Definition

VRAM (video RAM)

What is VRAM?

VRAM (video RAM) refers to any type of random access memory (RAM) specifically used to store image data for a computer display. VRAM's purpose is to ensure the even and smooth execution of graphics display. It is most important in applications that display complex image textures or render polygon-based three-dimensional (3D) structures. People commonly use VRAM for applications such as video games or 3D graphic design programs.

All types of VRAM are special arrangements of dynamic RAM (DRAM). VRAM is a buffer between the computer processor and the display and is often called the frame buffer. When images are to be sent to the display, they are first read by the processor as data from some form of main (non-video) RAM and then written to VRAM.

From VRAM, the data is sent as a digital signal via a digital video interface or high-definition multimedia interface, or HDMI, video port to a modern, flat-screen LED (light-emitting diode) display. If the display is an older cathode ray tube model, or if the modern display is connected by an older VGA (video graphics array) connector to the video card, the video signal is first converted by a RAM digital-to-analog converter into analog signals that are sent to the display. 

Previous high-performance forms of VRAM were dual-ported, which means that while the processor is writing a new image to VRAM, the display is reading from VRAM to refresh its current display content. The dual-port design was the main difference between system RAM and VRAM in the 1980s and into the 1990s.

Types of VRAM

Types of VRAM include:

  • Multibank DRAM (MDRAM) is a high-performance RAM developed by MoSys. It divides memory into multiple 32 kilobyte (KB) parts, or banks, that can be accessed individually. Traditional VRAM is monolithic, where the entire frame buffer is accessed at one time. Having individual memory banks enables access to be performed concurrently, increasing overall performance. MDRAM is also cheaper since, unlike other forms of VRAM, cards can be manufactured with just the right amount of RAM for a given resolution capability, instead of requiring it to be in multiples of megabytes.
  • Rambus DRAM is a VRAM designed by Rambus that includes a proprietary bus that speeds up the data flow between VRAM and the frame buffer.
  • Synchronous Graphics RAM (SGRAM) is a clock-synchronized DRAM that is a relatively low-cost video memory. SGRAM is single-ported memory, but it can act like dual-ported memory by opening two memory pages at the same time, instead of just one.
  • Window RAM (WRAM) is a very high-performance VRAM that is dual-ported and has approximately 25% more bandwidth than VRAM, but it costs less. Its features make it more efficient to read data for use in block fills and text drawing. WRAM can be used for very high resolution -- such as 1,600 x 1,200 pixels -- using true color. Window RAM is unrelated to Microsoft Windows.

VRAM usage

Modern graphics cards use a version of SGRAM called GDDR6. GDDR6 stands for Graphics Double Data Rate 6, and is similar to DDR4 or DDR5, which is used as system RAM in modern computers. GDDR6 is the successor to GDDR5 and features increased capacity and bandwidth compared to its previous version. GDDR6 is designed for stacked chip structures and for use in graphics cards, high-performance computing and game consoles.

The only significant difference between VRAM and system RAM is the speed and the ability to mimic dual-port functionality common in older forms of specialized VRAM.

For applications that rely on complex data processing functions, the amount of VRAM on a system's graphics card is not nearly as important as the amount of system RAM. A modern business workstation can easily get by without a graphics card, often using a chip on the motherboard that shares system RAM for video display.

VRAM can also be used as a form of alternative memory for EOSIO, which is an open source blockchain platform that developers can use to build blockchain dApps, which are decentralized applications.

More VRAM is better for graphic processing applications or high-end video games. Graphics cards come equipped with varying amounts of VRAM capacities. Currently, it is possible to buy graphics cards based on Nvidia's lineup of graphics cards. For example, Nvidia offers the Geforce RTX 3090, 3080 and 3080 Ti, all of which support GDDR6.

The hardware components of a graphics or video card.
This image shows the main components of a video card.

Importance of VRAM for gaming

VRAM plays a key role in performance for gaming, such as for shortening load times and improving image quality. Certain levels of VRAM are necessary for modern games to run at different resolutions. For example, rendering a game at 1080p (pixel) resolution is different than rendering a game at 4K resolution, which requires more graphical memory. More VRAM is needed to successfully render an image with a high resolution. Otherwise, the textures and images a user is attempting to render can overload the VRAM and cause the graphics processing unit (GPU) to flood data onto the RAM, causing a drop in performance.

Today, 4 GB of VRAM is more than enough for 1080p gaming. However, users gaming in quad high definition (HD) and ultra HD resolutions should opt for 8 GB.

For gaming, users generally need:

  • 2 GB for 720p
  • 4 GB for 1080p
  • 6 GB to 8 GB for 1440p
  • 8 GB to 12 GB for 2160p, or 4K

For video editing, users typically need:

  • 8 GB for 720p to 1080p files
  • 16 GB for 4K files
  • 32 GB for editing all types of files
  • 64 GB for professional or commercial users who want to edit 8K files

RAM vs. VRAM

In simplest terms, VRAM is a type of RAM. RAM refers to the computer's general memory. Another type of RAM called synchronous DRAM is what computers rely on to run programs, load an operating system and execute tasks.

VRAM is the portion of RAM that is specifically dedicated to processing graphics-related tasks. VRAM stores all of the image and graphics data that is shown on the computer's display. This helps ensure that the display of graphics is executed smoothly and evenly. Higher VRAM capacities mean that more graphics data can be processed faster. Higher VRAM capacities can power better frame rates, renderings and general emulation of physics across video-based technologies. Graphics cards come equipped with varying amounts of VRAM.

How to increase VRAM

To check if a Windows personal computer (PC) needs more VRAM, perform the following steps:

  1. Type "Display Settings" into the Windows 10 search bar.
  2. Select "Advanced Display Settings."
  3. Click on the text that reads "Display adapter properties for display."
  4. The amount of VRAM will display in the tab that pops up.

The easiest way to increase VRAM is to upgrade to a better graphics card. For example, upgrading from integrated graphics that come with a PC to a dedicated graphics card can provide a noticeable performance improvement.

But if upgrading is not an option, there are other ways to increase VRAM. For example, for some systems, the VRAM can be increased via the BIOS (basic input/output system). To do this, go to "Settings," select "System" and enter the "Advanced Features" or "Advanced Chipset Features" menu. Next, select the menu option that is closest to "Graphics Settings," "Video Settings" or "VGA Share Memory Size." This should provide several options for adjusting the amount of memory to allocate to the GPU and could range from 128 MB to 512 MB.

The Dedicated Video Memory value for integrated graphics is typically a dummy value. This is done so games see there is a value when it checks how much VRAM a system has. This Registry value can be changed so the amount of VRAM that is reported to a game is larger. This process does not actually increase VRAM; it only makes it seem like there is more VRAM.

To change the value, open the Registry Editor window by typing "regedit" into the Start Menu. Then select the "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE" option. Next, open "Software file," and then right-click on the "Intel" option. Go to "New" and select "DWORD (32-bit) Value." The new folder can be named and given a minimum and maximum value of 0 and 512, respectively. After the value is set, the computer must be rebooted.

History of VRAM

Frederick Dill, Daniel Ling and Richard Matick invented VRAM at the IBM Research Center in 1980. Five years later, it was patented. In 1986, the first commercial video memory was used in a high-resolution graphics adapter for IBM's RT PC system.

After the release of this PC, the costs of dual-port memory decreased significantly, and more people began to use VRAM. In addition, VRAM has enhanced the overall frame buffer throughput, enabling less expensive, higher resolution, high-speed color graphics.

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This was last updated in July 2021

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