Over the years, processor speed isn’t the only thing that’s risen as transistors have shrunk. So, too, has the average amount of memory in mainstream computers. We’ve come a long way from the days when gamers struggled to run Doom in DOS with 4 megs of RAM - but how much do you really need?
Why do you need RAM?
Computers use RAM to store programs and data that a user is working on. Simple tasks, like typing up a paper, don’t need very much. Likewise, watching a little video, or playing solitaire, or chatting with friends. None of these require much data to be written to and from the computer’s bank of RAM, so a computer that’s only used for applications like that can get away with very little RAM.
In fact, if your needs are sparse enough, you can get away with just 512 megabytes of RAM in a modern computer system, though 1GB is the generally recommended minimum. Mobile platforms are generally more efficient than their desktop counterparts, so most phones and tablets have just fractional amounts of that suggested gigabyte. Only recently have phones started to breach that limit, with powerhouses such as the Motorola Atrix shipping with a full gig.
As your needs grow complex, so, generally, does the amount of RAM you need in order to keep things ship-shape. There are a hundred different reasons why a computer might need more memory than the average - if you’re the kind of person to run 400 tabs while browsing the web, you might need more RAM. If you’re the kind of person to edit multi-gigabyte photos and videos on a regular basis, you might need more RAM. If you’re the kind of person who...no, that’s enough of that.
What about gamers?
Traditionally, gamers like to cry out about needing the biggest, baddest RAM available. That’s not always the case, though. Alienware shipped DTR a review system one time with 4GB of RAM and a video card with 2GB of graphics memory. So what, you might think - that doesn’t sound unreasonable. It wasn’t, except for the fact that it also shipped with a 32-bit copy of Windows.
32-bit copies of Windows can only address roughly 4GB of memory. That’s four gigs total, including all of the little bits of memory that all the components in your system might have. RAM, however, gets addressed last, generally because doing it that way is the least likely to cause system stability issues - your machine isn’t going to crash just because you don’t get all of your RAM. It probably will, however, if your graphics card doesn’t have access to its own memory banks.
That means that this desktop, once fully booted, had access only to a maximum of 2GB of RAM. It was benchmarked with artificial software and a number of games, with the framerates recorded. Once it was discovered that the desktop was running 32-bit Windows, and not 64-bit, everyone chuckled - this was clearly limiting results.
So everything, benchmarks, framerates and all - everything was rerun under a fresh, 64-bit copy of the OS. The results? Not a bit of difference. At that point there was no discernible difference between the 2GB gameplay and 4GB gameplay, even with titles like Crysis, Left 4 Dead 2, Dead Space 2 and more.
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