Memory Upgrade: Is It Time To Add More RAM?

64-Bit: Benchmarks With 4 GB To 16 GB

Part 1: Gaming

Older, single-threaded, 32-bit applications benefit very little from large expansions of system memory when only one application is running. We know from previous benchmarks and articles that 32-bit games running in 64-bit environments don't benefit much (sometimes at all) from system memory sizes above 4 GB, at least not in terms of frames per second.

Another rule is that an increase in performance can only be seen when a) less data is transferred between the RAM and the swap file or the data is transferred faster and b) when the writing and reading of temporary files is extremely fast. This brings us back to our earlier 32-bit discussion. Using a RAM disk can shorten load times significantly, but it doesn't really impact the actual frames per second. Also, giving the graphics card more allocable memory is likely to impact your subjective perceptions. Unfortunately, this acceleration cannot easily be quantified.

We tested the games one more time. Using the 4 GB of RAM test results as a reference point for the 100% mark, we calculated the individual relative percentage values using higher memory capacities to get a better overall comparison.

So far, so annoying. Other than the 64-bit client of Half-Life 2 with the Bombast mod installed, hardly any game sees an increase in frames per second using more RAM. The increased amount of system memory allocable by the graphics card noticeably decreases the number of visual artifacts in GTA IV. Load times could be shortened if the temporary directories were relocated to a RAM disk.

Here, however, you have to weigh what is more meaningful: running the entire system equally fast from an SSD or creating a RAM disk that requires at least 12 GB of RAM in order to be useful.

Part 2: Applications

We only expect to see performance increases when programs are able to allocate and, more importantly, need more memory space. Only then can you avoid the swap effect and the performance impact we described earlier. This can also be somewhat alleviated with an SSD. We therefore only expect a jump in performance when the amount of RAM needed is nearing the amount that is installed. In the following charts, we see two examples with measurable, though small, improvements.

The synthetic benchmarks don't show any significant performance advantage, so we decided not to create a lot of pointless charts with identical bars. The fact is that a good-sized RAM disk provides a better performance increase than having more memory once you cross a minimum threshold.

At this point, we want to refer to our 32-bit benchmark results, as they're also valid for the 64-bit equivalents. However, in terms of usability on multitasking systems, we'd say that 8 GB of RAM is the minimum, even when not factoring in system memory used by the graphics card. If necessary, 6 GB will do as an interim minimum for enthusiasts in triple-channel systems.

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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.