How Important Is Dedicated Video RAM When Gaming?

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Dedicated video RAM (VRAM) plays a significant role in improving load times, image quality and overall gaming experience. 

The greater the VRAM built into your dedicated GPU, the better its ability to support textured graphics at higher resolutions and higher frames per second. Conversely an insufficient amount of VRAM will result in game assets being drawn down from the far slower system RAM, resulting in stuttering and a drop in frames per second (FPS).

As a benchmark, whilst you may be able to get away with 4GB VRAM for 1080p gaming, you’ll need at least twice that when playing in 4K.

To demonstrate why dedicated video RAM is important for gaming below we’ll look at:

  • why VRAM is needed
  • how VRAM affects gaming performance, and
  • the relationship between VRAM and resolution

Whilst VRAM is an essential element of a discrete GPU, it is important to note it is not the only component that impacts gaming performance. For example, GPU clock speeds and the number of processing cores will also have an impact on your gaming experience.

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

What is VRAM and why is it needed?

Since your main system RAM gets clogged down by storing all kinds of temporary data generated by actions like loading apps, browsing the web and even moving your mouse, there was a strong use case to create a separate RAM purely for graphics-related processing, storage and access. 

Video RAM (or its more colloquial abbreviation VRAM) is very similar to the random access memory of your PC’s main system except in the case of VRAM, it is totally dedicated to storing graphical data

Built right onto a discrete graphics card, the VRAM enables the GPU to perform tasks significantly faster than an integrated GPU that itself needs to store the data by other methods such as the main system RAM or an SSD/HDD.

You see when you download and install a video game on your PC, the game directory contains all the assets, textures, and graphics the game will need to run correctly. When you start the game, these textures are loaded onto your VRAM.

As you play the game, graphical objects and textures are loaded from the VRAM and displayed on your display. VRAM essentially acts like a temporary pool of memory where these assets are stored for a short time.

Taking the pool analogy further, it makes sense that the larger this pool is, the more assets it can hold. So, the more VRAM you have at your disposal, the better you are able to run games at higher resolutions.

In comparison an integrated GPU will have a hard time accessing textures and graphics at the speed in which your game demands it be produced, and subsequently your in-game FPS will take a significant hit.

How does VRAM affect gaming performance?

In our pool analogy, we learned how having a larger pool means we can temporarily hold larger amounts of data, meaning we can have better performing and better looking games.

The performance for each individual game depends on a range of other factors, and it’s not just the available VRAM. 

Generally speaking a game with more detailed objects and textures will require more RAM as compared to a game that uses less detailed textures. This is simply because more detailed objects need more data to be stored, and thus, they take more space on the VRAM as compared to game assets that are not as detailed.

This is why games like Minecraft with its pixelated graphics can run well on very modest VRAMs, but games like Call of Duty: Vanguard will require significantly more high VRAM to perform better.

Too low a VRAM and you are likely to encounter slow load times and stuttering during gameplay.

VRAM vs Resolution

Another important factor determining how much VRAM you need is the resolution you are playing at. The lower the resolution you play at, the less VRAM will be used. 

In fact, lowering resolution along with lowering texture quality (the two most VRAM hungry elements in gaming) help reduce the amount of VRAM you need drastically. So, if you are trying to play a game on a PC with minimal VRAM, you could improve the game’s performance by altering these two settings.

When deciding what GPU you buy, look at its clock speeds and VRAM – Here is a simple breakdown of the amount of VRAM you will need at different resolutions.

Resolution VRAM Required
Gaming at 720p
At least 2GB
Gaming at 1080p
2GB - 6GB
Gaming at 1440p
4GB - 6GB
Gaming at 4K
8GB +

While the resolution isn’t the only thing that impacts VRAM usage, it is one of the more important ones.

Playing Cyberpunk 2077 at 4K, the Tech Power Up team showed that a peak of 9.94GB of VRAM was used – in comparison the same title only required 5.56GB VRAM at 1080p.

As a general rule of thumb if you plan on gaming in 4K, then you will need a GPU with a VRAM of 8GB or above. But if, on the other hand, you only have a  1080p monitor then getting a GPU with more than 8GB of VRAM capable of handling 4K just doesn’t make sense.

That money can be spent on other parts of your PC.

This is why a user needs to have a good basic understanding of how VRAM works. As it arms them with the knowledge to get the most out of their bucks.

Concluding remarks

Having a dedicated VRAM is very important for gaming. It determines how many textures and graphical assets the GPU can temporarily hold while playing a game, and without a sufficient capacity will cause the gameplay to experience stuttering and a drop in FPS

The more VRAM a GPU has, the better it can perform. Playing at higher resolutions like 1440p will always require a decently sized VRAM of at least 4GB, with 4K commonly requiring 8GB VRAM to run as the game designers have intended.

Huzaifah Muhabat

Huzaifah Muhabat

Tech Writer

STEM Graduate with an engineering background and an insatiable curiosity to understand how things work.

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