With arguably the most inexpensive and impactful dollar to performance improvement ratio of any PC component, RAM is generally the goto upgrade for gamers eager to better the specifications their machine. But, does it provide that much of a boost? Is money better spent elsewhere and how much does RAM affect gaming? Let’s find out.
The Perfect Number
The impact of RAM on gaming is a strange beast – it is one of extremes and disappointing tail offs. If a system is low on RAM, let’s say 4GB for example’s sake, then the RAM will have a significant tangible effect on the game, i.e., the game will have less memory to load up data sets (game engine, textures, levels, lighting, etc.). Less memory equates to a choppier gaming experience and low frames per second readings.
The simple solution here is to add more RAM, but there is only so much RAM you can add before it reaches a threshold and becomes effectively underused. Two factors dictate what this threshold equates to and how it can fluctuate.
The first is how much RAM a particular game is programmed to use. Should a game only use a maximum of 4GB, then having 8GB of RAM means there are effectively 4GB sitting there doing nothing unused.
The second factor is whether, if any, applications run in conjunction with a game. We’re talking about streaming software like OBS, web browsers, recording software, and any other programs that are open concurrently.
If no secondary applications are running, then the base RAM requirement of the game being played represents the maximum threshold for the RAM that is deemed useful.
When a gamer is running a host of applications in the background (music, live chat, streaming software, etc.) then the more RAM on top of the baseline requirements of the game, the better.
This point is especially relevant for streamers who run multiple programs for long stints, although other beneficiaries include graphic designers or video editors, who want to leave RAM hungry programs open while engaging in a spot of gaming.
In today’s gaming landscape, anywhere between 8GB and 16GB is more than enough to run the overwhelming majority of games comfortably. As developers harness the power of more RAM, then the trend is pointing upwards in line with standard RAM amounts found in PCs growing incrementally over time. Benchmarks do, however, indicate that the jump from 8GB to 16GB is marginal at best, but there’s a lot of sense in future proofing your system especially if RAM is going cheap.
How Much Of A Difference Does More RAM Make To Gaming?
Once again, upgrading from 4GB to 16GB and running a game that uses a maximum of 8GB, will make a marginal, yet noticeable impact in order of magnitude of a possibly a few frames per second. Equally, the game would load up quicker.
Conversely, if you have 8GB of RAM and are upgrading to 16GB while the game only makes use of 8GB, then the difference will amount to naught, or at least the improvement won’t be noticeable from the user’s end.
As you can see this incremental dip tails off incredibly rapidly and essentially means spending money for GBs that will remain idle and untouched during an entire gaming session.
What About RAM Clock Speed?
The answer is very similar; the improvement depends on what amount/speed of RAM you have and to what amount you are upgrading. In most cases, the difference will be a handful of frame per second or close to nothing.
All this is, however, dependent on the CPU and game. Intel CPUs tend to benefit least from better RAM clock speeds due to the inherent architecture of their chipsets, while AMD’s Ryzen 7 CPUs produce a somewhat tangible improvement nearing close to 10 FPS in some instances and for particular games.
To throw things even down the rabbit hole of confusion, the GPU itself has a significant impact on the measure of improvements.
GPU and VRAM Are The Most Important Factor In Gaming
GPUs have inbuilt RAM called VRAM, short for video RAM. VRAM is a quick form of flash memory that stores rendered graphics and other data for the GPU to process and send on to the CPU.
Unlike straight RAM, the more VRAM a GPUs has, and the faster it is, the better the gaming experience. Equally important is the GPUs itself. Modern iterations offer much more refined internal chipsets and algorithms that are more efficient at rendering graphics.
To improve framerates, upgrading a GPU is by the most effective solution. We are talking incredible improvements from a sloppy 20 FPS to a breathtaking 100 FPS for a lot of games.
For example and as a way of comparison, upgrading from a GeForce GTX 950 with 1GB of VRAM to a GeForce RTX 2080 with 11GB will affect gaming far more than switching from 8GB of RAM to 16GB of RAM.
The Bottom Line
The simple answer is that past a certain threshold, RAM has a minimal impact on gaming. Figure out the max specs for your game(s) of choice and match up your RAM numbers and you’ll effectively be getting the best possible RAM-dictated experience, handing over performance measures to other more important components such as the GPU.
We recommend spending less on maxing out your motherboard/CPUs RAM capabilities and diverting that cash towards a better GPU. If your budget allows for a great GPU alongside 64 GB of RAM, by all means, go for it.
If in doubt, then 16GB is a perfect middle ground between satisfying the basic RAM requirements of all the games on the market today while adding in a bit of future proofing headroom.