Why Do Graphics Cards Have Memory? Beginner Guide

While shopping for a graphics card, you’ve probably noticed a “Memory” spec on the box. You may have also come across the fact that a single graphics card model usually comes in several memory sizes.

Now, why would a graphics card require memory if you already have loads of RAM on your computer?

The graphics card is very important for a PC to function and run specific tasks. Tasks like gaming, video editing, or any sort of AI acceleration work require a decent graphics card.

A graphics card utilizes memory to store rendered frames. This provides the GPU lightning-fast access to all the essential data necessary to run a task. A graphics card needs to hold certain data and buffers to provide a visual on the screen. This is where the graphics card memory comes in.

In this article, we’ll explain everything relating to graphics card memory. This includes why graphics cards have memory, how the memory affects your performance, the required graphics memory for gaming, an insight into GPU memory, and a little comparison between GPU memory and RAM.

Why do Graphics Cards Have Memory?

Graphics card memory, also known as VRAM, is needed to run multiple tasks related to graphics. The graphics card doesn’t entirely rely on RAM because, in comparison, VRAM works faster, has more bandwidth, is more easily accessible, and is well optimized for work.

The following are the reasons why a graphics card needs memory (VRAM):

Storing Graphics Data

The GPU on your computer makes millions of calculations each second to visualize a clear image on your screen. For these calculations to take place, the data needs to be stored somewhere. The HDD/SSD is too far and too slow for this task. Therefore, when your CPU senses any sort of data that is of a graphics type, such as shaders, textures, meshes, or vector graphics, it sends all this data to VRAM in place of RAM.

The data is stored in the VRAM until required. Graphics data is very vital, and without this data, all of your visuals would look distorted and senseless.

Gaming without textures would look like random geometrics with no quality of immersion. Everything inside a game, such as grass, trees, buildings, and vehicles, is basically textures applied to 3D models. This gives it definition and the proper shape.

The textures must be stored in VRAM for quick and easy access. You can think of video game textures as hundreds of thousands of high-resolution images.

A few examples of data stored on your VRAM include depth, textures, shadow maps, shaders, meshes, and vector graphics.

Storing Pre-rendered Frames

Storing pre-rendered frames is another very important function of graphics card memory. When the GPU completes the task of processing a frame, it sends the processed frame to VRAM and moves on to work on another frame.

The processed frame is stored in a distinct portion of the graphics card memory known as the frame buffer. In this area, new frames continuously overwrite old frames to provide a smooth and crisp image.

The graphics cards these days usually have two buffers. One buffer receives a new frame from the VRAM, while another buffer displays the frame to the monitor. Once the process is complete, the roles of each buffer are reversed, with the second buffer displaying the frame and the first one fetching it.

You can change the number of pre-rendered frames from the graphics card driver settings. A pre-rendered frame is usually only on one frame, but you can improve performance in many cases by setting it to two or three, or maybe make it worse.

For Anti-Aliasing

Anti-aliasing helps out by removing the unsmooth and jagged corners on your display. This is achieved by averaging pixel colors at those corners. By doing this, anti-aliasing makes the frame smooth and clear.

Fast Memory (VRAM)

Video random access memory, also known as VRAM, works similar to your system’s RAM. Your GPU uses VRAM as a sort of a cache to hold data required to produce graphics. The data is only stored temporarily on a VRAM.

VRAM functions much faster than traditional RAM. On top of that, it is integrated directly onto the PCB of your graphics card and lays very close to the GPU. This allows very fast data transfers, making high-resolution graphics production possible.

Higher VRAM allows more storage of data. Moreover, VRAM can transfer data much faster, allowing better performance. Bus width regulates the maximum available bandwidth.

Different VRAMs differ in speed, size, and bus width, all of which determine the performance of a graphics card.

Does the memory size of a graphics card matter?

Yes, the graphics card memory size matters a lot because it affects the performance of your GPU. Insufficient memory on your graphics card will limit performance, affecting resolution size, shadows, textures, depth, and every other graphics setting.

You may have the most powerful graphics card out there, but if it lacks the necessary VRAM, it will fail to provide the best performance. Having loads of memory on your graphics card can help provide you with the ultimate graphics experience. With the graphics settings set to high, you can enjoy 4K gaming along with detailed textures and shadows.

Plenty of VRAM can allow the GPU to increase details, raise texture quality, and render frames at higher resolution.

Now you may be thinking that the bigger the VRAM, the better the performance?

While this can be true in some cases, for graphics cards, it is wrong. You must maintain a balance between your firmware and your VRAM size. It’s best to prioritize the graphics card model first and then look at the VRAM size.

A 2 GB graphics card with old firmware will be able to provide similar performance to a 512 MB graphics card with new firmware.

How Much VRAM Do I Need for Gaming?

For 1080p gaming, you will need a minimum of 4GB of graphics memory or VRAM. Considering a graphics card with 6 GB of VRAM would be an ideal choice if you want to take texture quality to high or ultra-high.

If you want to run games at medium-high settings, you’ll need 8-12 GB of VRAM. If you want the best gaming experience and aim for 4K gaming, having up to 12 GB of VRAM is the ideal choice for great texture quality.

If you talk generally, more VRAM will always serve to be better. While considering a GPU model, always look for the model with the greatest VRAM if they have the same price tag.

With higher VRAM, you can get textures set at ultra, better FPS, less stuttering, along with the highest graphics settings with minimal performance loss.

The following are some guidelines for finding suitable VRAM sizes:

  • 1 GB – 2 GB of VRAM

A graphics card with this much VRAM is suitable for playing older games or indulging in eSports titles. You cannot play modern AAA games with this much VRAM. However, you may be able to play certain games with lower settings.

  • 3 GB – 6 GB of VRAM

VRAMs of this size is suitable for playing games, video editing, and any other tasks of this caliber. To play games in high settings with 1080p resolution, you will require up to 6 GB of VRAM.

  • 8 GB – 12 GB of VRAM and Higher

VRAMS of this type are for high-end gamers. To be able to enjoy the best 4K gaming, you’ll be needing at least 12 GB of VRAM.

Can You Upgrade Graphics Card Memory?

You cannot upgrade the graphics card memory or VRAM as it is soldered on top of the PCB. The maximum memory size of the graphics card is already predetermined this way. However, in the case of an internal graphics card, you can use the BIOS to increase VRAM.

Technically, if you want to increase the memory of your graphics card, you can desolder the memory chips and have them replaced with more powerful ones. However, this is a very tricky, risky, and expensive process.

Therefore, you won’t be able to find any practical way to upgrade the memory of your graphics card. But there is no reason to concern yourself too much with VRAM size. Both NVIDIA and AMD put a lot of thought into manufacturing a graphics card with optimum settings.

The amount of VRAM that you can put is determined by the size of the memory bus. Take, for example, a graphics card with eight 512 MB chips that features 4 GB VRAM. If a manufacturer wants to upgrade it, they’ll have to replace the 512 MB chips with 1 GB units. This way, they can upgrade VRAM to 8 GB.

The simplest way to increase VRAM is to buy a new graphics card featuring higher VRAM. However, if buying isn’t an option for you, you can utilize BIOS to increase VRAM in case of an integrated graphics card.

What Is Shared GPU Memory?

Shared GPU memory is basically the virtual memory located on the RAM of your System. Whenever your graphics card runs out of VRAM, it uses shared GPU memory to store the data required for graphics processing. Shared GPU memory functions much slower than VRAM, and it is only utilized when required.

Under ideal conditions, your graphics card will never utilize shared GPU memory. However, there are signs from which you can tell when shared GPU memory is being used. You can assume your shared GPU memory is being used whenever you get visible jitters, slow loading textures, and other visual defects.

You can monitor VRAM usage by turning on various performance metrics in games or through your graphics card driver. Your graphics card will start running on GPU-shared memory once your VRAM is utilized 100%.

In such a scenario, you should lower your graphics settings, including resolution, shadow quality, texture quality, and more, to eliminate stutter and other graphics-related problems. If you are running things on an integrated graphics card, your computer will be running on GPU shared memory in place of VRAM.

In such a case, if you want to improve performance, you’ll have to overclock your computer.

GPU Memory vs. RAM

GPU memory also called VRAM, and system RAM are two different things with a lot in common. First of all, both are random-access memory, meaning you’re able to write any sort of data to them.

VRAM is usually split into several portions, each storing different data. Data such as frame buffers, textures, shadow maps, depth buffers, mesh, and many other types of graphics are all stored inside VRAM.

On the other hand, the system RAM stores all data required by your CPU temporarily. Files and programs that are in use are also stored inside the RAM.

VRAM operates much faster, and its speed is determined by the version of GDDR (or HBM), frequency, and memory bus bandwidth. If we talk about frequency, VRAM can comfortably reach speeds of up to 10,000 MHz to 15,000 MHz.

RAM operates much slower, with clock speeds ranging from 2400 MHz to 6400 MHz, depending on the clock speed and DDR version.

If you consider the maximum data transfer rate, it is much higher on the VRAM. Both RAM and VRAM are used for different purposes and have functions designed to run those specific purposes.

Does GPU Memory Matter?

GPU memory matters a lot because higher VRAM allows your graphics card to function much better. This means the card will be able to store much higher resolution frames, detailed textures, shadows, and all the other graphics assets. More GPU memory provides a more smooth and steady experience, even at high graphics settings.

When you shop for a graphics card, you must pay attention to the VRAM size. If your monitor is 1080p, there’s no point in spending extra money on unnecessary VRAM. On the other hand, having inadequate VRAM can greatly affect your overall graphics performance. You need just the right amount of VRAM to store all graphics assets.

If the price difference among different VRAM sizes is not that noticeable, always choose the card with greater VRAM. This will futureproof your computer and also provide better graphics performance. Modern games are growing more demanding each day, and it’s best you have a lot of VRAM to meet those demands.

Wrapping It Up

After going through this article, you now know why graphics card memory or VRAM is so important. VRAM is the random-access memory of graphics cards and consists of memory chips soldered onto the PCB of a graphics card.

Your graphics card requires VRAM to store data temporarily. The data includes textures, shadows, 3D depth, and other graphics settings. It also stores outgoing frames. The higher the VRAM, the better graphics performance you’ll be getting.

VRAM works much faster than system RAM and has higher frequencies too. This provides multiple advantages while dealing with graphics-related work, allowing the display of smooth, clear, and consistent visuals on your screen. It improves overall performance and optimizes all graphics settings.

Related:
Can You Upgrade a Laptop CPU?
Can Overheating CPU Cause Lag?
Do More Cores Mean Better Performance?

Nick Miller

It's Nick Miller a 25 year old tech enthusiast and senior editor at Flexgate, i try to make tech simple for the everyday person. You will find review about tech, tools and Computer hardware here.

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