to the BIOS.
The absolute bare minimum RAM requirement for a 64-bit version of Windows 10 is 2GB, but good luck doing anything with that. Even with 4GB of RAM, Windows is hard to use, requiring you to close programs rather than leaving them open in the background. For normal basic usage, 8GB of RAM is fine, but if you’re a gamer, then you should aim for 16GB as this will give you plenty of space for games and background programs such as Discord or Chrome.
For most users 32GB of RAM, or more, is generally overkill, but it can be useful for workstations, as some tasks, such as virtual machines, can be very RAM intensive. For most users, though, you’d be paying more for hardware that you’d never make use of.
Once you’ve decided how much RAM you want you then ned to decide what RAM. The main factors that you should consider are:
- What your motherboard and CPU support
- Number of DIMMs
- CAS Latency
Not all CPUs or motherboards support high speed RAM, and smaller motherboards typically don’t offer as many RAM slots either. This is especially important to check with non K or X series Intel CPUs, as Intel chose to limit the supported RAM speeds to 2933MHz or even 2666MHz. Even if you buy the fastest RAM available, those CPUs can only ever use it at those slower speeds, so you might as well save some money and get a cheaper package, and potentially upgrade the capacity.
Motherboards obviously have limits on how many RAM sticks, or DIMMs, they can take. Many small form factor boards limit this to 4 or even 2 slots, while full size boards can often have 8. Check how many sticks of RAM you can use before buying a set of four and realising you can’t use half of it. Additionally, check that your motherboard takes DDR4 rather than DDR3 RAM as they are not physically compatible, despite looking very similar.
The Frequency of RAM denotes how often it can transmit data, and so faster is obviously better. It’s not that simple though, ultra-high-speed RAM kits don’t always work easily or reliably, and often don’t provide scaling performance increases. On AMD platforms, the ideal speed is often 3200MHz, though if you have a Zen3 CPU, 3600MHz is also generally reliable. On Intel CPUs the performance gains are slightly more consistent the higher you go.
CL or CAS Latency describes the number of clock cycles between a read request being submitted to the RAM and the moment the data is available. Lower numbers are better but remember that as this is related to clock speed, you can expect higher numbers with faster RAM and still get better performance. A lower CAS latency will generally give a small performance boost on either CPU platform.
It’s also important to make sure that all your RAM is identical. You should never use two different RAM kits from two different venders or mix two different products from a single vendor. Ideally, you shouldn’t even mix two different kits from a single product line, as the exact memory modules or controllers used can change over their lifespan. You should only use a single kit at a time, or if you need more than is included in a single kit, you should buy multiple kits at the same time to ensure the parts are the same.
One final key thing to remember is that most of these configurations will need to be manually enabled in the BIOS as they are non-standard set with an XMP profile. On many computers you’ll be able to just select the XMP profile in the BIOS and continue but on some, you may need to manually enter the configurations. If you don’t do this, you can be left with standard performance RAM, so make sue to double check that your RAM is operating at peak performance when you install it.
Now you hopefully know a little more about RAM and its performance, here are our recommendations for the best RAM in 2021.
- Large heat sink
- Addressable RGB lighting
- Mirrored finish
- 3200 – 4000MHz
- CL14 – CL18
- 2x8GB – 2x32GB
The Teamgroup T-Force Xtreem ARGB RAM has a cool aesthetic with the split appearance heat sink. The inside of the heat sink is mirrored to give the addressable RGB lighting a larger effect. The Xtreem RGB RAM is available in capacities between 16 and 64GB across two sticks. The RAM is available at 3200, 3600, and 4000MHz speeds in a variety of timing combinations ranging from CL14 to CL18.
The addressable RGB lighting can be managed by a wide selection of branded RGB configuration software, so most users won’t need to download yet another management program. One of the few potential downsides of this RAM is that the heat sink could interfere with some CPU coolers as it is quite tall.
- Good low-profile heat sink
- Addressable RGB
- HyperX is known for reliability and quality
- 2400 – 3733MHz
- CL15 – CL19
- 1, 2, & 4x 8, 16, & 32GB
The HyperX Fury RGB RAM is available at speeds between 2400 and 3733MHz. Across those speeds, you can get CAS latencies of between 15 and 19. Each speed is available in single-, dual-, or quad-stick kits and in capacities of 8, 16, or 32GB per stick. That means you can get 128GB of 3733MHz RAM in four sticks, although that will set you back a fair amount of money. As RAM goes this is well priced but 128GB will cost a lot.
The RGB strip along the top can be configured by HyperX’s own software, or with a selection of other RGB configuration software. An otherwise identical set is available without RGB lighting and costs slightly less. The heat sink is only available in black, however, so if you’re aiming for a specific colour themed build, this might not work for you.
- Double capacity 32GB DIMMs
- Striking design
- Addressable RGB
- 3000MHz – 3200MHz
The G.Skill Trident Z RGB DC RAM is a bit of an oddity with a relatively small use case. The DC in the name stands for “double capacity” which indicates that the DIMMs actually have twice the memory modules of normal DIMMs, which makes them taller. This increase also requires changes to motherboards to add support, so they’re only supported on three motherboards at the time of writing.
All three motherboards only have a pair of RAM slots, although only one is a small form factor design. But the double capacity means that these dual-slot boards can now have 64GB of RAM. While this is a plus, it’s likely a niche market that wants a small form factor PC with a lot of RAM. Performance is perfectly reasonable for 3200MHz RAM. The main issue is these will likely have to be combined with a liquid CPU cooler as they are literally twice the height of normal RAM sticks and will interfere with most air coolers.
- Joint fastest memory available at 5333MHz
- 32GB sticks without requiring double capacity
- Kits up to 128GB
- 2666 – 5333MHz
- CL13 – CL20
- 1, 2, 4 & 8x 8, 16, 32GB
The HyperX Predator DDR4 RAM range features the fastest RAM available, clocked at 5333MHz. this does come at an eyewatering price premium, however, of $1245 for a pair of 8GB sticks. Prices are much more reasonable further down the product stack, with the big jump in price coming between the 4266 and 4600MHz 8GB sticks.
This range doesn’t include any RGB lighting, a similar branch does, but that currently maxes out at 4000MHz. it’s possible to get a 4 pack of 32GB 3200MHz DIMMS or an 8 pack of 8GB 3000MHz DIMMS for a max kit size of 128GB. The RAM timings are pretty solid, and the HyperX brand is recognised as being reliable and of high quality. As of writing, the latest and fastest versions are only available directly from HyperX.
- Crystalline RGB diffuser
- Joint fastest memory available at 5333MHz
- 256GB kit with 8x32GB sticks
- 2666 – 5333MHz
- CL14 – CL22
- 2, 4 & 8x 8, 16, 32GB
The G.Skill Trident Z Royal features a striking mirrored heat sink with a crystalline RGB diffuser. The styling will divide people with some finding it gorgeous and others gaudy. The kits are available at speeds up to the same 5333MHz as the HyperX Predator RAM, just with slightly looser timings.
G.Skill doesn’t directly sell their products, or publish prices, it can be a little difficult to find a specific variant and it can be hard to tell if you’re getting a good deal. A new “Elite” version is due for release in mid-2021 which features the same speeds and capacities of the high-end variants but changes the heat sink to a chiselled crystalline design rather than a single flat sheet.
That’s our list of the best RAM in 2021. Have you bought any of these, what was your experience? Have you had good or bad experiences with RAM brands?