Does RAM Speed Actually Matter?

By Jeff Yabumoto
March 7, 2022

When shopping for RAM, you’ll often see how it’s categorized by MHz. You’ll see things like DDR4 2600, 2800, 3000, and 3200. So what’s the difference, and does the speed of your RAM really matter in your next PC build?

Short answer, yes, but not as much as you think and probably not in the way you think. The majority of guides out there, this one included, will emphasize that the more important factor to pay attention to is how much RAM you have, and whether or not that’s enough for your computing needs.

Where RAM Speed Matters

So if you should worry about RAM capacity rather than speed for most aspects, what are the exceptions? The most important area RAM speed matters is whether or not it’s compatible with your motherboard.

Different motherboards, especially when you switch generations, can handle a different maximum speed of RAM. Some motherboards may only go up to 3000 MHz RAM and so if you buy 3200 MHz RAM you’re wasting your money. Sure, it’ll still work, but your RAM is going to be running at the motherboard maximum rather than the RAM maximum.

For example, take a look at the RAM compatibility for the ASUS ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming motherboard:


You can see the motherboard can handle any DDR4 ram in those frequencies. You can also see that without overclocking, the speeds only go up to 2666 MHz. Just keep motherboard specs in mind when purchasing RAM and looking at the speed you’re purchasing. Purchasing 4000 MHz RAM for that board would be complete overkill if you have no plans to overclock or to push your system to the limit.

Matched Pairs

In addition to making sure your motherboard can actually utilize the RAM, you need to keep an eye on RAM speed when you’re mixing and matching RAM sticks. While most would not recommend mix and matching RAM modules, you technically can. If you do, you want to make sure to buy RAM of the same speed. If you don’t, your RAM is going to throttle down to the lower speed.

What If I Get DDR5?

We are on the verge of switching over to DDR5 from DDR4. Like the previous generations, this will mean an overall speed bump when it comes to RAM speeds. However, RAM speed isn’t going to make a gigantic impact on your gaming experience. In most cases, you’ll get a few more FPS, but for gaming, your CPU and GPU are doing more of the heavy lifting. And you still need to make sure your motherboard can actually use DDR5.

When DDR5 starts to become affordable, it will become a nice upgrade to your system that will help future-proof it for a few years, but even with DDR5, it’s going to be more about the number of gigs of RAM you have, not the speed.

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