Introduction

Over the past several  years, The Tech Buyer's Guru has published several articles on RAM performance in gaming. Our first, back in 2013, explored the effects of using 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB in games, and was our most popular Gamer's Bench article for an entire year. In late 2014, we published an article on the effects of DDR3 frequency on games, and amazingly enough, to this day, it's still our most popular Gamer's Bench article. It seems gamers want to know which RAM to pick and TBG is the place to get all the answers!

The Sticks

Now that DDR3 is officially being put out to pasture, it's high time that we look at the effects of DDR4 memory on games. Of course, DDR4 is much faster that DDR3, at least in terms of frequency (timings are not quite as good, though, so all is not quite what it seems). And since we wanted to test RAM anyway, we decided to double up and cover both RAM topics in one article, so we'll also be looking at 8GB vs. 16GB in the newest games on the market. Note that we didn't test 4GB this time around, as DDR4 cannot be purchased in 2GB sticks, and testing a single 4GB stick in single-channel mode would make no sense at all, given how much it cuts down on bandwidth. In any event, PC builders should be looking at equipping their systems with at least 8GB of RAM due to low prices and the fact that games hitting the market this year often have minimum requirements of at least 6GB of RAM.

Test Setup

To test as many scenarios as possible, we used a total of 80GB of RAM (12 sticks in total), running them in various configurations on two test systems. The two main sets were the G.Skill Ripjaws 4 4x4GB DDR4-3000 kit and the G.Skill Ripjaws 4 4x8GB DDR4-3000 kit. We also had several sets of G.Skill's Ripjaws V 2x8GB DDR4-2666 kits on hand to make testing go faster.

We emulated various other RAM kits by changing voltage and timings. Here are the three kits our configurations represent:

  1. Corsair Vengeance LPX 4x8GB DDR4-2133, 13-15-15-28, 1.2V (also available as a 2x4GB kit for $49 as of our publication date)
  2. Patriot Viper 4 4x8GB DDR4-2666, 15-15-15-35, 1.2V (also available as a 2x4GB kit for $48 as of our publication date)
  3. G.Skill TridentZ 4x8GB DDR4-3200, 16-16-16-36, 1.35V (also available as a 2x4GB kit for $75 as of our publication date)

We performed our quad-core benchmarks on the following test system:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K (overclocked to 4.4GHz)
  2. Motherboard: Asus Z170-A (thanks to Newegg and Asus for providing this review sample)
  3. Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB
  4. Solid-State Drive: Samsung 850 Evo M.2 500GB
  5. Power Supply: EVGA Supernova GS 850W
  6. Case: Phanteks Evolv
  7. CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U14S (thanks to Noctua for providing this review sample)
  8. Operating System: Windows 10

The Hex Bench!

Our hex-core test system consisted of the following components:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i7-5820K (overclocked to 4.4GHz)
  2. Motherboard: Asus X99-Pro/USB3.1
  3. Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB
  4. SSD #1: Samsung SM951 M.2 256GB
  5. SSD #2: 2x Samsung 850 Evo 500GB in RAID0
  6. Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 1000 PS
  7. Case: Corsair Carbide 500R
  8. CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H100i
  9. Operating System: Windows 10

Note that on our X99 system, our DDR4-3200 memory could not run at the same timings as it would on the Z170 system. We had to loosen the timings to 16-18-18-38, and even then it needed a bit more than 1.35V. We're pretty confident that the X99 platform cannot run RAM faster than DDR4-3200 at this point in time, and as you'll see, there probably isn't a reason for motherboard manufacturers to pursue the issue (i.e., provide UEFI updates to support higher speeds).

We ran all tests at a resolution of 2560 x 1440 using maximum settings, except where specified, and our GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB video card was set to reference speeds, which translates to 1000/7000. Note that due to Nvidia's GPU Boost 2.0 feature, the 980 Ti operated at 1202MHz/7000MHz at all times (we used a custom fan profile to keep it under 70 °C). The drivers utilized for the 980 Ti were GeForce 361.91 for Windows 10. We know that some readers will wonder why we didn't test at low settings at 1080p or even 720p to draw out RAM effects. In short, this type of testing, which has been very popular over the years for everything but video card benchmarks, is based on a misunderstanding of how game engines work. The reason AMD released its Mantle API, the reason Microsoft developed DX12, and the reason the brand-new Vulkan API was just released as a follow-up to OpenGL is because game engines tax much more than the video card. Running at low settings doesn't just lower the load on the video card, it lowers the load on the CPU and memory.

As far as resolution goes, certainly 1080p or 720p were options, but we're confident that the market is shifting over to 1440p monitors as the new mainstream. For years 1080p has essentially been the minimum, but we believe gamers investing in new monitors will be looking to higher-resolution options, especially as prices fall. And regardless, we run our benchmarks at settings that we play at, and that we expect others to play at. Our GTX 980 Ti can run 1440p at max settings. If you have a GTX 970 or 950, or a Radeon R9 390X, 290, or 380, you'll also max out your settings as best you can (likely maxing out 1080p), and you'll want to know what type of memory will provide the best experience for the money. That's what our results will show you, because most gamers run at max settings if they can, resulting in similar loads on the CPU and memory subsystems. To achieve a balanced system, it  makes sense to test at settings you intend to use.

We'll be providing results for one synthetic benchmark and seven games, as follows:

By choosing a variety of both older and newer games, we hope to find out whether one or the other is more dependent on more memory or faster memory. Hopefully we've made clear how we performed our tests. There's lots of data to go through, and let's start off with an exploration of our X99 platform results, shall we?

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