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RAM has become one of the most hotly-touted specs in hardware, but there isn’t actually much understanding of what it means beyond “more is better”. While we aren’t here to argue this assessment, we are here to make sure that you buy the best RAM sticks for you, especially if you want to have a great gaming experience.
Whether you’re here looking for budget RAM kits or the fastest RAM on the market, we have you covered. If you aren’t really sure what to look for, that’s okay too. We’ve added a buyer’s guide to the bottom of the article that you can use to help make sense of all these specs and choose the right RAM for you.
How To Buy The Best RAM For You
In this section, we’re going to go over each of the main specs to take into consideration when trying to find the best ram for gaming. If you’ve gone through the article and aren’t sure about something, this section is for you. If you still have any questions left after you’ve finished, feel free to ask us in the comments below and we’ll be there to help.
DDR3 or DDR4: What’s the best type of RAM?
The first big difference between DDR3 and DDR4 RAM is the fact that they’re different standards. DDR3 RAM is a previous generation of RAM and is supported by older motherboards– pretty much any motherboard manufactured after 2007 and before 2014. DDR4 RAM was introduced in 2014, and has been the standard for RAM in PCs ever since.
The other difference between DDR3 and DDR4 RAM is, well… speed. DDR3 RAM speeds peak at around 2133 MHz, while DDR4 RAM speeds start at 2400 MHz. Since DDR3 is such an old standard, DDR4 RAM is often less expensive than DDR3 on average and much, much faster. However, this doesn’t mean that DDR3 RAM should be foregone entirely.
DDR3 RAM is still necessary for upgrading pretty much any PC built in or before 2014. If you’re a savvy budget gamer, you may also have purchased a used prebuilt desktop to slap a new GPU into– and that desktop is likely to still be using DDR3. There are many reasons to still be browsing for DDR3 RAM in 2019.
However, you shouldn’t be browsing for DDR3 RAM if you’re building a new PC. There is no benefit in doing so, and you’ll also be locking yourself into obsolete motherboards and CPUs. These older-generation motherboards and CPUs will often be inflated in price as well, thanks to the fact that they are no longer being manufactured.
If you’re building a new PC, DDR4 RAM is all that should matter to you. You should only be looking into DDR3 RAM if you’re upgrading an old PC.
Read More: DDR3 vs DDR4 RAM: Which is better?
While the rule of “more is better” rings true with RAM, the rule of diminishing returns does as well, especially as far as gaming PC memory is concerned. Past a certain point, especially if you aren’t a very specific type of user, getting too much RAM is simply throwing away money.
Below, we’re going to go over popular RAM configurations, and help you pick which to target.
- 4 GB – The most basic configuration. Okay for common desktop usage and older games, but not at all enough for intense multitasking or modern games.
- 8 GB – The most common configuration. This is great for common desktop usage, and will work well with most modern games, as well. Only extreme multitaskers- ie, livestreamers- need to go beyond this. This is the best amount of memory for gaming.
- 16 GB – The high-end configuration. This is a favorite among enthusiasts, and is very unlikely to be filled by anyone but the most extreme users. Hardcore gamers and livestreamers alike should be more than satisfied with this RAM configuration.
- 32 GB – Unless you’re hosting a server or running Virtual Machines, this RAM capacity and higher is almost completely pointless. You aren’t going to see gaming or common usage gains here at all.
For the savvier among you, you’ll see the word “Latency” and assume that lower means better. This is… technically true, but the nature of RAM manufacturing means that CAS latency increases as RAM speed does. This doesn’t nullify the performance gains, though– it’s mainly just a quirk of memory technology.
If you’re curious to learn more about CAS Latency, click here to read a writeup from Crucial on the topic.
Otherwise, you don’t really need to worry about it. As long as the CAS Latency number isn’t abnormally high in comparison to the RAM speed being presented (16 is a fairly common number for DDR4, for instance), you have nothing to worry about. All of our picks in this article are well within safe ranges and aren’t going to be bottlenecked by CAS Latency.
RAM Channel Configurations
Another common term you’ll see referenced is “Dual-Channel”. This is the most common RAM configuration in gaming PCs, and the best for most users. Below, we’ll explain the main three configurations and what makes them different.
- Single-Channel – Single-Channel RAM refers to a scenario in which all system RAM is inside a single RAM stick. This prevents the RAM stick from achieving its full potential speed, which can be a particularly harsh bottleneck for DDR3 RAM and lower-clocked DDR4 RAM. Always avoid this when possible.
- Dual-Channel – Dual-Channel RAM refers to the scenario where two identical RAM sticks are run in the same system. In this scenario, the RAM sticks are able to work together and reach their full, rated RAM speeds. This is ideal in all scenarios.
- Quad-Channel – Quad-Channel RAM refers to- you guessed it- the scenario where 4 identical RAM sticks are run in the same system. While this does result in increased memory bandwidth, however, the performance gains are marginal-to-nonexistent, especially in games. The only reason to run QC RAM is if you’re upgrading the capacity of a pre-existing DC setup, not for performance.
RAM Speed, and The Effect It Has
Last but not least, let’s talk RAM speed. Some enthusiasts will claim that RAM speed makes no difference at all, and capacity is what matters. Others will claim that RAM is one of the most important upgrades you can make to your system, and if you’re running anything less than a Quad-Channel setup, you’re a drooling idiot.
Neither of these statements is quite true… at least entirely; they both hold some truth, though.
Capacity is definitely more important than RAM speed. It determines how much your PC is capable of handling at once. RAM speed also seems to make no meaningful impact on average or maximum FPS in games, which lends further credence to the idea that it doesn’t really matter that much.
Speed does matter, though, at least a bit. You can see it come into effect if you take 8GM RAM and run it in Single-Channel and compare it to running two identical 4GB RAM in Dual-Channel. The Single-Channel– especially if it’s DDR3– will severely bottleneck your CPU. In fact, this bottlenecking would still occur even if you were using the best DDR4 RAM. As such, you need at least a Dual-Channel setup to achieve the full potential of both your RAM sticks and your CPU.
The other scenarios where RAM speed matters are non-gaming scenarios. Think video rendering and more advanced, professional tasks.
RAM speed even matters in gaming! While it’s true that RAM speed has little-to-no impact on average or maximum FPS, it does have a meaningful impact on minimum FPS. In other words, the faster your RAM is, the less severe your FPS drops will be whenever they occur. This is great if you want a smoother, more consistent gaming experience.