Does More RAM Make Your Computer Faster?

Highlights:

  • RAM is volatile memory that stores data temporarily for rapid access.

  • RAM can improve frame rates and frame pacing when playing games.

  • Check both capacity and speed when choosing RAM.

  • Know the difference between form factors like DIMM and SO-DIMM.

  • Get at least 16GB of RAM to play modern games, and more if you multitask.

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AMD APUs And Fast RAM

As many will know, the new batch of AMD’s processors tend to perform better under higher speed RAM. With that in mind, we thought it would be suitable to touch upon how fast RAM boosts the performance of the new line of processors that have become such a huge hit amongst both gamers and productivity users.

Let’s start with their APU range.

An APU, or accelerated processing unit, is AMD’s answer to a processor with a powerful, built-in graphics card. AMD & Intel have both been designing some form of APU for years now, allowing customers to get a slice of both pies at a hugely reduced price. But how does an APU utilize faster RAM?

First, let’s understand how an APU works. Unlike a PC that comes with a freestanding GPU, the APU has the graphics processor integrated into the CPU.

One of the benefits of having a standalone GPU is that it comes with its own super quick onboard VRAM to use when processing graphics. The APU, on the other hand, has to utilize your computer’s system RAM – RAM that is already being utilized for other processes.

So, what’s our point? Well, faster RAM, and more of it, is extremely beneficial to your APU system – faster RAM like the kind you would find onboard a GPU.

With AMD’s CPU range, the story doesn’t really change.

Since Ryzen was released, AMD has been making use of its impressive multi-threaded nature.

Multi-threading is when a CPU can double its cores by making use of virtual cores. If your CPU has six cores, it would have 12 threads, and so on. This being said, each thread will try to access your RAM, meaning quicker RAM will be more suitable to accommodate a multi-threaded CPU over say, an Intel CPU that doesn’t have this facility.

We’re currently in the process of putting together some benchmarking results of AMD vs. Intel and how faster RAM affects them in real-world situations. Stay tuned to see those results soon.

Consider a solid state drive

SSDs or Solid State Drives have come down to a price level where they are within reach of most. While they don’t reach the same capacity as their traditional spinning platter brethren, they typically have more than enough space to act as a replacement drive for most machines.

SSDs improve system speed simply by being faster to read. Write speeds vary, so the gains aren’t as dramatic, but when it comes to reading data, SSDs are significantly and noticeably faster.

The process for switching to a SSD is the same as for simply replacing your hard drive with another:

  • Create an image backup of your hard disk.
  • Physically replace the hard disk with the SSD.
  • Restore the image backup of your hard disk to the SSD.
  • Make any final adjustments, such as adjusting partition sizes.

SSDs do use flash memory, and flash memory does wear out. Fortunately the quality of flash memory used in SSDs is such that it now typically outlasts the useful life of the machine, in normal use.

Nonetheless, I strongly suggest that you plan for failure anyway and backup regularly. (This holds true even with a traditional hard disk, since they, too, can fail catastrophically and without warning.)

What Is Dual-Channel RAM?

Many modern computers feature dual-channel memory. Dual-channel (or interleaved) mode allows the CPU’s memory controller to exchange data with RAM through two channels, reading and writing to two sticks of memory simultaneously. This increases the available bandwidth.

Dual-channel mode will be automatically enabled on most motherboards with only two DIMM slots. When using two sticks in a motherboard with four slots, however, the memory must be installed symmetrically to use the same channel. The slots are often color-coded, but may be either staggered or side-by-side. Check the motherboard documentation for more specific instructions.

For ideal performance, ensure every stick of memory has the same speed, capacity, and timings. Avoid mixing and matching different module specifications if possible.

Memory Timings

RAM speed isn’t the only way to judge performance.

RAM timings are a measure of latency, or the delay before RAM can execute the commands it’s been given. Memory timings are given as a set of numbers, such as 16-18-18-36, which may be seen on the module’s factory sticker.

Each number corresponds to a specific test. The first number, for example, is CAS (Column Address Strobe) Latency—the number of clock cycles it takes for the memory module to return a set of data after a request from the memory controller.

Comparing RAM modules based on timings can be complicated. For instance, CAS Latency only states the total number of cycles; the duration of each cycle also matters when judging responsiveness. For example, DDR3 memory usually has a lower CAS Latency than DDR4, but performs worse due to its slower clock speed.

Memory timings aren’t usually a high priority consideration for a gaming PC. Timings are of interest to overclockers, who can manually lower timings in the BIOS, then test for stability. If successful, you can get better performance out of your existing RAM.

For most gaming PC users, RAM capacity and speed are the most important considerations.

Overclocking1 RAM

If you’ve purchased high-performance RAM, overclocking can help you go beyond stock specifications. The easiest way to do this is through Intel® Extreme Memory Profile (Intel® XMP).

When an Intel® XMP profile is selected in the BIOS of a supported motherboard, it adjusts voltages, timings, and frequency to enhance performance. These predefined settings have been tested and certified for stability.

It’s also possible to tweak memory profiles on some motherboards, as well as fine-tune settings manually from the BIOS.

To get started, check out this in-depth guide on how to overclock RAM.

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Does Faster RAM Equal More FPS?

Just like how adding more RAM can increase your FPS in certain scenarios, faster RAM can increase your performance in some situations, too.

However, most benchmarks show that the performance difference between base speeds of RAM (2133MHz is the lowest speed of DDR4 memory) performs very similar—or only slightly lower—than even the highest RAM frequencies in the majority of applications.

There are exceptions, though. For instance, many benchmarks show that Ryzen-based systems are able to deliver higher framerates in many games and synthetic benchmarks when they are paired with faster memory (~2666MHz or higher) than when they are paired with slower memory (2133Mhz).

Of course, this can vary from game-to-game. In some games, memory operating at higher clock speeds helps boost performance more than in it does in other games.

So, there is really no standard answer for whether or not faster memory will help you. It really depends on the types of programs you are running and the games you are playing.

Benchmarks show that in certain games and applicat
Benchmarks show that in certain games and applications, Ryzen-based systems can see a performance boost when paired with faster memory than when paired with slower memory.

It is also important to note that there is a difference in price between slower RAM and faster RAM. The price difference can vary, but as a rough estimate for DDR4 prices, 2133MHz memory is typically ~10-15% less expensive than 3000MHz memory. However, depending on where you’re shopping, the difference in price between 2133MHz kits and 2666MHz kits can actually be a lot less and, in some instances, can be the same price.

So, my best advice would be, first, if you’re building a system with a Ryzen CPU and you have the budget to afford faster RAM, try and get a memory kit that has a clock speed of at least 2666hz. Again, this is not going to increase your framerate and system performance in every game and application. However, it will cover you for those games and programs where faster memory does help.

The second thing to consider is your budget. If you’re working with a tight budget and the price difference between getting a slower kit of memory and getting a faster kit of memory means that you’d have to downgrade on your CPU or GPU in order to afford that faster memory kit, then you’d be better off choosing the slower RAM so that you can get the faster CPU and GPU.

Because, ultimately, the difference in performance between a lower-tier CPU/GPU and a higher-tier CPU/GPU is greater than the difference in performance between faster memory and slower memory.

But again, depending on the memory clock rate in question, in some instances, faster memory kits are only slightly more expensive than slower memory kits (2133MHz vs 2666MHz for example.)

So, maybe the best way to phrase what you should be looking for in terms of RAM speed is to say:

For new systems, get at least a 2666MHz memory kit (DDR4) and go with faster memory if the price increase won’t affect your choices on other more important components (like your CPU and GPU.)

Motherboard / Front Side Bus (FSB)

The motherboard is what connects most of your main components, but it’s really not that vital for speed. The individual components can usually send data through it as fast as they need to, though occasionally some (especially custom) high-end systems will benefit from a faster front-side bus (FSB) connection so that the computer gets the full benefit of a high-powered CPU. In general, average users don’t need to worry about it.

What About the CPU?

There is a common misconception that the CPU clock speed can be a bottleneck for memory performance. While that is indeed theoretically true, in practice your system will rarely run into such situations. Most modern processors are powerful enough to handle the fastest RAM speed without any latency issues.

Even during compute-intensive tasks like video editing or gaming, the bulk of the heavy-lifting is carried out by the GPU. The graphics card comes with its own RAM as well, with a memory speed higher than any DDR3 or DDR4 RAM module you could buy.

You could use any processor of an Intel lineup and you will get more or less the same performance, with minimal advantages by going for a faster chip. When it comes to everyday performance, things like the hard disk drive and operating system matter more.

How do you determine RAM latency?

This is where CAS comes in. To understand how fast your RAM actually is, you must look at its memory timing. It will be listed alongside the RAM with numbers presented in this format: 15-16-16-35.

The first column represents CAS latency, also known as “Column Access Strobe.” This is the number of clock cycles that pass between when an instruction is given and when the information is made available. If you tell someone to “duck!”, CAS latency would be the delay between when you command them to duck and when the other person reacts.

But CAS does not exist in a vacuum, and must be put into a formula alongside other specifications in order to determine the true latency of your RAM.

To calculate the true latency of your RAM in nanoseconds, use the following formula:

(CAS latency/RAM clock speed) x 2000 = latency in nanoseconds

If you have a CAS of 15 and a clock speed of 2400mhz, this would be your true latency:

(15/2400) x 2000 = 12.5 nanoseconds

If you have a CAS of 17 and a clock speed of 2666mhz, this would be your true latency:

(17/2666) x 2000 = 12.75 nanoseconds

Thus, higher CAS timings can result in a higher latency even with higher clock speeds. However, that doesn’t explain what happens in a situation where the true latency of two sticks of RAM are tied, despite them having different clock speeds (because the faster-clocked choice has a worse latency). In situations where that kind of tie occurs, the higher speed of RAM takes precedence over which has superior CAS latency. Thus, when comparing a stick of DDR4-3000 RAM with a CAS of 15 and a stick of DDR4-3600 RAM with a CAS of 18 (which would both have a true latency of 10 nanoseconds), the DDR4-3600 should be preferred.

Similarly, the comparison of CAS latency between RAM options of identical clock speeds is where CAS matters most. A stick of DDR4-3600 RAM with a CAS of 15 has a true latency of 8.33 nanoseconds, while a has a latency of 10.56 nanoseconds. In this case, the DDR4-3600 RAM with a CAS of 15 is objectively better than the DDR4-3600 RAM with a CAS of 19.

Hard Disk Drive (HDD) vs. Solid State Drive (SSD)

This one is easy: SSDs are pretty much always faster and better. They cost a bit more and max out at smaller sizes, but other than that, even lower-end SSDs will provide significant performance boosts to just about any computer. They’re usually quieter, cooler, more reliable, less prone to impact damage, and more power-efficient, and they’re relatively easy to upgrade.

The main types (as of August 2018) are Single Layer Cell (SLC), Multiple Layer Cell (MLC), and Triple Layer Cell (TLC). The general rule here is that the more layers per cell = cheaper, shorter lifespan, and slower. “Slow” is a relative term, though – they’re all fast compared to HDDs.

Bottleneck #2: Internet Speed

What is the most frequently used application on your computer? Once the answer would have been Microsoft Excel or another offline application. But the soaring popularity of cloud-based apps has drastically altered usage habits. From Google Docs to Onedrive, Facebook to Youtube, you probably spend most of your time online using a web browser.

And if you find internet browsing on Chrome to be slower than usual, don’t rush to declare the RAM capacity to be the culprit. The problem might possibly be poor internet connectivity.

Apart from the quality of the network itself, it is the Wifi card that decides the speed of your internet connections. For most notebooks, this card comes built into the motherboard itself. If you are using an older PC, consider upgrading the Wifi card first.

What Is a Central Processing Unit?

The Central Processing Unit (CPU), or processor, is the integral part of your machine. It is, in fact, the computer of your computer.

There are a few companies, like Intel or AMD, which provide the majority of processors to most machines and there are many different types of Intel or AMD processors, each able to deliver various speeds.

A great basic description of how a processor works can be found on wikipedia: “a CPU executes an instruction by fetching it from memory, using its ALU to perform an operation, and then storing the result to memory.”

The faster a processor is able to do that, the faster your computer will be. This is because it takes the processor to load and retrieve information from RAM. In essence, you could have unlimited RAM, but if your processor can only handle a certain workload, you’ll notice no speed difference.

So, What’s Better: More RAM or a Faster Processor?

That’s not to say that having 2GB of RAM with a top processor would work the same as having 16GB of RAM. But if you think you have a decent about of RAM (typically these days 4GB and higher), but your computer is running slowly. Think about upgrading your processor.

That’s great in theory. But swapping out processors could foul up different parts of your machine. That’s why you should check how much RAM you’re using in the Task Manager and see if it’s a RAM problem or a CPU problem.

If you’re not using much RAM, it’s time for a better CPU (and probably a better machine). At that point, adding more RAM will have little impact in solving the problem.

It’s like this: RAM is the size of the desk, but the processor is the person sitting at the desk.

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