If you’re building a new PC or upgrading from your old one, a question may arise in your mind concerning the system’s memory: Can you mix RAM brands? This is a common question that many people building PCs for the first time or upgrading from an existing one ponder their heads on as it’s crucial to know whether you need to buy new RAM or you can use your current RAM sticks in combination with other ones. The short answer would be that yes, you can mix and match different types of RAM whether they differ by frequency, voltage, or brand.
But that’s not all; the entire process of mixing and matching RAM modules can prove to be quite problematic as it depends on several factors such as the RAM modules’ compatibility and how much performance loss you can afford, as well as many other issues regarding mixing and matching RAM modules. This is an age-old debate that has many tech enthusiasts scratching their heads over, but a good rule of thumb is not to mix up different memory brands because it reduces performance and may even cause your PC to crash. But that’s just the easy answer, there’s more to it than that. So if you’re having doubts and there are questions in your mind such as: Can you mix RAM sticks? Can you mix DDR3 and DDR4 RAM? Can you mix different RAM sticks differing in specs? We’ll answer all those questions are more in this article.
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Mixing & Matching Different RAM Brands
Suppose you found yourself an elegant deal to double up your existing memory and boost your PC’s performance. But your current RAM and the one you want to buy differ in the company they’re being manufactured from. Now you’ve read online that you shouldn’t mix up RAM modules, and it affects the performance and causes systems to crash. But how bad is it? That’s what we’re finding out in this section.
Can You Mix RAM Sticks?
To clear it up, yes, you can use RAM modules with different brand names in conjunction with other modules of the same type. Contrary to popular opinions, mixing up two memory modules is primarily fine for various brands and labels. You can’t get a DDR4 RAM stick to work with a DDR3 or DDR2 module, but running it with the same DDR4 RAM under a different label will give some interesting results. The newer DDR4 and DDR5 RAM modules that are faster and more compatible with other titles will work with excellent synchronization even when mixing brands.
These RAM modules under four gigs will run with excellent compatibility with the different labels on most motherboards. The performance difference is nearly non-existent, but the difference increases as you move up the RAM modules’ size. You still might encounter some problems with DDR3 RAM modules as those may have some compatibility issues and loss in performance. The same is true with DDR1 and DDR2 RAM modules because they’re much older.
What Happens When You Mix and Match RAM Brands?
Let’s say that your existing memory is a very slow DDR4 module with the lowest frequency, subpar CAS Latency, and extended timings. The one you found in that deal is a much faster DDR4 module with a higher frequency, CAS Latency, and tighter timings. If you want to run them together for whatever reason, you must know that you’ll be compromising the speed of the better DDR4 module by pairing it up with the slower ones. This means that the memory of the smaller DDR4 RAM has a higher priority and will dictate your PC’s overall memory speed.
That’s a problem because you’re paying more on the better DDR4 module and getting mediocre results without getting the full benefits of what you paid for. You can’t have two different RAM sticks running at two different frequencies with two different latencies as that would lead to many compatibility issues. Also, you can run both memories in the dual-channel, but again, you will be compromising the faster memory for the slower one no matter what channel you use. Moreover, you should ensure that when you’re matching RAM modules of the same label, they have the same voltage, frequencies, and latency.
All RAM manufacturers Corsair, Fujitsu, Arch Memory, and more develop their RAM modules according to different designs and structures. RAM kits consist of RAM sticks that the manufacturer test to work synchronously together. This is why everyone recommends them, and it’s hard to make them run in conjunction with RAM modules of other systems. It is also worth noting that the more slots occupied by the mixed-up RAM modules affect the overall compatibility. Generally, two places are fine for mixing up RAM modules of different brands, but it gets complicated with more spaces and affects the performance in the wrong way.
Should You Mix and Match RAM Brands?
While yes, you could mix and match RAM modules of different brands, it’s not recommended because it may cause unforeseen problems and slow performance. While the newer DDR4 and DDR5 RAM modules are much more compatible with different brands, they’re still much behind RAM modules of the same brand. It is always recommended to buy RAM kits and RAM modules of the same brand to get maximum performance and compatibility. It will make your life much easier as you won’t have to waste time comparing specs and other stuff only to get mediocre performance in the end. However, if you still have to mix RAM brands, try to get the specifications as close as possible. With CAS Latency, speed and timings are the most important factors to consider with mixing memory.
Criteria For Consideration When Mixing RAM Brands
When mixing and matching different RAM brands, you should always make sure that the factors listed here are as close as possible between your existing RAM and the new RAM you want to buy. Doing so will help with minimizing performance loss and BIOS errors that might hinder your system’s performance.
If you’re wondering if you could mix up your older RAM with a newer module that differs from the DDR generations, you’d be disappointed. This is just physically not possible. You can’t mix RAM modules of different DDR generations as each of the five generations of RAM modules consist of other physical characteristics. For example, if your PC uses DDR2 memory, you can’t run a DDR3 module on one of its free slots. These have different slots designed to run them. A motherboard supporting DDR2 memory will have a DDR2 slot, so you can’t attach a DDR3 module to it. Each motherboard has a specific memory type that it’s designed for.
DDR RAM modules began manufacturing in the 1990s, and we have since seen five different generations of DDR RAM modules, the fastest one being DDR5 RAM. As every generation of DDR memory is different in terms of the physical number of pins and size of pins, motherboards are designed to be compatible with only one generation of DDR memory, and that is why you can’t mix different generations/types of DDR memory.
All DDR RAM types are not backward compatible, so you won’t find any DDR5 RAM modules compatible with DDR4 ones. So you will need a new motherboard to fit DDR5 RAM modules into their slots, and you can’t put them in DDR4 slots. Doing so will cause the system to crash, or it won’t even start. You should always make sure that the RAM you want to buy is compatible with your motherboard or not. If not, you can’t make it run on your system and need to buy a new motherboard.
Another question that has a close relation to this topic is concerning the RAM modules’ sizes. The storage capacity of a RAM module is called its size. You might be wondering if you can mix different-sized modules of RAM modules. For whatever reason, you have to mix an 8 GB RAM stick with a 4 GB one. While you could do that and get 12 GB of overall system memory, you would still be compromising the performance and risk compatibility issues. It could happen or not, but there are some cases where users run into BIOS problems related to memory after mixing and matching different RAM sizes. That’s why it is never recommended to mix up RAM sizes.
Again, you can still use RAM modules of different sizes if you have to upgrade, but most experts would suggest you not to, as you’re compromising a great deal of performance and raising other problems. Firstly, your system will not utilize the flex mode or dual-channel mode, the fastest channel for transfer between the CPU and system memory, because it only works with the same sized RAM. The system will only use up to half of the larger-sized module’s overall storage capacity when you pair it with the smaller-sized modules. This means that half of the memory of the larger-sized RAM will work in dual channel mode and the entire memory of the smaller-sized RAM, while the rest will work in a single-channel way.
This will limit the capabilities of your higher-end and pricier modules if you do heavy and demanding work on your PC, such as gaming, rendering, editing, exporting, and more. However, there will be a much smaller difference in performance if you don’t put heavy loads on your PC and use it for everyday tasks like browsing.
Lastly, we should mention that it is always recommended to use RAM modules with the same memory storage capacity or size. This prevents problems regarding slow performance and BIOS compatibility issues. You are much more likely to have better performance with RAM modules with the same storage capacity but if you must mix RAM sizes, then try to make sure that other factors are as close as possible between the two modules.
As all RAM modules run on electricity, the power consumed by them is called the voltage. The voltage of different RAM modules varies with each brand and module. For example, DDR4 memories require 1.2 V of voltage, whereas DDR3 RAM uses up 1.5 V. Of course, there are variations depending on the brand and manufacturer of the RAM modules. When you mix memories of different brands and voltages, the RAM with the smaller voltage is given more priority.
For example, when you use a minor power requiring module of RAM with a better RAM module that’s more power-hungry and requires more voltage, it will not receive its total share of power. This means that the more power requiring RAM module will not be able to work up to its full potential because of the slower module. The motherboard will automatically assign lower voltage to the better module because it needs to work with the slower module. As you can see, it will limit the higher-performing and pricier RAM capabilities, and it’s really not worth the trouble.
Like we’ve said before, when comparing different brands, make sure there isn’t a big difference in the voltages of two RAM modules as that would limit the capabilities of the better module/s of RAM. The RAM will still work fine, and the system probably won’t crash, but the performance and stability won’t be near what you would be getting with the same RAM brands.
The rate of cycles that a RAM can perform is called its frequency or speed. When mixing up two modules or two different kits of different brands, the issue of mixing up different RAM frequencies automatically pops up. While mixing up RAM frequencies is possible, it is never recommended as you may run into various stability and compatibility issues. Along with that, there would be limitations in the performance of higher-performing RAM.
Again, the faster RAM will be limited because of the slower modules. As you combine RAM modules of two different frequencies, the motherboard will automatically underclock the faster RAM to accommodate the slower RAM and keep it running in dual channel mode. This will limit your system’s performance and won’t allow your higher performance memory to function to its maximum ability. The extra speed with your higher-priced RAM will remain untapped when mixing it with the slower RAM. Although you can overclock your slower RAM, it might cause other lagging and freezing issues on your computer and might even cause your PC to crash.
It would be best to combine the newer models like DDR4 and DDR5 generations as they are more compatible to run with different brands and frequencies together. The smaller the difference in frequencies there is, the less would be the compromise you would be making when comparing two modules of RAM. So mixing RAM modules of the same frequency is better than ones with different ones. But as mixing can always lead to problems, there isn’t a way to completely assure you that you won’t encounter any issues when mixing RAM speeds.
CAS Latency or Column Address Strobe Latency is the time it takes for the system’s memory to address the user’s command and respond to it by calculating and organizing the data that the user asked for. The CAS latency of your RAM is indicated by the number written after the CL value on your RAM’s specifications. CAS Latency is another factor to consider when mixing and matching two different RAM kits or modules of different brands. While not much different from other factors we’ve discussed so far, it is still an important one to consider. Differing CAS Latencies in RAM sticks and kits will lead to many problems and performance loss.
Excuse us for repeating the same points. Again, the CAS latency of the slower module will be favored more by the motherboard, and this will slow down the performance of the better module. As the latency of the faster module will be underclocked to run on dual-channel mode with the slower module, the system’s performance will be affected badly. This will also limit your faster RAM. Along with that, different CAS Latency and timings would cause unforeseen problems on your PC, such as jamming up or crashing, and you may even encounter a BIOS error.
We recommend using the same RAM kits or modules with the same latency and timings so that your memory is fully synchronized and you get optimum performance from your RAM.
The last thing we have on our list to consider when wondering if you can mix RAM brands is the channels of memory transfer. Modern motherboards have different channels to transfer memory between the CPU and the RAM called the dual-channel and single-channel modes. There is also a quad-channel mode that is available on higher-end motherboards. When mixing two different brand types, you should consider the channel these RAM modules would be running on. The dual-channel mode is the fastest method of memory transfer, and that is why it is recommended to run your RAM modules on this channel.
As for running mixed memory on which channel, you’d be disappointed that you can’t run all of your hybrid RAM modules on the dual-channel mode. Instead, when comparing modules of differing sizes, for example, a 2 GB module and a 4GB one, half the size of the 4 GB RAM module would run in single-channel mode, and the rest would be running in dual-channel mode. This will limit the performance by a considerable margin on older DDR generations. There would be a substantial decrease in performance when that portion of RAM running on a dual-channel mode would be running in a single channel one. As dual-channel mode makes modules work in pairs, the ungrouped memory or extra memory will be left to work in single-channel mode and limit your higher-end faster memory.
When mixing 3 x 8 GB RAM sticks, you’ll find them running in the single-channel mode, which is slower and much less efficient than the dual-channel mode. If you don’t mix RAM modules and instead use the same modules or kits, they will run in dual channel mode without extra memory running in a single-channel one. This would deliver the best possible performance on any given system.
If you must mix and match different brands and memory labels, you should always consider the performance loss you’d be getting when running in single-channel mode. The RAM would function fine if you mainly use your PC for light workloads, but for heavy gaming and rendering, the extra RAM working in single-channel mode would compromise a chunk of FPS and time. To prevent that, always use RAM kits and identical RAM modules because they would run in the dual-channel mode and complete all tasks much faster.
You should’ve gotten enough information about the question: Can you mix and match RAM? Let’s review it in this section.
The main takeaway from all this is that you can mix RAM modules whether they differ by brand, speed, size, or other factors, but it will always lead to a performance loss, whether it is small or large. If you are mixing and matching RAM modules that differ in many factors, then it is much more likely you will also run into compatibility and stability issues. Your faster modules of RAM will not work up to their full potential and be limited because of pairing it up with slower RAM. This isn’t what you’d want as those modules are faster and more expensive than your existing/slower modules.
Mixing RAM modules can be dangerous and lead to many stability issues, but that’s why it’s essential to check the various factors of RAM and make a choice carefully. Those factors include storage capacity, voltage, timings, latency, and speed. While it will limit your better-performing RAM and your computer’s performance, mixing RAM modules of differing brands is still acceptable as long as other factors are kept as close as possible. The closer the two RAMs are in these areas, the fewer compatibility issues you’d have to face, and the performance loss will also be minimized.
Lastly, it’s always better to buy your memory packed in a single kit which manufacturers best develop to work in synchronization rather than mixing up different RAM modules. Also, you shouldn’t mix RAM kits either, as that would lead to similar problems mentioned above. Buying identical RAM kits/modules is the best way to get the most out of your RAM and maximize its utilization by your system.