What Does Ram Do for Gaming and How Does It Work?
Updated: November 23,2022
With the PC component prices on the rise and the decrease nowhere in sight, some may wonder,” How much RAM do I need for gaming?” We are here to help you answer that question.
RAM Memory and Gaming
Whenever someone talks about their gaming specs, they will first tell you about their rig’s central processing unit (CPU) and graphic processing unit (GPU). Random-access memory (RAM) is only mentioned as a side note, even though not having enough of it can create a severe bottleneck on your gaming machine.
So what does RAM do for gaming? It actively provides temporary, fast, and easily accessible memory to the user’s machine, which supplements your graphic card’s video random access memory (vRAM), boosting the user's game performance and providing system-wide stability.
RAM isn’t used only for gaming. It is accessed and used by all programs on your device. While vRAM is a dedicated computer memory used for storing only graphical data, RAM handles all sorts of tasks.
What Does RAM Do in a Computer?
RAM is a temporarily accessed memory that a PC uses to store and quickly access data currently in use. Once the user is done with that data, it will be purged from the RAM to make space for the next task. That doesn’t mean the files are forever lost.
They are moved to permanent storage on a hard disk drive (HDD) or solid-state drive (SDD) if it’s required. HDD and SSD have more space than RAM but cannot achieve the access speeds needed to create a seamless data transition for gaming and running day-to-day tasks.
Think about RAM as a distribution hub between the HDD or SSD and the CPU. Whenever the CPU requests something from SSD, the RAM will fetch it and keep it until the CPU no longer needs it. If the RAM gets overloaded with requests, everything on your computer will slow down.
Things To Know About RAM
Before you ask yourself: “How much RAM do I need for gaming?” let’s first cover a couple of essential things about random access memory.
Not all RAM is the same, and they won’t all work with your PC.
Not really a RAM specification but still a crucial one to know. The motherboard determines how many RAM sticks a PC can have. Most modern-day PC motherboards support dual-channel memory and offer four slots in color-coded pairs of two. To use the full potential of dual-channel memory, it is better to have two 8GB sticks instead of a single 16GB stick, for example. Some motherboards (primarily on laptops) have integrated RAM, which can’t be replaced.
RAM technology advanced over the years, and now there are multiple different versions of RAM sticks. They are clearly marked with numbers after the DDR designation. DDR stands for Double Data Rate, and as of the time of writing, we are currently on the 5th version (DDR5).
Different versions of DDR sticks aren’t compatible, and only a select few CPUs support more than one type. It’s also important to note that the motherboard can also only support the DDR version it was designed to work with, so most will only work with one generation of RAM. If you are looking to upgrade, you’ll need to check your motherboard information to see which DDR technology it’s compatible with.
Next to RAM speed, this is the most important consideration when looking for the best RAM for gaming. They come in various capacities, with 8GB being the most common these days.
More RAM isn’t always better, it won’t handicap your system, but it won’t provide any additional improvements unless your system can make use of it. It’s better to have two 8GB sticks running in dual-channel mode than a single 16GB stick.
By the same token, if you don’t need more than 32GB of ram, filling all four slots with 8GB of ram is better than getting two 16GB sticks or one 32GB stick.
RAM speed is measured the same way as on the CPU - in megahertz (MHz). The faster the RAM is, the better the performance, but the effects are not nearly as drastic in most scenarios compared to having a faster CPU.
Keep in mind that your PC's CPU and motherboard limit the maximum RAM speed. It is also vital to match your RAM sticks, as putting two of differing speeds means that the faster one will have to run at the speed of the slower stick.
Next to speed, we also have RAM latency, representing the delay in data transmission between HDD, RAM, and CPU. Latency is measured in nanoseconds, and on the RAM specification, it’s shown as CAS (Column Address Strobe) latency parameter. If you don’t plan to overclock your system, you can ignore this option when browsing for a new stick, but if you do, look for lower latency memory sticks.
How Much RAM Do I Need for Gaming?
There are a couple of things we need to consider before answering this question.
- Game requirements - Different games have different system requirements, but most games recommend the users have 16GB, and the minimum these days is 8GB of RAM.
- Operating system - A x86 (32-bit) version of Windows can’t use RAM sticks larger than 4 GB, which is why the vast majority of PC gaming setups these days use 64-bit operating systems.
- Other programs - Having other programs running in the background while gaming can affect the amount of RAM available for gaming.
If the PC is only used for gaming, 16GB of RAM will be more than enough. Even if there are a couple of programs running in the background, the performance will not suffer much unless they are memory hogs.
Still, if the PC needs to stream, record, or use several resource-hungry programs simultaneously, then 16GB will not be enough to run everything smoothly. If you have 8GB or less, more RAM will help with gaming, too.
It’s important to note that the PC can’t use extra free memory to magically boost the game performance. If the PC has 32GB of RAM and the game needs 16GB, the additional 16GB of RAM won’t be used for gaming since the game doesn’t need it. If the PC has enough RAM to run all the programs and games you need but is still struggling to perform well, the problem lies elsewhere.
How To Choose RAM
Picking the Right RAM for your system is as simple as looking at everything we’ve already discussed. Here’s a quick checklist:
- Motherboard - Check the version of DDR and the number of RAM sticks your motherboard supports. The relevant information can be checked online, by looking at the user manual, with the help of a system utility tool, or by simply looking at your motherboard.
- DDR Version - Be sure to match your sticks and motherboard in terms of DDR versions because they are incompatible cross-generation.
- CPU speed - the CPU speed and motherboard spec can hamper your RAM’s speed, so make sure you have a system that can make the most of your RAM.
- RAM capacity - If we look at a PC used only for gaming, 16GB will be enough for most games. 32GB will be future-proof and allow you more multi-tasking, though.
- RAM speed - RAM sticks will always match the speed of the slowest stick. If you are looking to upgrade, check your current stick's speed and either match or replace it completely.
- RAM latency - This is only significant if you plan to overclock your system. In that case, you are looking for the lowest possible CAS value on your RAM sticks. Be aware that faster RAM often has higher CAS latency, so sometimes it’s a balancing act.
Every Little Bit Helps
RAM will affect your gaming performance to an extent, but it’s not a miracle worker. Upgrading RAM won’t make an already struggling PC into a monster capable of running all the new games without any issues, but it will help your system run more smoothly overall.
Another low-budget upgrade to your system would be upgrading your HDD. If the PC is still struggling, it’s time for a more serious hardware upgrade, but it may be better to wait until the graphics cards are back in stock and the prices calm down a bit. Until then, make sure you have an adequate amount of RAM and a good CPU to help run everything better.
Frequently Asked Questions
Most games recommend 16GB of memory, so 32GB will be more than enough.
It will be enough for most games as long as you don’t have any demanding background programs working at the same time.
If you use it explicitly for gaming, maybe. More RAM will enable you to have more programs running simultaneously without impacting your games. If you are streaming while playing or running several demanding background programs at the same time, 32GB is just right. It’s also better for future-proofing, for what that’s worth.
In some instances, it does. At this point, you might be wondering what does RAM do for gaming exactly? It provides the PC with easily accessible memory, leading to faster task response times.
If the lack of RAM limits system performance, increasing it will improve the performance and thus the FPS. If you already have more than enough RAM, it won’t improve the FPS - only make it stable.
Unless you are running a scientific computer or a specific kind of workstation, it definitely is. For gaming purposes, anything over 32GB won’t really do much for your computer.
The recommended RAM to play GTA 5 is 8 GB, so it will be enough if you don’t run anything demanding in the background.
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While Damjan started his career in humanities, his interests quickly moved on to the tech and IT world. VPNs, antiviruses, firewalls, password managers - cybersecurity is what he knows best. When Damjan’s not losing hair over the dwindling of our collective sense of tech safety, you’ll find him looking for solace in 100-hour-long RPGs and rage-inducing MOBAs.