Unlike a faster CPU or graphics card, more memory (aka RAM) won’t always speed up your games. If you already have enough RAM, adding more won’t make a difference. So how much RAM do you need for modern PC gaming, anyway?
This is a crucial question whether you’re purchasing a gaming computer, buying RAM while building your own PC, or just thinking about upgrading your current computer.
It’s All About Capacity, Not Speed
A faster graphics card will improve graphics performance and allow you to choose higher resolutions and graphics settings. A faster CPU will help in more CPU-bound games, like Civilization V and other real-time-strategy games that need to run a lot of calculations in the background rather than just rendering graphics. A solid-state drive will give you faster load times than a mechanical hard drive.
But RAM is different. Yes, DDR4 RAM is faster than DDR3 RAM, but the speed difference for PC gaming is minor. You mainly only need to worry about how much RAM you have, not how fast it is. Games, your operating system, and the programs you use have a memory footprint. You need enough RAM so that the programs you run on your computer can all store their data in RAM without swapping it out to your hard drive, which will slow things down. Thus, how much RAM you need is entirely dependent on the programs you run on your computer and how hungry for RAM they are.
On a computer that just needs a web browser and basic desktop programs, even 4GB may be sufficient, depending on the programs you’re running. It’s borderline, but very doable. On a computer that stores massive databases, virtual machines, and other huge things in memory, even 32GB of RAM may not be enough.
Let’s Look at Some Games
Many games these days are cross-platform and designed for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as well as PC. Both the PS4 and Xbox One include 8GB of RAM. Thus, it’s no surprise that many games require 6GB to 8GB of RAM on PC, too.
It’s all about the games you want to play, and how much performance you want. A game may recommend more RAM than it requires, and that may result in smoother performance. In general, having more RAM doesn’t necessarily improve your graphics settings–games with large textures need video RAM (VRAM) on the graphics hardware rather than system RAM.
Let’s look at some of the big, demanding games of 2015 and early 2016. These details come from each game’s Steam store page, unless otherwise noted.
- Dying Light: 4GB minimum, 8GB recommended
- Grand Theft Auto V: 4GB minimum, 8GB recommended
- The Witcher 3: 6GB minimum, 8GB recommended
- Fallout 4: 8GB minimum and recommended
- Batman: Arkham Knight: 6GB minimum, 8GB recommended, 12GB required for smooth gameplay on Windows 10 (source)
- Rise of the Tomb Raider: 6GB minimum, 8GB recommended
- Far Cry Primal: 4GB minimum, 8GB recommended
- The Division: 6GB minimum, 8GB recommended
- Hitman: 8GB minimum and recommended
- Quantum Break: 8GB minimum, 16GB recommended (source)
The numbers are pretty clear here. Modern PC games generally want at least 8GB of memory. Yes, some games ask for less–but 8GB is increasingly becoming a standard minimum.
Most PC games don’t even ask for 8GB, although there are two exceptions here. Batman: Arkham Knight officially recommends 8GB. The developers have now said at least 12GB is necessary, but only on Windows 10. Batman: Arkham Knight‘s PC port was a complete disaster, so that explains the 12GB requirement–it’s just mystifyingly bad and needs the extra RAM to make up for inefficient coding.
Microsoft’s forthcoming Quantum Break sets a new standard by recommending 16GB of RAM for “ultra” graphical settings. It’s an outlier, but probably won’t be the only one going forward.
You Need at Least 8GB of RAM for Modern Games
8GB of RAM will probably be okay, for now. It’ll meet the minimum requirements for every game out and every game on the horizon–except Batman: Arkham Knight, but that’s just a bad port.
There’s a good argument for getting more RAM, of course. If you’re interested in high-end gaming and pushing your PC to the absolute limit, it’s definitely worth upgrading to 16GB of RAM. Quantum Break certainly won’t be the last game to recommend that much memory. But not everyone needs 16GB RAM, just like not everyone needs the fastest graphics card–it’s all about your budget and your needs.
It’s easy to upgrade your RAM later, too. You don’t have to get rid of your existing RAM and replace it. You just have to buy a new stick or two of RAM and plug it into the free RAM slots on your motherboard, so there’s no need to “futureproof” if 8GB runs fine for the games you want to play now.
Bear in mind that RAM isn’t too expensive, though–the difference between purchasing 8GB of RAM and 16GB of RAM is only about $40. So if you’re building a high-end rig, it’s pretty easy to include 16GB.
Using Onboard Graphics? You’ll Need More RAM
The above advice applies to PCs with discrete NVIDIA or AMD graphics cards. If your computer has onboard graphics, it’s a bit different. If you’re getting a PC for gaming, you’ll probably want to avoid onboard graphics since they’re much slower. But if you’re stuck with them, you’ll probably want more RAM.
Discrete graphics cards have their own video RAM (VRAM) on the cards themselves. This is used for textures, and is separate from your computer’s normal RAM. Onboard graphics, on the other hand, reserve a portion of your system RAM instead of providing its own RAM. This means that RAM speed can actually make a difference in performance, and that you’ll probably need more of it.
This Intel article states that the maximum amount of RAM Intel graphics can reserve is about 1.8GB. So, if you plan on playing modern PC games with integrated graphics, you may actually need more than 8GB of system memory. But these same high-end games will probably not officially support integrated graphics, anyway. You’re better off just getting a discrete graphics card.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, of course. If you want to run a bunch of virtual machines while playing a game at high graphical settings, you’ll definitely need more than 16GB of RAM. But, if gaming is the most demanding thing you do on your computer, 8GB is the minimum and there’s no reason to go beyond 16GB.
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