What is VRAM?

NVIDIA GPU without cooling system.
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VRAM or video random access memory is the memory used by the graphics processing unit to store the information you need to display the images on the screen. VRAM comes in many forms, and getting the right amount and type is critical.

RAM in VRAM

Before we talk about VRAM in particular, it’s worth focusing briefly on the “RAM” bit. You can read all about how RAM works, but we’ll give a quick summary here:

For the purposes of this article, all you need to know is that RAM is the memory that the processor obtains the data it needs to perform calculations. The CPU reads the data and stores it in the RAM while it does its job. The reason it can’t use data directly from your hard drive or solid state drive is because it’s very slow. Data must first be moved to RAM before it can be read and processed.

The more RAM a system has, the less it depends on slow storage devices for information. When there is more data than the RAM can hold, the system is forced to “swap” the contents of the RAM to a special file on the hard drive or SSD, which can cause a serious system slowdown. If you have a system with a lot of fast RAM, you ensure that your CPU is always running at its full potential.

VRAM is the random access memory of the graphics processing unit

A person playing a computer game.
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VRAM is, in principle, the same thing as RAM for a CPU system but for GPU usage. VRAM is often referred to as “texture memory”, referring to the texture data into which polygonal 3D models are wrapped, but modern graphics consist of much more than just wireframed models and textures.

The GPU also needs information from the CPU such as the positions of the objects determined by the animations and the physics algorithms performed by the CPU. Essentially, if the GPU needs data to draw the final image onto the screen, that data is in the VRAM.

VRAM vs RAM

VRAM does not have to be a specific type of physical memory. Any RAM can function like VRAM, for better or worse. In fact, it is very common to use system RAM as video random access memory (VRAM). If your computer uses an integrated GPU, the GPU does not have any RAM of its own. Instead, a portion of your system’s RAM is reserved to serve as video memory.

However, CPU and GPU needs are slightly different when it comes to bandwidth, response time, and speed. This is why graphics cards use graphics-specific RAM such as GDDR5 or GDDR6. There are many technical differences between regular DDR RAM and GDDR, but the most important is that GDDR features a wide “bus”. A bus is a connection between computer components. The wider the bus range, the more data can be sent at the same time. Since graphics involve processing huge amounts of data in parallel, the width of the memory bus is very important.

Some computer systems such as game consoles, smartphones, and Apple M1 computers contain “unified memory”. Instead of cutting off a portion of the system’s RAM for the GPU, both processors share memory dynamically as needed. As an added bonus, if the CPU and GPU both need the same data, there is no need to have two copies in two different sets of memory. On some of these systems, such as the PlayStation 5, the standardized RAM is all GDDR. So both the CPU and the GPU use RAM that is designed to be used by the GPU.

How much VRAM do you need?

Software packages with specific GPU requirements will list the minimum and recommended amount of VRAM you need to run the program. This is independent of the minimum GPU specification. Weak GPUs can have more VRAM than they need and powerful GPUs can have very little.

For gamers, the good news is that you can now see how much VRAM is being used while adjusting your game settings. With each setting you change, the effect on VRAM usage appears.

Performance overlay software, such as GeForce Experience for NVIDIA cards, will show how complete VRAM is in real time.

If your program is using more VRAM than your GPU actually has, it has to swap out the VRAM content on your hard drive, just as it does with system RAM. When this happens, you will experience a significant decrease in performance, so it is best to avoid it.

The main factors affecting the use of VRAM are texture details and output resolution. You generally need more VRAM to render a 4K image instead of a 1080p image!

How to check how much VRAM you have

If you are not sure how to find out how much VRAM you have, there are a number of ways you can check:

  • Check your graphics card box.
  • Find your GPU model on the manufacturer’s website.
  • Check the VRAM number in the game settings or use the GPU performance overlay.
  • On Windows 10 or Windows 11, head to Settings > System > Display > Advanced Display > Display adapter properties and look at the “Dedicated video memory” line.

VRAM graphics

We prefer TechPowerUp’s GPU-Z app because it will give you detailed information about your GPU. You’ll find the size of your VRAM under Memory Size, as shown here.

How to increase your VRAM

If you are using a dedicated graphics card, the only way to increase VRAM is to replace the card. If you are using a laptop with dedicated graphics, you usually have to replace the entire laptop, as there are almost no upgradeable GPUs.

If you are using a computer with an integrated GPU, you can usually increase the VRAM allocation in the BIOS settings. Of course, this affects the available system RAM, but with both desktop and laptop systems it is usually possible to install more system RAM. If you have a Thunderbolt 3 enabled system, you may also have the option of using an eGPU with better specs than your current GPU, but it’s not the best solution for everyone!