Research Hub > CPU vs. RAM: Which is More Important for You?

January 06, 2022

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6 min

CPU vs. RAM: Which is More Important for You?

When building or purchasing a new computer, there are a ton of factors to consider. An excellent place to start is determining if the CPU or RAM will be more important for your build.

When building or purchasing a new computer, there are a ton of factors to consider. Do you need an SSD? Are these components powerful enough to run your favorite game? Are you going to be using the device for work or leisure? All of these questions are important to consider when comparing machines but can quickly become overwhelming. An excellent place to start is determining if the CPU or RAM will be more important for your build. Keep reading to learn more about how both components work and what their specifications can mean for overall performance.

What is RAM?

Random Access Memory or RAM is a crucial component of any modern computing device. In some cases, RAM may also be referred to as system memory. RAM performs the vital task of storing all the short-term data currently in use by your machine. RAM is also called volatile memory because it resets the data it stores every time the system is rebooted. RAM size and speed are important because the larger and faster your RAM, the more active data your system can use for tasks like gaming, 3D modeling, or compiling large amounts of code.

How Does RAM Work?

RAM is similar to storage in that it stores data, but that is where the similarities end. The data stored in RAM is either actively being used or is deleted to allow for other crucial data to take its place. How RAM connects to your computer also differs from storage devices such as HDDs or SSDs. By plugging directly into your motherboard, RAM is capable of incredibly fast data transfer speeds that make such tasks as high-end gaming or design work possible. While RAM is important for these tasks, it is not the only component responsible for performance. RAM can make gameplay or design work smoother but does not directly correlate with displaying images or retrieving long-term data.

What is a CPU?

Saying the CPU is like the brain of a computer is a bit cliche but it is an adequate description. The processor, or CPU, does the brunt of data processing on your computer, as well as providing instructions to the rest of the components in the machine. To put it as plainly as possible, the more powerful your CPU, the more powerful your PC. That being said, all components, like your RAM, CPU, or even GPU, need to be within a certain range of power, or you may create bottlenecks within your system that prevent you from reaching maximum possible performance.

How Does a CPU Work?

A CPU works by processing and decoding instructions received from RAM.  After an operation is performed, the CPU quickly fetches the next set of instructions. A processor will repeat this cycle to perform complex functions like running a game, program, or even your operating system. The CPU is also responsible for determining which data needs to be moved from long-term storage to RAM for each specific task. A common misconception is that CPUs are responsible for video performance, which is not the case. While a high-end processor will help improve gaming performance, the processor itself is not responsible for processing or displaying images; that job falls to the video card or GPU.

How to Measure RAM Performance?

When comparing performance between sticks of RAM, there are two key factors to consider: storage size and memory speed. Storage size is the amount of memory available on any stick RAM and is typically in even numbers because RAM is sold in pairs of sticks called kits. The speed of RAM is the rate at which the memory can move data and, for specific tasks, can be more important than the size of memory. When determining how much RAM you will need, remember to consider the tasks you will perform. If you already have enough memory for a given program, increasing the amount of RAM in your system will do nothing for performance.

How to Measure CPU Performance?

Like with RAM, two main specifications are typically used to compare processors: core count and clock speed. You will often refer to processors as Quad-core, Hexa-core, Octa-core, and so on. This refers to the number of physical cores on a given processor and is a good indicator of the overall power of the component. However, this should not be used as the sole determining factor. Clock speed is how fast the given cores on a processor can operate and, when combined with the core count, can give you a much better idea of the potential performance of any given CPU. When comparing the performance of any component, it's crucial to factor in all specifications.

Questions to Ask Yourself

With any component purchase, it's important to ask yourself questions to determine the best possible choice. Remember to carefully think of all the potential uses for your future device and budget component costs accordingly. Different systems can have wildly different configurations, which can have a significant impact on final costs. There are several questions you should ask yourself when comparing different RAM and CPUs for your next build.

Should I Spend More on My CPU or RAM?

The answer to this question is entirely up to what you intend to do with your completed PC. A more powerful processor will help with tasks such as streaming or running multiple programs. At the same time, large amounts of RAM will help with multitasking but will primarily improve performance in complex programs and operations. It is worth mentioning that, more often than not, a CPU will always cost more than RAM. While it is possible to spend more on RAM than your CPU, that is seldom the ideal choice.

How Are My CPU and RAM Going to Work Together?

While different in many ways, your RAM and CPU still work together and need to be similar in scope of power to get the most out of your PC. Thirty-two GBs of RAM can be incredible for specific tasks but is nearly useless if paired with an entry-level processor with a minimum core count and clock speed; the same can go for powerful processors. You need to make sure the size and speed of your RAM are adequate for the speed and power of your processor. This way, you eliminate any potential bottlenecks and maximize the performance of your machine. 

Is 16GB of RAM Enough for Me?

For most computer users, even gamers, 16GB of RAM is more than enough to comfortably run all the tasks you desire. Specific uses such as high-end gaming or professional-level media or content creation can require 32GB or more of RAM, but more often than not 16GB is adequate to run an operating system, a single game, and a few other programs such as a web browser or communication apps. For basic office machines or home computers, 8GB can be enough RAM to operate smoothly at an affordable budget.

Are 6 Cores Enough for My CPU?

When it comes to gaming, Hexa-core processors are an ideal middle ground between cost and performance. Quad-core CPUs can still handle many modern games and most office tasks but could struggle to play the newest games or future titles. Processors with more than six cores are similar to PCs with more than 16GBs of RAM. Most users will never need components this powerful, but for specific tasks, these high-end parts are essential. 

Conclusion

Buying any new computer part can be a confusing and stressful experience. By considering your specific needs and comparing those with component specifications, you can easily build the best PC for you at an affordable cost. Remember that no two parts are the same, but all components should be considered when finalizing a build. If you ever need help comparing various components or finishing a PC build, don't hesitate to reach out to the experts at CDW today!