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Let's say the year is 1999 or something like that. I have a PC with 400 MHz, no graphics accelerator and 64 MB RAM, and try to run some Need for Speed game or something. I notice that it goes laggy.

Would upgrading to 128 MB (another identical 64 MB RAM slot) have any difference?

Since the game actually ran in 64 MB mode, it must have passed the initial "startup check" where I presume it would simply refuse to run with an error message if you have too little RAM for it to actually be able to function.

However, it's very doubtful to me that they actually had programmed the game so that it would "take advantage" of extra RAM. Isn't what matters how "fast" the RAM is, as long as you have enough to run the game?

Or was it common for them to actually code the games so that it somehow used extra available RAM for some kind of speed-up measure which was then noticeable to the player if they bought more RAM?

Note that I have no problems understanding why a faster CPU or a 3D card would make the game run smoother. I'm asking specifically about the amount of RAM (not the speed differences between different kinds of RAM).

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    Simple Answer: it depends on the game. – Raffzahn Jun 19 at 23:25
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    It could depend on the motherboard. Using two slots could mean that the memory would be split into two interleaved banks, improving the throughput by about 1.5x for random access, or even better for consecutive access. – Leo B. Jun 20 at 1:46
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    I’m voting to close this question because the answer is surely "it depends on the game". It asks for a general answer when there is unlikely to be one. – another-dave Jun 20 at 2:49
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    A game running under a relatively sophisticated operating system (such as Windows with preemptive multitasking) is going to be able to indirectly take advantage of more memory via things like the disk cache. Even if the game isn't coded for it, if more of the data and code can fit in RAM without having to be read from disk frequently, the game will likely play somewhat more smoothly. But this is true of any application under such an OS. – RETRAC Jun 20 at 6:19
  • At that time 3D-accellerated graphics cards began to really take off, but games had to be written for them. More RAM meant more textures giving higher resolutions like today. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jun 21 at 14:51
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The year you've picked has a strong influence on the answer. By 1999, most new games were being released to run under 32-bit Windows using DirectX, and were therefore running in a demand-paged multitasking virtual memory system. This has two consequences:

  • Checking available memory was no longer necessary - if you didn't have enough, the OS would emulate it using the pagefile

  • It was no longer even possible to be sure how much memory was needed, as background processes could consume varying amounts on different systems and at different times.

In cases where there wasn't enough RAM, paging would occur, slowing the system down substamtially. Adding more RAM could fix this.

If the date you'd picked was just a few years earlier - say 1996 - the situation would be different. At that time, new games that ran under protected mode DOS extenders (e.g. "DOS/4GW") were still common, and those systems did not generally use demand paging - for those games, adding more RAM would only usually help if the game would not run at all.

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    This answer is mostly correct. For DOS-extended games, I would add one consideration: Adding more memory allows you to assign more memory to a disk or CD cache like smartdrive (IIRC the newest smartdrive versions actually allowed CD caching), which could speed up loading times when the same level/map/area/whatever if it gets loaded repeatedly. – Michael Karcher Jun 20 at 8:30

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