What Does RAM do for Gaming?
Updated · May 10, 2022
It’s a good year for gaming. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to beef up your PC, now’s the time.
When you’re building a good gaming machine, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many components to pick from, and each one affects your build in different ways. And if you make the wrong choice, that might hurt your build’s performance or result in a bottleneck.
Thankfully, we’re here to clear things up. In this article, we’re going to talk about RAM.
What does RAM do for gaming? What specs should you look for, and what do you need to know when choosing?
Let’s find out.
What Is RAM?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty technical part, let’s get the basics out of the way. If you want to learn how to choose RAM, you need to know what that is.
Your computer uses two main ways to store data – ROM (permanent storage) and RAM (temporary storage).
RAM stands for Random Access Memory. In layman’s terms, it’s short-term storage for faster loading of information the system’s using right now.
Coincidentally, that’s what makes RAM required for gaming. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Imagine a physical desk. The top of the desk is your working space, and it’s covered with stuff you need for your current project. Sheets of paper with scribbles on them, the pen you’re using, etc. That’s RAM.
On the flip side, the drawers are your ROM. That’s where you put something for long-term keeping.
Whenever you open a program (pull something out of a drawer), your OS sends that program’s data into the Random Memory. Once you close the program, it gets cleared. All of RAM also gets cleared as you shut down your PC. Which explains why certain programs take longer to start after launch.
Everything you do on your computer consumes some amount of RAM. The speed with which you open programs or switch between them depends on how much memory you have.
What Does RAM Do For Gaming?
Okay, but what’s the deal with RAM and games?
A game is stored on your drive. But constantly pulling data from the SDD/HDD is inefficient and slow – and slow is the last thing you want while playing. So, your PC moves the game’s data to a component where it can quickly access it and give you a smoother experience. Pulling data from RAM is 20 to 100 times faster than pulling it from an HDD.
It's worth mentioning that there’s also another type of RAM needed for gaming, and that’s video RAM (or VRAM). That’s a GPU spec that dedicated graphic cards come with. It’s responsible for rendering the graphics you see on your screen.
Technically, both types of RAM deal with graphics. But since that’s all VRAM does, it’s an efficient way to take some pressure off your main Random Access Memory. As long as you have enough virtual memory, your visuals won’t take any resources away from other processes.
Is More RAM Better?
Now you know what RAM is and what it does. But how much is enough, and what does more RAM do for gaming?
Since RAM helps loading speed, you might think that the more of it you have, the better your performance will be.
But that’s not completely true.
There’s a fine line between having enough memory for your needs and overdoing it. Adding more only helps if the programs you’re running require more GBs than you already have. Otherwise, it’s an exercise in futility.
If you ever find yourself asking: Do I need more RAM for gaming?, just envision your RAM as a jug of water. If you have 10 liters of water and only a 5-liter jug, then there’s no way it would fit. The water would overflow – which, coincidentally, is the word used when your RAM is insufficient.
On the other hand, if you only ever need to store 5 liters of water, a 10-liter jug is unnecessary overkill.
Same here. Do you know what game uses the most RAM?
It’s probably Cities: Skylines with mods. RAM consumption there scales with your playstyle and the number of assets you decide to add. It can become an absolute monstrosity under the right circumstances.
Let's say your Cities requires 13 GB of RAM. You can have 16, 32, or 64 GB – it would make absolutely no difference for your gaming. You just need to meet the requirements.
How Much RAM Does Gaming Require?
Knowing the role of RAM for computer gaming, you wouldn’t be surprised that your needs depend on what you’re running.
The most common RAM stick capacities are:
- 4 GB
- 8 GB
- 16 GB
- 32 GB
- 64 GB
At the time of writing this, 16 GB is the general baseline most people use for gaming. It also depends on your preference. If you don’t really play any RAM-heavy games, you might get away with 8GB. Hardly anyone uses 4 GB anymore.
If you’re a streamer or into heavy editing/multitasking, you could benefit from 32 GB. 64 GB isn’t very widespread, but it may help future-proof your build. Even if you don’t need that much right now, it might pay off in the long term.
RAM Specifications for Gaming
Games have become a huge industry, and sometimes keeping up takes a conscious effort.
If your only question was: How much RAM should you have for gaming?, you have your answer at this point.
But the rabbit hole goes deeper than that. Not all RAM is created equal, and if you want the best for your build, there are a few things to consider.
DDR is an acronym that accompanies every stick of RAM, alongside a number designation. It means Double Data Rate – it basically says that the stick operates twice as fast.
This technology has improved over time and has several different generations:
When you’re looking for the best RAM for gaming, you want DDR4 or above. DDR2 is well outdated, and DDR3 is on its way out the door, too.
It’s important to note that different generations of this technology are incompatible. If you have a motherboard with a DD3 slot, you can’t plug a DDR4 or DDR5 stick into it. This is something to keep in mind when future-proofing your PC.
When it comes to choosing RAM, clock speed is another thing to keep an eye on. Clock cycles are displayed in megahertz and reflect the number of cycles RAM can do per second.
For example, 2500 MHZ RAM runs 2500 billion cycles per second.
Naturally, higher clock speed means faster RAM and an overall smoother experience. However, it’s a minor improvement at best – you might not even notice the difference.
There’s a connection between DDR generations and clock cycles – older DDR tech isn’t going to wow you with its clock speed. So, when you’re picking your new RAM for PC gaming, a current-gen DDR should be fast enough.
Number of Sticks
RAM comes in sticks that you plug into your PC’s motherboard.
Most modern motherboards support dual-channel memory. That means your system can use two sticks at the same time, giving you a slight performance boost.
Let’s say you want 16 GB of RAM. Dual-channel memory means you should put in two 8GB sticks instead of a single 16 GB one.
Certain motherboards even support quad-channel, meaning you can use up to 4 sticks at the same time. Not only does that improve performance, but it makes it easier to replace a stick gone bad.
RAM’s Compatibility With Motherboard?
Okay, you know the amount of RAM needed for gaming, as well as some important specs.
None of that matters unless you pick Memory that’s compatible with your motherboard. Wrapping your head around this and navigating the sea of options can get confusing. And if you pick a wrong module type, it just won’t work.
So, let’s go over the various specifications and help you find the best RAM for gaming:
As you already know, RAM comes in sticks. Each stick is also called a memory module, as it goes into the memory slot on your motherboard. A module that’s incompatible with your system either won’t fit or won’t work properly.
DDR4 and SDRAM
Modern computers use SDRAM, or Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory. It’s a type of memory module that synchronizes with the computer processor’s frequency. With time, the technology has evolved to offer more stability, faster transfer rates, and lower power usage.
DDR SDRAM stands for Double Data Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory. It functions just like SDRAM, but it’s faster. Just like with standard DDR modules, the generation determines how new and fast it is. Most people right now use DDR4 and DDR5 SDRAM.
Like we said earlier, different generations of motherboards and RAM sticks are incompatible.
That’s enforced through form factors, which is a fancy way of saying “different module sizes and shapes”. When choosing RAM for PC gaming, you’ll be faced with two choices: DIMM and SO-DIMM.
- DIMM (Dual in-line memory module): large RAM sticks found in desktop computers
- SO-DIMM (small outline dual in-line memory module): smaller modules used in laptops, mini-PCs, or certain smaller motherboards.
What have we learned about RAM and games?
For most people right now, getting 16 GB seems to be the way to go. More RAM is only worth it up to a point – once you go over your actual needs, you’re just wasting money.
Also, it’s worth remembering that many different components contribute to your gaming experience. Your GPU and CPU matter, as do all other components. Even something as minor as a good keyboard or the right DPI can make a difference.
Whatever RAM amount for gaming you go with, remember to pick a type that fits your motherboard. Also, most gaming motherboards will support dual- or even quad-channel memory. Get multiple modules – that way, even if something goes wrong, you can keep playing.
Ultimately, this is an important choice for any PC builder. Now that you know how to choose RAM, you’re ready to put together a system that’ll make you happy.
Do you need 16GB of RAM for gaming?
It really depends on what you’re running. Older or low-requirement titles might work on 8GB. But if you want to play the big new titles, you’d often need at least 16 GB.
Is 32GB RAM good for gaming?
It’s definitely not bad. Even if you might not need it right now, it’s a good way to future-proof your build. And it’ll be a long while before you need to worry about your RAM again.
Is 32GB RAM overkill?
It honestly depends on your needs. What does RAM do for gaming? It gives the game as much short-term memory as it needs. Right now, no game out there needs 32GB. Unless you multitask a lot while gaming, you probably don’t need that much.
Is 64 GB of RAM overkill?
Probably. No game requires that much. You might fill it up if you run a lot of taxing software while also playing RAM-heavy games. But for the huge majority of users, that amount of RAM would be overkill.
A reader who loves writing, a marketer who loves tech, a nerd who loves working out. Dilyan is FOMO personified. If he isn't reading or writing, he's probably either gaming, messing around with something on his PC, or off swimming/cycling somewhere. Oh, or playing Dungeons & Dragons.
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