Memory Upgrade: Is It Time To Add More RAM?

64-Bit: Memory-Hungry Graphics Cards?

Graphics cards and memory

This part of the article treats all programs equally, including the 32-bit programs that run in a 64-bit environment. We'll start with a look into the graphics card’s use of dedicated and allocateable system memory. For example, 1 GB of dedicated video RAM can look plentiful at first glance, but in practice it's rarely enough. We've mentioned GMP, GART, and the fact that graphics cards can require or request additional memory. From now on, we'll use a 64-bit version of Windows 7 for testing and begin with only 4 GB of RAM installed.

The graphics card manages to assign itself an additional 1407 MB of system memory to outsource, for example, the storage of currently unused textures. A total of just 4 GB of installed RAM hardly makes sense if the game is already using 2 GB or more. The consequences of reduced assignment are late details that pop up out of the blue, lower texture resolutions, and even artifacts.

These artifacts vanish when you install another 4 GB of RAM, since this allows the graphics card to grab a fat piece of the system memory pie.

An additional 3059 MB of memory is now at the card's disposal.

Interestingly, when installing more memory, this value does not change above 4 GB. The amount of extra available memory can be very hard to measure and quantify in numbers of frames per second, mainly because it leads to improved level loading speeds, higher detail levels, and better-quality textures. Often, the game you're playing will allow for higher graphical options, and there will be fewer artifacts when the system is heavily loaded.

Summary and Conclusion

In a 64-bit system with a powerful graphics card, 8 GB of RAM really is a must if you're going to play demanding games. This is the case regardless of whether you're using 32-bit or 64-bit applications. However, even more than 8 GB of RAM can be subjectively noticed while playing. There is no real need for 16 GB of RAM, though. Going with 8 GB is quite enough unless you're running some taxing application in the background. We’ll comment more on this subject later, because the problem is often overestimated, as shown in our 64-bit gaming benchmarks.

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  • mi1ez
    Could you not translate the German?
  • Redsnake77
    Good article! Haven't heard mention of ram-disks in a few years.
  • mi1ez
    Really informative article. When I finally make my next upgrade I'll definitely be looking at big-time RAM. I refuse to buy any more DDR2 though!
  • Stupido
    Very interesting article indeed...
  • wild9
    Redsnake77Good article! Haven't heard mention of ram-disks in a few years.

    I remember seeing such a thing on the Commodore Amiga, including the ability to retain RAM Disk contents after a reboot. Seemed like a pretty cool resource. Another example of how forward-thinking that machine really was.
  • pentabuksus
    I have a HD5850 with 2 GB memory and a system with 4 GB DDR3

    Does the increase from the standard 1 GB to 2 GB actually decreases my need of system RAM, or increases my need?

    anyone know?
  • Anonymous
    On windows7 there is a registry setting to increase the amount of RAM used for caching. Seemed to help when I turned it on - though can remember what it is at the moment!
  • fepple
    swap space != virtual memory
  • discboy321
    How about a Test System of a quad Amd ? I do not know anyone that even had a six core yet ?
  • Silmarunya
    pentabuksusI have a HD5850 with 2 GB memory and a system with 4 GB DDR3Does the increase from the standard 1 GB to 2 GB actually decreases my need of system RAM, or increases my need?anyone know?

    Not usually, no. Your graphics card uses its own dedicated memory and will never use the (far slower) RAM.

    Besides, there's little reason to get a 2GB card (unless you'd game at high detail with more than 2 monitors, but a 5850 won't manage that anyway). Even 16x AA can rarely max out 1GB of graphics memory.
  • daglesj
    I have always read that its not the size of the swapfile thats critical to windows working but the fact you have one, even if its only 10MB in size.

    Certain services etc. in windows will look for a swapfile (as a legacy function as much as anything) and if one isnt there it flags it and stops whether it intended to use it or not.

    I bet if you ran the no swapfile tests with just a 10MB swapfile they would run fine.
  • wild9
    I'd really like to see the 32-bit benchmarks for Soundforge, an audio-editing application. Handling big files under a normal 32-Bit environment with 2GB of RAM can seriously drag my system down.

    So I am thinking that if the swap file, default temp well as Sound Forge's working folder..were moved to volatile memory (RAM), that this would speed things up immensely. Do any readers have any experience of this?

    The GTA IV benchmark looks very impressive, too. Anyone who's played that game will know how much it relies on CPU, GPU and hard drive resources. To knock 15 - 25% off the load times..'wow', is all I can say. Sure it's subjective, and may not be consistent, but that sounds a good enough reason for me to try this especially on less-capable hardware. I bet the previous incarnations of the GTA series might just show some subtle improvements, too.

    Thanks for the very interesting article, Igor.
  • Ko0lHaNDLuKe
    Interesting article considering I was just considering doubling my RAM from 4GB to 8GB. My thanks!
  • Rab1d-BDGR
    I've had 12 GiB installed for about a year, I managed to find a tripple channel kit that didn't cost the earth so I thought I may as well - but I've never seen more than half of it in use... I think 8 is probably the sweet spot now with 12 and 16 for future-proofing only if the price is right.

    On second thoughts, don't buy any more RAM, it only encourages Adobe and M$FT to add more bloat! :-P
  • Anonymous
    The swap file is actually physical memory. To call it virtual is a very old mistake by Microsoft that they are too proud to correct.
    The only way to increase virtual memory in a 32 bit system is with the /3GB switch. It might ruin your system though. Get VMMap fro Sysinternals if you don't believe me. The Virtual memory gets badly fragmented over time. Something VMMap will also show you. It leads to system crashes over time.
    The main point to take home, is that you really really badly need 64 bit. Unfortunately the damage has been done. Too many programs have already been written for 32 bit Windows because the uptake of 64 bit Windows have been too damn slow.
    Fortunately with 64 bit windows you get 4GB virtual memory per 32 bit process, but only IF the software is compiled with Large_Adress_Aware.
    So please tomshardware tell people the truth. They need to know.
  • Killingmaster
    nice article, I have an question. Is 2.5gb enough for core2 duo cpu with w7 64 bit?
  • Silmarunya
    killingmasternice article, I have an question. Is 2.5gb enough for core2 duo cpu with w7 64 bit?

    Depends what you intend to do with it. If you want to game or do heavy photo/sound/video editing, not really. If it's mainly used for internet, email, office and other light tasks, it should be fine.
  • xltbx
    ive got 3gb ram, on 64bit is it worth it to upgrade
  • MMclachlan
    I think that surely the conclusion from this is that for the average user, the advice should be to stick with 4gb?
    An extra 4gb doubles your outlay on RAM for what? A few less texture pop-ins on one game and ~10% faster loading times in some apps.
    I'm an 'average' user (gamer, and not productive!) and I had 6gb in my system for a while (2x2 + 2x4). I took the 2s out and sold them because I only once saw memory useage go above 4gb - that was running GTAIV and it crept up to about 4.5Gb. Other than that one game I saw no perceptable difference between 4 and 6 on Vista 64.
  • pichemanu
    I recently bought another 8 Gb of ram for my machine (i already have 4 gb installed) and RAM Disk Plus.

    I am running win 7 32. I used these 8 GB to create 2*4 GB ram drives. On the first i moved the temp and tmp folder, the iexplore cache and the firefox cache. The second i reserved for swap file.

    I then did some compression tests using 7zip. I took 2 large files (2*4.3GB) and compressed them in .7z format. I did this with the ram drive enabled and with them disabled. Sadly i didn't see any speed improvement.

    Do you have any ideea why that would be?

    I am asking as i have 30 days to return my ram, which i will do if i can't make the ram drives work.

    Thank you.