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 has low RAM, let’s say 4 GB for example, then the RAM will have a significant tangible effect on in-game performance, i.e. the game will have less memory to load up data sets (game engine, textures, levels, lighting, etc.). Therefore, less memory equates to a choppier gaming experience with some off-putting framerate drops.
The simple solution here is to add more RAM, but there is only so much RAM you can add before it reaches a certain threshold beyond which all the extra RAM will end up being unused. Two factors dictate how high this threshold is and how it can fluctuate.
The first is how much RAM a particular game is programmed to use. If a game only ever uses a maximum of 4 GB of RAM, then having 8 GB of RAM means that the extra 4 GB will be sitting idly, unused.
However, it’s not just games that use RAM, and that’s where the second factor comes in – what applications will be running in the background while you’re gaming? We’re talking about streaming software such as OBS, web browsers, recording software, and any other programs that may be running in the background such as Steam, anti-virus software, etc. Of course, this also includes the RAM used by the operating system itself, so it should always be accounted for as well.
That said, if you don’t want to close down all the other applications you usually run every time you start up a game, then having some extra RAM beyond the bare minimum would be worthwhile. This point is especially relevant for streamers who need to run multiple background programs for long periods of time, although this can also include graphic designers or video editors who don’t want to have to shut down their RAM-hungry professional software every time they want to take a gaming break.
In today’s gaming landscape, anywhere between 8 GB to 16 GB is usually more than enough to run the overwhelming majority of games comfortably. However, it’s 2019, games are getting more demanding and developers are making use of more and more RAM. As such, the minimum and recommended amounts of RAM found in gaming PCs will grow over time, though at the moment, most agree that 16 GB is the sweet spot – you won’t run out of RAM when gaming, and it’s more future-proof.
Furthermore, while 8 GB can still be enough and is very viable for budget builds, you may encounter difficulties with some of the more demanding games, not to mention that it may get filled up quickly based on what software you use.
How Much Of A Difference Does More RAM Make For Gaming?
Once again, upgrading from 4 GB to 16 GB and running a game that uses a maximum of 8 GB of RAM will make a marginal yet noticeable impact. It may run more smoothly, you may get a few extra FPS, and the loading times would also be slightly improved. Conversely, if you have 8 GB of RAM and are upgrading to 16 GB while the game only makes use of 8 GB, then the difference will be unnoticeable to the naked eye.
That said, based on what games you usually play and what software you use, prioritizing a more powerful CPU or GPU could be a more worthwhile investment when it comes to gaming.
What About RAM Clock Speed?
The answer here is very similar: the improvement depends on the software that you use, the RAM capacity, and the speed of the previous RAM setup. A higher clock speed means more operations being executed each second, so the RAM will be handling data faster. However, in the majority of cases, the difference in performance will be unnoticeable or nigh-unnoticeable when it comes to gaming.
Of course, there are also the CPU and the motherboard to consider in this regard. Not all motherboards support high RAM speeds or RAM overclocking, while there is always the matter of bottlenecking when it comes to the CPU. Namely, if the CPU cannot keep up with the RAM, then you’d be dealing with a bottleneck, and the RAM won’t be utilized to its full capacity.
But as usual, when it comes to gaming, it is always the GPU that has the most impact.
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 all sorts of graphics data and allows the GPU to access it almost instantly.
Unlike regular system RAM, VRAM is much more heavily used by games, so even a minor increase in VRAM capacity can mean a noticeable performance improvement. This is particularly important with high-resolution displays i.e. QHD and UHD ones. Today, 6 or 8 GB is generally the ideal amount of VRAM to have in a GPU. You could still make do with 4 GB if you’re on a budget and gaming in 1080p, though it wouldn’t be a very future-proof solution. In contrast, anything beyond 8 GB can be seen as a bit of an overkill unless you also use a display with a high resolution and/or intend to use the GPU in a workstation.
So, generally, if you want better in-game performance, focus on the GPU. Upgrading from a 4 GB last-gen graphics card to a current-gen 8 GB one is bound to make for a noticeable performance improvement just from the extra VRAM alone, not to mention how much faster and more optimized the updated GPU architecture would be.
The Bottom Line
The simple answer is that RAM has a minimal impact on gaming past a certain threshold. As long as you keep the RAM requirements of your favorite games in mind, you won’t end up overspending on RAM. However, as we’ve mentioned in the article, 16 GB tends to be the optimal amount of RAM to have in a gaming PC in 2019, though 8 GB is fine if you can’t afford more or you’d just rather put the extra money towards a better GPU, something that should definitely be your priority when it comes to gaming.
The UK-based journalist and gamer, Thomas, describes himself as a man of few words with an unhealthy obsession for everything wonderful about the world of gaming. Thanks to his experience in the gaming industry, he brings a wealth of talent into GamingScan.