While the performance of Random Access Memory (RAM) is almost strictly based on its clock speed—measured in megahertz (Mhz)—the amount you have installed in your system will generally dictate how many programs (or games) you can run at once.
So, how much RAM do you need for gaming?
The short answer: it depends. The long answer? Keep reading to find out.
Motherboard RAM Capacity
There’s tons of configurations available for RAM sticks. Some motherboards have as many as eight DIMM slots, allowing for up to 256GB of RAM to be installed. This is an extreme case however, and isn’t ever something you should consider for a gaming PC.
Most motherboards meant for gaming will have 4 DIMM slots—which, generally speaking, allows for a maximum 128GB of RAM to be installed. Still, though, 128GB is overkill, and not really worth considering. So how much should you use?
16GB of RAM: The Golden Standard
For a while now, the golden standard for gaming has been 16GB of RAM. Even the higher clock speeds are relatively inexpensive—a 16GB kit of 3600MHz is on sale for about ~$75 at the time of writing—and if you’re willing to sift through the aftermarket, cheap second hand RAM kits are fairly common.
A 16GB kit will run pretty much every game out there, and will provide enough overhead to have a few other applications running in the background—like Discord, Spotify, YouTube, or other communications/music streaming services. In my case, it’s enough to run my game of choice, Discord, Spotify, as well as an emulator.
Is 8GB Viable?
This begs the question: Why would you ever use less than 16GB of RAM? Well… there’s a few reasons. Probably the most common of these reasons concerns prebuilt, ready-to-ship PCs. It’s no secret that most prebuilt retailers cut as many corners as possible when it comes to the quality of their systems—one of the most common corners they cut is the RAM installed in the prebuilt. Most entry to mid level prebuilts only have 8 GB of RAM installed.
And while the vast majority of users should upgrade to 16GB of RAM as quickly as possible, for an extremely specific subset of users, there is a case to be made to stay at 8GB. While the newest-gen games (and most 3D games in general) absolutely demand a minimum of 16GB, there’s a plethora of games that will function flawlessly on 8GB. Platformers, 2D fighting games, pixel art games, and so on. That said, 8GB leaves you with little to no overhead—to the extent that it’s difficult to recommend anything but 16GB—unless you’re on an extremely tight budget, or are absolutely sure that you will never play any of the new, up and coming next gen titles.
What About 32GB? Is It Worth It?
Speaking from personal experience, the argument for 32GB setups is slowly becoming stronger. As game development and design evolves and improves, so does the need for more powerful (or in this case, larger capacity) hardware. RAM is no exception. I personally upgraded my RAM this year, moving from 16GB to 32GB. While it’s anecdotal evidence, there’s a few games that I saw an improvement in.
- Escape From Tarkov
- Apex Legends
- Battlefield 2042
The most recently released title out of these is Battlefield 2042—while the game certainly suffers from severe optimization issues, it’s still a next gen title—and there’s only so much that can be done to help the standard 128-player maps run smoothly. Apex Legends and Escape From Tarkov feature similar “play areas”—large, open maps that have lots of things going on at once.
Out of these three titles, BF2042 showed the greatest improvement in performance. Prior to the upgrade, the game ran smoothly, but was plagued by micro stutters. and would occasionally freeze and/or crash. Upgrading to 32GB fixed these issues entirely.
8GB vs 16GB: Conclusion
In conclusion, while there’s a niche for 8GB systems, it’s such a limiting factor that it’s not really worth considering, unless there’s an extremely tight budget that must be adhered to. While 16GB is still sufficient for nearly every title out there, avid gamers should really consider 32GB of RAM as a viable option—even if only for “futureproofing.”