RAM: How much do you need to play?

When you build or update a PC for games, you have several components to consider. So each one affects the performance of your computer in different ways, and neglecting it could generate a bottleneck. In this article, let's focus on RAM.

We will analyze the role of this component in the games, the specifications you should look for when buying and what you should not worry about.

What is RAM?

In case you are not familiar with RAM, let's briefly define what this vital component of the computer does.

RAM means Random Access Memory. It is a short-term volatile storage that temporarily contains the information that your PC needs to access. When you open any program, the operating system stores it in this memory. Then, once you turn off your machine, erase everything that was in RAM.

Without enough RAM, your computer may slow down when you open too many programs.

How is RAM used in games?

RAM is important because your system can access the data it contains faster than it can retrieve information from your main storage disk. You have all the game data stored on your hard drive or solid state drive, but constantly extracting it from there is inefficient.

Therefore, your computer moves the game information it will need to RAM to load it quickly.

With little RAM, your computer will not be able to store all the game information it needs to run correctly, which will cause choppy frame rates and poor performance. An extreme lack of RAM could even prevent the game from working.

It is important to keep in mind that dedicated video cards have their own RAM, known as vRAM. This is different from the system memory in that it is completely focused on sending graphics to your screen.

Therefore, if you want to play games at high resolutions like 4K, you need a lot of vRAM. You could have 32 GB of system RAM, but performance would still be greatly affected with only 2 GB of video RAM on your card.

Is more RAM better?

Because this memory allows games to load efficiently, you may think that adding more RAM will always result in better performance. However, this is not the case. If you have more RAM than the information you need to keep, the extra is wasted.

To help illustrate this, think of a liquid storage container. If you need to store a gallon of water, but you only have a half-gallon container, you cannot store everything in a place as you wish. But if you have a 10 gallon container that only stores a gallon of water, most of that container will be wasted.

It is the same with RAM. You could put 64 GB in your system, but if you only use 2 GB to play light indie games at 720p, you will never use the vast majority of that memory. While it is not a bad idea to have some additional RAM for the future, unused memory is wasted memory in most cases.

How much memory do you need to play?

The generally accepted baseline is 8GB of RAM for normal PC games. Casual tests have found little performance benefits between having 8 GB and 16 GB of RAM.

While you can play with only 4 GB of RAM for many old games, there are few reasons to build a new system with this small amount. As the games continue to become more complex and require more RAM, 4 GB will not be enough.

If you want to prepare your system for the future, or also use your computer for activities such as video editing or multitasking, then 16 GB is an excellent update. While you may not see a great benefit in the games immediately, that forecast will pay off in the future.

Understanding RAM specifications for games

The amount of RAM you have to play is only part of the story. Not all this memory is the same; It has other specifications to consider. Let's see some of them.

DDR designations

Virtually every RAM bar you see will have DDR and a version number that will accompany it. DDR stands for Double Data Rate, which means it works twice for each clock cycle. Over time, this technology has improved, which has led to DDR2 and other versions.

DDR2 is quite outdated, so you are unlikely to find it now. You will still see DDR3 RAM, but it has mostly been replaced by DDR4, which is the current standard. While DDR5 is on its way, it is not yet commercially available.

Different generations of RAM are not compatible with each other, so you cannot connect a DDR4 RAM to a motherboard with DDR3 slots. If you are buying more RAM for an existing machine, make sure it matches what your motherboard supports. For a new construction, stay with DDR4, as it is the best we have now.

Clock speed

In addition to DDR, you will also see the clock cycles of a RAM on your product page. These are offered in megahertz and represent how many cycles RAM can perform per second. For example, 2666MHz run 2,666 billion cycles per second.

As expected, the higher this number, the faster the RAM will be and the more fluid your experience will be. However, it is not a drastic improvement. Faster memory is better than slower, but in most cases, it is not noticeable.

DDR generation and clock cycles are correlated; You won't see ultrafast numbers in the old DDR2, for example. Because of this, as long as it meets the current standard, you will know that it will have RAM that works at a decent speed.

If you mix RAM with different clock cycles, everything will run at the lowest frequency. The motherboard can also limit the available speed.

Sometimes, you will also see a series of numbers listed in RAM, such as 5-9-5-23. These are called timings, and they illustrate how much latency RAM has in responding to requests. Most people do not need to worry about these numbers; DDR capacity and generation are more important.

Number of sticks

When buying RAM, it is also important to consider how many slots your motherboard has. Most motherboards support dual channel memory. This allows your system to use two RAM bars simultaneously, which has slight performance benefits.

Let's say you want to put 16 GB of RAM in your system. To take advantage of dual channel memory, it is better to buy two 8GB units than one 16GB. If your motherboard has more than two slots, be sure to arrange the bars according to the manual to use them correctly.

Summarizing the role of RAM in games

We have analyzed several aspects of the role of this memory in your game machine. But fortunately, it's really not too complicated. Here is a summary of the most important points:

  • RAM is a short-term storage unit that is used to temporarily store data from a game you are playing.
  • 8 GB is the baseline for today's games, but 16 GB is a good option prepared for the future.
  • Until DDR5 arrives, use DDR4 RAM (unless you are limited by a motherboard with DDR3 slots).
  • The higher the speed of the RAM clock, the better, but this has a minimal effect in the real world. The highest cycles come with the new generations of DDR. Mixed RAM will fall at the lowest speed.
  • Consider the number of slots on your motherboard when you decide to buy your RAM.

With all this said, keep in mind that RAM is a relatively minor part of a gaming computer. As long as you have enough RAM and it is not too old, that aspect is quite careful. Then, you can work to find the most elegant RAM that matches the rest of your PC, whether new or repowering.

You will get a much greater benefit by upgrading to a more powerful graphics card with additional vRAM. And if you still have an old hard drive in your system, you should prioritize the upgrade to an SSD.