The official documentation only mentions the minimal hardware capable of running Unreal Engine at all. It will work, but don't expect high framerates and editor to be responsive while performing heavy tasks.
You need better hardware to work efficiently. Details of specific components depend on your specialization, frequently used tools and the type of games you're working on. Older hardware or cheaper laptops might sabotage you if you'd try to work on high-quality visuals, but perfectly suitable for 2D game or simplistic 3D game.
Don't just look at specs in tables, read the article for detailed explanations.
If you can't afford recommended specs for your development needs
Any "target hardware" mentioned below probably isn't an issue for the regular studio with budget or professional individuals already earning money in the industry. Although might be too expensive for you in the place you live in. What's now?
Forget laptops. It's great for web development or 2D games/graphics. Although a proper laptop for developing 3D games would incredibly expensive and even 17-inch screen still too small.
Also keep in mind that laptops may fulfill the requirements but still overheat, go into the power-saving mode or a heat safeguard mode. Integrated GPU wouldn't handle the latest tech, i.e. realtime raytracing.
Consider building up your developer's rig in phases.
Upgrade to small SSD first, if you don't use one already for the operating system, applications, and place where you store project and frequently used assets. Otherwise, you won't be able to fully utilize the rest of the recommended hardware.
GPU, RAM sticks and drives can be easily swapped any day. You can upgrade it gradually and get some money back by selling the old component.
Changing CPU is a long-term investment. Often requires purchasing a new motherboard or DDR4 RAM (if don't use it yet). Don't buy the cheapest motherboard and power supply possible, it might prevent you from utilizing properly all your components and upgrading rig in the future.
Buy used parts, it's a small risk and you help to save the planet.
It was especially worth buying used GPUs, usually sold because the owner bought a newer one. Now it could be a trap, GPUs used in blockchain mining can fail just a few months after purchase.
Still, buying used screens can save hundreds of dollars. And most developers need 2 of them for efficient work. One of such screens could have a small defect, but what do you care if it's used for text editing?
High-end 3D Game
This table should give you a quick overview. We look at the power/price ratio of the hardware components recently available in stores. Your specific needs may vary, the article will try to cover that in sections below the table.
Specs below ignore the existence of a hard disk drive, as HDD would significantly slow down any non-trivial operation in the editor or related tools. SSD is a standard for any media-related work, while HDD usage should be limited to the additional file storage, i.e. project's repository.
|GTX 1060 / RTX 2070
Artists would use more memory (RAM and storage) because their creation tools need for asset source, caches and simply processing data. The more resource-intensive assets are, the more memory would be used in the editor while importing assets and using them.
Artists working with shaders or Houdini simulation would definitely use more CPU threads to speed up their work.
Audio developers (sound designers and composers) need a lot of RAM for operating on uncompressed audio samples.
Solo programmers compiling only their small project wouldn't need expensive CPU nowadays. This might useful if the codebase is growing (many programmers) or you're compiling engine from the source.
Unreal Engine beautifully utilizes multi-threading in many critical areas. More CPU threads mean work done faster, i.e. 16 thread CPU will compile shaders over 2x faster than 8 thread CPU (given that some CPU cycles are busy with other tasks).
Confirmed full CPU utilization of 128 threads while compiling code (Unreal Build Tool).
Confirmed full CPU utilization of 128 threads while compiling shaders. If you're an artist working daily with shaders, more CPU threads will make less wait.
The bottom line
AMD made the choice for professionals extremely easy. AMD Ryzen 5 3600 - the entry-level CPU for developers. 6 cores, 12 threads for $200 only. Eating barely 65 watts of power.
Fewer threads power than next-gen consoles, but Turbo mode increases clock up to 4.2 GHz. It really doesn't make sense to buy a cheaper CPU for creative work.
Consider buying a more expensive CPU if you frequently run processes eating all 12 threads.
Utilizing highest core count CPUs
You need to have enough RAM to properly utilize all the available cores. Unwritten rules say you need at least 1GB RAM for every CPU thread. Even more, if you're crunching heavy assets - i.e. cooking huge textures/meshes, running simulations in Houdini.
SATA SSD might limit the performance of CPU with more than 16 threads, I/O would be simply too slow to feed CPU. Invest in NVMe SSD.
It's not possible to fully utilize 128 thread CPU by default, but it's doable. (need to find a proper guide)
Ryzen Threadripper for Game Development - popular article on utilizing 2nd gen Threadripper
GeForce 1060 is the most popular card according to Steam Hardware Survey. It offers an awesome power/cost ratio. Grab a 6GB version.
Definitely consider a better GPU, if you can afford it. Even if this mainly for work - running an unoptimized game would be less painful. Although every modern 3D game should run well on 1060.
If you're gonna bake lighting (very common for VR games), consider getting latest generation card as GPU DXR-based lightmapping is coming with UE 4.26. It might be RTX 30xx series or Raden 60xx series.
Raytracing also becomes essential to the high-end 3D games relying on dynamic lighting such as current-gen games. Unreal offers you real-time raytracing out of the box, it might be simply expected by gamers in following years.
RTX cards win with AI-related features, like DLSS 2.0 and Nvidia Broadcast.
When you might need 32 GB RAM and more?
- Using other memory-hungry tools while keeping UE editor open. Basically, if you're a 3D artist.
- Compiling code or shaders with more than 16 CPU threads.
- Frequently cooking the game - it needs to process all used assets. Heavy meshes, textures, sounds...
- The editor doesn't usually free up memory after closing assets or maps. It loves to keep it there for you if you'd like to back to closed assets. Working with a number of heavy assets can quickly fill your RAM.
- Testing a multiplayer game locally. You can launch multiple instances of the multiplayer game on a single machine, practically player as many players at once. It's required to test if the given feature works properly. You should be prepared that every next instance of the game will eat proportionally more RAM. If a single instance eats 10 GB of RAM, running 2 game instances will eat 20 GB. And a dedicated server would be another game instance.
- Your team simply doesn't comprehend the concept of general memory management. It can be caused by
32 GB RAM for workstation slowly becomes standard. Especially as new consoles offer 16 GB just for playing games.
It's quite easy is to determine if RAM is a bottleneck.
- If using Windows, simply check memory usage in Task Manager.
- If almost the entirety of physical memory is used, the system will begin to use a preallocated portion of disk space as RAM in a process is known as paging. This use of comparatively slower storage as memory causes significant performance degradation and can result in Windows becoming unresponsive.
- Replies to this question on Memory Usage stats explains how to understand these numbers.
- Adding more RAM may significantly increase performance if your applications frequently cause Windows to page.
NVMe SSDs are technically a few times faster in write and read than classic SATA SSDs. There is a reason why new consoles jumped directly to use NVMe instead of cheaper SATA drives. This gives us streaming data directly from SSD to GPU, with a very little work needed on CPU side.
- Upgrading to NVMe it's not a revolution like an upgrade from HDD to SSD. It might not hugely different in the performance of the operating system, internet browser and such.
- However, the boost is noticeable while performing heavy lifting, i.e. loading data, compiling engine/shaders, processing heavy assets, cooking game, launching a project for the first time. Basically, anything that loads many gigabytes of data.
- Nvidia introduces support for DirectStorage on Windows 10, it allows RTX cards to support streaming data straight from SSD to GPU. Having NVMe drive in the workstation would bring its performance closer to the new consoles. And you might need this as editor data is often bigger in size than cooked game data.
Used as a server for repository or simple "network drive". This is the last bastion of HDDs. Even a cheap laptop or micro-PC would handle a small project.
Studios typically use a dedicated machine (or many of them) to support developers.
- This is the computer that builds binaries every time the programmer submits a code change. It's required if you got more than 1 programmer.
- With time such machine(s) can handle more and more tasks
- cooking and packaging game for tests
- running automated tests every day, reporting performance, and detecting many critical issues - less manual work required from humans
It's usually more powerful than the average developer machine. It needs to perform heavy operations on a daily basis.
- Compiling the engine in multiple configurations.
- Cooking the game many times a day requires a faster CPU and more RAM, so you wouldn't wait an hour for every cook.
- These operations tend to be run very frequently in days before every milestone and the game release. A slow build machine would be simply slow down the progress of the entire team.
- Running automated tests for the asset-heavy game or multiplayer game also need proper hardware.
As mentioned above, it's kind of standard for a developer to have 2 monitors. This way we can have multiple editors/tools opened simultaneously, significantly improving daily workflow.
- The standard is to use 1920x1080 (1080p, Full HD) resolution. Even professional studios usually just buy HD monitors for all the people. However it's just a kind of habit, screens offering higher resolution aren't much more expensive nowadays.
- 2560x1440 (1440p) resolution could give you the best efficiency/price ratio! It offers 70% more working area than a 1080p.
- The main editor window would fit HD viewport and few windows around it (mini Content Browser, Outliner, Details) at once.
- Much more space for these huge blueprint/material graphs - the 1080p screen doesn't fit too many nodes at once...
- And any other panels in other tools, i.e. 2 text editors simultaneously visible in the Visual Studio.
- 4K or ultra-wide screens are great for consuming media, it works well for some developers - eliminating the need for multiple screens.
It is also possible to run Unreal Engine on a cloud workstation.
Instead of buying a PC or laptop that you have to constantly upgrade or replace, you can simply rent a cloud workstation for the time needed. This is also much more flexible, because you can simply configure a workstation for a project and then cancel if you don't need it anymore.
Providers like Flaneer, for example, offer to configure up to 24 GB GPU, 64 processors and 256 GB memory. This workstation can be accessed through a web browser.
If you are developing in a team, it is also advantageous to be able to access cloud storage together. The biggest concern with a virtual desktop is latency. But with modern pixel streaming protocols and under 30 ms latency time, you have the same fast experience with a cloud workstation as with a local PC. And you can also connect multiple 4K monitors.
Such a cloud workstation is connected to the network with a 3GB/s line, so you can upload and download much faster than it would be possible with your own internet connection.
Studios like Darewise or TFI Interactive already run their game development in the cloud.