Does Memory Performance Bottleneck Your Games?

Bandwidth And Latency Matter, Sometimes

Two out of five game tests, F1 2012 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, showed us that that both bandwidth and latency can influence frame rates significantly. Both variables appear equally important, too. We might have guessed we'd see the results we did; after all, both titles are already known to be less graphics-bound than the others.

On the other hand, Metro 2033, Battlefield 3, and Aliens vs. Predator demonstrated no changes at all. The performance of the first two titles is most consistently associated with the speed of a given machine's graphics subsystem, so it makes sense that we don't see a big impact from memory bandwidth or timings. And when it comes to the high frame times that impose perceived choppiness, those appear tied exclusively to graphics performance, not memory throughput or latency.

Getting back to the games that were affected by memory performance, only one title exhibited differences significant enough to be noticeable during real-world play. Even then, the average frame rates were so high that your eyes (and displays) would need to be about twice as fast as ours to realize the real-world benefits of faster RAM.

The game in question, F1 2012, consistently averages more than 100 FPS, yet also scales well with memory improvements. Really, that's only important to sustain if you're using AMD's HD3D and Eyefinity technologies at the same time, encouraging frame rates two times the 60 Hz refresh rate of most monitors. If you don't have a trio of stereo-enabled screens, large performance bumps above and beyond already-high frame rates are really only good for bragging rights.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • SteelCity1981
    Well considering my Core i7 840QM cpu can only support a max of DDR3 1333 i'm pretty at a dead end in terms of upgrading to faster ram.
  • cumi2k4
    so....bottom line: don't bother buying higher clock memory unless it cost nearly the same?
  • Crashman
    cumi2k4so....bottom line: don't bother buying higher clock memory unless it cost nearly the same?The bottom line is that the price difference is ALREADY so small that anyone who can afford a pair of high-end GPUs should bother to get the good DRAM as well.
  • mayankleoboy1
    if i was the owner, i would fire the programmers who developed the memory bottlecked game engine.
  • esrever
    CrashmanWow, talk about not reading the article! Here's a hint, from the article you didn't read:Bottom line: Buy the fastest memory you can afford, AT LEAST DDR3-1866, unless you're certain that the slower memory you're buying can be overclocked.unless you care about 150 fps vs 120 fps I don't see the point
  • hero1
    Nicely written. My next rig which is going to be in couple months will have the DDR3-1866MHz in it. That's as far as I will go with RAM.
  • itzsnypah
    So the point of this article is with a $2k (8gb ram) computer spend an extra 1% ($20) for 1% gaming performance increase that you only get sometimes? Very linear scaling me thinks, sometimes.
  • fkr
    Am I reading this correct when I see in metro that dual channel is faster than quad channel. Also crashman I am pretty sure that very few people care how many fps you get in f1 2012 since the game is pretty terrible, metacritic user score of 6.8/10. reading through the reviews of that game it seems to not even be updated since 2011 edition, at least not the physics. I also thought the article says unless your doing eyefinity and intel hd whatever it makes little difference. I also seem to remember about a year ago another article stating how little difference ram made in a system, ram speed that is.
  • fkr
    If you are down to your last twenty dollars do you put it towards better ram or CPU. i5 3570 or a 3570k. I think the k edition is better money spent, but maybe somebody cares about f1 2012, crash"in my mothers basement"man.
  • jase240
    I would like to see how faster RAM effects loading times, that's the ONLY reason I can imagine paying a little more. And even then 1866 would probably be fine, considering most will overclock to 2133 well.

    Although in reality 1600 can do the job just fine and it could overclock nicely too if you get the right RAM.