RAM For Gamers: What Do The Specs Mean And How Do They Alter Performance
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If you want to experience great performance while playing games, it’s important that you use the right hardware to do the job. Most often people are concerned about the processor and graphics card What Is the Difference Between an APU, a CPU, and a GPU? What Is the Difference Between an APU, a CPU, and a GPU? Over the last five or more years, there have been a number of different terms swirling around to describe computer hardware. Some of those terms include but aren’t limited to APU, CPU, and GPU. But... Read More that they choose for their gaming systems, but those aren’t the only parts you have to think about. The memory, also known as RAM, is equally important for great performance. This article will help describe why using the correct RAM is important, what specifications to look for, and how they can affect your gaming performance.

Why Is RAM Important?

RAM is an important consideration because it is an active participant while gaming. While the processor and graphics card do all of the calculations, the RAM is the area that stores needed variables and content. Besides loading time, top performance from a hard drive is nonessential because that’s all it does. Once the game has been launched — into the RAM — then the hard drive becomes a secondary, passive participant while gaming. The RAM is an active participant because once the game is loaded into it, it’s there that information is read and stored — the processor and graphics card request information from the memory, do the calculations, and store the results back in the RAM.

If you’re wondering why RAM is being used instead of the hard drive directly, it’s because it is faster, and is meant to store temporary items. If you’re wanting to store things for longer periods of time, that’s when you write to the HDD — but that mainly concerns game settings and save data, which you don’t care about while you’re in the middle of playing the game.

What’s Best?

Essentially, bigger and faster RAM is better for gaming performance, because you’ll be able to hold more temporary information and the information can be read and written to it faster as well. Bigger size means that your computer can do more while it’s loading the game, rather than load part until the RAM is full and then constantly free memory and load more parts of the game from the hard drive. This can slow down your game severely. Faster speeds mean that information is fed to the processor and graphics card faster. Their output is stored faster, and you want it to be this way because the processor and graphics card will be faster than the RAM no matter what; you’ll want them to be fed as much as possible.



Ideally, you should look for RAM that is 8GB or larger so that you can be assured that you have enough space for your operating system as well as a resource-heavy game. If you can afford it, more is always better, but beware that each system has a different limit for the maximum amount it can support. To find this out, check your manufacturer’s website for the maximum amount of memory supported or, if you built your system yourself, you can look at your motherboard manufacturer’s website for this information.

Besides gaming, there are many other benefits of increasing your RAM capacity.



Next, RAM runs on various frequencies, where its controller can perform a task during each “tick” of the RAM’s clock. Similarly, the higher the frequency, the better the performance, so it’s ideal to go as high as your system or motherboard supports. This information can be found in the same location as the maximum amount supported (mentioned above). Please note that some motherboards list a few supported frequencies with (O.C.) listed next to them. This means that those frequencies can be supported, but the system needs to be overclocked in order to do so. Otherwise, if you buy memory that natively supports one of those frequencies and don’t overclock your system, it won’t run at the RAM’s full potential frequency or even worse, not at all.



Lastly, RAM also has various latencies for different tasks (such as searching for a location in memory, reading the location, etc). These latencies should be as low as possible, so you should try to look for RAM that has the lowest numbers. As an example, latencies are usually described as “10-10-10-27”, which means that it has a latency of 9 memory clocks for one task, latency of 1 memory clock for another task, and so on. There should be a total of four numbers. All motherboards should support all latencies as these describe the responsiveness of the RAM rather than how it interacts with the motherboard. This makes a small difference, but a difference nonetheless.

If you’re interested, there is a more technical explanation of RAM latencies available.


Hopefully with this in mind, you can pick out the right kind of RAM that is best for your gaming experience. Again, remember to check what the maximum supported amount and maximum frequency is to ensure that it is compatible with your system. Also, check to see how many RAM slots your system even has (often called DIMMs). If your maximum amount of memory supported is 8GB, you have the choice of buying a pack of 2 x 4GB or a pack of 4 x 2GB. If you only have two available slots, it’s important to be aware of that fact so you can get the 2 x 4GB pack.

If you need help with replacing the memory in your system, you can check out this guide on how to replace the RAM in your laptop How To Upgrade A Laptop's RAM, Step By Step How To Upgrade A Laptop's RAM, Step By Step Is your laptop old, slow, and has the hardware never been upgraded? Working on a slow computer can be a real drag. Before you buy a completely new one, however, you should consider ways to... Read More . If you’re using a gaming desktop, you can read the article as most of it is still relevant. You’ll just have to open your case and pop out the modules and push in the new ones.

What’s the best RAM you’ve ever used? What about the best value for the price? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: William Hook

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  1. zedetach
    September 17, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I think it would be in the interest of every gamer that you run some benchmarks showing the performance gains when using high performance ram vs a generic one.

  2. be166
    February 5, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    " If you can afford it, more is always better"

    This is so wrong. This article is misleading readers to think that the more RAM you have, the better, but, in fact, you don't need more than 16 GB of RAM even for a super hard-core PC. Even 16GB of RAM is overkill. More than 16GB is just simple waste of money.





    December 20, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Intel i5-2400 with DH67BL Motherboard 64 bit OS
    Currently I am having 2 * 4GB OF KIngstone Desktop basic level RAMs.
    But Now i am thinking of upgrading RAMs with Corsair XMS3 DDR3 4 GB Desktop RAM (CMX4GX3M1A1333C11) OR G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3 4 GB (1 x 4 GB) PC RAM (F3-10666CL9S-4GBXL). BUT i am confused with this 2 , Could you please Suggest the Better one for My PC Specs.
    & Also if i use all 3 together what will be its advantages or Disadvantages.

  4. Chris M
    October 22, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Setting up a new computer, I have tried to find an answer to a few qustions. they are...

    1: I want 8G of RAM. Which would be better to buy, 2 x 4G or 4 x 2G?
    2: Which is better performance? 8G at 1600 or 4G at 2400?
    3: How much faster than an SSD is RAM? I understand they are both solidstate. but the RAM must be faster, or we would be seeing 256G RAM modules. And not at $2 billion each.

    • likefunbutnot
      October 23, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      1 - 2x4GB or best of all 1x 8GB. You only have so many DIMM slots. If you fill all of them you can't add more later.
      2 - You won't be able to tell a subjective difference unless all you want to do with your computer is run benchmarks
      3 - You are asking the wrong question. The correct question is, "How much faster is an SSD than a traditional HDD?" And the subjective answer to that is "A LOT." Figure you'll see about an order of magnitude in terms of real world performance difference for anything that hits your hard disk (startup/resume, loading applications, level load times in games). A good SSD is going to have an access time of around 100 microseconds (100 millionths of a second), compared to around 10 milliseconds (ten thousandths of a second) for a hard disk, but RAM's access times are going to be some single digit number of nanoseconds (billionths of a second)... but RAM has a very different interconnect with the CPU than a disk drive.
      If you have a staggering amount of RAM, you can in fact make a RAM drive. You'll have to use third party software to do it on Windows, but it might be useful if for something or other.

    • Danny S
      October 31, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      1) Depends on how many DIMM slots and maximum amount of memory your motherboard can support. If it has 4 slots and only supports up to 8GB, then do 4x2GB. Otherwise, do 2x4GB.
      2) Technically speaking, the 4G at 2400 would be faster, but the 8G at 1600 would let you run more (demanding) applications.
      3) I'm not quite sure, but it's certainly faster because it's directly connected to a motherboard bus and it's temporary. Remember, SSDs are permanent storage.

  5. likefunbutnot
    October 22, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Performance improvement does not come with goofy heat spreaders or LEDs, which is part and parcel of anything that's marketed to gamers.

    It's likewise disingenuous to suggest that even a hard core PC gamer currently needs more than 8GB RAM - even AAA titles really don't exceed a 2 - 2.5GB memory footprint, leaving plenty of room for an OS install and a browser with a few dozen open tabs. More RAM is only necessary if the system actually needs more RAM; there's no subjective difference in user experience on a Windows machine between a machine with 8GB RAM and one with 48GB until the footprint of running apps exceeds available RAM, and getting past 8GB in 2013 probably means running either content creation tools or virtual machines.

    For the most part, anything other than memory frequency is just going to be for benchmark wankery.

    Gamers, just like everyone else, would be best served with the purchase of the largest solid state drive they can afford. If that means skimping on RAM, so be it; 4GB modules are practically being given away in cereal boxes these days.

    • Tom W
      October 24, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      I've seen two games recently, Watchdogs and COD:Ghosts, which require 6GB of RAM as a part of their minimum specifications. That is likely to become common for many AAA games released on the next-gen consoles as well as PC. That's just minimum specifications.
      Some very highly detailed games will require maybe as much as 2x that for the highest settings. As time goes on and visuals get ever better, the amount of RAM required to play the games will keep increasing.

    • Kalis
      October 31, 2013 at 5:53 am

      The gamer's performance chain usually starts with the graphics card tending to be the weakest link, followed closely by the CPU and further behind by the RAM... typically. I'd agree with likefunbutnot since none of the games I have come close to the 8GB limit on my system, but if Tom W is right and the newest releases are using 6GB minimum, then at least RAM is cheap and easy to replace/increase compared especially to the CPU and GPU. Still, I'd test those two games to see if they do indeed use & surpass 6GB regularly, or if the requirements were simply exaggerated.

      As for the latency, I'm wondering if the difference is not just small but negligible. Actually, I'm wondering whether or not both frequency and latency make that much of a difference when in the middle of a game, and not just on a benchmark test.

  6. Joe
    October 22, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    You should also mention that some people may still be using 32-bit OS's and if so they are limited to only 3.2gb of RAM, anything additional will not be seen by the OS. Its getting rarer but I still see people using x86 OS's occasionally.

    • Keegan
      October 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      3.2gb RAM?

      Limits on physical memory for 32-bit platforms also depend on the Physical Address Extension (PAE), which allows 32-bit Windows systems to use more than 4 GB of physical memory. It usually goes up to 4 GB though.