Calling It Good: A Look at How Many Steam Users No Longer Buy New Computer Hardware
To run new games, you need a high-spec computer, meaning it has a powerful CPU, a modern graphics card, and enough RAM.
But what do most gamers play on and what titles can they actually run, at least at the lowest settings? To answer that, we dug into publicly available statistics and found out what kinds of hardware your average Steam gamer uses.
We also calculated how much a computer would cost that is good enough to run modern games. Finally, we picked a few new and upcoming titles to look at their system requirements in order to understand what gamers should prepare themselves for.
Hardware Used by Steam Gamers
Steam maintains statistics on what kinds of computer hardware their customers are using. Needless to say, these stats are in the ballpark — after all, the average room temperature of a big building isn’t something you’d call the absolute reference. They’re good enough, however, to give us an idea of the average Steam user and their computer’s specs.
The statistics show that with Intel users the CPU speeds between 2.3 GHz and 2.69 GHz are the most frequent (21%). More than half the users (50.37%) have CPUs featuring three or fewer physical cores.
Do you remember the minimum requirements for GTA V? The game calls for an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU at 2.40 GHz. That means, roughly (there are no joint stats for both cores and speeds), that more than half Steam users would have a problem running a two-year-old game even at the lowest settings.
That’s not to say they can’t play a modern game or use their computers otherwise; when all else fails, you always have Hotline Miami, running perfectly well even on Pentium 3 (no kidding). But in recent years, developers have been saying that running games at recommended video settings requires a four-core processor such as Intel Core i5 or AMD FX-8350.
It appears from the CPU power stats that 67.01% of Steam users run GTA V at the lowest settings at best.
GeForce cards — GTX 970, GTX 960, and GTX 750 Ti — enjoy the most popularity. The Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics core ranks fourth. Interestingly, the average capacity of VRAM — a crucial component — is a modest 1 GB, while 12% of users have to make do with almost useless 512 MB cards or lower. These folks have little choice but to play games like TES: Morrowind (not that it’s a bad choice).
On the whole, about 45% of users have computers that aren’t up to the “recommended” GTA V settings (requiring 2 GB VRAM as a minimum). And don’t forget the 9% of users who didn’t indicate VRAM at all. Simply put, just about every second user can’t see GTA V in high resolution — except in someone else’s HD live streaming on YouTube or Twitch.
About 45% uses graphics cards with 1 GB VRAM or less. Good enough to only run a game from two years ago at the lowest settings in low resolution or, luck permitting, at the medium settings.
RAM, HDD, and Other Components
Good news first: most Steam users — 33% — use 8 GB RAM, while another 20% is blessed with 12 GB or more. Way to go, folks!
And what about the others? Over 36% of users are stuck with 4 GB or even less, with GTA V hardly picking up at the lowest settings and with no way to run new titles at all.
What would Need for Speed 2015 play like if you shaved your 8 GB down to 4 GB? Have a peep here (at 2:00).
Also interesting are the stats on hard drives. What is really remarkable is not the average HDD space but the average free space: 20% of users have less than 100 GB of that. To install GTA V, you need 120 GB available; and once on your PC, the game will rightfully take up its 60 GB of free space. Looks like some people have it really tough installing games.
So, what’s the average “good” hardware for the Steam community? There you go:
Four-core Intel processor @ 2.3–2.69 GHz
1 GB VRAM graphics card
1 TB hard drive
8 GB RAM
And the similarly popular low-budget options for 20%–30% of the community are:
Two-core Intel processor @ 2.3–2.69 GHz
1 GB VRAM graphics card
250 GB hard drive
4 GB RAM (feel for you, guys)
Top Steam Games
Steam also offers statistics for top games by the current player count. Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are in the lead — no real surprises here, as those games aren’t too hard on your hardware.
One high-spec game in the top ten is GTA V.
Let’s say we need to build our own gaming computer that’s powerful enough to run these games on recommended settings.
Now compare this configuration with what the average Steam user has:
And don’t forget that GTA V for Windows came out on April 14, 2015 — as long as two years ago, Carl.
The budget hardware 20%–30% of users have just doesn’t cut it anymore when it comes to games from two years ago.
But hey! Perk up. Read further to find out about the computer we built to run GTA V at recommended settings without breaking the bank.
Building a Gaming Computer for Top Steam Titles
Our assembled computer is based on the AMD FX 8350 processor, a more affordable option compared with Intel equivalents. Motherboards for AMD processors are cheaper as well. We only picked those components that you can’t do without, and we tried to save on everything. To buy them, we went to a Russian computer e-store.
Some of the components on our list turned out unavailable, so we went with equivalents that were in stock. Here’s what we got:
Processor: AMD FX 8350 (~ $168)
Motherboard: Asrock N68-GS4 FX R2.0 (~ $50)
Cooler: Deepcool GAMMAXX 200 T (~ $17)
RAM: Kingston HyperX Fury Black Series HX318C10FB/4, 4 GB (~ $42 × 2 = $84)
HDD: WD Caviar Blue WD10EZEX, 1 TB (~ $52)
Graphics card: Palit GTX 1050 StormX, NE5105001841–1070F (~ $134)
Housing: mATX Aerocool Qs-240, Micro-Tower (~ $33)
Power supply: Aerocool VX-600 (~ $42)
Total: ~ $580
All in all, the system unit cost us about $580. If you don’t have a mouse, monitor, keyboard, and speakers, be ready to shell out at least $250 extra. To keep our experiment a fair test, we didn’t buy those.
We assumed this computer would last us five years. Those in the know might say that in a couple of years it would have a hard time running games even at the lowest settings or that in three to four years it might no longer be able to handle new games at all. And yet, dividing $580 by sixty months yields about $10 a month. Compare that figure with the $6,5 you’d pay for 70 hours of gaming time on Playkey.
A computer able to run games at recommended settings today will strip its gears against new titles in a matter of two to three years.
This could mean that regular users who don’t want — and most likely won’t — build a gaming monster would be better off paying to use a game-streaming service, saving about $3,5 a month. Over five years, that would save you $210. That money would buy you a good set of gaming speakers, a keyboard, and a mouse. Or say four keys for awesome new titles.
System Requirements for 2017 Games and Computers Built to Run Them
We picked three games, two recently released and one upcoming, and looked into their system requirements.
Resident Evil 7
Released: January 2017
The seventh survival horror game in the series was released on January 24, so we can already look at its PC system requirements. The developer recommends an Intel Core i7 3770 CPU @ 3.4 GHz, 8 GB RAM, and a GeForce GTX 1060X 4 GB graphics card.
Building a PC to meet the minimum requirements cost us about $554. Needless to say, a build for the recommended settings would cost a pretty penny: the graphics card alone is priced at $335, while the processor might dent your wallet at $335–$403.
Released: February 14, 2017
The game is fresh out of the Ubisoft studio, and the minimum system requirements call for a computer based on Intel Core i5–2500K or AMD FX-6350 with a GTX 680 (or newer) or a Radeon R9 280X (or newer) graphics card with 2 GB VRAM. The game’s RAM requirement is the standard 8 GB.
For Honor is not hard on your PC. A total of $503 was enough to assemble a PC for the game’s minimum settings. To play the game at the recommended settings, you’d need a $126 processor and a graphics card worth about $151.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Release date: April 2017
The new installment in the Mass Effect series is coming out in April. What we know already is that the game will run on the Frostbite 3 engine, which is identical to Battlefield 1’s. This means we can assume Mass Effect: Andromeda comes with the same system settings as Battlefield 1.
For that game, the developer recommends Intel Core i7 4790 or AMD FX-8350, 16 GB RAM, and GeForce GTX 1060 with 3 GB VRAM or AMD Radeon RX 480 with 4 GB VRAM. We built two computers, one for the minimum and the other for the medium/high settings, worth $554 and $1023, respectively.
To comfortably play titles released this year, your computer hardware must be up to the task. Assuming the ceiling is the build for Battlefield 1’s medium to high settings (something that could work for Mass Effect: Andromeda as well), be prepared to part with some $1007.
We didn’t consider games whose system requirements aren’t available yet. It goes without saying that they will get more demanding over time. Developers update their hardware yearly, with costs going up with every new iteration.
- The budget hardware 20%–30% of users have just doesn’t cut it anymore when it comes to games from as recently as two years ago.
- To comfortably play two-year-old games, say GTA V, you need at least a $580 computer.
- The cost of the average PC that might last you five years would be about sixty monthly $10 payments if split across a five-year period. The Playkey subscription is about $3,5 cheaper.
- To comfortably play games released this year, you need a computer that sets you back about $1007.
- Over time, games will get more demanding and hardware performance will improve, resulting in more expensive minimum gaming setups.