RAM, Consoles, And You: Much Ado About Nothing

Starting late last week and continuing through the weekend, there’s been a lot of chatter about how RAM in the forthcoming PlayStation 4 is being allocated. The new console, set to debut this holiday season, has 8 GB of GDDR5 memory, which is used for myriad purposes, including the operating system, apps within/next to the OS, and the games themselves.

On Friday, Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry reported that, of the 8 GB of total RAM available in the PS4, 3.5 GB is earmarked for the console’s operating system, leaving 4.5 GB for game development. In the clarifications, statements and updates that followed, DF concluded (for now) that the total amount of RAM for game development was actually 5 GB, with the OS using 3 GB while reserving its other 512 MB as “flexible” memory that could be used by developers, if necessary. Ultimately, more than half of the unified system memory is earmarked for game development.

Similarly, the crew over at OXM sat down with Microsoft to talk about RAM allocation on the Xbox One. While it’s a slower DDR3 standard, the Xbox One also has 8 GB of total memory, and – prepare to be shocked – about 3 GB of that RAM is earmarked for “entertainment apps, system-wide Kinect features and communication tools like Skype, which run in parallel to games.”

Barring any secrets or misdirection, it seems like the next-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft will leave roughly 60-65 percent of their total unified memory open for game developers to use…for the sake of argument, let’s call it 5 GB of RAM to use in both cases.

That’s roughly the same amount of RAM that a standard, run-of-the-mill gaming PC uses to run games today, at most.

As many of the PC enthusiasts out there know, most PC games, from Crysis 3 all the way down to indie titles like Cargo Commander or FTL, use anywhere between a few hundred megabytes of memory, all the way up to 3 GB of system RAM. That 3 GB figure is a high ceiling, too — most games aren’t even cresting the 1.5 or 2 GB mark, much less 3 GB. In fact, I fired up the first level of Crysis 3 on my machine, just to double check, and was pleasantly surprised to see Crytek’s latest chugging away on less than 1.1 GB of system memory. That’s only half the story, of course, since that 1.1 GB number doesn’t include video RAM. But even after you include the 3 GB 1.5 GB of video RAM I have in my machine (I run dual 1.5 GB Nvidia GTX 580s at the moment), the number is only just above 4 2.5 GB of used memory.

My point here is that the current debate surrounding RAM allocation in these next-gen consoles is much ado about nothing. There’s a vocal minority that doesn’t like apps on consoles — they never have and they presumably never will. They want a slimmer, faster OS that uses less RAM, which frees up more resources for game development. Simplicity and speed is admirable, sure – despite its flaws, Windows 8 runs on 1 GB of memory, and is quite speedy – but make no mistake: millions of console gamers love the Netflix, HBO, sports, and communication apps that their consoles can run now.

It’s also important to put this whole RAM discussion in a proper context, specifically comparing the new consoles to the old. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 both have 512 MB of RAM, or one-sixteenth of what their replacements are packing. Let that sink in for a moment…the consoles you’re using now, the consoles that you play games on, Watch Netflix on, and stream all sorts of content through, have less memory than a mid-range smartphone from a year or two ago. Do you really think either console will have a problem with games or apps with 8 GB of memory?

Lastly, let’s consider those who this impacts the most: developers. Of the handful that I’ve talked to that are developing for either console, none seem to be concerned with memory at the moment. Nuances and favoritism aside, the overarching message from all of them was pretty clear: Developers won’t hit a hardware wall for at least 4 years, possibly longer. And even when we approach that wall, I won’t be terribly concerned; if the 360 and PS3 have taught me anything, it’s that developers can make truly beautiful games on way-past-its-prime hardware.

Talking about hardware is always fun, be it Intel versus AMD, AMD versus Nvidia, or Sony versus Microsoft. But let’s not lose sight of the ultimate prize here, folks, and that’s the next crop of quality, amazing next-gen console games. Whether you’re chomping at the bit for another Naughty Dog title on the PS4, or a new Halo is literally the most important thing to ever be made, ever, new games and experiences right around the corner, and the developers behind them have some fantastic hardware to work with.

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7 Comments on RAM, Consoles, And You: Much Ado About Nothing

Grant L.

On July 30, 2013 at 4:20 pm

VRAM doesn’t scale, meaning that even though you have dual 1.5 gb cards, you still only have 1.5 gb of VRAM.

Devin Connors

On July 30, 2013 at 5:19 pm

@Grant

Nice catch! Totally forgot about the lack of scale with AFR. Post has been amended.

-Devin

Chris

On July 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Im more excited about what this means for PC games. Maybe now we wont have ty ports (graphics and hardware wise anyway) and can see some games that actually push limits.

Fish Friar, Chip Monk

On July 31, 2013 at 3:27 am

There needs to be a ‘report spam’ button. The last comment wasn’t even halfway convincing.

Also, OXM is a horrible information source, completely biased and closed off, calling its fans entitled if they expect to receive what was marketed and so forth. Same as OPM.

james braselton

On July 31, 2013 at 8:07 pm

hi there 8 gb ram 8 core cpu is lots power plus 2 1.5 gb graphics card is 3 gb not 1.5 bgb and new mac pro 2013 has 22 core cpu 128 gb ram 6 gb video card muti terabyte pci ssd flash drive

Evernessince

On July 31, 2013 at 11:15 pm

So basicly the modern consoles are almost capped already if you used the same settings as you did?

That’s pretty sad, considering they have to last 8 years, not to mention that the ddr3 spec is slower than usual.

These consoles won’t usher in a new quality level, they are just playing catch up to the PC right now.

Ron Whitaker

On August 1, 2013 at 6:30 am

@Evernessince: Consoles are always playing catchup to the PC. That’s not a PC gamer gloating, that’s fact. Think about how consoles get developed. They decide on specs, then manufacture, build, test, and market the thing. By the time a new console hits the market, the tech that’s used in it is already a minimum of a year or so old. Not to mention the fact that they typically aren’t using bleeding edge tech in consoles as they want to keep costs down.

Just look at the consoles coming out later this year. One GeForce GTX 680 could smoke their graphics power, and that says nothing about the freaking Titan.

Consoles aren’t built for superior tech – they’re built for ease of use and a consistent platform. If you want bleeding edge, go PC.