There are plenty of different ways to connect devices to your computer. Wireless communication standards are excellent for networking and peripheral devices, but for the core components of your computer, the latency this entails isn’t good enough. You really want a direct connection to the motherboard for the CPU, SSD, RAM, and GPU. For most of these, you wouldn’t even want a cabled connection, as the length of the wires would affect the peak performance. To get the most out of these devices, motherboards feature connectors directly, with no cables involved.
For RAM and GPUs, the physical connector on the motherboard is called a slot. This is because the connector is thin and long, with a single gap in the center for the RAM to connect to. The other defining feature of a slot connector is that the device it holds sits perpendicular to the motherboard.
RAM slots are carefully designed, along with the RAM they’re designed to be compatible with, to ensure that they’re not physically compatible with other generations of RAM. To this end, the main factor in physical compatibility is the position of the “key.” The key is a cutout from the connector and cut into the slot. In each generation of DDR RAM, the key position has moved. This ensures you can’t plug a DDR3 RAM stick into a DDR4 slot. It also means that RAM sticks can only be plugged into the slot one way around.
The RAM slot offers many electrical connections for the RAM stick. The electrical connectors on each side are distinct electrically, helping to maximize the number of signaling connections for optimum bandwidth.
To ensure that the RAM sticks don’t fall out of the slot while the computer is on, the slot has been designed with a retention mechanism. So that they’re compatible with RAM sticks of all heights, the retention mechanism clips onto the ends of the RAM. The retention mechanism automatically clicks into place when you push the RAM stick in correctly to ensure you don’t forget to clip it in. The two clips must then be manually pushed apart to release the RAM stick.
Motherboards are carefully designed and laid out. RAM slots are always placed as close to the CPU socket as possible. This is to minimize the distance the signals need to propagate. RAM is very latency-sensitive, so shorter connections provide the lowest possible signaling latency. Each of the slots is also carefully wired so that the overall length of the connection is the same to keep everything synced up. This synchronization is vital as RAM works on a clock that ticks millions of times per second.
RAM slots are typically placed to the side of the CPU socket. Most motherboards with one or two RAM slots will have both to the right of the socket. Motherboards with four or eight RAM slots will generally have them split equally into the left and right sides of the CPU socket. Your motherboard manual will typically recommend an order in which to populate the RAM slots. Following that guidance is a good idea, but the computer will be 100% work if you don’t.
Because of how close the RAM slots are to the CPU socket, some CPU coolers can interfere with the actual RAM sticks. Most CPU coolers are designed to at least allow standard-height RAM sticks. Some CPU coolers may interfere with them even if they don’t have heat spreaders, increasing their height.
RAM and other devices have been carefully designed to use connectors that are not physically compatible. It’s impossible to put RAM in a PCIe slot or vice versa. The easiest different device to get mixed up with is the DIMM.2 SSD. This takes a similar form factor and slot to RAM but is an SSD. Again though, DIMM.2 SSDs will not go in RAM slots and vice versa.
RAM slots are long thin connectors located directly to the side of the CPU socket on a motherboard. They are carefully designed only to be physically compatible with the proper generation of RAM. The slots also feature an automatic retention mechanism at either end. Care must be taken to loosen this before removing the RAM. Even the electrical connections between the CPU and RAM are carefully designed to be the same length so that the signal propagation delay is uniform.
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