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How important is RAM speed for computationally expensive tasks like gaming, video encoding, video editing, graphics software (Photoshop/Sketchup)?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

For video encoding & editing : Marginal improvement, as the hard disk is the real bottleneck, not RAM.

Graphics software : Marginal improvement, and only on some very rare operations. Format conversions will improve, but not very noticeable unless you are converting batches of images.

Gaming: Depends on the game, but usually here is where you might find some real improvement.

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i have 1 + 2 GB RAM. one 533 and another 800 MHz speed. both are clocked to 533 of course by motherboard. the motherboard supports both speed. with 3 GB i'm ok, no need more RAM. i was wondering if i upgrade my pc, should i consider upgrading RAM for better speed, like 1066 or more? – Donotalo Oct 29 '10 at 13:00
If you are upgrading other components, you might also upgrade the RAM, since finally all data to all peripherals does pass through it. Especially for the 533 stick. – harrymc Oct 29 '10 at 14:37

It should be one of the lowest priorities when choosing where to spend your money because the speed increase / $ is one of the lowest. It is usually better to expend the money on a faster processor, a better GPU or more memory.

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I'd rather invest in a fast system bus than in a faster cpu/gpu. What's the use of a fast cpu when it has to wait on the data it's going to process? – stijn Oct 29 '10 at 11:00

It all depends on what you are using your PC for. If it's for applications that load completely into memory and run then quantity and speed of RAM are important. If, however, your application is constantly performing disk writes then you should look at the HDD access times as the greatest performance bottleneck. Different games will require different things, i.e. If you are playing games with AI then you need good RAM and lots of processing power, games that are graphics heavy will lean toward a good GPU/memory/processor, etc.

It really does depend on the individual application/game.

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Important? Hmm - depends on how keen you are to squeeze out every last bit of performance.

Relevant - yes.

Getting the fastest RAM possible for your system will make a difference, but be aware that some performance RAM needs a different voltage (typically RAM voltages can range from about 1.8V to 2.1V) so make sure your motherboard supports whatever you might plan to install both speed and voltage-wise.

Here's your reading homework from Tom's Hardware: Tom's Ultimate RAM Speed Tests

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Of course, depending on the mix of applications, data and other hardware you might find little improvement. E.g. faster RAM will not really help IO bound tasks, or where the CPU/GPU is the limit. In other cases (photo/video processing would likely be a good candidate) you might see some improvement. Finally remember why CPUs have ever increasing amounts of cache: main RAM is always too slow for the CPU. As with any performance questions: only your measurements of your tasks will really tell you. – Richard Oct 29 '10 at 8:41
Actually, the link you shared suggests that RAM speed basically doesn't matter. The differences are barely measurable. But, great link. +1 – Norman Ramsey Aug 12 '12 at 21:03

RAM speed (Mghz) is just how fast data in memory is accessed. RAM size (GB) is the amount of data that can be stored in the memory at any given time. Obviously the faster the RAM is, the quicker your applications will be able to pull stored data out of memory and their response time will improve. The more RAM you have, the more information you can store, so the more applications you can have open before your applications start paging off the hard drive.
In short, for the tasks you describe, because they are RAM intensive and often involve constantly moving data between the app and memory, faster RAM would be very beneficial.

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I'm curious, why the downvote? – MaQleod Aug 12 '12 at 21:55

RAM speed doesn't matter. The difference between fastest and slowest RAM is barely measurable in benchmarks, let alone real applications. Evidence can be found in Tom's Ultimate RAM Speed Tests.

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