With modern triple-A titles becoming harder and harder to run, there are some key factors to consider if you want to enjoy a satisfying gaming experience, one of which is your VRAM.
It’s easy to assume that the more VRAM you have, the smoother the game will run. This is only half-true because there are different options, such as GDDR6 or HBM2.
There are also other important factors to consider, including the visual demand of the game you’re playing, but also the clarity, in-game graphics settings, etc.
Let’s first explore what VRAM is and what it’s used for.
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VRAM (Video Random Access Memory)
VRAM is a particular type of RAM designed specifically for and works exclusively with the GPU. As such, it’s optimized to perform better than the system memory, but only in the tasks that are assigned to it by the GPU.
Due to their need for cooperation, the VRAM is placed very close to the chip on the graphics card so that it can provide the quickest and most effective service to the GPU.
Its biggest drawback is that it can’t be upgraded, unlike RAM, as it comes as part of the graphics card.
The key task for VRAM is frame buffering. This means the GPU will render an image and then store it on the VRAM, which, in turn, collects that image and places it in the correct order with other rendered images. This way, when called upon, the images will be displayed in the right order.
Another thing that VRAM does is store texture maps. You can think of these as shortcuts that the GPU uses to render images faster.
While these VRAM capabilities appear to give your GPU all the necessary resources for gaming, you shouldn’t underestimate just how demanding modern games are. Other factors can influence the usage of VRAM, so let’s take a look.
Monitor Resolution Matters A Lot
This is either the most or least obvious advice, depending on who you ask. Let’s break it down.
Games use 32-bit color depth, which means 32 bits will be shown per pixel. This means that if you’re playing a game at 1080p, the required memory for storing a single image will be roughly 8.3 MB.
However, things increase exponentially from that point. If you were to game at 4K, you would need 33.2 MB for a single image. These numbers can change dramatically if you’re running a game with high-resolution textures or a bigger polygon count.
VRAM Usage Is Game-Dependant
Even if you don’t have much experience with gaming, it’s logical that games with better graphics will require more VRAM.
As mentioned earlier, the higher your resolution, the more VRAM you will need. We can probably all agree that there’s no point in running a beautiful game like Red Dead Redemption 2 if you’re unable to experience all the visual splendor it has to offer.
This also leads to the logical conclusion that less graphically intensive games such as Minecraft or Team Fortress 2 are easier to run. While that is a sensible deduction, there are exceptions, particularly with one iconic game.
When Minecraft achieved an unbelievable level of global popularity, its developers wanted to upgrade its graphics. However, Minecraft has become synonymous with its visual style, which is somewhat low-poly.
Their solution was to include ray tracing, so even though the unique cube appearance stays the same, it appears more natural with enhanced lighting and therefore demands additional VRAM.
There is also a tricky point we need to discuss regarding games’ VRAM requirements. If, for example, a game needs 2 GB of VRAM and your GPU has 4 GB, there should be a performance increase. On the other hand, if your game needs 2 GB and you only have 1 GB, then you’re in for an abysmal low-FPS experience.
In-Game Settings Can Make A World Of Difference
Fortunately for gamers, modern games offer more graphics settings that allow you to tweak and optimize your graphics card’s performance. Understandably, you’ll have to sacrifice some of the more spectacular visuals in favor of better FPS. Unfortunately, that’s a compromise you will have to make.
One of the key settings you might want to adjust to reduce VRAM usage is texture quality. So, if you notice stuttering or FPS drops, considering dropping the texture quality settings.
Certain anti-aliasing options can also have a huge impact on VRAM usage, especially MSAA.
However, MSAA and other heavy anti-aliasing technologies are not as prevalent today as upscaling technologies like DLSS, FSR and XeSS(with a bit of added sharpness) help with aliasing issues.
Your Preferred Game Settings Should Ultimately Guide Your VRAM Decision
How much VRAM you’ll need in your system depends on your gaming needs.
For example, some of 2023’s most popular titles may require up to 10GB of VRAM even at 1080p! So, even GPUs like the RTX 3060 Ti and RTX 3070 have the power to render these games, but struggle because of VRAM limitations.
Here’s a video of Hardware Unboxed testing 16GB and 8GB VRAM GPUs in various games:
If you’re looking to play modern games at 1080p, you’ll be fine with 8GB of VRAM most of the time, but for certain games like Resident Evil 4 with high texture quality preset, you may need up to 10GB or more.
Either way here are some general principles you can follow when purchasing your next GPU:
- 720P – 2GB of VRAM
- 1080P – 4GB-10GB of VRAM
- 1440P – 6-12GB of VRAM
- 4K – 8-16+GB VRAM
Be aware that VRAM usage is quickly trending upward and newer games might be very VRAM-dependent. This is why newer GPUs like the RTX 4070 have 12GB of VRAM and AMD’s RX 7900 XT has even 20 GB VRAM.