VRAM, short for video RAM, is the dedicated memory that a GPU uses to store and access graphics data. In 2020, it is one of the more important specs on any graphics card’s spec sheet, so how much of it do you really need? So we will discover about how much VRAM do you actually need for gaming.
In this article, we’ll try and give a simple and clear answer to that question, so read on!
What Is VRAM?
So, first of all, what is VRAM, and how does it differ from regular system RAM?
Well, fundamentally, VRAM serves the same purpose as system RAM – system RAM stores essential data that the CPU needs to be able to access quickly to keep the system running smoothly, and video RAM does the same for the GPU by storing graphics data.
The popular type of VRAM right now is GDDR SDRAM. It is different from DDR SDRAM (the type of RAM commonly used in most PCs) in a number of ways, but in essence, it is designed specifically for graphics processing.
Currently, GDDR6 is use in the latest mainstream GPUs, though some use HBM memory as well, at the moment, it’s mostly reserve for high-end workstation GPUs, as it is expensive to manufacture and currently doesn’t offer many benefits when it comes to gaming.
Graphics Settings VRAM Usage
With that out of the way, what graphics settings use up the most RAM?
In truth, pretty much every setting will take up a certain amount of VRAM, but currently, the most demanding one is by far the resolution.
Increasing the rendering resolution from 1080p to 1440p noticeably increases VRAM usage, and 4K obviously ramps it up even further.
Now that most of the latest graphics cards come with 8 GB of GDDR6 RAM, there’s little need to worry about lowering specific graphics settings to free up VRAM.
However, if you still have an older GPU or a budget model with less VRAM, the most VRAM-hungry setting apart from the rendering resolution is the texture resolution. So, if your graphics card is running low on memory, lowering the texture quality is a good way to bring VRAM usage down a notch and thus improve overall performance.
In addition to that, the LOD distance might also make a difference in open-world games, and while other settings take up less VRAM e.g., SSAO and some types of anti-aliasing, those are usually more GPU than VRAM-intensive.
How Much VRAM Do You Need?
So, seeing as the resolution is the biggest factor to consider when it comes to VRAM in 2020, how much of it do you really need?
Well, we’ve already mentioned that most of the latest graphics cards come with 8 GB of VRAM, so that’s definitely what you should aim for if you want a more future-proof GPU or if you plan on getting a 1440p monitor immediately.
Meanwhile, 4 GB will hardly be enough for gaming in higher resolutions, and the only reason to get a 4 GB graphics card in 2020 is if you’re really pinching pennies and/or don’t really care about moving beyond 1080p just yet.
Of course, there are other options, too. For example, the GTX 1660 Super comes with 6 GB of VRAM while some high-end models such as the GTX 1080 Ti and the RTX 2080 Ti come with as much as 11 GB.
But naturally, the differences in performance don’t come down to just the VRAM, and it’s difficult to determine how much of it is the memory and how much of it is the GPU’s processing power.
For example, the 6 GB GTX 1660 Super performs better in 1440p than the 8 GB RX 5500 XT. AMD’s budget GPU doesn’t perform better despite having an extra 2 GB of memory, so VRAM alone isn’t exactly a reliable estimate as to what kind of performance you can expect.
Low video memory almost always means performance issues in games. This means lower frame rates and considerable lagging.
Texture issues are things like distorted images, frame delays or altogether skipped frames, and screen tearing. Low VRAM can cause all of these. If you have low VRAM, you will need to play games at lower texture detail.
Stuttering is probably the most annoying thing that can happen due to low memory, and it really spoils the whole gaming experience. However, remember that it is possible to remove (or at least reduce) stuttering caused by a low VRAM by lowering your settings.
FACTORS THAT AFFECT VRAM REQUIREMENTS
The next time you find yourself wondering, “How much VRAM do I even need?” consider the following factors first.
This should be obvious, the higher your in-game resolution, the more video memory you will require. Higher resolution means extra pixels, which then increase the texture size and require more memory. In general, the amount of VRAM needed for common game resolutions is as follows:
- 2 GB for 720p
- 3 GB for 900p
- 4 GB for 1080p
- 6-8 GB for 1440p
- 8-12 GB for 2160p
THE GAMES YOU PLAY
Some games not only have higher resolutions but require more video memory in general. AAA games and those that are not optimized (such as the 2017 version of PUBG) will always require more VRAM as well as RAM. The more detailed and high quality a game’s graphics are will also determine how much memory it uses.
For instance, graphic-heavy games such as ARMA 3, Witcher 3, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (to name a few) will require a LOT more memory than simple games that don’t really focus much on graphics, like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Sometimes, using third party mods or similar add-ons can push your video memory usage to much higher amounts than normal. This is because some mods come with high-resolution graphics and textures. If using mods is your preferred way of gaming, then you should probably invest in a more VRAM heavy GPU.
This part is a bit more technical, but bear with us a moment. AA or Anti-Aliasing is used to smooth out the jagged edges of the objects in a game, or to eliminate them completely. It gives the appearance of better resolution to a game that might have average graphics otherwise.
However, anti-aliasing does need more pixels to do its job, so when this setting is enabled, video memory consumption also increases. The extent to which it increases will depend on the AA method used. The most common ones include Super Sample Anti-Aliasing (SSAA), Approximate Anti-Aliasing (FXAA), Multi-sample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA), Temporal Anti-Aliasing (TXAA), and Coverage Sampling Anti-Aliasing (CSAA).
TWEAKING GAME SETTINGS
You can always tweak your game settings to optimize your video memory use. The higher your game settings are, the more data your GPU needs to run them and the more memory it consumes as a result. Since the reverse is also true, you can turn down game settings to reduce memory use.
A lot of gamers who have older systems but want to play newer games have to lower settings in this way for their games to run properly. Remember that settings such as Anti-Aliasing (which we’ve already talked about), Level of Detail, and Texture Quality come with a high cost: extensive VRAM use.
CHOOSING VRAM FOR GPUS ON DIFFERENT BUDGETS
Higher video memory alone cannot translate to higher performance, because the most important thing is the GPU that you have. An entry-level GPU is not powerful enough to be able to support heavier VRAMs, and so on. In general, entry-level GPUs can support VRAMs up to 2 GB, mid-range GPUs can hold VRAMs ranging from 3 to 6 GB, and high-end GPUs can easily support 8 GB and higher VRAM.
So, all in all, 4 GB is the bare minimum for gaming in 1080p in 2020, while 6-8 GB should be the goal for most people who want to run games in 1440p or in 4K, or just those who want something more future-proof.
However, the above is just a generalization, and the GPU’s processing power is much more important when selecting your ideal graphics card. That said, if you’re shopping for a new GPU, best check out our selection of the best graphics cards of 2020!