All gamers know the importance of updating their rig every so often to keep up with their ever-changing gaming needs. When setting up your gaming PC, there are many components to consider to enjoy good graphics. That said, one of the questions that stand out is how much RAM for gaming is enough.
We're here to help if you're looking for answers to the same question. Unfortunately, there's no one direct answer since the RAM you'll need will depend on various factors, such as your gaming needs. For this reason, we'll cover everything you need to know about RAM to help you meet your gaming needs.
What Is RAM?
RAM is short for Random Access Memory. It is a major component of PCs, more importantly in gaming computers. The RAM is responsible for temporarily storing data that needs to be accessed now or shortly. To put it in summary, nothing runs on your computer without RAM, from Netflix to files and games.
How Does RAM Work?
RAM plays a very important role in your computer. The RAM stores and remembers short term information that your PC needs to run, like your web browser, image editing tools and so on. However, the memory resets every time you reboot your machine.
RAM provides volatile memory, unlike HDD(hard disk drive) or SSD(solid-state drive). This means that it only stores data when the power is on, unlike HDD or SSD, which offer non-volatile memory. Additionally, programs are temporarily loaded on the RAM when in use but permanently reside on the HDD or SSD storage until they're deleted.
Think of it; if you had to go through the CPU every time you need to open a new tab or program, you'd be waiting forever to make any progress. Every computer needs to access the temporary data to work at its best quickly. This need is more important if you want to play modern games on your PC.
How Much RAM Do You Need for Gaming?
What Does RAM Do for Gaming?
Computer games are stored on HDD or SSD memory. However, retrieving data from permanent storage is slow and inefficient, hence not applicable for gaming and other programs. That said, this data is stored on your RAM temporarily, allowing for a quick game load.
Gaming data stored on the RAM ensures easy access by the computer. In turn, this ensures that your game runs smoothly without lagging. In addition, it's difficult to run and play games if your PC is short on the recommended RAM.
Apart from lagging, your computer will take too much time to run simple commands like opening a browser or an application. This shows the importance of more RAM in speeding up computer processes by providing temporary storage needed by your PC.
Factors Determining RAM
Understanding different random access memory specs and how they meet or affect your gaming needs is paramount. Different games require different RAM configurations, from the capacity to the speed, to run smoothly.
Let's look at these specs below.
The RAM capacity refers to the storage size available for storing temporary data. It is measured in terabytes(TB), gigabytes(GB) and megabytes(MB). A higher capacity RAM means storing more application data and running different games and apps simultaneously. For example, 16 GB RAM means that your computer has 16 GB of space to store temporary information.
The RAM speed or frequency refers to how fast data stored can be accessed. It's measured in MT/s, mega transfers per second. However, the speed can also be considered in MHz, megahertz, as much as it's different from the clock speed.
More RAM frequency means that the speed to read and write requests is higher; hence the information stored is accessed fast. The RAM latency works together with the frequency to ensure that the speed(time between request and execution) is fast. In addition, a higher RAM frequency will compensate for higher latency.
When considering the speed, it's important to remember that the right balance between capacity and speed is better than more or less of each specification. For example, faster RAM can improve the game performance, frame rates and frame times. In addition, it affects other system processes like how fast your PC boots.
Finally, it's essential to consider your gaming needs before upgrading your system RAM. A frequent user, gamer and professional user will have different RAM needs in terms of capacity. You also need to factor in if you'll be streaming, multitasking or playing PC games in a focused session. All these considerations will determine how much memory you need.
RAM is purchased in sticks or modules. For example, 32 GB RAM can be bought as 2x 16GB or 4x 8GB. You will find different module specifications depending on the machine you're using. For instance, a laptop has 2 RAM modules and a typical desktop has 4, while a workstation or enthusiast-class PC will have 8 or more modules.
Ideally, before considering a laptop RAM upgrade, the first thing is to check if your RAM is soldered on the motherboard or accessible. This is because some laptops are not designed to support RAM swapping. In addition, you want to make sure you have free memory slots left for future expansion when upgrading your existing RAM.
We will look into all things installation in depth below.
How much RAM you need for gaming on a computer or PC will depend on the tasks required to be executed. Below are the RAM capacities you will encounter on your search.
1. 4 GB RAM
This RAM space is commonly found in desktop computers in most offices. It's enough for a regular computer user to run basic functions like browsing or using photoshop. This RAM can also support some old games. However, if you want to enjoy modern games on your PC, it would be best to invest in more RAM.
2. 8 GB RAM
8 GB is considered the minimum RAM for gaming. You can run most PC games on this space without experiencing lagging. However, some modern games, like Red Redemption 2, require a higher minimum RAM for better graphics and optimal performance.
3. 16 GB RAM
16 GB is considered the sweet spot for RAM size. This space is enough to store all the game data and support games released in the future. This future-proof RAM gives you enough overhead to run games and other applications simultaneously without lowering your gaming performance. This capacity is optimal, a great investment and supports 4K gaming.
4. 32 GB RAM
32 GB is perfect for professional gamers as it allows you to live stream, have Twitch or YouTube apps running in the background or even support group chats on Discord. It is also a good investment for future games, considering how cheap RAM is nowadays.
Video editors and people working with 3D models need more than 32 GB RAM. Such professional applications are quite heavy and require as much memory as possible. However, if you're not in this industry and are not a professional gamer, 32GB is too much RAM and might be overkill for your computer.
What RAM Is Compatible With Your PC's Motherboard?
Having understood the capacity, speed(frequency and latency) and your personal gaming needs, it's important to confirm the compatibility of the RAM modules with your motherboard. This part is vital as it will determine whether or not you can upgrade your existing RAM.
Installing the wrong modules to your PC will fail, while getting the wrong RAM specs can result in reduced performance.
As mentioned above, RAM is purchased in memory modules or sticks that fit on the motherboard slots. Therefore, incompatible RAM sticks will either not fit or, if they do, will underperform.
Modern computers support motherboards with DDR4 RAM. Note that this RAM generation is not the same as DDR3. Additionally, you can't interchange or replace a DDR4 RAM with a DDR3 one.
You will find that some motherboards support a single RAM module, while others support multiple RAM modules. The major advantage multiple RAM modules have over one is security against malfunctions, like damaged modules.
For example, if a module breaks down, the others see that your computer keeps running smoothly. So say you have one 16 GB module, your PC will not run in case of a malfunction. However, if you have 2, 8GB sticks, you can keep using one 8 GB module should anything happen to the second one.
Multiple RAM modules are also cheaper and easier to replace in case of a malfunction.
DDR4 and SDRAM
Computers use Synchronous Dynamic RAM(SDRAM), which is a specific RAM type. SDRAM offers faster transfer rates, lower power consumption and more stable data transmission.
Modern computers use DDR4 SDRAM(Double Data Rate 4 SDRAM). This is the 4th generation of the DDR(Double Data Rate) technology. The DDR technology replaced the SDR(Single Data Rate) SDRAM.
Compared to the previous generations, DDR4 features lower voltages, larger capacities and faster data transfer rates. Therefore, it's advisable if you're building your own rig or upgrading the current RAM to use this standard DDR4 SDRAM technology.
Remember that DDR4 is not backwards compatible. This means that you can't interchange or replace it with a previous generation RAM. This is because voltage, timings, pin count, and other characteristics in the DDR4 are not similar to the previous generation.
That said, DDR4 modules have a key notch in a different location from the DDR3 to prevent accidental installation.
RAMs come in two form factors.
Dual in-line memory module(DIMM) sticks are larger and specifically designed for desktop motherboards.
Small outline dual in-line memory module(SO-DIMM) sticks are smaller and designed for laptops, some Mini-ITX SFF (small form factor) and Intel® NUC mini-PCs motherboards.
What Is Dual Channel RAM?
Dual-channel memory is a common feature in most modern computers. It lets the CPU's memory controller exchange data via two RAM channels. By simultaneously reading and writing to 2 RAM sticks, dual-channel memory helps increase the available bandwidth.
The dual-channel mode is automatically enabled in motherboards with two DIMM slots. However, if you're using 2 RAM sticks in a motherboard with 4 slots, you'll have to install the memory symmetrically to use the same channel. In addition, the channels with be colour coded, side by side or staggered to make this step easy.
Ensure that each memory stick has the same capacity, speed and timings for high performance. Also, try and avoid mixing different module specifications.
Memory timings are another way of judging the RAM performance other than the speed. RAM timings measure latency, which is the delay between command and execution of the RAM. Timings come as a set of numbers written on the module's factory sticker, such as 16-18-18-36.
Each number on the memory timings corresponds to a specific test. The first number, for instance, refers to the Column Address Strobe(CAS) Latency. This is the number of clock cycles taken for the memory module to data after a request by the memory controller.
Using timings to compare the RAM modules can be challenging for various reasons. For example, CAS latency gives the total number of cycles, although the duration for each cycle is important when judging responsiveness. In addition, although DDR3 memory has a lower CAS latency compared to the DDR4, its slower clock speed results in a worse performance.
Arguably, unless you intend on overclocking, the memory timings should not concern you as much. The RAM speed and capacity will be enough considerations for most PC gamers.
Overclocking the RAM helps you achieve more than what's specified by the manufacturer. This is especially true if you have high-performance RAM. In turn, you achieve faster speed rates and a higher system RAM performance. In addition, you will find using the Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (Intel® XMP) to be easy for overclocking.
Selecting an Intel® XMP profile in a supported motherboard's BIOS will adjust the timings, frequency and voltages to enhance overall performance. You can also tweak the memory profiles of some motherboards and fine-tune the settings from the BIOS.
Aesthetics and Cooling
The RAM, just like any other computer component, generates heat. While it's not as much unless it's running at unusually high speeds, installing memory heatsinks is important. In addition, a memory heatsink is essential if you're overclocking to ensure proper airflow.
In addition to the heatsinks, you can go for memory modules with RGB lighting. This is because RGB memory sticks improve the visual appeal of your system while adding customization to it. First, however, make sure the memory sticks are compatible with your motherboard.
How Do You Check the RAM Installed In Your PC?
It's recommended to keep checking the RAM on your computer to determine when you need to get an upgrade. For example, if you're using a Windows computer, you can check the installed RAM by going to File Explorer, clicking This PC and selecting the Properties option. These steps will open the System Page on your Control Panel and there, you will see your RAM capacity.
How much RAM you need for gaming ultimately depends on your gaming needs and budget. It's important to understand RAM's factors, such as capacity, speed, memory timings, overclocking, cooling and aesthetics.
Remember that a higher capacity RAM will mean that you can temporarily store more game data for easy and fast access. While having more RAM is essential for gameplay, getting the right balance among all system components will ensure better and optimal performance.