Do RAM speed and capacity matter for gaming?
As you might expect, RAM manufacturers take the importance of memory speed and capacity to performance—one of the limited factors that allow them to differentiate themselves from the competition, as well as sell their products and ensure there is a consistent market for upgrades. RAM is not only at the heart of the entire system, but even at the heart of components such as the best graphics cards. But how important are speed and capacity to gaming?
Before we dive into the benchmarks and conclusions, let me clarify a few things. Speed in this case refers specifically to frequency, a measure in MHz of how many commands your RAM can process per second, not time/latency (the four numbers that determine the latency of RAM’s internal functions, such as accessing specific row and column data ). The frequency usually follows the DDR version – DDR4-3200 is DDR4 memory running at 3200MHz.
I tested some of the best RAM for a gaming pack on two fairly high-end custom machines, one with a Core i7-9700K CPU and one with a Ryzen 7 2700X, both with a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and a fast , the same PCIe SSD. I wanted to remove any hardware bottlenecks and see how the RAM performed under near-ideal conditions in AMD and Intel testbeds, which led to two important observations.
The first is that if your system is hampered by slower hardware elsewhere, swapping in more or faster RAM won’t yield higher performance. Your RAM does not affect the speed of the processor or the transfer rate of the storage drive.
An exception to this adage is the second, slightly opposite point I want to make. For rendering graphics, VRAM does a lot of the heavy lifting, which means that if you’re using an older GPU with limited VRAM storage, you may see a more dramatic improvement in performance by increasing the amount of RAM available to your system. Anytime an application can use RAM in place of virtual memory on the hard drive, you will see performance improvements, especially in terms of frame time consistency (swapping between RAM and disk storage can cause noticeable micro-stuttering ).
With all of this in mind, let’s start testing.
I tested the RAM pack against three modern AAA games with built-in benchmarks (Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Total War: Warhammer 2, and Metro Exodus). I ran the benchmark five times per game at 1440p Ultra settings, then averaged the results and calculated the 97th percentile results for each game and package. Because our focus here is gaming performance, I didn’t test other apps or rely on additional synthetic tests.
For each system, I tested four capacity thresholds – 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, and made sure we were testing at the capacity cap, above which we would only see stable results, which is 64GB. Unfortunately, I don’t have an 8GB stick that matches the XPG Spectrix pack I use for the other capacity tests, but I did make sure that the G.Skill RAM I replaced had the same voltages, timings, and frequencies to be as close as possible. I then tested the Spectrix RAM in two systems at four different frequencies (2666MHz, 3000MHz, 3200MHz, and 3600MHz).
Our capacity results show a fairly stable, fairly clear trend. In 2019, 8GB of RAM is not enough for a lot of AAA games, even if a VRAM-loaded GPU does a lot of the heavy lifting. While the results here certainly show very playable frame rates, especially in Tomb Raider and Total War: Warhammer 2, on smaller systems those numbers drop to uncomfortably low levels In the range. Between the 8GB and 16GB capacities of the AMD system, we saw a 9% increase in Tomb Raider, a 14% increase in Total War, a 10% increase in Metro’s performance, and a 10% increase in the Intel machine’s performance. Tomb Raider’s performance increased by 5% and Total War, Metro 7%. Significant, if not exciting, these performance gains are also reflected in the 97th percentile score.
On the other hand, the performance increase from 16GB to 32GB all the way to 64GB is fairly flat. Any improvement fell within the margin of error, except for Metro Exodus, which yielded a 5 fps or 9 percent improvement from 16GB to 64GB on a Ryzen 7 machine and a 4 fps or 6 percent improvement on the Intel rig.
The frequency results differ more between the two systems. On the AMD side, we saw a substantial frame rate increase from 2666MHz to 3600MHz; Shadow of the Tomb Raider increased by a total of 7% from slowest to fastest, with a steady increase in frequency, and in Total War 15%, and a 20% boost in Metro where every frame counts.
Tests on Intel machines yielded far fewer results. Going from the lowest frequency to the highest frequency only improved 2% fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, well within the margin of error, 5% in Total War, and 10% in Metro.
All of these tests revealed some clear trends, some obvious, some very interesting. We’ve definitely reached a point where 8GB RAM becomes a performance bottleneck, even in a system with a GPU with 11GB VRAM. In this case, 16GB is still enough, but in some AAA games, where the system memory allocation runs as high as 12 or 13GB, this may not last long. To future-proof your machine, increasing the memory to 32GB seems more and more reasonable, especially as memory prices come down. And if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to boost the performance of a rig with an aging GPU, adding more sticks of RAM is a reasonable stopgap.
There are also significant differences in results between the AMD and Intel testbeds. According to our tests, systems with the Ryzen 7 2700X benefited a lot more than those with the Core i9-9700K. While I don’t have enough data to specifically say that AMD systems would benefit more from faster RAM (I might explore that in a future feature), that’s certainly the case in this particular processor comparison. I need to note that I can’t rule out the choice of motherboard as BIOS and firmware may also affect the results.
In general, does RAM speed and capacity really matter for gaming? The answer is yes. Capacity will really only have a significant impact on upgrading from 8GB or less, and speed will produce modest performance spikes in specific instances, but never close to the increase you might see upgrading performance parts like CPUs or GPUs.
My general advice when buying RAM, building a PC, or pre-installing the best gaming PC is to aim for at least 16GB with room for upgrades, and buy the fastest RAM that fits your budget, if the price isn’t too high. Generally, if you pay more than $20 or $30 to upgrade to the next speed tier in the same RAM package, you are overcharged.
PCG Favorite RAM Today’s Deals
Thanks for visiting we hope our article Do RAM speed and capacity matter for gaming?
, we invite you to share the article on Facebook, pinterest and whatsapp with the hashtag ☑️ #RAM #speed #capacity #matter #gaming ☑️!