The Importance of System RAM for PC Video Games (at least, on my system)

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Battlefield Hardline

The net is rife with games of Chinese whispers when it comes to solving PC performance problems with many of the more recent PC games. It pays to use trusted sources ( Tweak Guides ) and take some time to understand how your PC works. After all, this is half the fun; working how to spend a reasonable amount of money for the best gaming experience. I had “lagging” problems with Far Cry 4, Dying Light and Company of Heroes 2. Before THINKING ABOUT IT I tried all sorts of internet “fixes” that I suspect were never benchmarked properly and mostly imagined. Then a moment of light. Despite being told ad infinitum that “you don’t have enough video RAM” I’d noticed these games thrashing my hard drive as the system swap file was filled up. An analysis with MSI Afterburner confirmed this. As a game loaded the system memory would fill (4 Gigs) until the system was forced to use the swap file. This was especially noticeable in Company of Heroes 2 with a user made map (complex and memory filling) and 4x armies, American and British on one side and the two German armies on the other. Holy Cow ! That soon ate up system memory and system hard disk cache. COH2 turned into a stuttering unplayable mess !

So after a month of farting around trying to find a motherboard RAM upgrade (the motherboard is some what old and would only work with double sided memory) I finally got to test these games with 8 Gig of RAM. What a difference ! Dying Light is 99% stutter free and running at high frame rates (no taking minutes to settle down after every level transition). Far Cry 4 runs with ULTRA textures with mostly no performance problems, with some things like model complexity turned down. I was told that this was “a bug in the engine”, FC4 is “a badly optimised piece of *&£!”. More Chinese whispers, more internet rumours, more gamers who don’t understand their PC’s so blame the game. This is like blaming you local garage for car performance problems because you forgot to put oil in the car !

Far Cry 4 as well as COH2, Dying Light, Battlefield Hardline (same massive freezing for half a second as RAM runs out) all show this same behaviour. I suspect the 3D engines are caching as much as they can in system RAM. Even with my meagre 1 Gig graphics card RAM (which is much faster than system RAM) everything is fast enough to uphold a real-time pipeline squirting textures and model data into the engine. Actually its a bit of mystery why my mid-range system can run these recent games on almost the highest settings. Again (as I suspect) the CPU is not having to be loaded with overseeing memory usage (remember something has to move all that data around !). So maybe at some point I’ll do an extensive analysis of this.

In the meant time the bottom line is and lesson learnt here is this. If you get “lagging” or “stuttering” in games and other performance problems LOOK AT YOUR SYSTEM RAM, do you have enough ? This may vary depending on system architecture. But as with so many things to do with PC’s the total system balance is not determined simply by power … GPU (graphics card) power, CPU power. It’s the total system architecture that’s important. All the different elements work together to push a smooth and real-time (60 frames per second of real time remember !) flow of data into a 3D engine.