Star Citizen is a challenging game. It is challenging for players for many reasons and a common friction point is that the performance their “good” gaming computer provides while running Star Citizen doesn’t meet their expectations and doesn’t match their experience with other games.
Of course “good” is a relative term here because Star Citizen has objectively higher and different requirements than most games. The game is also not optimized right now and is pending a graphical renderer upgrade.
Tempering Expectations and Increasing Understanding
Star Citizen relies heavily on the CPU for all things. A lot of players seem to toss all their computer build budget into the GPU and while that is usually an effective strategy for most games, it is not for Star Citizen.
While we’ve all seen the screenshots from Star Citizen and we’ve all probably seen the semi-frequent comments under those screenshots about “melting GPUs” those comments couldn’t be anymore misguided.
The fact is that Star Citizen isn’t very heavy in terms of graphics load. It isn’t asking the GPU to do as much work as other games such as Cyberpunk 2077. In fact, it usually asks for less than half of what Cyberpunk 2077 asks the GPU to do per frame with Star Citizen making 12k to 20k calls per frame to the GPU where Cyberpunk 2077 floats around 50k calls per frame.
The issue(s) stem from the current engine of Star Citizen being very heavy on CPU usage, especially in the Persistent Universe. In the Persistent Universe there is a tech called container streaming which does put a heavy load on your CPU for now. Players feel this heavy load in their framerate because the game engine cannot get render instructions to the GPU fast enough.
If you aren’t convinced you can load into Arena Commander or Star Marine which doesn’t have all of the heavy CPU load from the Persistent Universe and see if your framerate increases.
For a deeper look into this analysis check out Star Citizen Performance Analysis – Why GPU is Irrelevant by flexcreator.
How to display Framerate in Star Citizen
- Open the console – on standard US keyboards this is the tilde key (`), which is to the left of the “1” on the top row of the keyboard.
- Type r_displayinfo 1 and hit enter. You can change the “1” to a “2”, “3”, or “4” to get more information.
- The first row displayed at the top right will be your framerate information.
Ray’s Guide on YouTube gives a deeper look into the statistics displayed by this tool and what the values actually mean.
Star Citizen’s “Minimum” requirements
Star Citizen’s official minimum requirements are actually quite outdated but not wrong. A system that meets the Official Star Citizen minimum requirements will technically run the game but it will produce what most gamers would consider a slide show.
- CPU: Intel i5 8400
- GPU: Nvidia 1060 6GB
- RAM: 16 GB 2400 MHz DDR4
- Storage: Generic SSD
The system above or comparable will run the game but it might not produce satisfactory performance for gamers who want a smoother experience.
You absolutely should not install the game onto a hard drive – it MUST be installed on an SSD or you are going to run at sub-optimal performance.
The topic of 16 GB of RAM versus 32 GB of RAM comes up quite a bit. The game itself requires 16 GB of RAM. I will consume that much RAM by itself. Your operating system and services and any other programs running also need some RAM. When you run out of RAM your operating system starts to put less-used data from RAM into the swap file on your drive, which has tremendously slower access than RAM. Check out another video by tenpoundfortytwo comparing 32 GB of RAM versus 16 GB of RAM.
Bottom-line: Install 32 GB of RAM for best results.
If you don’t have 32 GB of RAM make sure you configure your page file as per the official support recommendations.
Optimizing Star Citizen settings for framerate
Bottom line up front:
- Set quality to Very High.
- Turn off VSync.
- Turn off Motion Blur.
- Turn off Film Grain
- Set Clouds to Medium or Off.
- Set Chromatic Aberration to 0.
What System Should I Build?
The primary recommendation is to not build a system just for Star Citizen. Plenty of people did that shortly after Arena Commander’s release in 2014 and now those systems are aging and have likely been replaced. However, if you are going to build a PC for gaming in general here are some considerations to get the most out of Star Citizen:
- CPU: I7 12700K/KF OR Ryzen 5800x3d
- RAM: 32 GB of the fastest RAM you can afford
- GPU: Depends on your target resolution – 3060/3070 for 1080p, 3080 for 1440p, 3090 for 4k (or comparable AMD GPUs)
- SSD: Any SSD.
Star Citizen seems to perform extremely well when it has a lot of fast RAM and a CPU with a lot of L3 cache.
Before you rush to your favorite PC parts retailer you should probably continue reading.
Will Star Citizen ever be optimized?
2022 saw performance improvements as CIG started rolling out initial tests of their new renderer.
Star Engine Gen 12 renderer is pending release with the 3.18 patch which is tentatively set to release in December 2022. (Source: Inside Star Citizen: Further Underground). The Gen 12 renderer will decrease CPU dependence on framerates, as Silvan Hau says, “massively.” Star Engine is basically what feeds the GPU rendering commands and this new version is much more efficient and faster at that task.
Star Citizen currently uses Direct X 11 but is being developed to use Vulkan: CitizenCon 2951: Gen 12 & THe Multicore of Vulkan