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I remember the Playstation having 2MB ram and 1MB graphic memory.

The Playstation 3 now has only 256MB ram and 256MB graphic memory, and I'm sure that the day the console was released, even laptop's "standard" capacity was at least 1GB.

So why do they put so little memory in their machines, while developers would benefit a lot by having more ? Or is the memory that much faster than desktops and thus more expensive ? Or is it not that much worth it for developers ? What are the Sony/XBox/Nintendo engineers thinking that seems to be the same reason ?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

As @AttackingHobo said, the memory is very fast and expensive. Also, you must take into account that these consoles launched years ago, when memory and hardware prices were higher.

Another factor that goes into making consoles very performant on what appears to be very limited resources, is that since every console is identical, we as developers can take advantage of platform specific optimizations. On a PC you can't do that as much, and thus you are required to have a beefer PC so it can brute-force its way through a similar unoptimized task.

That isn't to say there is no optimization in PC games, but it is in different areas than consoles, and in general due to the wide range of supported hardware, it is less effective.

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It's not just that the memory is expensive, but that the price point of the consoles is much lower than a typical gaming PC. There are economies of scale, but at the end of the day, consoles simply can't have hardware as good as a gaming PC, because they have to sell for much less money. –  Nathan Reed Nov 2 '13 at 20:26
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In addition to what others have pointed out here, I'd like to say that the consoles have very little overhead when it comes to memory (XBox 360 only reserves ~32 MB of RAM for system use, the rest of the 512 MB is for the game). Once you figure out what is already used by the OS and background apps on the majority of consumer PCs, you will realize there isn't too much spare RAM available.

Luckily modern OS's have paging systems for their RAM so we generally don't need to worry about memory usage, but even on a PC game it would be a good idea to stick to a limit of 256 to 512 MB of memory so you don't start thrashing the paged memory and ruin game performance.

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Obviously they want them to be cheap to make. As for the PS3 specifically, memory prices were very high at it's release, but they dropped soon after.

There ain't a big clunky operating system running alongside games, so unlike Windows developers can actually utilize all the memory, you easily have more "room" on a PS3 than on an XP machine with 512 MB of system memory. Knowing the exact hardware specifications means that it is easier to go to the limit.

Most memory eating PC games can to some extend be attributed to lazy programmers, there really ain't a lot one can do with more memory, except not care as much about filling it up.

While the console memory is generally fast I doubt that it is a lot more expensive, it is to a great extent the development of the technology that cost, the production itself is probably not a lot more expensive. So when Sony and Microsoft make or purchase a big pile of fast memory it doesn't get a lot more expensive than slower memory would have been.

It all comes down to the added consumer value being deemed too small to justify the extra price.

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Not entirely true about "memory eating PC games" as you can get away with significant optimizations by storing additional data. For instance, simply by storing a simple indexed list of vertices and their relation to other vertices, you can turn a process that takes several seconds into one that takes milliseconds (e.g. tri-stripping a tri-list, I added such an optimization to our offline, cross platform export system). This kind of data increased the size of our meshes by 50%. Meshes aren't that big, but apply similar things to most dynamic systems and you get a huge speed bonus at cost to mem –  Grant Peters Dec 22 '10 at 14:48
    
You can in a few cases sacrifice memory for speed or vice versa, that is true, but I wouldn't think that matters much to my point. –  eBusiness Dec 22 '10 at 16:00
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@eBusiness I wouldn't say that "there really ain't a lot one can do with more memory". PC games can and do load higher-resolution models and textures than console games can squeeze in; they can keep more of the world in memory so they have less streaming to do; and they often use higher screen resolutions and MSAA settings, which take a ton more memory for framebuffers. On the contrary, it's very easy to eat memory by up-rezzing stuff. :) –  Nathan Reed Nov 2 '13 at 20:15
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Size isnt everything ;)

No seriously it isnt, memory speed is a key performance realted stat that alot of people overlook. 256meg of Fast memory is preferable over larger space slower spead memory.

Cost is also an issue, I believe both XBox 360 and Playstation 3 were/are sold at a loss

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While memory speed is important it does not make up for size, if you can't fit all frequently used data in memory you'll have to swap to disk or read from the optical drive, and that doesn't really cut it when you try to render fluid animation. –  eBusiness Dec 21 '10 at 20:18
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The memory in the 360 and the ps3 is very fast, and expensive.

If the amount of memory was higher on console launch, they either would have to raise the price or take an even larger loss per console sold.

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