What is Graphics Memory – Types, Lifespan, Pros & Cons

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What is Graphics memory? While RAM is the primary memory present in your PC, it is mainly capable of supplying data to the CPU, among a few other jobs.

But it has little power regarding graphics, and thus for overall better performance, there is a need for a specific graphics memory that works similar to the RAM but is only utilized to produce various kinds of graphics on the screen.

The memory allocated for graphics can be separate from the RAM, while some PCs do not have provisions for separate graphics, in which case memory is shared from the RAM through a video buffer.

We will be talking more about this very soon, but before that we want to provide you with a short history lesson of modern graphics memory. You see adding more graphics to your PC today is very easy.

The right PCIe slot, with a good GPU, will do wonders. But things weren’t as simple earlier, let’s say 30 years ago. PCs of that time had very limited capabilities, so extensive graphics was out of the question.

But graphics were present even then, although of lower quality. In the earliest computers, both the CPU and the graphics hardware shared the same memory, and hence the same DRAM modules could be used for both video and standard computing.

Models like the Apple II, the Atari ST, etc worked on this principle. But this, having its limitations, was replaced by the invention of VRAM, thus separating the memory used by the CPU from that used by graphics.

Read this article to know how does graphics memory work, types, lifespan details, pros and cons.

VRAM

The graphics memory was made affordable with the introduction of VRAM in 1986. It looked similar to a RAM but had two sets of pins, which utilize two ports in the motherboard.

One of these ports is a standard DRAM port, while the other is a video port, which is made only for providing high bandwidth for graphics related purposes. Thus a VRAM was also called a dual-ported DRAM.

Now when the SDRAM was introduced, they were faster, affordable, and better than VRAM modules, and thus they lost their importance.

Although, the technology of VRAM is still used in modern graphics adapters or GPUs as you might know them, so their value hasn’t been lost yet. 

What is Graphics Memory?

What is Graphics Memory

The graphics memory of your PC is the amount of volatile memory dedicated to one purpose only, producing images on the monitor.

So basically, it is the RAM put on a graphics chip, which may be internal or external, and is also attached to the motherboard.

But it isn’t asked by the CPU for the basic processing and is only used for graphics and used by the GPU or Graphics Processing Unit, which may be present already on your PCs motherboard, or you might add one separately later.

The more graphics memory you have on your PC, faster would be the graphics processing. But the overall graphics performance depends on the type of video memory you use, and whether or not you use an external GPU for better graphics.

The GPU holds all the memory to be used by the graphics interface, but in some cases it can also be used in place of a processor for a specific purpose like in supercomputers and workstations.

The concept is called GPGPU (General Purpose computing on graphics processor unit), where multiple GPUs are used for a more parallel form of processing, which can be utilized to process data which includes lots of 3D or 2D imagery.

Types of Graphics Memory

Every PC requires graphics, and while not all have a fancy GPU, every working PC has some basic graphics memory installed already, which is shared from the RAM. This leads us to the distinction in graphics memory, which is divided into two types.

  • Integrated or shared Graphics

The Integrated graphics refers to the graphics capacity of your PC by default. Here the GPU is pre-installed and placed directly on the motherboard, without the use of PCIe slots.

In some cases, both the CPU and graphics are placed in the same die. The main brands, Intel and AMD have their own set of integrated GPUs, but not all the processor models come with them.

In Intel’s case, it provides different generations of integrated graphics for various types of processors like the HD Graphics 610, HD Graphics 620, UHD Graphics 620, and so on depending on the generation of the processor you choose.

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AMD has provided it’s users with integrated Radeon Vega Graphics options. Some of these integrated graphics options are so good that for entry-level purposes, you wouldn’t need to buy an external GPU.

It is also called shared graphics since there is no separate memory allocated for this kind of graphics, and it is taken from the RAM.

What happens is when you buy a PC (laptop or desktop), some part of the RAM is already secluded from using by the CPU and provided for graphics work.

In some latest BIOS improvement, you can alter the default settings and increase the amount of memory towards graphics, but it wouldn’t make too much of an improvement whatsoever.

No matter what the case, this amount of RAM is not part of the primary RAM anymore, and even if all of it isn’t being used by graphics, the CPU cannot use it, unless you restore the settings.

This has to be done cautiously, as allocating more memory for graphics may reduce valuable RAM from the main system, and the performance of the PC will suffer.

It isn’t necessary for a PC to only have integrated graphics. With the presence of PCIe slots, a GPU can be added to every PC, with or without graphics present onboard.

Similarly, not all CPUs come with integrated graphics. If you are really into it, make sure you know whether the CPU you are buying has graphics present or not.

The latest AMD 4000 series of APUs (Accelerated Processing Unit) for desktops do not have enough PCIe slots, but have integrated graphics present. 

Dedicated Graphics is present alongside the specialized unit known as the GPU, both available on a video card. You cannot just add more video RAM in your PC without a GPU attached to it.

There are two main brands at play, AMD and NVIDIA which provide you with even the most powerful video cards if you are ready to pay the price.

Now when a decent level of performance is concerned, there are two types of GPUs that you will find from NVIDIA, the GTX and RTX (these use the Ray Tracing Technology and are expensive) series of GPUs.

In AMD’s case, the Radeon RX series of GPUs are present.

Dedicated GPUs typically use GDDR5, GDDR6 and GDDR5X VRAM, but there are other types as well like GDDR7 used by high-performance ones and hence GPUs don’t bother the system RAM.

Thus, you have two sorts of memory present, one that the CPU uses for usual processing like it used to, and the other that is installed entirely for anything related to graphics, be it rendering, editing, gaming, and along with the simplest jobs.

Now when a dedicated GPU is installed, the integrated graphics loses its importance and you might as well disable it. The GPU memory is multiple times faster than the CPU and has greater bandwidth.

Adding a GPU after sales is easier on a desktop than on a laptop, so if you’re going for the latter it would be better to buy one with a decent GPU installed at the time of the purchase. 

The Lifespan of Graphics Memory

The graphics card doesn’t face any physical damage by itself. However, shock or excess heat can damage it, and you might have to replace it.

This is the case for both internal and dedicated GPUs. Some other reasons for external GPU damage also include excessive voltage and overclocking. Any GPU should last about 5-10 years, but overclocking it reduces the GPU’s lifespan drastically.

The more serious matter is that it is outdated, and this is more of an issue when you are using a low or mid-ranged GPU and your usage patterns change frequently.

So apart from any damage, how long the GPU or the amount of graphics memory remains to be useful to you, thus depends upon your usage. 

How Does it Work?

A GPU does sound somewhat like a CPU, but is widely different in its working. Unlike a CPU, where there are a few numbers of cores like 4 or 8 on average, a GPU has hundreds of cores and every core inside it is similar to that of a core inside a CPU, only smaller and slower.

There are memory banks, cache and registers. In integrated graphics the GPU is soldered on the motherboard, same as the CPU socket, while dedicated graphics requires addition of a GPU through the PCIe slots.

Now what does the GPU process? Multi-core CPUs have the capability of processing multiple tasks at the same time, while the GPU only processes graphical data, that is large in number but simpler in nature.

But processing inside it takes place in a parallel manner, that is, the same task is done by all the cores at the same time which makes the processing faster.

When all of the cores work together, graphical data can be processed much faster than a CPU, which may be able to handle different varieties of data, but the less number of cores cannot process graphics at the same pace.

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Graphical data in the simple language is more like geometry. For creating a scene in a video game for example, the different points are taken as vertices and using the X, Y and Z axes of coordination their locations are pointed out.

The GPUs have the capabilities to add colors, textures and the related information that completes and creates a scene.

Next, with tons of mathematical calculations these are sent into the GPU, and are then converted into analog signals ultimately which can be understood and portrayed by the display unit.

The RAM in the graphics adapter is present so that the finished images can be stored somewhere, and video RAM or the GDDR RAM has better speeds than primary DDR4 RAM.

The location, colors of each pixel, and such info are stored temporarily in the different memory addresses of the RAM.

These graphical inputs when processed by the CPU would take a lot of time, and hence proper visuals wouldn’t be available. The GPU does all of this much faster, and that is its only speciality. 

Advantages of Integrated Graphics

The major advantage of using your PC with an integrated graphics chip is the fact that it takes up very little power, and hence the TDP of the system reduces.

This is more advantageous in mobile computers, a laptop for example where one needs to worry about battery backup.

As no extra power is needed, you can work with the stock PSU and you need not change it to buy a better one.

  • Basic 4K Functionality

Both Intel and AMD integrated graphics are so developed now that you can easily watch videos on 4K, but not edit them, along with the other basic tasks smoothly.

Web browsing, light editing, and work like these don’t require a dedicated GPU and can be handled by the integrated graphics.

  • Economical

With some exceptions, the average processor comes with graphics already present. What’s beneficial is that you don’t have to spend extra for it, like you would have to while buying a GPU separately.

Not every GPU is costly and there are some affordable options, but no matter how small you still have to spend the amount. 

Disadvantages of Integrated Graphics

  • Not very powerful

The strength of a PC running on only integrated graphics is limited, as you might already be aware of.

Performance cravers have no other option than to invest in a good GPU as graphics onboard would not cut it.

Even the best type of integrated graphics couldn’t compete with the cheapest GPU available.

  • Less utility

As a result of less power, the tasks one can do with integrated graphics are limited to the lower tier.

Anything that requires more than the basic graphics would struggle, and if you use a good CPU most of its power would never be utilized.

Also, shared graphics doesn’t promise you the best output.

  • Takes up RAM

There isn’t any extra memory allotted, and graphics are shared from the RAM. If you have 4 GB of RAM present and don’t plan on increasing it, the actual amount of utilizable RAM thus decreases. So, your CPU has less memory to work with.

  • Not upgradable

A fundamental problem with integrated graphics is that it cannot be upgraded. The only way to do so is to upgrade the motherboard one is using currently, but that isn’t easy as it sounds since a lot of variables are to be taken care of before the motherboard is changed. 

Advantages of Dedicated Graphics

  • Better graphics performance

With a decent GPU installed, the number of software your PC supports will increase radically. You can do better editing, rendering, and watch full HD movies without a lag, among many other things.

Graphics is one of the most important parts of several applications, and having a separate piece of hardware to take care of it ensures the best results.

  • System RAM is not bothered

Every graphics card has its memory, so the main RAM doesn’t have to be shared. So depending on the other specs, you can manage without buying costlier RAM modules.

This also gives the overall system a boost as the CPU doesn’t have to focus on graphics anymore as it is entirely handled by the GPU, and it can do other processing smoothly.

  • More gaming

Gaming is exquisite with a GPU installed. This not only means better resolution and performance for the games you play, but also with some more expense you get the VR experience as well.

Be it as a hobby or for your daily bread, you get sufficient entertainment and enough power to run even the demanding games.

  • Increased productivity

With an external GPU, you can also add more monitors to your setup, thus being more productive.

Good GPUs can run 2, even 3 4K monitors at once so with the right investment you get the best workplace environment.

2D, 3D modelling and rendering are much faster with a discrete RTX GPU.

  • PC supports better drivers
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Video card manufacturers keep updating their products and as a result, they release more driver support for software, games, and operating interfaces.

Drivers being necessary for improved performance, it is better to have the latest ones. 

Disadvantages of Dedicated Graphics

  • Expensive

While not all GPUs take up your saved cash, some are quite expensive. This is a big problem when budget is a concern, and you might end up cutting budget from other parts of the build. As it requires more power, the electric bill would also be affected.

  • System Requirements

Every GPU has some system requirements that must be met. Thus only an expensive graphics card wouldn’t do, you also need to have decent RAM, a good CPU, and so on.

The most important requirement is PCIe slots, and if your PC doesn’t have x16 lanes then the GPU may not work in its full capacity.

  • Can lead to a bottleneck

Every PC has some level of bottleneck, since all the hardware cannot be perfect for each other. But the GPU you buy has to be right for your system.

For example, buying a low-end GPU may not provide the expected power, or using a low-end CPU with a high capacity GPU can lead to a bottleneck, and in both cases, the performance of your PC suffers.

Frequent bottlenecks can harm the CPU, but in some cases it can be good for the GPU to be working at its full capacity.

  • Requires more power

The more powerful graphics card you use, the more power it is going to draw. Even if you leave out the extra expense for using it, while upgrading to a better GPU you might have to upgrade the PSU as well, since stock PSUs cannot deliver the required wattage.

  • Causes the device to heat up

Every GPU has its cooling fans to keep it functional and in working conditions, but a similar cooling is necessary for your PC as well since GPUs produce a lot of heat when working.

This is more of a problem in laptops, which cannot be customized with more coolers, while desktops can be. When a system has a high performance GPU, efficient cooling is of utmost necessity. 

FAQ:

What does Graphics Memory do?

The graphics memory provides your PC with the necessary graphics capability. No matter what kind, integrated or dedicated, without graphics you cannot have your monitor running and hence won't be able to use the computer altogether.

In gaming, editing and other performance-oriented rigs, for example, the GPU does a lot more than just running the monitor. It is responsible to provide the GPU with the necessary information to start processing, or holds data relevant to such processing.

How much Graphics Memory do you need for gaming?

The graphics memory required for gaming depends on what games you intend to play. Also, keep in mind that you will need to have a lot more than the minimum requirements allotted for a particular game, and chances are you wouldn’t be playing only a single game.

For basic gaming: To play the simplest of the games on your PC, whatever the default graphics memory is present would be sufficient. You will not even require a dedicated GPU.

For entry-level games: For gaming on the casual level, up to 4 GB of graphics memory should be sufficient. There is no point in spending more for better memory if you aren't going above this level.

Mid-level gaming: The GPUs that have 4-6 GB of graphics memory should be enough for running games at 1080p and you may even try 1440p at decent frame rates as well as VR gaming. RTX cards should also be worth it at this point but GTX cards are cheaper so your budget should be considered.

Professional gamer: If you are a professional gamer, you might also be interested in streaming, and hence must be using a multi-monitor setup. Thereby, based on your budget you can have everything above 6 GB. The GPUs with 8 GB memory would be the best for running games comfortably at 1440p, or on 4K.

What is available Graphics Memory?

The available graphics memory is the integrated memory present on your PC without any modifications or an external GPU. This is the basic amount of memory that your PC requires for proper functioning.

Conclusion 

The graphics memory is one of immense importance. A PC may work without an external GPU, but it won’t be able to display anything without the integrated graphics. Thus, each is necessary in its own sphere.

Talking about GPUs, are you interested in some GPU hunting for your PC? Then make sure you consult our article on choosing GPUs that will be made available very soon.

About Dominic Cooper

Dominic CooperDominic Cooper, a TTU graduate is a computer hardware expert. His only passion is to find out the nitty gritty of all computers. He loves to cook when he is not busy with writing, computer testing and research. He is not very fond of social media. Follow Him at Linkedin