questionswhat's the best ram configuration: 4gb @ 800mhz…

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The more ram you have has been shown to improve performance greater than the speed of the ram.

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Are you running a 64 bit operating system? If not, then it will cap you out at about 4 gigs anyway -- if you are, then you can run more.

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@capguncowboy: Yes. I'm running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. I have an AMD Athlon X2 64 6000+ processor running on an Abit KN9 NForce2 Ultra motherboard. The RAM I have is:

2 x 1GB GEIL PC2-6400 (CL4 @ 533MHz, CL5 @ 667/800MHz)
2 x 2GB PC2-6400 from Best Buy [I had gift cards] (CL4 @ 533MHz, CL5 @ 667MHz, CL6 @ 800MHz)

Running all at stock voltages and stock timings.

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Both sets of ram are rated to run at 800 Mhz, so unless your mobo is at fault, you should have no problem running both at 800 Mhz. What mobo do you have?

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@quengilar: I stated in my last post that I have an Abit KN9 NForce2 Ultra motherboard.

I've actually seen several forum posts online about people who are having my similar problem, but I've never found a solution from them.

example:
http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/254513-30-6400-800mhz-running-5300-667mhz

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Have you changed the order of the pairs of RAM?..
Example: remove the 1 Gig sticks and place the 2 Gig sticks in those slots, then place the 1 Gig sticks in the remaining 2 slots...

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Sounds like a mobo issue, but the quantity of RAM matters a bit more than the difference between 667MHz and 800MHz RAM.
By the way, CL5/6 @ 667/800MHz is DDR2 speeds. If you're building a new computer, you will need DDR3 RAM. Your current RAM will not be compatible.

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@hobbitss: I have not done this, as I don't believe that the slots are specified to a specific timing as verified in the BIOS. Thank you for the suggestion, though.

@stryker4526: I should have been a little clearer when I said "new computer" earlier - it is not new. I am putting it together from various parts of other computers in my graveyard. The motherboard that I am using for the "new" computer is an old HP Media Center PC, and it does indeed support only DDR2 RAM, not DDR3. Someday I'll build my i7-2600k system, but for now I'm trudging through with what I have.

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Also, as for quantity of RAM vs. difference in speed, could someone please explain that a little more? I understand the difference between going from 1GB of RAM to 4GB on a Windows 7 machine. After all, running the OS alone can use nearly 1GB of RAM, and when that gets full, the machine hits the swap file and slows down. But once I have 4GB, I don't seem to go above that often, as verified by the "Available" Physical memory in the Performance tab of Task Manager.

For example, on my machine, even if I have five flash-intensive tabs open in Internet Explorer, plus Lightroom with a catalog open, plus Photoshop with ten RAW files open that are each 12MB+, plus running some mildly intensive actions in a batch on those ten items, my Available Physical Memory barely drops below 2GB, which I think means that I'm using only 4GB of my 6GB even with that torture test. Usually, my usage isn't even close to that intensive.

So shouldn't I go for 4GB at its fastest instead of having an extra 2GB?

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@sirlouie:
There should be a way to manually set the RAM timings in BIOS for each stick and make it all happy.
If that doesn't work, I would place my vote for faster RAM over size. Size tends to only be useful if you use it. The extra 2GB would only be useful if you were already utilizing 4, which it seems like you aren't. The one advantage that you will see with more RAM is that the system can prefetch more (basically the OS will look at the programs used frequently and sort of load them into the memory so that it is there if you choose to run it).

But I would also say test it both ways and see what's faster

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@sirlouie: There's more than one duck in this pond.
The system defaults to the lowest denominator.
ie: If you put two drives on one IDE cable, that bus can't run faster than the slowest drive. Another performance hit? Put your IDE HDD on the CD cable. If those RAM sticks won't run faster than 667, odds are the other two won't either. Tho most times RAM can take a little overclock- synch both channels to 800 in bios, and see what that does.
Don't mix and match- put the 2gb on one set, the 1gb on the second.
Try a memory checker. Pull one pair and test what you have. Replace them, retest. Add all four, retest again.
And as for size and performance, heck ya size matters! Sometimes it's the "spikes" that get you. I have a 650 watt power supply- my PC doesn't use 650 watts, but for spikes and surges there's plenty of room.
Maybe you're "idling", with four applications open, at 2 or 3 gb; but if you're batching 200 pix in Photoshop, playing games and downloading- you need that RAM!