RAM (Random Access Memory) is the short-term memory of your computer. It is where your PC stores everything that is required to keep the programs and data currently in use. Physically, the main memory consists of building blocks, the so-called RAM banks. In most PCs and laptops, these can be exchanged for larger ones or supplemented with additional banks. The acquisition of new RAM can be complicated because there are different types of RAM banks that are not compatible with each other. When purchasing, it is important to correctly interpret the various abbreviations in the RAM product description. But how important is RAM for newer games? How much RAM does a laptop need to have to run Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020?
How RAM works
Your PC stores programs and data in different places. The rule of thumb is: the faster the memory is, the better it is for the system’s working speed, but the more expensive the memory is. The most expensive and fastest memory is the CPU cache. The slowest and – measured by size – the cheapest are the hard disk and SSD.
In the middle of these extremes is RAM. When you start a program or load a file, it moves from the hard disk/SSD to the RAM and from there the CPU accesses the data. If you use many programs and data at the same time, this requires a corresponding amount of RAM.
When people talk about RAM in the context of a PC today, it is usually so-called Synchronous Dynamic RAM (SDRAM). We will therefore stick to this type for the rest of this article. As already mentioned, RAM is located on the motherboard of most PCs in the form of one or more latches. However, especially in particularly compact laptops, it also happens that the manufacturers solder the RAM firmly.
This means it can no longer be exchanged or expanded. The quickest way to find out whether this is the case with your PC is to consult the manual or the support pages of the manufacturer. You can also use the free CPU-Z software to quickly find out what type of RAM is in your PC and whether there are any slots (“banks”) available.
Watch out: Don’t confuse SDRAM with SRAM. The latter is mainly used as CPU cache.
What is stored in RAM?
- The operating system: The operating system is essential for the operation of the computer and must therefore always be accessible.
- Text processing programs: For example, so that a backup copy can always be made, the data from the word processing programs you use is also stored in RAM.
- Internet browser and current data: The data of your Internet browser and other programs that require updating are also stored in RAM. A large RAM holds all the processes mentioned. If the working memory is too small, the performance of your hardware suffers.
Types of main memory
RAM-bars differ not only in the memory size but also in the design. In desktop PCs and servers, the so-called DIMM (Dual In Line Memory Module) is usually used. In laptops, SO-DIMM (Small Outline DIMM) is usually installed. Even though they are technically very similar, DIMM and SO-DIMM are not compatible with each other due to their different dimensions. Therefore, when buying RAM, the first thing you should do is to find out which design fits your PC.
Modern PCs work with so-called DDR-RAM. The abbreviation stands for Double Data Rate, which means that two data transfers take place per clocking cycle. The development of DDR RAM a few years ago was followed by DDR2, then DDR3 and finally DDR4. In other words: the higher the number at the end, the more modern the RAM. However, the different RAM generations are not compatible with each other. You cannot put DDR4 RAM on a motherboard that requires DDR3 RAM.
Watch out: Don’t confuse GDDR with DDR. GDDR is important for graphics cards and stands for Graphics Double Data Rate
You are protected against confusion: The contact strip at the bottom of the RAM bar is interrupted at a certain point. The receptacle for the bar has a notch at this point. The position of the recess varies from generation to generation. This makes it mechanically impossible to insert an unsuitable latch correctly. The number of contacts (pins) also provides information about the RAM generation:
- DDR2 has 240 contacts (200 for SO-DIMM). It is hardly available today. The purchase is only worthwhile for upgrading very old PCs.
- DDR3 is also almost ten years old and still the most common RAM currently available. The bars have 240 and 204 pins respectively.
- DDR4 has been available since 2011, but it is only now that it is slowly gaining ground. The bars have 260 contacts.
Future-proof with 32 GB RAM instead of 16 GB RAM?
This is a very difficult question that is very easy to answer: No.
If you consider the development of the last 5 years, you can see that gamers have not seen much change in RAM usage. The significant proportion of Triple A titles still uses 4-8 gigabytes of RAM, while the popular endurance titles such as League of Legends, CS:GO and the like are more than satisfied with 1-4 gigabytes. If you consider the average consumption of Windows 10 itself and smaller programs like Firefox, Discord and the like – it’s very rare to get above the 10-gigabyte mark.
But of course, there are also games like Cities Skylines and Age of Empires 2 Definitive Edition which can be driven to infinity by add-ons and mods. But these are to be regarded as very exotic individual cases.
It is also unlikely that game engines that require an abnormal amount of memory will suddenly appear within the next few years. Therefore, it is not worthwhile for gamers to invest in more than 16 GB of RAM.
Is 16 GB also enough for gaming AND streaming?
A resounding yes! If you are using a current streaming program to encode with Nvenc via your graphics card, you don’t need to worry about being limited by your RAM. You can even get along with diverse, everyday programs in the background, a Triple-A title from 2020 and Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) or similar without any problems. Even under such a load RAM of 16 Gigabyte will still have enough buffer capacity.