And old rule every computer enthusiast tries to follow is “the more RAM you have, the better”. Sure, a larger quantity of RAM does not hurt, but is it worth it to spend more on RAM when you are building a gaming computer? Which is the best, to install 4 GiB, 8 GiB, or even 16 GiB? Let’s find out in this gaming performance test.
The RAM (Random Access Memory) is where the computer keeps data and programs while they are being processed. In theory, if the amount of free RAM in the computer is less than the executing program demands, it will not run. However, in the PC architecture, there is a feature called “virtual memory”, where some memory data is temporarily transferred to a storage device (a hard disk, most of the times) to free some RAM.
When the CPU asks for data that was transferred to the storage memory, the data must be reloaded to the RAM and the new, unused data is now transferred to the virtual memory. That swapping reduces the computer performance, because the performance of a hard disk drive (or even of an SSD) is always lower than the RAM performance.[amazon box=”B00DH9I3FA,B07RTZV1Z5″ template=”table”]
When there is free memory, most operating systems use this “idle” memory as a data cache, keeping a copy of the last data read from the storage memory. Because of this, when we open the same program for a second time, it will load way faster than the first time: there is no need to read the data from the disk again, because they are already in the unused RAM.
Because of those two features, the amount of RAM can affect the general performance of the computer; low memory amount can let the computer slow because of the virtual memory usage; a large amount of RAM can speed up the storage performance by using drive cache.
The question we will analyze today is if, in real life, more installed RAM improves a computers gaming performance. In order to answer this question, we ran eight modern games in a gaming computer (we used a near-high-end configuration in order to avoid bottlenecks on the video card or CPU) using 16 GiB, then 8 GiB, and then 4 GiB.
On the tests with 16 GiB we used two 8 GiB modules (in dual channel), on the test with 8 GiB we used two 4 GiB modules (also in dual channel), and in the test with 4 GiB we used a single 4 GiB module (obviously, in single channel) because we had no two 2 GiB modules available at our lab. Besides we were using different memory modules, on all the tests were configured with the same clock speed and latencies.
The fact we ran two tests with memory using dual channel configuration, and the third one with single channel should not influence the performance, as we already proved in our article Does dual-channel memory make difference in gaming performance?
In the next page, we will list the test configuration.
[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]
In our test sessions, we used the configuration listed next. In the two test sessions, the components were the same, and the only difference was the memory configured as single or dual-channel.
- Processor: Core i7-5775C
- Motherboard: ASRock Z97 Extreme4
- CPU cooler: Intel standard
- Memory (16 GiB): DDR3-1866, two 8 GiB G.Skill Sniper F3-1866C10D-16GSR modules, configured at 1,600 MHz, 11-11-11-28 latencies
- Memory (8 GiB): DDR3-2133, two 4 GiB G.Skill RipjawsZ F3-17000CL9Q-16GBZH modules, configured at 1,600 MHz, 11-11-11-28 latencies
- Memory (4 GiB): DDR3-2133, one 4 GiB G.Skill RipjawsZ F3-17000CL9Q-16GBZH module, configured at 1,600 MHz, 11-11-11-28 latencies
- Boot drive: Kingston HyperX Savage 480 GB
- Video card: Zotac GeForce GTX 970 4 GiB
- Video monitor: Philips 236VL
- Power supply: Corsair CX500M
Operating system configuration
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
- Video resolution: 1920 x 1080 60 Hz
- NVIDIA driver version: 355.60
- Intel INF driver version: 10.0
- Battlefield 4
- Dirt Rally
- Dragon Age: Inquisition
- Dying Light
- GTA V
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
- Metro Last Light
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
We adopted a 5% error margin. Thus, differences below 5% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 5% should be considered as having similar gaming performance.
[nextpage title=”Battlefield 4 and Dirt Rally”]
Gaming Performance Test Results
Battlefield 4 is the latest installment in the Battlefield franchise, released in 2013. It is based on the Frostbite 3 engine, which is DirectX 11. In order to measure performance using this game, we walked our way through the first mission, measuring the number of frames per second three times using FRAPS. We ran this game at 1920 x 1080, setting overall image quality at “high.”
In this test, the performance was the same with 4 GiB, 8 GiB, or 16 GiB.
Dirt Rally is an off-road racing game released in April 2015, using Ego engine. To measure performance using this game, we ran the performance test included in the game, in 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) resolution and image quality configured as “high” and 2x MSAA.
In Dirt Rally, the test with 16 GiB has a 10% higher performance compared to the 4 GiB and 8 GiB tests.
[nextpage title=”Dragon Age: Inquisition and Dying Light”]
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the most recent game from the popular action RPG franchise Dragon Age. It was launched in November 2014 and uses the Frostbite 3 engine with SpeedTree.
We ran the game at 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), with all quality options at “high”, measuring three times the framerate with FRAPS.
In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the game ran with similar performance with 4 GiB and 8 GiB, but the framerate with 16 GiB was 16% lower than on the 8 GiB test.
Dying Light is an open-world horror game launched in January 2015, using the Chrome Engine 6. We tested the performance at this game with all quality options at “high”, at 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), measuring three times the framerate using FRAPS.
In this game, the highest performance was with 4 GiB, being 22% higher than the 8 GiB and 11% higher than the 16 GiB test.
[nextpage title=”GTA V and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”]
Grand Theft Auto V, or simply GTA V, is a open-world action game released for PCs in April of 2015, using the RAGE engine. In order to measure the performance on this game, we ran the performance test of the game, measuring the framerate with FRAPS. We ran GTA V at 1920 x 1080, with image quality set to “high”.
On GTA V, the game ran with higher framerate with 4 GiB, being 10% faster than with 16 GiB and 32% faster than with 8 GiB.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a stealth action game launched in September of 2015, and it uses the Fox engine. In order to measure the performance on this game, we ran same mission three times, measuring the framerate with FRAPS. We ran the game in Full HD, with image quality set as “high”.
In this game, the performance with 4 GiB was 15% higher than with 8 GiB and 20% higher than with 16%.
[nextpage title=”Metro Last Light and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”]
Metro Last Light
Metro Last Light is an horror/shooting game that uses the 4A engine, launched in 2013. In order to measure the performance on this game, we ran its introduction, measuring the framerate with FRAPS three times. We ran the game in Full HD, with the graphic quality set as “high”, and the “SSAA” option off.
In Metro Last Light, the performance with 4 GiB and 16 GiB was the same. But with 8 GiB, the performance was 14% lower than with 16 GiB.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an open-world RPG, released in May of 2015 and based on the REDengine 3 engine. In order to measure the performance on this game, we walk around at the first scene of the game, measuring the framerate with FRAPS three times. We ran the game at Full HD (1920 x 1080), with image quality set to “high”.
In this game, the performance was equivalent in all the tests.
What Does This Mean?
Thinking a little more about theory, more RAM should not improve the framerate in 3D games for two reasons. First, most of the processing on a game is executed by the video card. Second, more RAM only improves the computer performance if there is a very little amount of memory for the program the CPU is running and the processor have to use the virtual memory feature, swapping memory data with the hard disk drive or SSD.
In our tests, all the tested games ran with no problems with “only” 4 GiB. In some games, it seems even to run with more fps with 4 GiB than with more RAM. We cannot tell the reason, but we can guess that with less memory, the game do not load some features, or transfer some data to the video card, or it may be caused by simple statistic fluctuation.[amazon box=”B00R5UW038″ template=”table”]
We used a video card with 4 GiB video memory, and there is a possibility that, with a video card with less dedicated memory, the computer main RAM should be more demanded. Another important detail is that we used Windows 7 (SP1) in our tests. Usually, newer operating systems demand more memory, so the results could be different under Windows 8.1 or Windows 10, for example.
So, we can say that, on the games we tested and running Windows 10, on the used hardware configuration, there is no performance gain in games by installing more than 4 GiB.
This leads us to some conclusions. First, if you have “only” 4 GiB of RAM in your computer and use it to play games, there is no need to hurry to buy more; it might be a better idea to buy a new video card first. Keep in mind, however, that if you use your computer to work with video and image editing, those programs use lots of RAM and will benefit on more installed RAM.
Second, if you are building a new gaming computer on a limited budget, you may choose to start with 4 GiB if, with the cash you save, you are able to buy a better video card. This also make sense because it is easier to install more RAM later that change the video card.
To be clear, this does not mean we are saying that 4 GiB is better than 8 GiB. The “there is no such thing as too much RAM” rule is still valid, for improving the loading performance by disk caching, or for avoiding freezing due to virtual memory swapping. Besides that, more recent games or operating systems may not work well with 4 GiB.
With all this, we can conclude the ideal RAM amount for gaming performance is 8 GiB, because there is not much difference in price from 4 GiB to 8 GiB. 16 GiB is a good choice if you have no problem in spending a little more to make sure you computer will run smoothly for more time, or if you work professionally with video or image editing.
Newer Specs and Further Clarifications
The original article was written in 2015 and the games that we have tested back then were new. Now they are fairly old and pose no real “threat” for a modern gaming PC or laptop. However, the same principles apply even today.
The more RAM you have, the better some games will load depending on their size and the way their assets were programmed. More RAM is better for open-world games but won’t help you all that much in smaller-sized games. As of today, 8 GiB of RAM is considered by many to be the bare minimum for running games at an optimal level, especially if you plan on playing at 4K resolution.
However, at such a high resolution, you should be more concerned with what video card you have. And you should really consider running your games on an SSD, especially considering the fact that many of the newer games occupy 100 GiB or more when installed. A regular hard disk has a hard time accessing so much information at once, so you’ll have to deal with stutters at points and you’ll have to endure some frustrating loading times.
The Bottom Line
When building a gaming PC or purchasing a gaming laptop, RAM is definitely an important consideration. However, don’t expect to have your game performance boosted to infinity and beyond just because you have 64 GiB of RAM. The other components are just as important and you should put all your budget into RAM alone.
Instead, build your PC in such a way that you can eliminate all possible bottlenecks. In essence, don’t skimp out on buying a cheap CPU thinking that the GPU or RAM will compensate for what it lacks. Far from it. Every component is essential and you should build your PC with this though in mind.