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Appeared on: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Gaming Performance Analysis - 4GB vs. 2GB

1. Introduction

There has been a long debate about whether increasing the 2GB to 4GB actually improves the gaming experience that users will see from today's latest gaming titles. Today we will examine what users can expect from an upgrade from a 2GB to 4GB (DDR2), especially under VISTA operating system.

Corsair has already published a study where it shows the benefits of moving from 2->4GB under Vista 64bit Premium edition. In our tests, we have added the VISTA 32bit Premium edition. Before proceeding to the test results, let's see some background of the 2 vs. 4GB debate.

First of all, the 32bit operating systems partially recognize the 4GB of the installed memory.

Due to differences in the way that 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems work , 4GB of system memory is most efficiently used in conjunction with a 64-bit operating system. Users with 32-bit versions of Windows will still be able to access up to 3.5GB of available memory, which is up to a 75% increase compared to 2GB.

This is explained if you think of the differences in the way that 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems work:

Each binary bit in a 32-bit operating system can be used to represent the location of a byte of memory, a 32-bit operating system has a maximum ‘memory address size’ of 232 bytes, which equates to 4,294,967,296 bytes (4,096MB or 4GB). However, part of this 4GB ‘address space’ must be reserved for devices that require MMIO (Memory-Mapped Input Output). In simple terms MMIO is a process by which some devices in the PC exchange data with the CPU/memory. One such device is the graphics card, which requires an amount of address space equal to its frame buffer size (the amount of memory installed on the card) to be ‘reserved’ for such data exchanges. This reserved address space is therefore not available to Windows as accessible memory. This means that the total number of useable memory available to Windows is decreased.

On the other hand, under 64-bit operating systems, with 64-bits available to represent the locations of bytes of memory the maximum theoretical memory address size increases to 264 bytes, which equates to 16TB (terabytes) or 16,384GB. In reality the 64-bit versions of Windows Vista support 8 – 128GB+.

Therefore, for 64-bit systems, the address ranges for devices that require Memory Mapped Input Output can be set well above the 4GB address line.

In summary, a 64-bit system with a 64-bit version of Windows Vista or XP will be able to utilize the full 4GB of installed memory. Users with a 32-bit operating system will also see an increase in useable memory of up to 75%. Microsoft indicates the requirements of getting "advantage" of the 4GB under Windows VISTA 32bit.

So both SP1 of VISTA 32bit and SP3 of Windows XP indicate that the system has 4GB of memory installed, but in reality the most you will see in applications/games is around 3.5GB.

For this test, Corsair provided us with two memory sets, the XMS2 DHX 2x1GB and the XMS2 DHX 2x2GB. Both memory modules are identical and have similar specifications (CL4@800MHz).

It would be interesting to see whether there are any performance improvements after moving from 2GB to 4GB either under VISTA 32bit & 64bit Premium Editions.

Moreover, we installed an additional set of 4GB memory modules in some tests in order to see how our VISTA 64bit Premium edition system performs with a total of 8GB memory installed.

What we tested
The focus of this test is to assess the performance impact on modern games of upgrading from 2GB of memory to 4GB of memory.

We used typical 3D graphics and game benchmarks as well as real-world benchmarking approach by playing a repeatable section of several games and recording the average and minimum frame rates.

Test Platform
To compare the performance of 4GB and 2GB memory sizes we used the following test system:

2. Windows Vista 32bit - 3DMark 05/06/Vantage, Company Of Heroes v1.71, Half Life 2 Episode 2

3D Mark 05/06

Here we see how FutureMark's 3DMark 05/06/Vantage are affected by the increase of the installed memory. The previous versions of the 3DMark 05/06 benchmarks seems to be designed to work with 1GB or 2GB of system memory in order that they can be run on the widest possible range of systems. As a result, increasing the memory (2x2GB) did not show any performance improvements here, in fact we got even lower scores..

3D Mark Vantage

The 3D Mark Vantage scores were slightly better in the 4GB setup, mostly at the resolutions of 1280x1024 and 1920x1200 resolutions.

Company Of Heroes, Half Life 2

This is another popular game title for many users. Again, adding more memory did not provide any significant performance gain neither in low nor in high resolutions.

Finally the e Half Life2-Episode 2 game title also did not run any better after installing the 4GB memory modules.


3. Windows Vista 32bit - Crysis WarHead v1.00

The Crysis WarHead is based on the latest Crysis engine and all the visual settings are pre-defined in four rendering modes in both DX9 and DX10. These include the "Performance", "Mainstream", "Gamer" and "Enthusiast".

For each resolution, we tested all four different detail settings at the various resolutions and reported the minimum and average frame rates (FPS):

DirectX 9

We can clearly see that the 2x2GB provided increased the "minimum" FPS while playing the game in all resolutions and rendering modes.

In the following graphs you can see the average frames per second we got in the same tests as previously.

Here the differences are less impressive. We can say that both memory setups performed equally:

DirectX 10

Going further to the more demanding DirectX10 rendering mode, we can see that again additional 2GB of our system contributed to improved minimum FPS.

On the other hand, the increased memory did not affect the average FPS at 1280x1024.

At higher resolutions, the 4GB seems to offer a boost in the "Gamer" quality settings only.

4. Windows Vista 32bit - Far Cry 2

Playing the latest and very popular third person shooter game Far Cry 2 seems not to be affected by the increased memory you may install.

5. Windows Vista 64bit - 3DMark 05/06/Vantage, Company Of Heroes v1.71, Half Life 2 Episode 2

We proceed with the same tests under Windows Vista x64. Vista 64bit allows us to run the benchmarks or games with 2GB, 4GB and 8GB of memory installed.

3D Mark 05/06

Again, the 3DMark 05/06 benchmarks seems to be optimized to work with 1GB or 2GB of system memory in order that they can be run on the widest possible range of systems.

In the 3D Mark 05 benchmark, the 2x2GB setup gave the highest score, closely followed by the 2x1GB setup. A clear winner was reported in the 3D Mark 06 test, in which the 2x1GB setup was the most efficient.

3D Mark Vantage

At the 3D Mark Vantage the results were a mixed bag. The 2x2GB setup gave better results at the resolutions of 1280x1024/1920x1200, while the 2x1GB memory setup was slightly faster at 1680x1050. Increasing the memory to 8GB did not offer much here.

Company Of Heroes, Half Life 2

In the nest two games we did not notice any significant performance gain as we increased the system memory. However, there is a performance benefit with regards to the minimum frame rates at resolutions of up to 1680x1050.

6. Windows Vista 64bit - Crysis WarHead v1.00

We proceed with the Crysis WarHead tests under Vista 64bit OS.

We installed 2GB, 4GB and 8GB of memory. For each resolution, we tested all four different detail settings at the various resolutions and reported the minimum and average frame rates (FPS).

The "Gamer" settings seems to be the most "memory hungry" among the available quality settings. Increasing the memory to 4GB did helped here, especially at the higher resolutions. Remember that we are referring to the minimum FPS we got in this part of the test. Minimum FPS were also benefited by the 4GB of memory at the "Performance" and "Enthusiast" levels.

Further increasing the installed memory to 8GB seems to be a waste of time, for the specific gaming application of course.

On the other hand, the average FPS are less affected from the extra memory:

7. Windows Vista 64bit - Far Cry 2

Increasing the memory higher than the essential 2GB will not make any difference for the Far Cry 2 game under Vista 64bit.

8. Conclusion

After running all these benchmarks and test results, we feel that we can come up with a safe conclusion regarding the performance benefits of increased memory in modern, resource-hungry PC games.

Generally, upgrading your system from 2x1GB to 2x2GB will significantly increase the minimum frame rate at 3D person shooter games like Crysis, under both Windows Vista x32 and x64 OS. A 64bit system may also give you a slightly higher performance in terms of average FPS, but still this will be lower than your expectations.

Summarizing our findings with Crysis, Far Cry 2 and Company of Heroes game titles we say:

Windows Vista x32

Windows Vista x64

The latest game titles are optimized for 1 or 2x1GB memory setups. Of course, 64bit operating systems like Vista 64bit will be benefited from the increased memory, especially in the upcoming games. Using 4GB of system memory allows your PC’s other components perform better by reducing the need to access data from the page file stored on the hard disk drive, which is typically the slowest component in a PC.

What we did not test today is how the increased memory affects the multi-tasking on a PC as well as the game loading times; some secondary benefits of the increased memory setups.The more memory you add, the better the minimum frame/second becomes. You shouldn't expect miracle at least with the current motherboard/processor designs and of course, games.

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