Put simply, your gaming PC needs memory to run your games. How much it needs depends on the game and whether you want to play your games with other programs, like browsers or music apps, running at the same time. Desktop memory is also one of the easiest PC parts to install, replace or upgrade, making it a popular choice for those looking to give older PCs a boost.
There have been many different types of computer memory over the years, but for the purposes of this guide, we will only need to worry about DDR4 memory. While you can still buy new CPUs and motherboards that require DDR3 memory, it is strongly advised that you do not invest in such older platforms when buying or building a new gaming PC. For those with older PCs that do make use of DDR3, much of the information shared in this guide is still applicable, just make sure that you double check with your PC or motherboard manufacturer documentation before spending the big bucks.
Selecting the Best Memory For Your Gaming PC
How Much Memory Do I Need For a Gaming PC in 2018?
If your intent is to play the newest games and enjoy releases into the next few years, you are going to need 8GB of memory at a bare minimum. Titles like Battlefield 1, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Destiny 2, and PUBG require 6GB or 8GB as part of their officially minimum requirements. Because none of the platforms that you will be buying today make use of triple-channel memory configurations, you will not be seeing 6GB memory kits on retail shelves, so 8GB is the logical starting point.
If your focus is predominantly on less intensive or indie games, it is still recommended that you make 8GB the minimum amount to go for. Windows itself carries a bit of memory overhead and using a new PC with only 4GB of ram in 2018 will make for a less than ideal experience, even for things like web browsing or watching YouTube videos.
For any users who want to engage with the latest games or titles like those mentioned above, going with 16GB of memory is going to be the smart choice. PC gamers looking to run their games at the highest settings will find that 16GB reduces stuttering and will improve minimum framerates. 16GB will give you enough overhead to cover new releases, while also allowing you to easily run an assortment of apps at the same time as you game. It is pretty common for most PC players to have browser windows, voice chat clients, music players, and YouTube videos loaded up while they play PC games, especially those who choose to take advantage of multi-monitor setups. Having a map or Youtube guide video up on a second monitor while you play is a luxury, and is one of the big advantages offered by PC gaming.
At the time of this writing, memory is not exactly cheap. Currently, DDR4 memory is in the midst of a 100%+ increase in cost versus what it was selling for in the summer and fall of 2016. As flagship smartphones began incorporating DDR4, global demand ballooned rapidly. Memory pricing is having a serious effect on the ability to build a new gaming PC, especially those builds on an extremely tight budget.
16GB Now or Later?
Depending on the motherboard you select, you will have either 2 or 4 DIMM slots for installing memory. Builders on a budget have the option of buying 8GB when they build and adding additional memory down the road. If you are building on a Micro ATX or Mini ITX motherboard with only 2 available DIMM slots, you may want to purchase a memory kit with a single 8GB stick if you have plans on adding more memory at a later date.
DDR4 memory is sold in single, dual, or quad stick kits. This memory is ideally installed as matched pairs so that it can run in double data rate mode (hence the name DDR). In DDR mode, the memory is capable of running with double the available bandwidth versus a single stick. This does not mean that it will run your games twice as fast. Generally, most games will offer a measurable improvement in performance when using a pair of memory stick in DDR mode, especially during moments where the CPU is under incredibly high loads. The difference between running a single 8GB stick and a pair of match 4GB stick is not so great that you should avoid single sticks, especially if you plan to add an additional 8GB stick later on.
Speaking of adding memory later on, it is strongly advised that you use the exact same memory when running as a pair. When you buy a 2x4GB or 2x8GB memory kit from the manufacturer, you can be sure that those sticks were matched together to guarantee compatibility and stability. While it is possible to run unmatched sets, it is possible to run into stability issues or errors down the road that may not make themselves apparent until you are deep into a gaming session. These types of errors are not very easy to diagnose unless you have spare kits laying around.
To 32GB or Not To 32GB
If 16GB of memory is better than 8GB, 32GB should even better, right? For gaming, the answer is currently no. Having additional memory is always nice, but 32GB kits offer no measurable benefit for gaming at all. Even as titles such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, Batman:Arkham Knight, and Assassin’s Creed Origins have already been shown to use as much as 12GB for themselves during play, 16GB of memory can still handle the game load and additional overhead from background applications and Windows.
The costs of a 32GB kit of DDR4 also factor into this decision. As most 16GB kits retail in the neighborhood of $200 or above, allocating an additional $200+ to acquire a 32GB kit offers a very poor return on your investment. That additional outlay would be much better spent on a better graphics card, additional SSD storage, or accessories.
If you have plans to use your gaming PC for additional tasks, the answer becomes cloudy. If you want to work on editing large 4K video projects, 3D modeling, or run virtual machines, the additional ram could make more sense. For the purposes of this guide, those considerations will not be a factor.
Identifying Memory Kits
Memory can be easily identified by using the alphanumeric product codes. When shopping online for memory, you may notice that many kits are listed with a long set of letters and numbers, These codes are used to identify the memory kits.
- For Corsair memory, the code often looks like this: CMK8GX4M1A2400C16
- For G.Skill memory, the code will look like this: F4-4266C19D-16GTZKW
Every manufacturer has their own memory code naming conventions, and you can often gleam information about a given kit based on the memory code. Usually, the amount of memory, rated speed, and latency can be found in the codes. For example, the Corsair code listed above is for a single 8GB stick of DDR4 designed to run at 2400MHz and 16 CAS latency. You’ll notice that it has 8G, 2400, and C16 contained in the code. The other parts of the code are indicators of product line, color, etc. The G.Skill code works in a similar fashion, even though the numbers are not in the same order. You can tell that the code is for a 16GB kit of 4266MHz memory that has a CAS latency of 19.
If you want to buy an 8GB kit now and add another 8GB later on, try and purchase the exact same kit with a matching code whenever possible. This ensures that you will have a better chance at rock solid stability, especially if you are using overclocked memory kits. As a general rule for this generation of hardware, Intel chipsets have a more forgiving memory controller than those found on AMD’s Ryzen chipsets. You can usually get overclocked memory kits working on Intel boards effortlessly when using XMP profiles. The Ryzen platform is a bit more finicky when it comes to aggressive ram speeds and timings, so you’re gonna want to do your homework and buy the appropriate memory kits for that platform if you have plans for memory overclocking.
Do I Need Fast or Overclocked Memory?
If you’ve taken a moment to look over the DDR4 memory selection at any retailer, you will have noticed that there are kits being sold at various speeds and latencies. Once you know how much memory you need, selecting the proper speed comes next. By design, DDR4 memory will run at a minimum of 1866MHz on Ryzen motherboards and 2133MHz on Intel motherboards. Some of the newest chipsets support faster minimum speeds and enthusiast motherboards allow you DDR4 to run much faster, assuming the memory kit you purchased is designed for said speed.
Motherboards based on Intel’s Kaby Lake chipsets have a default memory speed of 2400MHz and the newest Coffee Lake-based motherboards have a DDR4 operating speed of 2666Mhz. Both of these chipsets can use 2133Mhz memory kits, but it is usually a good idea to pair them with a kit at their rated speeds. You can find lots of kits for sale rated at higher speeds. On Intel builds, you will need a Z-series motherboard (Z170, Z270, Z370) to enable these higher speeds. These higher-speed kits will run at chipset defaults on non-Z boards (2133/2400/2666MHZ).
RGB LEDs and Heat Spreaders You Can’t Legally Bring on an Airplane
Like many modern PC products, memory is being increasingly marketed towards gamers. To grab attention, ram kits with RGB LED lights and extravagant heat spreaders are being offered by virtually all of the major memory manufacturers. Some folks think that LED lights on memory are cool and others are smitten with heat spreaders that look like gun sights or ninja stars. Folks who like to frequent shopping mall sword stores are still people, and their desires are just as valid as mine or yours.
The key is to make sure you understand the possible drawbacks associated with memory kit embellishments. The most important consideration when shopping for these types of memory kits is clearance. If your memory heat spreaders are protruding 6 inches off your motherboard, it may prevent you from being able to install larger heatsink CPU coolers. On some motherboards, the memory DIMM slots may be very close to the CPU socket. Having very tall heat spreaders on your memory could prevent even some of the more modest CPU cooler designs from fitting properly. Many AIO liquid CPU coolers are designed to have their radiators and fans mounted above your motherboard in the top part of the PC case. You may find it impossible to mount the radiator in this position when using oversized head spreaders. Make sure you measure the memory height and check it against the listed radiator clearance listed by the manufacturer of your case and cooler.
The Best Memory For Your Gaming PC
16GB Kits (2x8GB)
To ensure the best performance for you games and apps, 16GB of DDR4 is what you want. Of the kits posted above, the Corsair Vengeance LPX makes an appearance in our recommendations for each of the three speeds. The Vengeance LPX line is great for several reasons, including widespread availability, reasonable pricing, and compatibility. Corsair maintains an exhaustive compatibility database on their website and their LPX kits are consistently tested on the widest range of motherboards. It also doesn’t hurt that their low-profile heat spreaders allow you to mount virtually any air or liquid cooling solution you desire.
The G.Skill kits above have representatives from their top memory lines. When you want the best of the best, it is hard to argue against choosing a TridentZ kit. They have striking looks with high-speeds to match. Available in an array of colors to match your build. The TridentZ line can fit in with any build idea you have (especially with their RGB LED TridentZ kits). The Ripjaws line is affordable, dependable, and offers an aggressive look (especially the red DIMMS) that can really compliment the visual symmetry of a build.
8GB Kits (2x4GB)
If you are on a budget or prefer to spend time with smaller indie games, a 2x4GB kit can be the perfect choice. In situations where memory bandwidth is the bottleneck, a 2x4GB can potentially perform better than a 1x8GB kit, as it can operate in DDR mode. The Crucial Ballisitx LT lineup is a great choice in this category, with affordable kits and several color options. The Shacknews October Build of the Month made use of the white DDR4 2400MHz Ballisitx LT 8GB kit.
Of the kits posted above, the Corsair Vengeance LPX makes an appearance in our recommendations for each of the three speeds. The Vengeance LPX line is great for several reasons, including widespread availability, reasonable pricing, and compatibility. Corsair maintains an exhaustive compatibility database on their website and their LPX kits are consistently tested on the widest range of motherboards. It also doesn’t hurt that their low-profile heat spreaders allow you to mount virtually any air or liquid cooling solution you desire.
8GB Kits (1x8GB)
If your budget warrants going with 8GB instead of 16GB, but you’d like to go to 16GB in the future, these 1x8GB kits are exactly what you should be looking for. If you are building with a Micro ATX or Mini ITX motherboard, you may be limited to only 2 DIMM slots to hold memory. If you purchase a 2x4GB kit and want to upgrade to 16GB down the road, you will have to buy a full 2x8GB kit and lose out on the money you spent on your 2x4GB kit. With larger ATX motherboards, you will typically get 4 DIMM slots, so you can go with either type of kit you like. Just make sure that you buy a matching kit when moving from 8GB to 16GB, using the same memory code for the best compatibility.
The Vengeance LPX line is great for several reasons, including widespread availability, reasonable pricing, and compatibility. Corsair maintains an exhaustive compatibility database on their website and their LPX kits are consistently tested on the widest range of motherboards. It also doesn’t hurt that their low-profile heat spreaders allow you to mount virtually any air or liquid cooling solution you desire.
For AMD Ryzen Overclocking
If you are going with a AMD Ryzen build for your gaming PC and want to get into overclocking your memory and CPU with the most stability, you really need a memory kit that uses Samsung B-die chips. These memory kits are the highest quality you’ll be able to find in the wild and ensure that your Ryzen overclocking experience is headache-free across a variety of motherboards. The TridentZ 3200MHz C14 kits are the easiest way to guarantee that you get the compatibility and stability you want.