Memory Upgrade: Is It Time To Add More RAM?

Summary And Recommendations

Concluding Remarks

It's rarely this hard to give a clear assessment. The facets of various memory issues are too extensive and vary widely depending on each user and his or her relevant applications. Interestingly, certain 32-bit programs in 32-bit environments with 4 GB of RAM installed will benefit more from going to 8 GB (or higher) than some 64-bit applications in 64-bit environments. As a side benefit, this approach closes the annoying gap between the 4 GB of installed RAM and the 3.25 GB usable by 32-bit Windows.

We tried to illustrate years ago why not all performance improvements can be shown simply in terms of frames per second. This is why our conclusion departs slightly from what you might expect only from looking at graphs. We based this conclusion on our objective measurements with subjective impressions included, just as we highlighted the benefits of a RAM disk for temporary files.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Based on our measurements and impressions (and taking falling prices into account), we thoroughly recommend a minimum RAM size of 8 GB. Using 12 or 16 GB only makes sense if you're planning on using 4 GB of more of this higher amount as a RAM disk, helping accelerate the reading and writing of temporary files. This applies equally to file compression, video encoding, and heavy image editing.

Other than this, you might want more RAM so the graphics card can allocate more system memory for its own use. We saw this pay dividends in GTA IV, for example. You won't see an overwhelming performance increase unless you're using very memory-hungry programs, but you will get a system with enough RAM for the foreseeable future.

Given our observations and low prices on memory upgrades, this is the time to hunt down a high-capacity memory kit for your system. In the end, it’s never wrong to make a step knowing that it will improve performance and provide some reserves.

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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.