For gamers and graphics professionals, video RAM (VRAM) is a crucial component for smooth, high-quality visuals. But VRAM is limited, especially on budget GPUs. This leads many to wonder – can you somehow use regular system RAM as VRAM to improve performance?
The short answer is – “No, you can’t directly substitute or convert RAM into VRAM. They are physically separate memory types located in different hardware components. However, some configurations like allocating RAM to integrated graphics or using RAM disks may provide benefits in specific situations.”
This article will dive deep into VRAM vs RAM, whether using RAM as VRAM works and tips to maximize your system’s graphical power.
What is VRAM and How Does it Work?
VRAM stands for (video random access memory). As the name suggests, it is a type of RAM specialized for handling graphics and video.
VRAM is built into your graphics card (also called a video card). It stores data like textures, lighting, frames, and other rendering information required for 3D rendering and video processing.
Having more VRAM enables your GPU to access this graphical data much faster, allowing higher resolutions, framerates, special effects, and overall richer visuals when gaming or editing video.
For example, a GPU with 8GB of VRAM would allow the playing of modern games at 1440p or 4K resolution with all the visual settings maxed out for the best-looking graphics. A GPU with only 2GB of VRAM may struggle with the same game at 1080p if the textures are too high resolution to fit in the limited VRAM capacity.
In summary, sufficient VRAM reduces lag and skipping by preventing the GPU from having to fetch render data from slower system RAM while drawing graphics on-screen.
How Does VRAM Differ from Regular RAM?
Regular RAM (random access memory) is the general-purpose memory used by the CPU for running every program and process on your PC. It stores all kinds of data needed by open software, background tasks, the operating system, and games.
RAM operates as a high-speed workspace for active programs – it provides quick access to data the CPU needs right now, rather than slower storage like hard disks or SSDs.
But there are crucial differences that make RAM and VRAM suited for different tasks:
VRAM uses specialty high-bandwidth memory optimized for graphics. Bandwidth is like the ‘speed limit’ for how much data can be transferred per second. VRAM has vastly higher bandwidth (in the hundreds of GB/s) compared to around 20-50 GB/s for the best DDR4 system RAM.
Latency is the delay before data is available after a request. VRAM again has lower latency for faster response times – crucial for smooth graphics rendering where even small hangs or stutters are very noticeable and undesirable.
Consumer GPUs now ship with anywhere from 4GB up to 24GB of VRAM. Dedicated VRAM often exceeds typical system RAM capacity for storing very large, high-resolution textures and effects.
VRAM is located right on the graphics card next to the GPU silicon die, allowing direct connections for minimal latency. RAM has to travel on slower motherboard pathways between separate components.
VRAM only stores graphical assets like textures, animations, and frame data. RAM holds all kinds of data needed by open programs and the operating system itself.
Can You Use RAM as VRAM?
Now that you understand VRAM better, the big question is – is it actually possible to use part of your regular RAM as extra VRAM when you need more for a game or video project?
Unfortunately, the short answer is – “No. Dedicated VRAM built into GPUs is physically separate from system RAM sticks. Your RAM and VRAM have distinct physical locations and pathways, so the same memory can’t act as both simultaneously.”
However, while you can’t turn RAM into VRAM directly, there are some configurations that allow your system to use RAM in a similar manner to VRAM:
Allocating RAM to Integrated Graphics
Many laptops and budget desktop PCs use integrated graphics rather than dedicated GPUs. Integrated graphics processors (iGPUs) are built into the CPU chip itself rather than a separate graphics card.
Because iGPUs don’t have their own dedicated VRAM, they have to share access to the general system RAM instead.
In the BIOS settings, you may be able to configure how much RAM is allocated or shared to the integrated graphics. Increasing this can provide more usable graphics memory for games and applications.
Keep in mind performance is still far lower than what discrete VRAM provides since system RAM lacks the massive bandwidth and low latency needed for real-time 3D graphics. But it may help improve your iGPU’s capabilities if you can’t add a dedicated card.
Modifying Reported VRAM Capacity
This workaround involves tweaking the Windows registry to change the amount of VRAM that is reported to games or graphics tools. It doesn’t actually change the physical VRAM available.
But some older games may refuse to launch unless a minimum VRAM value is reported, even if the game doesn’t need that much. By increasing the bogus reported memory, you may be able to start these games.
Other software like modeling tools may also function differently based on the VRAM capacity shown in system profiles, so this hack alters that.
To do this, you’ll need to navigate to the following registry key and create a new DWORD value called DedicatedSegmentSize, then edit it to the desired VRAM value in megabytes:
For example, to report 2GB of VRAM, the DWORD would need to be set to 2048. You’ll likely need to experiment to find numbers that work for your specific games or applications without causing crashes or problems.
Again this doesn’t change the actual physical VRAM present. The app just ‘sees’ more memory reported by the drivers and may behave differently.
Using a RAM Disk
A RAM disk uses a portion of RAM to emulate a disk drive. Any data stored on the RAM disk gets transferred to and from the actual RAM chips rather than reading from a physical drive.
One potential way to leverage a RAM disk for graphics is to have your GPU save textures, models, and other render data to the RAM disk instead of VRAM. Then the GPU can pull the rendering data from the fast RAM disk instead of slower hard drives.
For example, a game may normally load textures into VRAM for quick access during rendering. With a RAM disk, you could redirect it to load the textures to the RAM disk instead, eliminating hard drive bottlenecks.
While better than a hard drive, a RAM disk still can’t match the raw speed of an actual VRAM. But for some games that rely on a lot of drive access for graphical data, it may help with performance and loading times. This is a niche use case though.
The downsides are less RAM available for regular programs, complications with configuration, and stability risks if the RAM disk gets corrupted.
When Do You Actually Need More VRAM?
Simply having more overall VRAM isn’t necessarily better. You only benefit from extra VRAM when you exceed your current capacity, forcing the GPU to use system RAM instead.
Common scenarios where your graphics card may need more VRAM:
- PC gaming at 1440p, 4K, or higher resolution
- Using HD texture packs or graphics mods
- Running multiple monitors for an expanded display
- Editing high-resolution 4K, 6K, or 8K video
- 3D rendering and CAD software
- Scientific computing using GPGPU with CUDA or OpenCL.
If your VRAM is maxed out in the above cases, you may experience lag, stuttering, screen tearing, crashes, or degraded visual quality. Upgrading to a graphics card with more VRAM can improve performance and visuals.
On the other hand, if your games or apps only use 1-2GB of VRAM, going above 4GB won’t make any difference for you currently. VRAM needs to scale up with the complexity of graphics being rendered.
How Much VRAM Do You Need?
There isn’t a single perfect VRAM capacity for everyone. How much you need depends on your displays, preferred graphics settings in games, and the kinds of software you run.
But here are some rough guidelines on how much VRAM is generally recommended for different use cases:
- 2-3GB – Entry-level, fits older titles or games at low settings
- 4-6GB – Smoother gaming at high-quality settings
- 8GB+ – Gives headroom for the future
- 4-6GB – Playable experience but may need to lower some settings
- 8-10GB – Sweet spot for maximizing settings
- 12GB+ – Future-proof for upcoming more complex games
- 6GB – Entry-level, have to significantly lower quality
- 8-12GB – Allows high or max settings in most titles
- 16GB+ – Recommended for future proofing as 4K requirements increase
- 4-6GB – Basic 1080p and 1440p editing
- 8-12GB – Smooth 4K and 6K editing
- 16GB+ – For 8K editing or multi-stream 4K/6K
- 6-8GB – Suitable for moderate assemblies and parts
- 12-16GB – Allows more complex scenes and PBR textures
- 24GB+ – Future-proof for extremely complex designs
The latest generation GPUs like Nvidia RTX 3000 series and AMD RX 6000 series now often ship with 10GB, 12GB, or 16GB+ VRAM configurations. This gives more options to match your specific gaming or graphics workload.
Can Integrated Graphics Use RAM as VRAM?
As mentioned earlier, integrated graphics built into the CPU rely entirely on shared system RAM rather than having dedicated VRAM chips. This is common in budget desktops and laptops to reduce cost and power usage.
Nearly all modern integrated GPUs dynamically allocate memory as needed from the overall RAM pool up to a fixed maximum limit, which can range from 512MB up to 2GB depending on the processor.
For instance, an AMD Ryzen 5700G APU may set aside 1GB of RAM to use for graphics by default. But when gaming, if the iGPU needs more memory for textures or frames, it can transparently scale up to 2GB allocated RAM as required, then scale back down when finished.
Some key points about integrated graphics using system RAM:
- Shared memory is slower than dedicated VRAM but better than loading textures from disk.
- Increasing the total RAM available often improves integrated graphics performance.
- Try allocating the maximum VRAM possible in BIOS for better gaming capability.
- Discrete GPU with dedicated VRAM is still far superior for graphically intense applications.
Ultimately, shared system memory will never match the speed and responsiveness of VRAM. But it allows basic 3D acceleration without requiring a separate GPU, useful for regular computing and office tasks.
Can You Increase VRAM by Overclocking RAM?
Sometimes overclocking your system RAM to run at higher frequencies like 3000MHz+ can slightly improve integrated graphics performance by increasing the shared memory bandwidth available.
However, overclocking standard RAM still doesn’t make it as fast as the specialized GDDR5/GDDR6 memory used for dedicated graphics card VRAM.
If you already have fast RAM in your system, overclocking it further may provide a tiny boost to an iGPU. But it is unlikely to be a dramatic difference since system RAM remains the bottleneck, not the RAM speed itself.
On systems using a discrete graphics card, overclocking RAM won’t affect VRAM at all since they are independent pools of memory.
How to Check VRAM Usage?
Want to see how much VRAM your GPU is actually using for a game or application? Here are some utilities that can display real-time VRAM usage statistics:
- Task Manager – Open the Task Manager in Windows, then click Performance > GPU to see the dedicated and shared VRAM usage for each GPU.
- Resource Monitor – For more details, open Resource Monitor, select the GPU tab and inspect the dedicated and shared memory usage columns.
- HWInfo – This advanced system information tool shows dedicated and shared VRAM allocation for all your installed GPUs.
- MSI Afterburner – Popular graphics card tool that shows VRAM usage on its on-screen display during games.
- AMD Radeon Software – AMD’s graphics card utility provides VRAM usage under the Performance Monitoring section.
Checking max VRAM usage can help determine if your games or apps are exceeding your graphics card’s capacity, signaling an upgrade could improve performance.
To summarize, dedicated VRAM built into GPUs plays a crucial role in complex 3D graphics, gaming, and video editing. While you can’t directly substitute regular RAM for VRAM, some configurations like allocating RAM to integrated graphics or using RAM disks may help in select scenarios.
But ultimately, the best way to get more usable, high-performance VRAM is by upgrading your graphics card or its VRAM capacity. Understanding your VRAM needs based on resolution, games, and applications allows picking the right card for the best experience and future-proofing your system.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can any RAM work as VRAM?
A: No, regular system RAM like DDR4 cannot directly work as VRAM. They are physically separate components with different underlying memory technology.
Q: If I add more RAM, does my VRAM increase?
A: No, adding more RAM only benefits general system performance and applications. The amount of dedicated VRAM depends solely on your graphics card model.
However, more RAM improves the performance of integrated graphics that borrow system memory.
Q: Should I buy a GPU with more VRAM or RAM?
A: For gaming and graphics work, prioritize buying a GPU with sufficient VRAM over getting more RAM. VRAM is more important for 3D rendering. Get at least 16GB of regular RAM, but focus your budget on the best GPU you can afford.
Q: Is it safe to overclock RAM to work as VRAM?
A: Overclocking RAM is generally safe if done properly, but will not result in any significant VRAM-like performance. RAM remains far slower than proper GDDR5/GDDR6 VRAM.
Q: Can I make a page file on RAM to use as VRAM?
A: No, a page file on a RAM disk would still not be compatible with being used directly as VRAM. Faster than a hard drive page file, but latency and bandwidth would still be insufficient compared to dedicated VRAM.
Q: How do I know if my VRAM is limiting performance?
A: Use GPU monitoring tools while gaming or doing graphics work, and check if your VRAM usage is constantly maxed out at 100%. If so, upgrading to a GPU with more VRAM capacity may improve your experience.