RAM questions

I’ve tried to research this on the Web but…man, the “answers” are all over the place, and seem invested with near religious zeal. I’m hoping some of our resident tech gods can provide a relatively unbiased solution to my query.

In a new machine, assuming I was to get one, I’m thinking of getting 2 GB RAM, largely because I have been using 1 GB on my current machine and find situations in MMOs in particular where it appears more RAM might help loading times and gameplay (Orgrimmar comes to mind, but then, is Org EVER lag free?). I know there is one school that says 1 GB is fine but is there any downside (other than cost) for going with 2 GB?

Second, and most vexing, is the question of what RAM configuration to go for. The system I’d be getting (if I got/built/acquired one) would have a nForce 4 SLI mobo (ASUS probably) , an AMD 64 3800 or 3500, and probably a 6800 GT (single). My choices seem to be, for 2 GB, 4 x 512 MB or 2 x 1024 MB sticks. I have read tons of stuff on this and understand little of it, as no one seems to agree. To whit:

For normal, non-overclocking gaming usage, is one configuration better than the other, in perceptible, practical ways (in-game performance, heat generation, reliability, etc.)?

I’ve read that 4 x 512 rocks, and that it sucks, that it is ok, and that it “stresses the Northbridge,” some part of the mobo I gather. I’ve read that AMD 64s don’t do well with 4 sticks, that more sticks is always worse than fewer sticks, even that you get the best performance from 2 x 512 sticks, period.

Any clarity on this would be appreciate! Thanks!

My answers are going to be somewhat general.

As far as I’m concerned, fewer sticks are generally preferable to more sticks, though it will be slightly more expensive for the same amount of memory. Here’s my reasoning.

First is your upgrade path – obviously if you want to go to 3 or 4 gigs down the road, you won’t have to pitch your existing RAM. Secondly, some chipsets/motherboards have an issue with filling all of the slots. This is true of my Asus NForce 2 motherboard, and there are other examples aout there as well (though, I’m not up to googling it at the moment)

Basically, though, it’s not that big a deal. I have never heard the argument that 1 gig is preferable to 2 gigs. Maybe that more than 2 doesn’t make any sense (32 bit address space issue?), but not about just 1.

Edit: Oh. Forgot your actual point. In terms of performance, heat, stability there should be no difference at all beyond the potential “all slots filled so I act crazy” problem mentioned above. That issue would be chipset/motherboard specific, though, and easy to find.

If you are going to get 2GB, I suggest getting 1Gb * 2 sticks.

Many motherboards dislike using 4 DIMMs (AMD perspective.) A few of my MSI boards, for example, will automatically throttle down the speed from 200Mhz to 166Mhz for stability reasons.

That said, my last two machines have used 2 GBs. There are few instances when you use more than 1Gb, but World of Warcraft would hit somewhere around 1.2Gb (since it’s windowed, it’s very easy to check ram usage on the fly).

The possible downsides of 2GB vs 1GB are the following:

You increase chance of failure (which is why my last rig uses ECC ram, was not easy getting a board that supported ECC and the other features I wanted).

I believe windows 98 didn’t handle >1GB very well. Windows XP has a 4GB limit (the 32-bit version).

Power consumption and thus heat is minimal. RAM sticks use about 4 watts.

I bought 2 * 1GB sticks of Kingston RAM for my new box less than a month ago. I think you’ll definitely want to go with 2GB instead of 1GB as stuff like Battlefield 2 definitely likes having it there. I paid about $180 for 2GB. Try to get two DIMMs to allow for an upgrade path and so you don’t have to worry about any problems with throttling the motherboard down until you DO go over 2GB which is probably unlikely by the time you upgrade again.

My friend at work always says “I want to do the backstroke in RAM!” and that’s really the best way to view it. Systems will use it if it’s there so don’t hesitate to just put it in right away. With the type of box you’re looking at building (similar to what I just built), going with 1GB would just leave you unsatisfied and there’s no reason to skimp.

–Dave

By default AMD64s go down to DDR 333 by default with 4 sticks (no matter what RAM youre buying) and often with a 2T command time, which is pretty bad.

The bad thing is the AMD64s have the memory controller onboard. The fanbase awaited the Venice and San Diego CPUs cores supposedly to fix the issues with 4 sticks, but AFAIK they didnt do it.

The best thing is to go 2 sticks with AMD. If youre willing to spend the money, the OCZ EL Platinum PC3200 2048MB Dual-Kit does timings 2.0-3-2-5-1T @ DDR 400 settings, which is about the best you could currently get.

Yup. With Athlon 64 chips, the number of RAM modules you install limits the memory bus speed. You can only get DDR400 speed by using one or two modules. If you add a third, you lose memory speed.

Are these differences perceptible, though, or are they the sort of things that benchmark tests show but real world experience doesn’t? Though in general I’m inclined to go for fewer sticks as more seems just to multiply the chance of something going wrong.

They are perceptible, yes. The degree to which it will matter will vary based on the app or game you’re running, but I think the FPS difference can be up to 10-15% between DDR333 and DDR400.

Depends on what you do with your system. Most likely it won’t be perceptible. Media encoding or games might show it a tad, but that seems unlikely as I suspect those will bottleneck on GPU or CPU before RAM.

Thanks for the input. Seems 2x 1024 is the way to go.