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Ever had this experience before? You boot up your PC. You launch your favorite AAA game. Ultra settings across the board, ‘coz your graphics card is the best out there. You aren’t feeling the in-game music, so you launch Spotify in the background. While playing, you decide you miss your friends and open your browser to check on Facebook for a little while. Next thing you know, alt-tabbing back to your game isn’t working. It’s slow, the screen isn’t responding, and then after some time, your game finally loads, only to find yourself back to your last save coz you just died.
That’s what happens when your RAM is not enough anymore.
Think of a computer as a living organism. If the processor and graphics card are the muscles, and the motherboard and operating system make up the brain, then the RAM is definitely the heart of it all. And just like an organism, it doesn’t matter how strong your processor or graphics card is, if the heart, the RAM, isn’t as good, your entire system will slow down at some point, in one way or another. Why? Because, just like a body, the muscles can only function to its maximum capacity, if the heart is strong enough to supply the necessary blood and oxygen for the muscles to work. Similarly, if there is not enough blood bringing oxygen to the brain, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, your brain will not work as best as it could. The stronger and more capable the heart is, the better the performance.
RAM operates like this, (but not exactly the same, which you’ll learn later.) Especially when it comes to games. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a hardcore gamer or a casual one. Nobody likes choppy performance, random framerate drops, and the dreaded crash.
These days, operating systems are very memory hungry, like Windows 10 and macOS Mojave. Add to that all the different applications that are running in the background, and of course, the games. Games can take up a sizeable chunk of your RAM and if you don’t have enough, then expect your gaming to be slow and sluggish. If you find that your gaming rig isn’t performing as good as it did a couple of months or a year ago, then that might be a sign to get better RAM.
But what exactly is RAM anyway?
RAM, which stands for “Random Access Memory”, and it is what allows your computer to multitask and run different programs and applications all at once. It’s the transition point between your hard drive, which is slow-moving storage, and the CPU cache, which is insanely fast. It is where elements are temporarily stored for usage during the computer’s operation.
You’ll also see this acronym: DDR. It means double data rate, two data transfers per clock cycle. This is important because DDR4 RAM cannot be used on a motherboard that is only compatible with DDR3. Not that you can if you wanted to anyway, since each type has different notches, and trying to put a DDR4 RAM in a DDR3 compatible board will damage it. Right now, DDR4 is the best, operating at the lowest voltage while providing the highest transfer rate.
Choosing the best RAM for gaming sounds quite challenging at first, and it can lead to frustration that can lead to simply buying the biggest, best looking RAM sticks in a store and plugging them in your motherboard. But it’s not the case.
A few factors need to be considered when getting the right RAM: frequencies, timing, speed, and of course, size.
Frequency is a very important factor to check and consider, aside from the actual storage capacity that of course. The faster the frequency is, the faster the computer can retrieve data from storage, and send data to storage. Most DDR4 kits max out at roughly around 32000MHz, but RAM makers are gradually allowing users to overclock RAM to speeds that are just quite outrageous.
Timing is another thing to look out for. Simply put, it dictates the number of cycles for the RAM to fulfill a request. The lower the number on the RAM’s timing is, the more often it can process requests.
Lastly, it is important also to consider the RAM’s physical size. This usually doesn’t pose a problem, however, there are some RAM kits that have other bells and whistles, like lights and heat spreaders that make it physically larger than normal. This can take up other space or come close to other parts.
All of these things might be quite intimidating at first, but fortunately, there are lots of good choices out there for all your gaming RAM needs. Another good thing to note is that these days RAM prices have stayed quite affordable compared to the costs of RAM from starting a year ago. So it’s a good time to get new RAM. It really boils down to now knowing exactly what to get for your setup.
Here are a few quick shopping tips for those looking to buy new RAM:
Your processor matters – Having either an Intel based PC or an AMD based PC is an important factor when getting RAM. An Intel based PC will have programs that won’t respond properly if the system memory is way too fast, and of course, if the system memory is slow. So having a sweet spot is important for Intel. AMD, on the other hand, is affected more significantly by memory speeds because of its proprietary “Infinity Fabric” system, which is tied to the speed of the memory bus. This means, higher RAM speeds, better real-world performance, like faster frame rates and smoother movements. In relation to this…
The fastest RAM speed on an Intel platform is possible with a K-series CPU – The non-K-series Core i7 and i5 processors have similar DDR4-2666 limit found in the lesser H370 and B360 chipsets. So for the fastest RAM speed, get a K-series.
Shown memory speeds in an XMP profile isn’t always possible with AMD-based boards – XMP was designed for Intel motherboards. Think of it as an auto overclock feature. Motherboard makers put BIOS settings in place to help you get these increased speeds on AMD boards, but they aren’t always found in all boards. In fact, even if they are said to be a feature of the board, they don’t always work as intended.
16GB is the optimal number, for now – It sounds quite nice to get 32GB for your setup, and at first glance, big number = better. However, while it is the case these days that OS’s and games require a lot of RAM, 16GB is often more than enough. Spending more money on RAM than what you need is actually not good, especially since once you have enough, there are diminishing returns. The only time you will ever want to get so much ram, is if you’re an avid gamer who likes playing games while a browser is on with dozens of tabs, some of which are playing videos. Now unless you’re that, 16GB should be good.
Extra accessories are cool but unnecessary – Some RAM sticks have extra stuff like heat spreaders, LED lights, and so on. These are all nice to have, but are often not needed. RAM usually doesn’t generate heat significant enough to need specific cooling, and even at maximum performance, as long as your setup’s fan is moving air inside, your RAM sticks should be fine. As for the lights, they will add a cool look to your setup, but unless your case has a window or clear side, it’s an extra feature that won’t be appreciated as much. If your budget allows it, of course, you can go crazy.
Don’t be tempted to use 32GB-per slot – 32GB stick per slot might sound really awesome, especially since it’s been possible to do that for around a year now, firmware developers actually don’t prioritize support for it that much because of poor availability. If you do want to have 32GB per slot, it’s best to check if your motherboard supports it and is compatible with it, along with the proper firmware.
Know your budget – while RAM is now quite affordable compared to previous years, it’s still quite easy to just let loose and run out of cash buying recklessly.
In addition to these tips, it’s also good to know the important terms and acronyms you will run across when looking at RAM. These include the following:
DIMM – stands for Dual In Line Memory Module, this is the actual slot where the RAM is inserted on the motherboard. The DIMM is actually also a small circuit board in itself.
SO-DIMM – similar to regular DIMMs, but for laptops. These are more compact DIMM slots.
Frequency – as mentioned earlier, this is the number of commands the RAM can process in a second, measured in MHz.
XMP – this stands for Extreme Memory Profile, which are instructions for the BIOS and tells it what voltage, frequency, and timing to activate the RAM. It is also a way to overclock without having to nitpick each setting.
Timings – This indicates how many clock cycles an operation that the memory controller has requested would be completed by the RAM.
The Top 6 Best RAMs for Gaming
Now that we got that out of the way, it’s time to find out what the best RAM is out there for you to choose from!
Best RAM for Overall Performance – Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB 32GB DDR4-3200MHz
Speed: DDR4-3200MHz | Timing: 16-18-18-36 | Cas Latency: 16 | Voltage: 1.35V | Dimms: 2x16GB – A gamer’s favorite brand, the original Corsair DDR4 has been a consistent top choice by many gamers for a long time now. Not only does it look good, with its sleek exterior, built-in patented DHX cooling tech, and of course, its unparalleled performance. But now, a new version is on the market, the Platinum RGB, and adds higher clocked SKUs. For aesthetics, it has RGB LEDs.
One con is that even though it is a good RAM kit, it’s still quite pricey. However, it is worth every dollar, especially considering the performance you will get for your games.
Best RAM for High-Speed – Patriot Viper Steel DDR4-4400 (2x8GB)
Speed: DDR4-4400 | Timing: 19-19-19-39 (2T) | Voltage: 1.45V – If your board can handle ultra top speed, then the Patriot’s Viper Steel DDR4-4400 16GB is the best choice. Unlike most kits, this kit is simple, allowing Patriot to enhance timings that significantly boost the performance of programs and games. This is considered to be a solid choice for rigs that are focus built for specific tasks, like gaming.
Just like our first choice however, one con is its cost, as the kit is actually pricier than most RGB kits, even the ones that perform the closest to it.
Best RAM for Mid-Tier Gaming – G.Skill Ripjaws V 16GB DDR4-2400MHz
Speed: DDR4-2400MHz | Timing: 15-15-15-35 | Voltage: 1.2V – If your machine isn’t as cutting edge as possible overall just yet, then this RAM kit is a great choice. Off the bat, out of the box, it performs great already. Not to mention this is a really affordable, and faster kit from the manufacturer. Even without overclocking, it performs great versus modern benchmarks, but if you’d want to, overclocking can give an even better performance.
The obvious downside, of course, is that it isn’t as strong or fast as its 4400 counterparts. Nevertheless, it is a good upgrade for a mid to upper mid tier gaming machine for the casual and average gamer.
Best Bang For The Buck RAM – Muskin Redline
Speed: DDR4-2666MHz | Cas Latency: 16 | Voltage: 1.2V – If you’re truly on a tight budget, then this RAM is a good choice. And just because it’s not from some big name brand, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. For its specs, it is sold at a fantastic price and can serve the purpose of mid-tier gaming machines.
On the downside, however, lower cost often means lesser features, which is somewhat the case for this kit. Nevertheless, this is a good choice of RAM for the average gamer who doesn’t mind toning down the settings of a game a little bit.
Best Overclocker – Kingston HyperX Predator RGB DDR4-2933 (4x8GB)
Speed DDR4-2944 (XMP) | Timings: 15-17-17-39 (2T) | Voltage: 1.35V – Those with the ability or desire to overclock RAM will find the HyperX Predator to be the optimal choice. There probably isn’t any other RAM capable of a higher XMP rating for those who don’t overclock on their own. Even then, it might not even be possible to find one even if it is manually overclocked.
The con here is that, as mentioned earlier, XMP isn’t always available for AMD boards, and even then the reading might not be as accurate as the actual performance. Nevertheless, those who have the right board (and the desire to overclock) this is a very good pick.
Best High-End, Maximum Specs RAM – G.SKILL Trident Z Royal Series 128GB DDR4-3200Mhz
Speed: DDR4-3200MHz | Timing: 14-14-14-34 | Cas Latency: 14 | Voltage: 1.35V | Dimms: 8x16GB – If your setup already has a lot of money sunk into it for the best of the best of the best, both performance-wise and aesthetics-wise, then perhaps spending another $1,000 just for RAM wouldn’t break the bank that much anymore. Not that we’d recommend it for anyone, even the most elite gamer, but still, if you want to build a RAM drive, which is an insanely high speed virtual hard drive that is found in your RAM, or for when there’s a really intensive workload for video and photo editing, then this is the RAM of choice.
A great Mythbuster once said that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing, and this RAM certainly lives up to that. Why settle for just RGB LEDs when you can have RGB-lit diamonds instead? A natural attention grabber for those who want their PC to be the talk of the town.
But don’t let the expensive shell fool you, this RAM packs a punch. It has a solid frequency rate at 3200MHz, an aluminum heat spreader for the aforementioned high workload it is capable of withstanding, and timings that deliver lightning fast performance.
I guess it’s no surprise that the biggest con for this RAM is its price. But if you can afford it, and want both a stylish RAM and a powerful one, this is it.
Our Final Thoughts
There are loads of options out there for RAM but these are our top 6 picks for different situations. Pick amongst these 6 for what suits your setup better, but if whatever you pick, always remember the factors that you need to consider: frequency, timing, capacity, and of course, cost. Remember too that more speed and more storage isn’t always the best, and depends on what your machine is for and how it is setup. Is it an Intel? An AMD? And so on. As long as you take these things into consideration properly, you’ll get the best RAM for gaming you could get for your machine and within your budget!