Intelligent Design

Let me talk for a minute about something that makes no sense. To begin this story, I laughed with David Campbell, a good friend and former co-worker about how dumb people must be to put RAM in a computer backwards. You are probably thinking it isn’t possible – it has the notch in the connector… Well, when David did just that, it was all the more funny. That is, until last night. Lets look at memory and intelligent design through the years:

I was born in 1984, so to me, this is the “original” memory. I know it isn’t, but it goes back far enough to illustrate my point:


SIMM modules were a snap, literally. They went into the motherboard at a 45 degree angle, and snapped upright. It took little to no pressure to get them into their proper position. I have highlighted the tab in the center that was merely a reference point to know that you were properly aligned on the slot. What actually determined the correct orientation of the memory is the notch on the far end. This was as clear as day and night.


Next for me came SDRAM, with some significant changes. First of all, the stick was huge, so it was easier to hold, and it went in the board at a perpendicular angle. With two notches, the orientation was still painfully clear, but gone were the days of not using muscle to get your memory seated right. It is a little scary to hear and see the board flex under the pressure of inserting this memory type.

A few years later, a new kind of RAM named DDR came out. It had essentially the same dimensions as its predecessor SDRAM, but was of course, completely backwards incompatible. The two notch gave in favor to a one notch design. The new notch was offset from the center just enough that you had to double-check yourself to make sure that it lined up correctly on the desktop version. Note: Your reference point for the notch is probably the gap in the memory modules in the center right? The notebook version to the right faired much better with a clear offset (and a 45 degree insertion).

DDR2DDR2 Notebook

Lets jump to the present. RAM runs at clock speeds 10 times faster than my first CPU, so it is common to ship them with a pretty heatsink over the memory modules. So what do we have now? Complete confusion. I have no idea which direction the memory goes (actually I do, but I am getting there). A lot of force is needed to snap these things into the motherboard, so the voice in the back of you head that doubts that it is correctly oriented inspires a lot of fear. Even the infallible design of the notebook version is getting worse – look at how that notch is creeping to the center.

So, back to the impossibility of putting memory in backwards. Don’t laugh, because I just did last night. My only indication was a 5 degree rock in the module when I applied pressure, like a see-saw. It was so close, both clips had actually latched into the notches on the sides!

What is my message? To the hardware manufactures, I would like to point out that we are getting worse as technology is progressing. This isn’t how evolution is supposed to work. I am holding out hope that one day, someone with the right position in a company gets to thinking that this is a bad idea, and decides to change it.



  1. Trey says:

    Good point. At least we don’t have this problem with the 34 pin floppy drive cables or hard drive cables anymore thanks to the notch on the side. How many times have you put a floppy cable on backwards? 😛


  2. John says:

    I have to agree. I hate these new designs that create a tight fit on the RAM modules. Those were the good old days when the slots would slowly push the RAM loose as the heat built up over time 😛


  3. Ben Simpson says:

    “How many times have you put a floppy cable on backwards” – Trey

    You don’t even want to know…

    “when the slots would slowly push the RAM loose as the heat built up” – John

    That isn’t a bug, it was a feature. Nothing the good ol’ magic RAM rub wouldn’t fix.


  4. David says:

    At least the floppy if it is a decent cable has a twist on the floppy side. In my defense I was doing a little celebrating when I put that memory in that night and it was a while ago to be exact 🙂
    components are getting more difficult to distinguish the differences between them all. Expecially pins on CPUs and there is no permanant markings or lettering, only pin orientation to tell you what it is.


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