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Ram Comparison:
is More Better?

Written By: Stephen 'Waterdog' Waits [03.19.01]


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Team Arena

The latest from id is based of course on the original Quake 3 engine, but it's been tweaked a bit. Furthermore, the environments in Team Arena are much more rich when compared to Quake 3, a testament to what can be achieved with the engine once the level designers and modelers have a chance to catch up with all the features that make it into the game at the last minute. The included mpdemo1 was used for benchmarking, and again the Normal and High Quality results are the Team Arena presets. As with Quake 3, the Highest Quality setting has all the visual goodies turned on and the resolution set to 1024x768.

Wow, Team Arena loves its RAM. Seeing a whopping 77% gain from 256MB in 2k, Team Arena proves that not only work-related apps can take advantage of more memory. ME is no slouch either as it gains 16% from 256MB. Gains drop off sharply going to 384MB and 512MB, and we see some small negative values creep in again for 512MB in both 2k and ME.

Again we see Team Arena gobble up extra memory, at least at 256MB. Seeing increases of 67% and 50% in 2k and ME for 256MB, the gains then bottom out and amount to nothing of significance for 384MB and 512MB. Here the difference in gains between ME and 2k are more similar with both really appreciating at least 256MB of memory.

Why break from ranks? With the Highest Quality settings Team Arena sees more big gains from 256MB. Weighing in with a gain of 38% and 33% for 2k and ME respectively, the gains crater for both 384MB and 512MB resulting in next to no increase or decrease in performance.

Considerations

More isn't necessarily better, at least for benchmarks like the ones used. However, there are additional considerations beyond the numbers you've seen graphed. Memory is like a table, the more work a computer is doing, the more it has out on the table. Benchmarking methodology requires that we have nothing running in the background when running a particular test. In other words, we clear everything off the table and have only the bare essentials sitting there while we run the benchmark or test. It's not the way things work in the real world, but it's the only way to get reliable test results from the benchmarks.

The real world is a little different, rarely do we shut everything down to play a game or do some work, there's always plenty on the table, sometimes it even gets messy. Right now I have a virus scanner running in the background, I have Outlook periodically checking my email, I have the infamous memory hog of ICQ open, and also a browser in addition to the 'work' that I'm doing typing up this conclusion. To run a benchmark with all this open in the background would taint the results, but that doesn't take away from the fact that all these little applications take up memory.

Regardless of the results, the more you want on your table, the more RAM you're going to need. The results you saw in the graphs should be taken with a grain of salt. Under testing conditions, with nothing else running in the background, they hold true. However, in the real world, if you like a lot on your table at once, you'll see benefits from more memory. 


Analysis and Conclusions

Some results were obvious, some were interesting, some were out of the ordinary - I'll try to sort it all out as objectively as I can.

Starting with the Winstones, it's obvious that more RAM, up to 384MB makes a significant difference. Especially for high end apps like those found in the Content Creation tests, applications that deal with large file sizes and complex operations, more memory helps - but there is a ceiling. As Win2k is a more work-oriented OS, it follows that it should see the more benefit from additional RAM for these work-related benchmarks, and the results support that.

Most games saw little gain from more memory, expect for Team Arena that is. Why is this? I'm guessing this has a lot to do with how new Team Arena is. While the engine is essentially still the Quake 3 engine, the same core that Quake 3 Arena is based on, the game content is much more rich. 256MB is clearly the sweet spot for Team Arena, with 128MB really slowing things down in both OSes; the difference has to be related to the content of the game. 

Team Arena presents a much more rich atmosphere, that richness sucks up RAM. Though Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament don't see much benefit from increases in memory size to 256MB, it seems logical that this has to do with their own content. Team Arena is much newer, there's a lot more to the game environment, and hence a greater demand on memory. This is a trend that will likely continue with games based on Quake 3's engine, those games that have come out since Quake 3's release, and those yet to be released. With the increasing importance being put on immersive environments, it follows that 256MB would be a smart move for gaming, at least for future FPS games.

While 3DMark 2001 is new video benchmark, more recent than Team Arena, the reason for its lesser appetite for RAM I think has to do with the fact that it's a synthetic benchmark. 3DMark is designed to stress the video card, not the entire system. While it does an effective job testing and measuring video performance, the big picture of total system performance, it would seem, is less emphasized.

Now the big question, why the drops at 512MB? To start with, the majority of drops are with games and pretty insignificant in their size. However, the drops are there and there has to be a reason. Since the drops occurred with both ME and 2k, in identical benchmarks and tests, the software and OS aren't to blame. The test system used an ABit KT7-RAID motherboard, a motherboard with 3 DIMMS. With 512MB of RAM, all memory slots were filled to capacity (1x256MB, 2x128MB). The only explanation I can come up with is that the motherboard or associated Via chipset more effectively deals with 2 DIMMs than it does with 3. The drops weren't significant to be cause for significant alarm, but they should be noted. If I can weasel my way into another 256MB DIMM I can test out my theory, until then I'll leave you all to ponder the results.

So how much is enough? Well here's the most subjective part. The graphs make things pretty obvious in my mind. If you're into doing work, especially in 2k, 384 is your best bet. For gaming you can get away with 128, but if you're planning on playing the latest and greatest games, especially in 2k, you'll want 256. These are just guidelines, if you like a lot on your table, by all means get more because I doubt we'll see RAM this cheap again.

Now what do I do? Well, you could always:

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