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Have we reached a point where game makers are taking advantage of 64bit OSes and allocating more memory to their processes beyond the standard available on a 32bit OS or are games not yet taking advantage of large amount of RAM?

Basically, is it worth it worth it spend the money on a 64bit OS and more then 4 gigs for a gaming PC?

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Just like to point out that for Windows (Vista/7) the price of a 32 bit and a 64 bit version are exactly the same usually, so you shouldn't be spending more. Also the keys you receive for the 32 bit version will work fine with the 64 bit media as long as you use the same type (retail|oem|volume). –  Zoredache Mar 5 '11 at 20:33
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7 Answers 7

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(I have rectified my answer. To clarify: every process gets 2 GB of virtual address space. All processes combined can't exceed 4 GB of physical memory)

Actually, yes. There are many misconceptions about the memory limit in 32-bit Windows OSes.

First of all, when I say RAM, this includes every kind of RAM. So not just regular, but also your video RAM. Only physical memory though, not swap/paging.

The maximum available amount of RAM per process for a 32-bit OS is 2 GB. If you have a 64-bit OS, a 32-bit process can allocate up to 4 GB.

Additionally, the entire OS can only address 4 GB for every process combined, while 64-bit OSes can allocate 8 TB.

Also interesting is that this limit adds up to the paged pool. This means that a 32-bit OS cannot use more than 4 GB total, which means 6 GB for all applications including virtual memory. Of course, this has nothing to do with RAM, because the other 2 GB would be stored in the paging file, limited to your hard-drive's speed.

For more information, see Memory Limits for Windows Releases.

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"This means that a 32-bit OS cannot use more than 2 GB total, including virtual memory." Just to note, this is per process, not overall, more often than not unless he has absolutely no background processes running (impossible), even having access to 3.2 gigs on a 32 bit machine is better than having 2 gigs when it comes to running games. –  z ' Mar 5 '11 at 17:08
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@Arda Xi - that is simply incorrect. Each process has a separate (virtual) address space addressable by 32-bits (i.e. 4GB). Of that, 2GB is reserved for system resources and 2GB is available for the process to use however it needs. Each process' address space is stored in virtual memory, and abstracted away from the total available system memory; the kernel keeps track of which bits of virtual memory are actually stored in physical memory. You can have a sum total usage well over 4GB on a 32-bit Windows machine. –  Jimmy Mar 5 '11 at 19:42
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@Jimmy: Total RAM that will be recognized on a von Neumann x86 architecture is 3.4 GBs. It has nothing to do with Windows x86. See here for a verbose explanation: codinghorror.com/blog/2007/03/… –  DrFish Mar 5 '11 at 19:59
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Jimmy is exactly right. Here is a series of blog posts by a Microsoft programmer who understands virtual memory better than I do: blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/archive/2004/08/22/218527.aspx –  Jordan Miner Mar 6 '11 at 1:55
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@James Yes. In practice, you will get 4 GB - your VRAM of your total memory. A 32-bit process gets 2-3 GB on 32-bit Windows, but 4 GB on 64-bit Windows, and your total RAM, not just VRAM. –  user56 Mar 6 '11 at 18:23
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A lot of times the bottleneck for your graphics is the video RAM, not the other kind you usually associate when you hear RAM.

Video RAM is located in the video card, and is used to store textures that are used while you're playing, among other things. The higher-resolution textures you want to use, the more video RAM you need. And high-resolution textures are generally the most noticeable thing that makes the graphics look better.

Most games don't do much intensive stuff other than the graphics, because they just don't have time to. So you're probably safe sticking to 4GB of RAM.

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"Most games don't do much intensive stuff other than the graphics" Not exactly true. You've got maps, sound files, AI, et cetera. –  user56 Mar 6 '11 at 10:03
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Good points. After doing some research it seems like increasing VRAM really only effects the framerate at higher resolution (> 1080p). See this thread, neowin.net/forum/topic/971004-gtx-560-ti-1-gb-vs-hd-6950-2-gb. So even with VRAM increases it seems like current games only need so much. –  James McMahon Mar 6 '11 at 15:55
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Having more RAM won't give you more FPS, if you can run the game at all.

It will make life a bit easier, though.

If you have ample RAM, some or most of the game assets will be already cached while, say, loading it a second time, so it might start, or load levels faster than the first time around.

Currently, 64 Bit OS's don't have any visible advantage than being able to address RAM beyond 4 GB. But that might change with Battlefield 3, for which DICE recommends a 64 Bit OS, though I am not sure if it is for the larger memory use or DX11 support. Either way, I wouldn't invest into anything bound by 32 bit technology anymore.

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There are other advantages to 64-bit OSes than just memory, like having 64-bit integers running directly on the CPU rather than abstracted, to name one. –  user56 Mar 5 '11 at 20:22
    
And DX11 support isn't an advantage of 64bit - 32bit OS' run it just as well. –  Phoshi Mar 5 '11 at 20:53
    
@Bora: If you have background processes, (like, say, an OS), then memory might be paged if you have limited RAM, and increasing RAM would reduce paging, increasing framerate. –  Mooing Duck Jul 16 '13 at 18:26
    
@MooingDuck, yeah, but it will still not change frame rate. You will only see some stuttering for the few seconds where the paging occurs. –  DrFish Jul 17 '13 at 16:03
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Well first of all, if you have a 32 bit machine and you have 4 gigs of installed ram in your computer, you are really only utilizing roughly 3.2 gigs.

Second, once you are in the 4-8 gig range, its more about the speed of your memory rather than how much you have. You want something with low latency if possible.

Finally, like Strix said, the huge majority of the time, the bottleneck will either be your video card or your processor, especially if you already have 4 gigs of ram.

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I won't matter, much, unless you are doing things other than playing game while playing the game.

IMHO the first thing you should do is to turn off paging. Windows will keep paging on even if you have a large amount of RAM. With ~4GB ram you will almost never run out and by turning off paging significant performance can be gained. There is a detailed discussion here

If you don't see your performance improve then adding ram is helpful

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You should never, ever turn off paging. That's just asking for trouble. Windows is pretty smart at only using it when it's necessary. –  user56 Mar 6 '11 at 10:02
    
do you have references to support that? Also, I have never had paging turned on for my machine, what kind of trouble am I in? –  bronzebeard Mar 6 '11 at 10:09
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lifehacker.com/#!5426041/… Basically, once you use more RAM than your physical RAM supports, your system will crash, completely. –  user56 Mar 6 '11 at 13:06
    
thanks for the link. But other than the fact that if I run out of RAM my application would crash without allowing me to save, I don't see any reason why I would need paging. I already said that I have enough RAM that I will not run out of it. I am aware that certain applications will not start w/o paging enable but were are talking about high performance gaming and not giant databases. And what does "your system will crash, completely" mean? –  bronzebeard Mar 6 '11 at 15:13
    
Actually, it won't crash. I recently turned off paging at work, and when I ran out of ram(3GB), visual studio started acting funny - not allowing me to debug, or even copy/paste. But it didn't even drop the process, it just told me about it. I personally don't see why we need to enable paging if we have lots of ram or if we know we won't exceed that amount. Most arguments to the contrary are something like 'You just dont do it, windows knows best' which I don't buy. –  LoveMeSomeCode Mar 10 '11 at 13:23
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Games themselves don't take advantage of a 64-bit OS yet, but using a 64-bit OS when you have 4GB of RAM will still make a difference when it comes to the amount of memory Windows can actually use.

Even though Intel switched to 36-bit RAM addresses a few years ago, allowing up to 64GB of RAM, Windows enforces a 4GB memory limit on its Home and Professional 32-bit editions. This restriction is higher on its 64-bit editions... but is different in each edition (Home Premium is 16GB).

Furthermore, of this 4GB for 32-bit Windows, any memory-mapped devices will shrink the address pool by stealing memory addresses for its own use. This technique is commonly used by video cards. This means, with a modern 3D accelerator, your RAM pool will shrink down by 512MB-1GB (or more).

There are ways in Windows to access RAM beyond the 4GB limit, but I have yet to see games that use it... and you still lose RAM to the video card. Either way, with more than 3GB of RAM, you ought to use a 64-bit version of Windows.

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Generally speaking, if you are running a 64-bit native OS and a 64-bit native game, then yes, it can help. At the very least more RAM means less paging (reading and writing less used sections of memory to disk to free up RAM), and less paging means a faster computer overall. Generally 8GB would be enough so that most games won't compete with the OS for memory and allow for processes to run smoother because again, less paging.

In game specific terms, you can have more/bigger textures in memory as well as more of a level and characters loaded as well, but only if the game is written in such a way as to take advantage of the bigger memory pool. This really only applies to games with dynamic limits.

TL;DR

Its only an advantage if the game is written to take advantage of it: Games who's only limitation is the size of available memory are generally the only ones to see a performance boost by more than 4GB of RAM.

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