GPU memory varies wildly from one graphics card model to another. Some cards barely feature 4 gigs of VRAM, or video memory, while others go up as high as 24GB. Does this mean the latter card is 6 times as fast as the former? Does more memory always mean better performance? At what point does GPU memory size stop being a game-changer?
In this article, we will answer the most frequent questions regarding what GPU memory is and how much it matters. As with most things, the answer to most of your questions is that “it depends”. However, we will let you clearly know what depends on what, so that by the end of this article you have better understanding of what GPU memory can and cannot do for you.
What is GPU memory
Just as your computer has a memory, or system RAM, graphics cards, too, feature a RAM of their own kind. System RAM and VRAM are quite similar in certain respects, while in others, they differ quite significantly. Let’s compare both of them, starting with the similarities.
While ordinary RAM works in conjunction with the CPU, VRAM is specifically designed to work with your GPU. Both of them store data that needs to be readily accessed by CPU or GPU.
The difference however lies in the nature of data. The data stored in VRAM is mostly graphical in nature and consists of images and textures that a GPU can quickly render instead of building it from scratch every time.
Another difference between the two is that of upgradeability. While the RAM in your system can be easily (at least in most cases) increased by just adding in another stick in the motherboard, VRAM is set in stone.
Once you have bought a graphics card, you cannot increase its VRAM. At least, not without significantly increasing the risk of rendering your card useless in the process. Thus, if you bought a graphics card with 6GB of VRAM, that’s the amount that you will be stuck with unless you buy a completely separate graphics card with a higher VRAM.
How does GPU memory matter
Just as increasing system RAM won’t automatically make your computer operate faster, a higher VRAM won’t automatically increase your FPS count. Now you might ask, if VRAM doesn’t affect gaming performance, why even worry about it? Well, actually, it does affect gaming performance in the following ways.
If you play a game at 4K, instead of at 1080p, your computer will need to load a greater number of pixels and thus produce more detail at any one time. In such a case, you will consume more VRAM than if you were to game at 1080p. So, playing at higher resolution not just requires higher processing power, it also requires more VRAM.
Besides resolution, the number of textures in a game also affects the amount of VRAM you need. If you play relatively less-demanding games like Minecraft, VRAM is not going to be an issue for you.
Newer AAA titles, however, feature a lot of objects like buildings, people and vehicles that need to be simultaneously loaded. For example, games like CyberPunk 2077 and Metro Exodus will typically need a significant amount of GPU memory if they are played the way they are meant to be.
In simple terms, you can think of VRAM as a performance bottleneck. More will not necessarily enhance gaming performance, but less would significantly affect your experience.
How much GPU memory do you need
The amount of GPU memory depends on what you typically do. While there can be a huge number of use cases, in general, most users belong to the following three categories: gaming, content creation and scientific or engineering designs and simulations. Let’s look at each of them a bit more closely, starting with the gaming segment.
If you are a gamer, your experience is largely going to be determined by the model of your graphics card itself. You don’t need to check the VRAM a graphics card contains because in most cases is going to be more than adequate.
For example, you simply need to google the best graphics card for playing your favorite title at 4K settings. The processing power is going to be the main bottleneck in your gaming performance well before VRAM becomes.
Still, however, if you are looking for a concrete number, then anywhere between 6-12 of VRAM will be sufficient to play any modern AAA title without any memory troubles.
The memory requirements of content creators are not much different from gamers. Even for the most demanding software like Adobe Premiere Pro, you can effortlessly edit high quality 1080p or 4K videos with 6-10GB of VRAM without any issues.
Scientists and engineers
The last category is the one that really can benefit hugely from more VRAM. People who work on designing and simulating new products and theories need to work with a huge number of textures and images to produce models that resemble reality as closely as possible.
Examples include modeling the various component parts of an airplane or visualizing the impact of a collision between two very high-speed objects. This means that a very significant amount of data needs to be readily accessible by the GPU whenever it is requested for.
Therefore, a shortage of graphics memory will become quickly apparent if you are involved in this kind of work. It is also for this reason that the users of this segment are still using multi-GPU configurations which has largely been abandoned by the gaming community.
In this article, we discussed GPU memory in considerable detail and answered the most common questions like whether it matters, how much and for whom. If you have read till here, we believe that you now have a much better understanding of what GPU memory can and cannot do for you. Happy computing!