The advent of graphics cards with large amounts of memory has led many users to ask themselves a question that has certainly been repeated throughout the last few years: how much VRAM do I need to meet my needs?
Obviously we can’t give a unique and exclusive answer that works for all users, but we would quantify it and concretize depending on the specific needs of each individual.
Since there are currently variants of 1 GB to 2 GB within the lower-middle sector, from 2 GB to 4 GB within the mid-level, and 4 GB to 8 GB within the high-end sector, we wanted this guide to help you choose what is best for you because the price difference between them largely varies and sometimes it is not beneficial to choose the version with the most VRAM.
That being said, let’s get down to work and, as always, we encourage you to voice your opinions or concerns in the comments.
Let’s start with the basics: What is VRAM?
VRAM memory is specifically designed for use in graphics solutions and plays a very similar role to normal RAM, although they obviously have their own distinct roles.
Thus, in simple terms, the RAM functions as a temporary storage for the CPU and the VRAM does the same but for the GPU.
This means that the VRAM, for example, stores textures, acts as a frame buffer, and also stores other important elements such as the maps of shadows and lighting.
The demands on the GPU are very high and therefore it is convenient to use this specific type of memory that normally turns out to be much faster than just normal RAM, especially in the case of GDDR5 which currently reaches up to 7 GHz.
This guarantees a fluidity in the work of the GPU which will never never be “unserved” or “jam” when the VRAM is fast enough.
We should note that the power of the GPU is an important element and it depends on the use of video memory. So a low-end GPU will not properly utilize a 2 GB of VRAM, even if it is a GDDR5, while a high-end GPU with 1 GB of GDDR5 will be limited and will not work at its max capacity.
What factors influence the use of VRAM?
The answer is much simpler than it may seem at first, and so that we avoid unnecessary complications we will summarize the most important information:
- The resolution that you will use: Currently games are rendered with a color depth of 32 bits per pixel, which translates if you play in 1080p and a single frame takes up 8.3MB, which can be reached by multiplying 32 x 1.920 x 1.080. If we raise the resolution to 4K the figure rises to 33.22 MB per frame.
- Anti-aliasing: Edge smoothing also influences the amount of video memory used, since a greater number of pixels needed to cover and hide the saw tooth which increases the use of the VRAM.
This means, in essence, that we should consider a greater amount of video memory if we are looking to play at high resolutions to use the edge smoothing.
We should note that games are currently being developed that use increasing amounts of video memory and therefore it plays a very important role today.
So how much VRAM do I need?
The first thing that should be clear is that after the basic foundation it depends on the game, obviously. It is not the same thing to run games like Minecraft at 4K and Skyrim with the texture pack at the same resolution, so it is necessary to check on the specifications of the game you are looking to run.
After ascertaining this qualification, I want to make some clarifications and dispel myths circulating about VRAM so that we can all have a clearer idea:
- A SLI or CrossFire does not double the RAM, at least not until the arrival of DirectX 12, which is supposed to have, for example, two GTX 680 with 2 GB of GDDR5 each does not give us a total of 4 GB since they do not accumulate. The same can be applied to the configurations with three or four GPUs.
- We cannot make two identical SLI graphics, but with a different amount or type of VRAM. This means that if we buy a GTX 770 with 2 GB we cannot make an SLI with with one of 4 GB. The CrossFire with AMD is more flexible in this case, but it is not recommended to pair two GPUs with different amounts of RAM since the difference will not be utilized.
- More video memory does not necessarily mean a better performance: The truth is a like a huge temple because it is not utilized and does not make a difference and, in some cases, may result worse performance. So it is better to have, for example, 2 GB of GDDR5 than 4 GB of DDR3. However, we must be careful, because using less RAM than necessary can be significant loss in performance.
At this point we can launch into the concrete since we have discussed how in many cases the amount depends on the specific game to determine how much VRAM is necessary.
In high-end graphics cards like GTX 980-970 and the Radeon R9 290X-290, have 4 GB of VRAM is a necessary requisite because the graphics use high resolutions and consume large amounts of video memory.
Actually, we do not recommend purchasing these graphics cards, if we are planning to play at resolutions inferior to 2K or 108p, for some specific titles.
Contrary to fact, the solutions with more than 4GB RAM do not really set a difference in performance, so they are not advisable nor they are necessary at all, even whenever we are going to play in 4K resolutions .
It is possible that, in a mid or long-term, they could offer a much more clear difference, but for then we will have much better solutions at hand in the market, and furthermore, it is possible that our GPU will not be able to sustain that resolution level, as new games will come out as well.
In the case of mid-range graphics cards such as the GTX 960 and R9 280, it is normally recommended having 2 GB or 3 GB of video memory. This amount is more than what is necessary for their purpose: playing 1080p at its best or maximum with high quality graphics cards, and thus it makes no sense buying versions with 4GB or 6 GB of video memory, since it will not be possible to take advantage of this whole video capacity in most cases, knowing that these GPU graphics solutions lack of the power needed to move games in high 4K resolutions at an acceptable quality.
Finally, in the group that can be considered “the low-end” it’s not worth at all spending 1GB of VRAM, as we will play at inferior resolutions which are at a lower level than 1080p.
As we previously stated, it is almost impossible attempting to give a unique and universal answer, nonetheless, through this exposition we can rest assure we’ve got a solid and useful basis, which is not bad given the changing and varied that the video game world is, nowadays.
To summarize, we can say that in order to play in less than 1080p resolutions, having 1 GB of video memory is more than enough. If we are planning to play at 1080p then we need a midrange 2GB of VRAM graphics card, and finally, if we are planning to buy a high-end GPU in order to play at 1080p, then it is strong advisable to have 4GB of VRAM.