High RAM Prices Threaten to Strangle the PC Gaming Market

PC gaming has made a massive comeback in the last ten years. For a time in the mid-late 2000s enthusiasts, PC sales were tanking. With the rise of Steam and other digital distribution platforms, and cheap and powerful hardware, though, PC gaming has resurged into a massive industry. Low hardware prices and the ease of construction of modern PCs has converted many a gamer to the platform. However, a significant issue threatens to check the growth of the PC gaming market and deny access to enthusiasts builds for many would-be PC fans: the ridiculous inflation of RAM prices.

RAM is a crucial component in building a PC. There's no way around purchasing it. It's not like a hard drive where you can save a little cash by getting a mechanical hard drive instead of a solid-state drive. Further exacerbating the issue is the fact that new releases are demanding increasingly more RAM. When I built a gaming PC in 2012, 8 GB of RAM was the standard recommendation, but after building one last year, the recommendation had doubled to 16 GB.

Memory Price Chart

A year and a half ago, in the Summer of 2016, RAM prices were extremely low. You could get Amazon's Choice for DDR4 RAM, the Corsair Vengeance LPX (16GB [8GBx2] 3000MHz) for $69.99. The same product now is sitting at $204.99. A 192% increase in price in under two years is ridiculous, especially given the history of price fixing when it comes to RAM.

Hynix, Infineon (defunct), Micron Technology, Samsung, and Elpida (bought by Micron) were all fined for price fixing in the 2000s, and it appears that this may be happening again. Micron, Hynix, and Samsung control the majority of the supply of DDR4 memory, and it wouldn't be surprising if they were once again fixing prices for RAM.

In response to questioning, the dominant RAM manufacturers have pointed to high demand for memory by smartphone makers and increased demand for SSD drives. However, the Chinese government has taken note of these high prices and has vowed to look into possible price fixing.

You can get a great motherboard (and possibly a hard drive if you're particularly thrifty) for less than it costs to get 16 GB of DDR4 RAM. It's utterly ridiculous that RAM is skyrocketing in price, and it's a trend that has to stop if PC gaming is going to continue growing. One of the best aspects of gaming on PC is that you get to be on the cutting edge of graphics and performance, and if developers start having to assume that RAM upgrades are too expensive, we'll get stuck in a bottleneck where game design gets stuck with assuming 8-16 GB is the standard.

I hope that no matter what the reason is behind high RAM prices, it's corrected soon before PC gaming becomes a hobby exclusive to the well-to-do again.