Can Your Computer Use Newer, Faster Memory?

It depends on whether the technologies are compatible

Before upgrading your computer's memory, make sure that the RAM you want to use is compatible with your device. Your motherboard's max RAM speed is determined by several factors.

Laptop Memory Modules
Crucial

What to Consider Before Upgrading RAM

If you intend to use a faster memory module in your computer, here's a summary of things to consider before purchasing and installing it:

  • The memory must be of the same standard (DDR3 and DDR4 aren't cross-compatible).
  • The PC must support the amount of RAM you're considering.
  • Unsupported features like ECC must not be present on the module.
  • The memory will only be as fast as the motherboard's limit or as slow as the slowest installed memory module.

There may be additional factors to consider depending on whether you're buying RAM for a desktop or purchasing RAM for a laptop.

Can I Run Faster RAM Than My Motherboard Supports?

The computer's motherboard must support the amount of storage the modules contain. For example, if a system supports memory modules of up to 8 GB, it may not be able to read a 16 GB chip properly. Similarly, if the motherboard doesn't support memory with error correction code (ECC) memory, it can't work with faster modules that use this technology. Check your motherboard's manual or look it up online to see the maximum amount of RAM it supports.

Old vs. New Memory Standards

Older computers may not support newer memory standards. For example, if your computer uses DDR3 and you want to install DDR4, it won't work because these use different clocking technologies that aren't compatible. In the past, there were exceptions to this rule with processors and motherboards that allowed one type or the other to be used within the same system. However, as memory controllers have been built into processors for improved performance, it's no longer possible.

Memory Speed

Faster modules may not always run at faster speeds. When the motherboard or processor can't support the faster memory speed, the modules are clocked at the fastest speed that they can support. For example, a motherboard and CPU that support up to 2133 MHz memory can use 2400 MHz RAM but only run it up to 2133 Mhz.

Installing newer memory modules along with older ones can also cause memory to run slower than expected. If your present computer has a 2133 MHz module installed in it, and you install one rated at 2400 MHz, the system runs the memory at the speed represented by the slower of the two. Thus, the new memory will only work at 2133 MHz, even if the CPU and motherboard support the higher speed.

Availability and Pricing

Why would you want to install faster memory in a system if it will run at a slower speed? As memory technology ages, slower modules may drop out of production, leaving only faster ones available. In some situations, a faster memory module might be less expensive than a slower one. For example, if PC3-10600 DDR3 supplies are tight, you might pay less for a PC3-12800 DDR3 module. Even if you can't reap the full benefits of the newer RAM, your computer will still become faster than it was.