In the last year or so the gaming space has changed drastically.
We have seen a new console generation release, a global chip shortage, tax hikes on electronics, the crypto mining boom, and the rise of scalpers.
This has led to confusing times for gamers.
Do we wait out the scalpers and buy a new console?
Do we stick to our trusty PC and just try to upgrade it?
The Xbox game pass looks awesome. Do I abandon Sony and go over to PC gaming or an Xbox?
The new current-gen consoles have been out for over a year, and they are STILL nearly impossible to get your hands on.
You can’t blame people for looking at their grungy old desktop and wondering what they need to do to it in order to play some games.
Bottom line –
Becoming a PC gamer can be mighty intimidating.
Whether you’re thinking about upgrading an old potato rig or looking at a shiny new pre-built you need to know what you’re doing.
Let’s start your PC gaming adventure by talking about RAM and how much RAM for gaming you actually need.
How Much RAM Do I Need For Gaming?
Asking how much RAM is needed for gaming is like asking how long is a piece of string.
There are a lot of variables we need to talk about.
It’s also important to know what RAM is and why it’s important.
What Is RAM and How Does It Affect Gaming?
When talking about components for gaming you’ll hear people talking about CPUs, Graphics cards (GPUs), storage, motherboards, and RAM.
They’re all doing different things and for a solid gaming rig, they are pretty much all equally important. The best CPU in the world isn’t going to save you if you have crummy RAM for example and vice versa.
RAM stands for Random Access Memory. It’s a type of memory that is far faster than your standard HDD or SSD.
Your game files are saved on your HDD or SSD. To play a game your CPU needs to constantly access these files. But communication directly between your storage and CPU is both in-efficient and way too slow.
So, RAM acts as the speedy mini man. Important files that the CPU needs to access to run a program or game are temporarily stored here so the CPU can grab them as needed.
So, what happens if you don’t have enough RAM?
If you don’t have enough RAM then your PC can’t store all the files it needs to do on the RAM.
At best this can low down performance, meaning lower frame rates and hitching (mini freezes).
At worst your game will become unplayable.
It’s also important to remember that everything on your computer uses the RAM, not just gaming.
Your operating system alone eats up a healthy chunk of your RAM allowance.
Windows 10 on its own eats up at least 2GB of RAM.
As time has progressed Windows has become more and more RAM-hungry as Microsoft has shoehorned in more features.
Apps like Discord and Steam also use up RAM.
This all means that if you plan on multitasking while you game, you’re probably going to need more RAM than a game’s minimum specs might quote.
Things to Consider
So now you know what RAM is, it’s time to go out and buy some right?
Just go out and buy as much as you can afford…
More RAM=Better right?
System integrators (companies who sell pre-built computers) may well try and convince you that you need lots of RAM. And you might.
Or you might not.
How much RAM you need depends on the type of games you plan on playing, what you can afford and how often you plan on upgrading.
You see, RAM is important for performance, but it has a cap.
The performance difference between a 16GB system and a 32GB system can be tiny.
The difference between 32GB and 64GB is completely negligible.
That’s because once your system has all the RAM it needs for the given task it won’t use it anymore.
If you have 64GB but your system only needs 16GB to run your game, much of that RAM is basically going to waste.
So, if you only play older/ indie games that don’t require a lot of RAM, more than 8GB or 16GB can be complete overkill and a waste of money.
Likewise, cheaping out on RAM is also a bad idea. Meeting a game’s minimum requirements = minimal performance.
Furthermore, there’s another type of RAM, VRAM, that comes into play. VRAM is used by your graphics card to load up graphical assets ready for use in a game.
Graphically demanding games often depend more on VRAM these days rather than just plain old RAM.
İf you’re on a budget it may be prudent to go for slightly less RAM and go for a memory card with more VRAM.
Now let’s talk about futureproofing.
One of the worst things about PC gaming is the need to constantly keep up to date.
You buy a console; it lasts for 6-7 years until the next generation comes round.
PC gaming is different, however. In that same amount of time, your shiny new mega gaming PC can turn into a complete slowpoke.
When buying RAM, it’s important to think about future-proofing your PC.
As time has progressed programs have become more memory hungry and harder to run and Windows has become more demanding to run.
You might be thinking to yourself that you only play older games. Those games don’t need much RAM right? So, I’ll save a few bucks and go for 4GB or 8GB and it’ll be fine.
Maybe for now.
But you’ll soon find yourself struggling to run more than a few Chrome tabs at the same time, let alone run a game and discord at the same time.
Basically, even if you only plan on playing older games it’s a good idea to allow yourself some extra RAM just for your increasingly demanding background programs.
RAM Types and Speeds
Your final consideration when it comes to RAM is the speed and type of RAM.
We most commonly measure RAM in two ways.
Firstly, the size.
Most commonly 4GB,8GB,16GB or 32GB and above.
Secondly the speed. This is normally measured in MT/s (mega transfer per second) but is often advertised in gigahertz (MHz).
Simply put, the higher the number, the better the performance.
You might see 16GB on sale for cheap and think it’s a good buy. However, if its speed is slow it can affect your performance.
1600Ghz is the base speed and DDR4 RAM won’t come any slower than that.
2933Mhz is just about the current max but you’ll pay a premium for it.
For example, check out this Corsair Vengeance RAM
You also need to be wary of the RAM type.
DDR4 SDRAM is the standard right now. As long as your computer isn’t a complete relic it probably has DDR4 memory.
If you find your computer has DDR3? It’s out of date and you’re looking at buying a new motherboard as DDR4 isn’t backward compatible.
DDR3 is way too slow for modern usage.
DDR5 is the next big thing, and you may hear about it. But for your purposes, you don’t need to worry about it.
If you’re curious about the price, you can check it out here.
Whilst it is faster than DDR4 barely any current motherboards support it as it’s an emerging technology.
Keep it simple and stick to DDR4.
Finally, you need to think about the physical size of your RAM.
There are DIMM and SO-DIMM.
DIMM units are full-size modules used in normal desktop motherboards. Check the above images.
SO-DIMM is smaller for use in laptops, mini-PCs, and some small factor motherboards.
As you Can see SO-DIMM RAM looks pretty different!
Make sure you buy the right size for your motherboard.
So now you know what it is and what to look out for. How much ram should a gaming PC have?
Is 4GB RAM Enough for Gaming?
The bare minimum for a modern PC is 4GB of RAM. You would be hard-pressed to find a new build with less than 4GB.
Can you play games on 4GB?
At a push but you really shouldn’t. Some older games will run acceptably on 4GB.
However, any AAA game released in the last few years is going to struggle.
This is especially true when you think about how demanding other programs and Windows have become.
There’s a reason most cheap office computers come with 4GB today. These days you need 4GB just to check your emails and watch some YouTube.
If we check out Minecraft (famously easy to run) even Mojang recommends 4GB.
RAM is one of the cheapest ways to improve your PC’s performance. Please don’t try to make do with 4GB and your games deserve better.
Is 8GB RAM Good for Gaming?
Until not that long ago 8GB was considered the standard for gaming.
These days, it’s the bare minimum for a gaming PC.
Most modern games will run at 8GB, but they won’t be happy about it.
You’re likely to notice poor performance on anything but minimal graphic settings.
Furthermore, large open-world games which are especially popular these days are probably out. They tend to be extra demanding on the RAM.
Even older games like Skyrim and The Witcher 3 want at least 8GB of RAM.
And The Witcher 3:
You can also forget about streaming. With 8GB of RAM, your PC just isn’t going to have the leftover grunt needed for streaming.
Simply put, if you’re on a budget 8GB these days is the entry-level but if you can afford it you should step up.
Is 16GB RAM Enough?
These days 16GB is the new sweet spot.
If you outfit your rig with 16GB of RAM then you should be capable of playing the most demanding games around.
Cyberpunk, infamously hard to run, wants 12GB
Similarly, PC killer Crysis remastered also wants 12GB
With 16GB of RAM if you’re experiencing performance hang-ups it’s time to look at upgrading your CPU and/or GPU.
Most modern AAA games now state 12-16GB as their recommended RAM.
Is 32GB Too Much?
There’s no such thing as too much RAM.
However, these days 32GB is probably overkill.
Even at 4k resolution, most games don’t need anywhere close to 32GB.
However! Things are constantly changing. Just because 16GB is the sweet spot now, it won’t stay there forever.
Sooner, rather than later, 32GB will become the new norm.
So, if you have the money it might be tempting to upgrade to 32GB now to save yourself money in the future.
Just remember that now DDR5 is around, your 32GB of DDR4 isn’t as future-proof as it used to be, and you still might find yourself needing to upgrade.
This leads us to our conclusion.
Now that most RAM is dual DIMM the smartest move is probably to invest in a decent kit of 2X8GB dual-channel RAM with a decent MT/s speed, as long as you’re using a full-sized motherboard with four RAM slots.
This way you should be able to play the most demanding games released today and maybe for the next year or two.
As time progresses if you find your performance is beginning to lag you can just buy another 2X8GB kit and up your system to 32GB. This should be enough to last for the next few years.
Unless you feel you need it (for streaming etc.) we’d avoid jumping straight to a 32GB kit or higher.
You probably don’t need all that RAM right now so it’s just a waste of money.
Furthermore, if you’re the kind of person who always wants the biggest and the fastest you’ll probably find yourself being tempted by that shiny new DDR5 RAM anyway.
Making your 32GB of DDR4 a waste of money.
In the end, building a gaming PC is all about balance to make sure you have just enough for your current needs with some leeway for futureproofing.