This article looks at what the effect of running a different operating system or having more memory has on similarly spec’d Intel and AMD mini PCs when gaming. Note: This article has been updated and corrected as a result of reader feedback and additional testing.
Initial results were surprising because Windows appeared much slower. As I’d previously heard of performance improvements when using 64GB of memory I swapped out the currently installed 16GB memory and immediately saw improved results.
As I’d never observed such a dramatic performance increase on Intel mini PCs just through increasing the memory I decided to explore further by testing gaming performance on similar Intel and AMD mini PCs when using either 16 GB or 64GB of memory and coupled with comparing running Windows with Linux. Given the ‘Steamdeck’ used Manjaro I also wanted to test with Ubuntu to additionally see whether this made any difference.
Recent AMD mini PCs have been notable for including the more powerful Radeon integrated graphics whereas Intel mini PC iGPUs are typically much weaker with the exception of the now-dated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655. As quite a few recent mini PCs have been released using CPUs with these integrated graphics this was the logical choice for my test Intel devices. Limited by what I had available, the following four mini PCs (Intel: GTi & NGC-5, AMD: GT-R & SER3) were selected for testing as they were the most similarly spec’d:
Given memory was the key hardware component being tested, I chose to reuse the same memory in each device to ensure consistency. Both the support for various memory speeds and the ability to overclock the memory was limited in the BIOS of each device. The Intel devices were restricted to running memory at a maximum speed of 2400 MHz however the AMD BIOS allowed a slight memory overclock to be set at 2666 MHz. Running in dual-channel I used two sticks of Crucial 8GB DDR4-2666 CL19 (CT8G4SFS6266) and two sticks of 32GB DDR4-3200 CL22 (F4-3200C22D-64GRS):
The additional testing used a single stick of Crucial 16GB DDR4-2666 CL19 (CT16G4SFD8266.M16FRS) and therefore ran in single-channel together with two sticks of 8GB DDR4-2400 CL16 (F4-2400C16D-16GRS) running in dual-channel:
So for the Intel devices, the memory ran at 2400 MHz:
and for the AMD devices, it ran at 2666 MHz:
noting that the DDR4-3200 memory runs at CAS latency 19 when clocked at 2666 MHz:
For the additional testing on the AMD SER3 device the memory was not overclocked and was run at 2400 MHz.
Fresh installations of each OS were performed on each device and updated to the latest versions and then benchmarking software was installed. Additionally ‘RyzenAdj’ was installed on the AMD devices to configure the power limits.
For Windows, Windows 11 Pro Version 21H2 build 22000.348 was used on each mini PC:
and for Ubuntu, Ubuntu 20.04.3 with the 5.11.0-41-generic kernel was used:
For the additional testing, the latest updates resulted in upgrading Windows to build 22000.376 and the Ubuntu kernel to 5.11.0-43-generic.
Then for Manjaro, Manjaro 21 KDE Plasma was used however as Manjaro is a rolling release for the first round of testing on the Intel NGC-5 and AMD SER3 mini PCs, Manjaro 21.1.6 with the 5.13.19-2 kernel was used:
and for the second round of testing on the Intel GTi and AMD GT-R, Manjaro 21.2rc1 with the 5.15.6-2 kernel was used:
I also confirmed that the change in release point and kernels did not appear to influence the results by briefly running some additional benchmark checks.
Finally, Valve’s Steam and Unigine’s Heaven software was installed and used for testing as well as installing the FPS monitoring software of MSI Afterburner with Rivatuner Statistics Server on Windows and MangoHud on Linux.
On Windows the power plan was set the power mode to ‘High performance’ on each device:
and similarly, on Ubuntu and Manjaro the CPU Scaling Governor was set to ‘performance’:
On both the AMD devices ‘RyzenAdj’ was used to set the Actual Power Limit (PTT Limit Fast) to 45W, the Average Power Limit (PPT Limit Slow) to 40W and the Slow PPT Constant Time (SlowPPTTimeConst) to 5 seconds:
for each OS:
Finally, the ‘Display’ resolution was set 1280×720 on each device:
Initially, I tested several games under Steam in both Windows and Linux including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V), Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD), and Shadow Of The Tomb Raider (SOTTR). Whilst I noticed consistent performance in line with the conclusions below, I dropped testing CS:GO and GTA V in deference to using the more consistent in-game benchmarks of HZD and SOTTR. I also added testing with Heaven using the ‘OpenGL’ API:
as this is both available in Windows and Linux and was also consistently repeatable. However, I’ve only tabulated the SOTTR and Heaven results as these sufficiently demonstrate the trends seen in all the results.
As a result of a comment from Yuri below: “Were both memory kits single-ranked or dual-ranked?” additional testing was undertaken to clarify whether the observed performance improvement on the AMD devices was a result of increasing the amount of memory or increasing the number of memory ranks.
The testing presented in the original article used 16GB as two (dual-channel) single-rank 8GB sticks (CT8G4SFS6266) and compared it with 64GB as two (dual-channel) dual-rank 32GB sticks (F4-3200C22D-64GRS) with the memory clocked at 2400MHz on the Intel devices and 2666MHz on the AMD devices.
The additional testing was performed only on the AMD SER3 device and used 16GB consisting of one (single-channel) dual-rank 16GB stick (CT16G4SFD8266.M16FRS) and 16GB consisting of two (dual-channel) dual-rank 8GB sticks (F4-2400C16D-16GRS) together with retesting the original memory. As the 16GB dual-rank sticks were only 2400MHz the additional testing was undertaken without overclocking the memory and so all the memory was clocked at 2400MHz.
One final point is regarding the SOTTR benchmark. On Windows it uses DirectX 12, and using the default settings together with the lowest graphical present results in anti-aliasing set to ‘TAA’:
However, on Ubuntu, the default settings turn anti-aliasing off:
Additional testing results with original testing shown in blue for comparison:
A direct comparison of gaming performance between Windows and Linux cannot be drawn from such limited data and it should also be noted that some games run natively whilst others use compatibility tools like ‘Proton’. However, what was interesting is that on the Intel mini PCs SOTTR on Manjaro was much slower than on Ubuntu. This was not the case for the AMD devices where the performance was similar using the ‘OOTB’ experience. There could well be a simple solution for this however this highlights a common issue in ‘gaming’ on Linux where often it seems necessary to search for fixes just to get things to work.
The most obvious impact was that increasing the memory from 16GB to 64GB on the AMD devices resulted in a noticeable improvement to FPS. The benefits appear to favor Windows more than Linux which, although lower, still saw consistent increments. Conversely, there was effectively no consequence of increasing the memory on the Intel devices with the few minor differences being within the margin of testing variance.
For the additional testing, this same noticeable improvement resulted after changing from using single-rank 16GB to using dual-rank 16GB in dual-channel mode. As expected when going from using 16GB memory installed as a single stick and therefore running in single-channel to the same amount of memory but installed as two 8GB sticks running in dual-channel there was a significant improvement to FPS.
The additional testing shows that on AMD mini PCs going from single-rank memory to dual-rank memory will also result in a noticeable improvement unlike on the Intel mini PCs where no difference was observed. Interestingly, retesting the 64GB memory resulted in very slightly lower results suggesting that the slight drop in clock speed from 2666 MHz to 2400 MHz might be responsible. The effect of CL timings has not been evaluated.
Gaming performance may differ between Windows and Linux so the choice of OS will likely depend on whether the desired games have ‘native’ versions or are supported by an appropriate compatibility layer.
However, increasing the memory appears to improve gaming performance on AMD mini PCs with notable FPS increments especially under Windows whereas no perceptible improvements were observed on Intel mini PCs. Whether these findings justify the extra expense of purchasing more memory is debatable. However, if you have it available it makes sense to use it.
To get the best gaming performance from AMD mini PCs dual-rank memory should be used in dual-channel mode.
Ian is interested in mini PCs and helps with reviews of mini PCs running Windows, Ubuntu and other Linux operating systems. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.