Hosting a Minecraft and playing with friends is fun—but not if the experience is a laggy mess. Here’s how to calculate how much RAM your Minecraft server needs.
How Much RAM Does a Minecraft Server Need?
Before we dive into the details, let’s start with the golden rule for selecting how much RAM you need for your Minecraft server.
You don’t need how much RAM somebody tells you that you need. You need how much RAM it takes for a smooth player experience.
For most players goofing around with a few friends, 1GB of RAM for their Minecraft server is more than sufficient—especially if they optimize their server experience.
But if you search for information about how much RAM a Minecraft server needs the answers you get can feel, well, a little all over the map. A lot of the results you find are recommendations provided by Minecraft server host providers. Hosting packages scale in expense based on factors like how much RAM, processing power, and disk space the package offers.
So there’s a bit of an inherent bias in recommending you buy a bigger hosting package. Not only does the provider make a little more money but there’s a good chance you won’t need to file support tickets or require extra help if the server is oversized for your needs.
“How much RAM do I need for my Minecraft server?” is a question akin to “How big of a vehicle do I need?” in that you can’t effectively answer the question without considering how the server (or vehicle) will be used. So a blanket “Everybody should have 4GB of RAM for their Minecraft server,” statement is about as useful as “Everyone needs a cargo van.”
Factors That Contribute to RAM Demand
Let’s dig into some of the major factors that contribute to RAM usage and lead to server lag when there is insufficient RAM.
In the Minecraft world, by the way, server lag is often referred to by the term Ticks Per Second (TPS).
TPS is roughly analogous to the term Frames Per Second (FPS), which gamers use to describe the speed at which their computer displays frames in a video game they’re playing—except in this case it’s not visual lag, it’s the internal clock of the server lagging under strain. Tips and tricks to make the Minecraft client-side experience smoother won’t fix issues with the server.
Minecraft is coded for 20 TPS. When performance bottlenecks force the TPS below 20, the game experience suffers. Here are some of the factors that contribute to server lag.
Number of Players
Hands down, the single biggest factor is the number of players. Minecraft might look like a blocky old fashioned and undemanding game, but the game is very resource-intensive. The server has to render a dynamic and ever-changing environment for every player in the game.
If you and your friends are all in the same area, such as a village you’re working on building up into a fortified castle, it does help to decrease the demands placed on the server slightly. But if you’re all out exploring all over the place the strain on the server increases. Four people simultaneously exploring different areas of the map is much more resource-intensive than a single-player wandering around.
Whatever kind of server you run, be it a vanilla server or a heavily modded server, every player is a demand multiplier.
The view distance in Minecraft is how far the game will load and render the “chunks” that make up the game world. The default view distance is 10 chunks.
Decreasing it will lower demand on the server at the expense of how far the player can see and what remains loaded and active in the game. Increasing it will require more RAM per player to handle the increased rendering and entities.
Redstone, Entities, and Chunk Loading
On top of simply rendering what the player sees in the game, the server has to constantly calculate and recalculate what everything in the game is doing. Sheep wandering around, villagers looping through their little NPC routines, mobs generating, and so on.
Even things like plant growth cycles and the action of Redstone circuits and creations in the game factor into the load placed on the server.
If you and your friends want to build massive Redstone creations like iron golem farms, gold farms, or other resource-intensive projects, you may need more RAM.
Modding Minecraft is a huge part of the Minecraft experience for lots of players, and mods can place a significant demand on the server.
While small mods that, say, just change what items villagers sell or the behavior of the wandering trader aren’t very demanding, mods that change the game mechanics, add in extra dimensions, and otherwise make major changes or additions to the game increase the amount of RAM you need.
Popular mega-mod packs like Better Minecraft, which routinely pack in 150+ game-enhancing and changing mods, will naturally require more RAM than a basic server.
Consider Upgrading Your Server Software, Not Hardware
Your takeaway after reading the previous sections might be “OK, so I need more RAM!” but before you pay for the next tier at your Minecraft host or upgrade your hardware, there’s a really simple and free way to increase Minecraft server performance.
For years now, Mojang has provided free access to the Minecraft server platform. You pay for the game, but the server needed to host the game is free. Every new public release has an updated server.jar you can find on the official site.
While that’s generous, the official server is poorly optimized. So poorly optimized, in fact, that throwing more and more RAM at the problem typically doesn’t improve performance. At least not in a cost-effective and useful way.
Rather than paying more for a beefier hosting package or upgrading your hardware at home to chase increased performance using the vanilla server, we recommend you use a heavily optimized fork of the Minecraft server like PaperMC.
Not only is PaperMC so well optimized that it will blow your mind, but the optimizations translate directly into lower RAM demands. (And, because PaperMC is a fork of the Spigot project that means you can easily use the plethora of Spigot-compatible Bukkit plugins.)
For example, I recently spooled up a server to play with a handful of friends and family members around the world. I decided to run the basic vanilla server straight from Mojang, despite knowing about the performance issues, just to test it out and confirm things hadn’t changed. Even with only 3-4 players, the performance was abysmal. Adjusting my RAM allocation from 1GB, incrementally, upwards to higher and higher numbers had minimal impact on performance.
There was lag no matter what we were doing. Blocks would frequently fail to break (or place properly) and my friends frequently would get stuck behind “invisible” blocks that had, visually, been removed from their client but, on the server-side, persisted as a physical barrier. Suffice to say it wasn’t a very fun experience.
Yet when I swapped out the vanilla server with the highly optimized PaperMC server, I was able to drop my RAM allocation all the way back down to 1GB while simultaneously adding in a few dozen mods and plugins, all with perfectly smooth performance. Setup is as straightforward and simple as the regular Minecraft server too.
Whether you’re paying for a host or self-hosting at home, we truly can’t emphasize what an upgrade moving from the vanilla server software to PaperMC is.
Don’t Over Allocate RAM for Your Minecraft Server
Finally, a small word of caution against over-allocating RAM for your Minecraft server. While increasing the RAM is necessary as you add lots of players and increasingly complex mods, there is a point of diminishing returns.
Keeping the RAM allocation for your server close to the demands your players and mods/plugins impose actually helps your server run better. Allocating 16GB of RAM to a server that doesn’t really need it just makes the Java driving the server run more inefficiently.
There’s no need for us to launch into a treatise on Java, but the key detail here is a concept called “garbage collection,” the process by which Java programs automatically manage their memory utilization.
If you have too little RAM allocated for your Minecraft server, the garbage collection process runs frequently to keep RAM available for use. This impacts performance and your server doesn’t run smoothly. On the opposite end, if you allocate too much RAM, it can lead to the garbage collector running infrequently but with more strain on the server when it does.
In short, let the actual play experience guide your adjustments. Start with 1GB and play. Everything is smooth and play is enjoyable? Great, leave it at 1GB. Add some mods, some more friends, or both, and the server starts to lag? Allocate more RAM (or purchase a bigger hosting package) to balance out the new demand on the server.
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