Every plugged hardware or device onto the PC that is not part of the rear I/O often requires some sort of compatible software that would allow it to run. GPUs need graphics drivers, CPUs need the correct BIOS, and primary storage drives require an installed operating system. But, what does RAM need? Does RAM need drivers?
Thankfully for RAM, no drivers or anything similar is strictly required. You have the traditional QVL list as an initial compatibility guide. But nowadays, this works only as a baseline. Any RAM should work on a motherboard so long as it is the correct DDR version.
If that’s the case, then why do some RAM modules not work even with the correct DDR version? Is there anything else to do aside from installing drivers after plugging new RAM? All other related RAM setup questions and their answers are below.
Do You Need Drivers to Install RAM?
RAM doesn’t require specific drivers to work on a system. In fact, no software is made to run on RAM alone, because it is essentially a supporting component for the PC. The storage drive provides whatever temporary data is requested and saves it onto RAM. This is then quickly fetched by the CPU as it processes instructions.
Drivers are a set of files that instructs connected hardware on how to communicate with the operating system. Because RAM only acts as a volatile, secondary data storage medium, there is no specific operation that needs to be communicated. In other words, it only “reads” information to other components that would directly process the instructions and calculations.
Can You Just Add RAM to your PC?
When you plug and install new (compatible) RAM, any modern PC should automatically detect them, and also adjust itself automatically based on their configuration. If the PC has an installed operating system, and none of the RAM sticks are faulty, it would then continue booting as normal.
On normal configurations, this goes the same regardless of whether you are populating empty DIMM slots, or removing old RAM and installing new ones with higher capacity. However, there could be a few complications that might cause issues to the system:
- Adding just a third stick instead of populating all four DIMM slots. If the previous configuration was on two RAM modules, then simply adding a third one might knock the system out of its dual-channel configuration. Or it might run on Flex memory mode. Either way, it will eventually revert back to a single-channel configuration, halving the available memory bandwidth of the system.
- Adding RAM with different capacities. Flex memory mode also kicks in when memory capacity fills up the smaller modules plus the equivalent capacity on the biggest module. For example, when a 4GB stick is filled up, plus 4GB more on an 8GB stick. When this happens, the system again reverts back to single-channel, slowing down the PC.
- Adding four individual sticks of RAM with very different configurations. The system will typically choose the slowest RAM, and then adjust the rest to match that lowest value. On rare occasions, however, the differences might be too great that it causes inherent instabilities, and might not even allow the system to boot in the first place.
- Using four RAM sticks together in general. If you are using more lenient frequencies and timings, there shouldn’t be any problem. But if you are using dual-rank RAM, for example, or using a lower binned CPU, you might need to tune the settings down just a tiny bit to allow the system to run.
What to do After Installing New RAM?
Instead of checking for (non-existent) drivers, you should simply provide a basic configuration for the new RAM. Here’s a standard checklist of the things that you should do:
1. Check if the RAM is Detected
Go to the BIOS menu of your motherboard (usually by holding “Delete” as you turn on the computer), and check the number of modules and capacity. If something doesn’t add up, turn the system off, and try reseating the RAM modules. If this doesn’t work even after a couple of tries, it might be safe to assume that one or more of your modules could be faulty.
Alternatively, you can also use the “This PC” window or Task Manager to check if your RAM modules are detected. On the File Explorer window, right-click on “This PC”, then click Properties. For Task Manager, press Ctrl + Shift + ESC on your keyboard, click on the Performance tab, then click on the Memory menu. If both methods show the same RAM capacity as you intended to install, then you’re all set.
2. Set the Proper Frequencies and Timings
Freshly installed RAM would often run at its basic DDR settings on first use. So after plugging in new RAM modules, make sure that you go into BIOS first, and check if the RAM is running at its advertised speeds. If not, either select a pre-configured XMP setting, or manually change the frequency settings on the related memory menu of the BIOS.
Please note that the BIOS layout is different depending on the motherboard manufacturer. Refer to the instruction manual of your motherboard if you cannot intuitively navigate its menus.
3. Check if the RAM is Running in Dual-Channel
To manually check, look at the DIMM slots of your motherboard. If the RAM is installed on alternate slots with one empty slot between, or the color of the DIMM slots is matched, then it is most likely in dual-channel. Not applicable for motherboards with only two DIMM slots, of course (since it’s already paired for dual-channel).
For internal confirmation, you need general-purpose monitoring or diagnostic software. We recommend using either HWiNFO64 or CPU-Z for this.
- For HWiNFO64, run the software in Summary-only mode, and check the motherboard section. Under it should be the memory subsection. Check if the “Mode” information says Dual-Channel.
- For CPU-Z, click on the Memory tab, and check the “Channel #” information. If it says Dual, then it is in dual-channel.
Take note that the DRAM frequency might show a different value when checking both software’s respective memory menus. Don’t be alarmed; this is just the base value. Multiply it by two and you should get the actual value of your memory frequency (DDR = Double Data Rate).
Also, this part is just more of a confirmation check than anything. Since if the capacity and number of modules check out to what you installed (step 1), then it should automatically run in dual-channel.
4. Benchmark Your RAM (Optional)
Lastly, you can test the stability of your RAM by putting it under artificial stress loads. The most typical software used for this would be MaxxMEM2 or Aida64. This is purely optional, however, and only for enthusiasts who want to tweak their PC components to the optimal limits.
Why Is Your Computer Running Slower with New RAM?
There could be a number of factors, namely:
- You forgot to set frequencies and timings. The RAM might still be running at its basic DDR rate without modifications. This still occasionally happens to the best of us, you don’t have to worry too much about it.
- The PC is running at the edge of stability. This slowness has more to do with the boot speed than actually using the OS or launching programs. The computer might be attempting to do multiple RAM training cycles in an attempt to find a stable configuration. Reset to basic DDR settings and see if the problem persists. If the issue goes away, try a configuration slightly lower than the last known unstable setting.
- Latency timings might be off. Stutters might be caused by CAS latency inconsistencies with one or more of your RAM. This is usually caused by adding a different second module on what had been a single-channel setup before. Incidentally, the simplest way to circumvent this is to use an available XMP profile (if your RAM has any), which automatically syncs all RAM to one frequency and set of timings.
- BIOS might be causing weird issues. Check at the motherboard’s official support page if there is an urgent BIOS update related to serious memory compatibility updates. That being said, unless the problem is serious enough and the BIOS update is comprehensive enough, we DO NOT recommend updating the motherboard BIOS if the system is already booting properly in the first place.
- One of the RAM might be a bad stick. Check each RAM individually for issues. Try booting first with one and the other stick to see if they are working.
- RAM might not be seated properly. This is most likely not the issue (given that the PC boots and shows the proper RAM capacity), but it’s worth the try. At least you can cross out one potential cause on the checklist.