RAM is almost every time the first spec a person consciously (or sometimes subconsciously) considers when they decide they want to build a Gaming PC.
Tell me something, what is the first thought that pops up in your mind when I say a system has 8 GB RAM? It’s a Budget Gaming PC, right? Did your brain not instinctively decide that?
Well, as I said RAMs are almost always the first prerequisite, we complete in building our Gaming PC.
But here’s what we don’t consider about RAMs and usually overlook this important detail:
What Should Be the Right RAM Speed for My Gaming PC?
What is Ram Speed?
The read and write processes in a RAM are done on a cycle. Now, RAM is measured by the number of cycles it can perform in a second. So, if a RAM is rated at 3,200 Megahertz (MHz), it performs 3.2 billion cycles per second. This MHz is more commonly known as the RAM speed. Although, there’s another term “latency rate” which is also technically part of RAM speed. But we will be keeping our descriptions limited to the frequency or MHz part of the speed.
RAM speeds vary from the older 1,600 MHz models to the average PC’s 2,400 MHz. Currently, G.Skill holds the record for the highest RAM speeds at a whopping 8,704 MHz. However, in the familiar everyday gaming territory, the more popular RAM speeds are around 3,000 – 3,200 MHz. Read on to find out why these specific speeds are popular for gaming.
How does RAM Speed Affect Games?
Generally speaking, the higher the clock speed, the more data the RAM can transfer between components – and that too, quickly. A faster RAM improves game performance and supplies with extra FPS you need to pop a headshot just a split-second earlier than your opponent. However, the effect of RAM speed can differ in some different scenarios – the effect almost always being positive. Let’s see these scenarios briefly ahead.
Gaming Resolution (Low vs Ultra)
In the picture below, we can notice a general increase in the FPS as we move from slower (2,666 MHz) RAM to faster (3,800 MHz) RAM. However, the results became more significant after pumping the graphics up from low settings to higher settings (source).
(CL 16 / CL 14 numbers are associated with the other technical part of RAM speed called latency as mentioned earlier)
The picture below shows a significant improvement in average FPS by using a RAM with a higher frequency.
These results were consistent with The Witcher 3. You can notice better FPS in settings with faster MHz.
A similar improvement in FPS was also visible in The Witcher 3 when ran at Ultra Settings.
The 97th Percentile
Some games might respond to different RAM speeds, and some may not. Rise of The Tomb Raider below shows the influence of RAM speed but the average FPS of For Honor seems to be unaffected. However, with a closer look, the 97th percentile is clearly affected. This means a better FPS even at the low chance of game stutters or lags (source).
What is the right RAM speed for your gaming PC?
So, now that we have some idea of how RAM speed affects games, the next question is: what is the right RAM speed for your gaming PC?
The answer depends on your other hardware. The FPS depends mostly on your GPU or CPU (in CPU-intensive games). So, before you face a bottleneck by RAM speed your CPU or GPU might have already reached the maximum capacity.
With that said, you also want to avoid overspending or underspending. Now, you don’t want to underspend on an older 1,600 MHz RAM as it would obviously be too slow for gaming. Similarly, you don’t need to overspend on RAM speed greater than 4,000 MHz – unless you need the absolute best of the best components regardless of the cost. The sweet spot would lie somewhere in the middle.
Now, how do you find the sweet spot? The easiest way is to simply see the speeds supported by the CPU and motherboard as specified by the manufacturer. For example, the Intel i9-7900x CPU will only support the DDR4 RAM up to 2,666 MHz only.
The common practice amongst gamers is to get a 16 GB or 32 GB RAM kit with 3,600 MHz with the assumption to run it at 3,200 MHz. This provides the CPU with enough bandwidth cushion to cater to gaming, background tasks, and some unexpected crashes or errors (let’s face it, we all experience them from time to time).
Do You Need MORE RAM or a Faster RAM?
If you ever find yourself in a position where you have to choose between an 8 GB but faster RAM or 16 GB but slower RAM, you should always go for the 16 GB kit. It’s because you gain more bang for the buck in terms of capacity over speed.
In a test conducted by pcgamer.com, there was almost always a performance gain by upgrading RAM size. The gain is quite significant when upgrading from 8 GB to 16 GB, while it was quite flat when upgrading further. Although, the results were also noticeable in the 97th percentile score.
Similar results – with better FPS – were reflected in upgrading RAM speeds. Although, there were performance spikes in upgrading speeds, although not quite as much as upgrading from 8 GB to 16 GB.
Whether it’s a Gaming PC or any other system, RAM is one of the most crucial components. RAM size is one of the more popular components when choosing a RAM for a Gaming PC, however, RAM speed is equally as important. There is almost always a performance boost when upgrading RAM speed. In scenarios where average FPS is not as noticeable, the 97th percentile results were significantly a lot better because of a higher RAM speed.
So, if you need every FPS from your machine you should go for the faster RAMs. And if you are on a budget, the safer bet would be a 16 GB RAM with 3,600 MHz speed. This puts you right in the sweet spot without overspending or underspending, with a wiggle room for improvement down the road.