When PC specifications talk about memory, they’re referring to Random Access Memory, or RAM. Made up of two to four small memory chips, RAM is a vital component to any PC and gaming PCs especially. The question then becomes, “How much RAM do I need for gaming?”
The Facts on RAM
PC memory serves as the immediately accessible storage for all of the operations you use on your computer. Every time you load an application or open a file, it gets loaded to RAM for use. The storage modules used for RAM are much faster than those used in dedicated storage drives, making them ideal for active use but not for long-term storage. A good way to think about it is an analogy to the brain. If your hard drive storage serves as your PC’s long-term memory, RAM is the short-term memory that allows it to quickly recall information for immediate use. Unless you take the time to save the information to your hard drive, it won’t be available after it’s done being used by the RAM.
More RAM lets you keep more data ready to use, instead of having to pull that data from elsewhere. As a result, more RAM translates to better performance and better multitasking, and it lets you get the most out of the processing hardware you have. But it’s something of a balancing act. When you have too little RAM, your PC slows whenever it gets bogged down, but if you have too much memory, it largely sits unused.
So how much RAM do you need for gaming? Gaming PCs often come with a range of memory options, but the minimum you need for gaming is 4GB, both for laptops and desktops. That said, while a system with 4GB of RAM can run most current games, there’s a threshold you want to meet for better playability.
To that end, laptops have better gaming capability with a minimum of 8GB of RAM, while gaming desktops usually need 16GB. This accounts for the slightly different hardware profiles of gaming desktops, and the larger allotment of memory works better with the high-end graphics and processing hardware you use in your desktop.
As a general rule, more memory only helps processor-based performance, so don’t expect any visual improvements after a memory upgrade. However, gaming is as much a processor-intensive endeavor as it is graphics dependent, so you want to make the most of whatever hardware you have.
How Much Do I Want?
Beyond the question of how much you need is how much you want. It’s safe to say you want as much RAM as you can get. More memory improves performance for any processor-intensive application, and it has the distinction of offering some of the best bang for its buck among PC upgrades. RAM is very affordable and is easy for even a relative novice to install on a laptop or desktop PC. Laptop PCs in particular have limited upgrade options, since their designs include custom motherboards, soldered-in components and limited accessibility for end users. However, many laptops do allow you add RAM, and desktops are generally limited only by the number of memory slots on the motherboard.
There are also several different manufacturers of memory chips. Some of these RAM modules are sold as “gaming RAM” touting faster performance, better cooling and even overclocking. However, unless you’re a competitive gamer, the benefits you’ll get from even the best gaming RAM are minimal, and an extra 2GB to 4GB of regular memory will go much farther than any gaming optimization. Before you look into specialized memory options, look for compatible RAM modules that have higher speeds. Good RAM for gaming is anything that is faster or has better capacity than you currently have installed.