How much RAM do you really need in your gaming PC?

(Image credit: Future)

If you've been paying attention to the system requirements for PC games over the last year or so, you'll probably notice that a lot of them are asking for some pretty beefy specs. 

If you were to take these requirements' word for it, you'd believe that a $40,000 PC is necessary to play all the best PC games maxed out at 4K. Luckily, you don't need to follow these system requirements to the letter, as a lot of them are a bit overblown. 

However, the component that gets the most overblown hype in these system requirements is system memory, or RAM. We've started to notice that a lot of games – most recently Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – are recommending gamers to have 16GB of memory in their rigs. But, is that actually necessary?

Well, luckily, we have some hardware lying around that we can see whether you truly need to cram a bunch of new RAM into your gaming PC.

You don't actually need 16GB of RAM – yet

To test whether or not you actually need 16GB of RAM to get some gaming done, we shoved an 8GB kit of RAM – two 4GB sticks for dual-channel performance – into our test bench with an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X and an RTX 2080 Ti just to remove any other bottleneck. Oh, and we ran all of our tests at 4K (3,840 x 2,160).

We ran through the canned benchmarks in both Metro Exodus and Middle Earth: Shadow of War, two of the most demanding PC games around right now. And, it will probably shock you, but if you have 16GB you'll get slightly better frame rates, but not by much.

In Metro Exodus at 4K and max settings (including ray tracing), we got an average of 36 frames per second (fps) with our 16GB system, whereas that number dropped down to 34 fps when we went down to 8GB. That's a 6% difference, so it's nothing to scoff at, but it probably isn't enough to ruin your experience. Even the 1% lows were within this 5-6% window, with the 16GB kit hitting a 24 fps low, while the 8GB kit bottomed out at 23 fps.

The difference was even less pronounced in Middle Earth: Shadow of War. In that game, our 16GB PC got an average of 75 fps, whereas our 8GB system scored 74. This is such a small difference that it's totally within the margin of error. 

(Image credit: Tobias Dahlberg from Pixabay)

But, that might be ending soon

So, users with 8GB of RAM should be fine in the near future, especially if you're not trying to play graphical powerhouses like Battlefield V or Metro Exodus at 4K. Hell, even when we were playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for 'work' we only noticed our rig using 7GB of system memory, and that was with several Chrome tabs open in the background.

However, back when we were testing Borderlands 3 performance, we did notice that game chewing through system memory like it was so much bubble gum. That game, even with minimal tasks running in the background, will chew through 12GB of system memory, and that's even with an RTX 2080 Ti, which has 11GB of video memory available.

Like most things, it's all going to boil down to which games you're trying to play and the quality settings you're willing to live with. Even if you're playing the latest and greatest AAA games, if you're willing to turn down some settings every now and then, you should be fine with 8GB of RAM for a while yet.

If you're the kind of person to lose their mind whenever you can't run a game maxed out at 120 fps, you're going to want to pick up that 16GB RAM kit – but we suspect most people in this category have already done so.

For most people, especially if you just want to play some Overwatch to escape from the horrors of your everyday life for a little while, 8GB is more than enough, and we wouldn't recommend spending that cash on a new RAM kit.

But, even if you aren't comfortable with 8GB of RAM, and you want to upgrade to be safe, at least RAM is cheaper now than it has been in a few years, so now would be the time to upgrade. Who knows when it will be this cheap again?

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Bill Thomas

Bill Thomas (Twitter) is TechRadar's computing editor. They are fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but they just happen to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop them a line on Twitter or through email.