Up For Debate - How Much VRAM Do You Need For Gaming In 2015

Written by Jon Sutton on Sun, Oct 4, 2015 3:00 PM

It wasn’t that long ago when 2GB VRAM seemed an absurd amount. At the tail end of the last generation of consoles, gaming PCs were many, many times more powerful, and if you had a whopping 2GB of GDDR5 memory it felt like you’d be set for years to come.

As it turns out this anything but the case, and the consoles' generational leap has had a knock-on effect to amount of video memory we need in our graphics cards. The use of unified memory in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One has had an impact as well, giving game developers 8GB of GDDR5 memory to do with as they please, whether as VRAM or high-speed system memory. We as PC gamers are also seeing our expectations rise, pushing for 1440p or 4K gaming and even beyond.

First of all, let’s look at the importance of video memory. When playing a game, the VRAM is responsible for sending information to the GPU, much like system memory sends information to the CPU. While this data is already stored on your hard drive in a game’s installation folder, this allows quicker and easier access to what’s currently needed and prevents your system from slowing down.

Resolution, texture quality and antialiasing options are the key graphics options which affect VRAM usage. The higher the resolution you want to play at, with greater texture and image quality, the more VRAM you’re going to need.

The last generation of consoles were typically running games at 720p resolution. Some were lower, while the less graphically intense games ran at 1080p. At 1280 x 720 resolution a graphics card is rendering 921,600 pixels every frame, or just over 55 million pixels per second if running at 60fps. The bump up to 1080p means 2,073,600 pixels rendered every frame, or over 124 million frames per second at 60fps. At 4K resolution and 60 frames per second you’re looking at 497 million pixels rendered each and every second. Move up to 8K and you’re looking at billions of pixels per second. This demands an exponential leap in GPU performance and VRAM demands.

Aside from the money in your pocket, having too much VRAM is never going to be a problem. On the other hand, if you find you don’t have enough you will encounter significant performance dips and slowdown.

For many gamers the dilemma is that some of the cheaper cards are going to run out of performance before they get anywhere near the VRAM usage of their GPU. To that end, when opting for an entry-level graphics card it can be easy to overcompensate.

Right now for 1080p gaming you’re looking for at least 2GB memory, rising to 3GB for 1440p and at least 6GB GDDR5 or 4GB HBM for gaming at 4K resolution. If you want to future proof your graphics card though then you’re going to want to go above and beyond this if you’re aiming for High or Ultra settings. Those looking to max out their games will find a sweet spot at 1080p with a GTX 970 or and R9 390, with 4GB or 8GB VRAM respectively. 

Right now if you’re intending on picking up a mid to high-tier graphics card, you’re looking at 4GB VRAM being the minimum option. Both AMD and Nvidia have lower-tier graphics cards in their current families with 2GB VRAM, but anything $250 and up is going to have at least 4GB.

Ultimately it comes down to consumer choice though, and whether gamers think the additional VRAM is necessary for higher settings right now. We’ve just come over a system requirements peak so we should experience a slowing down of more demanding games, more in line what we were seeing prior to the launch of the current-gen consoles. This comes at a time when we’re also expecting a gigantic leap in GPU performance, with Nvidia’s Pascal and AMD’s Greenland GPUs arriving next year. These are both packing the super-fast HBM2 memory standard, up to 32GB HBM2 memory which would make VRAM concerns a thing of the past.

How much VRAM do you think is a necessity for PC gamers picking up a graphics card this year? 

How much VRAM do you think is needed when buying a GPU this year?

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22:13 Oct-11-2015

3GB seems ok for now, but I'm certain that will change soon.

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04:47 Oct-11-2015

mine is gtx 960
i can play all games on ultra @ 60fps ----40fps

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07:27 Oct-07-2015

Will a GTX 960 2GB (no overclock) play all games at HIGH settings in 900p?(Mainly interested in Fallout 4, for which there are no official requirements yet)?

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07:50 Oct-07-2015

yes

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09:03 Oct-08-2015

My brother use 960 to play almost latest game on very high setting 60fps avg.

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17:37 Oct-08-2015

You can play BF4 on ultra settings at 1080p

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18:47 Oct-09-2015

there will always will be games like star wars battlefront where you might have to tweak for 60 fps but mainly talking yes, however for how many years is only to be guessed...

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10:49 Oct-06-2015

I have maxed out my 8gb R9 390 playing Shadow of Mordor on ultra, with the HD texture pack, 24xEQ edge detect anti-aliasing, supersampling, morphologic filtering, 16x anisotropic filtering, high quality texture filtering, 64x tesselation, @ 3200 x 1800 virtual super resolution. Assassin's Creed Unity x8 MSAA hit 6.3GB

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11:45 Oct-10-2015

Thats insane, is it even playable at 60fps with it to the max? I tried maxing out gta v was probably using a lil over 4gb and i think it maxed out at 40fps where theres no grass, grassy areas i was down to 22 haha.

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09:01 Jan-02-2016

oh man. i wish it was. i was just testing it today with the crimson 15.12 driver and at stock clocks it runs an average of 27fps at 200% (3840 x 2160), 47fps at 150% (2880 x 1620), and a solid 60fps with a few drops to 58fps at 100% (1920 x 1080). it maxes the ram at all resolutions, with a max 90% total cpu usage @4k

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09:10 Jan-02-2016

i just wish i could get sweetfx to work. i tried for an hour. 1.5, 2.0, like 5 different presets, and nothing. that and i wish i could disable the fog but i can't find a way to do that either.

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03:35 Oct-06-2015

We are already hitting more than 3GB on GTA V and Shadow of Mordor. I think 4GB should be the new norm, and 8 GB is needed to be future proof. I specifically picked my laptop because it had 8GB of VRAM over others, it will make a difference

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04:24 Oct-06-2015

I doubt it will make a difference at your listed 1080p. Maybe at 1440p(2K) if you plug into an external monitor or use DSR. Honestly I see no reason to have 8GB of VRAM on a 980M unless two of them are paired in SLI. I don't think a single 980M has enough bandwidth to make use of more than 4GB of VRAM. I could be wrong though... ;)

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11:46 Oct-10-2015

Hes right, i tried maxing out gta v and it wasnt the ram that was a hinderance but the actual gpu itself. I was getting anywhere between 25-40fps totally maxed out, Used like 4-5gb of ram so no such thing as future proof. I only bought it cuz its the same perf and price as a 290x

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16:02 Oct-05-2015

''For many gamers the dilemma is that some of the cheaper cards are going to run out of performance before they get anywhere near the VRAM usage of their GPU.''


Too bad it's the other way around for me.. I have enough power, but in bf4 for example I can get very hard dips sometimes (all settings max) :D

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14:15 Oct-05-2015

my ultra modded skyrim uses 5gb of my vram. rip.

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14:19 Oct-05-2015

well that is majestic,I got only 2.8GB VRAM used at best :D

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14:35 Oct-05-2015

i went sycopathic on texture mods and on my enb :/

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14:52 Oct-05-2015

well,it's ok if Skyrim didn't crash :D I just stopped modding cause of crash issues. never really had patience to use all those tools to make loading order work with tons of mods.

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15:19 Oct-05-2015

ya its time consuming, I'm probably in the double digits for how many skyrims i have gone through usually cause one broke or i tried something new with the install order for my graphics mods and it did not look as intended

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12:09 Oct-05-2015

Most games work fine@1080p with 2gb currently...and i dont think its gonna rise more for 1080p until the next generation of consoles come which will be in 4...5 yrs i guess

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12:45 Oct-05-2015

That's not true...It depends on the Game Engine and how developer utilize it..
GTA 5 needs 3GB of VRAM to run on Ultra setting.

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03:19 Oct-07-2015

nice specs m8

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10:21 Oct-05-2015

Gta V needs 3 Gb VRam. So all others maybe less than 3 Gb.
I think so.

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12:42 Oct-05-2015

You can't say that..

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10:15 Oct-05-2015

Depends on the resolution. I'd say 3GB at 1080p, 4GB at 1440p and 6GB at 4K, though for most games 2, 3 and 4 are enough.

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02:02 Oct-05-2015

For 1080p I think 4GB should be enough even in 2017 or 2018. I seriously doubt that VRAM requirements for games will grow much until some more complex graphics engines become available. At this time many developers are sticking with what they already have because what they have now works well within the current consoles limitations. When another generation of consoles arrive is when we will see game requirements jump again. For now I believe we are seeing things level out.

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06:24 Oct-05-2015

"When another generation of consoles arrive is when we will see game requirements jump again" I only sort of agree with this because for one, it may be until 2020 we will see another console gen. So, if requirements were not to go up at all til then it wouldn't make sense. But, you did say jump so I guess that's when we'd see a very big boost in requirements.

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17:04 Oct-05-2015

Yeah am not saying that they won't gradually creep up a little, but I don't expect a significant jump in requirements again until another generation of consoles launches. Maybe a few PC exclusives will be more demanding, but I expect the majority of console ports to keep about the same requirements we have been seeing this so far this year.

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01:56 Oct-05-2015

Do I need to upgrade my GTX 960 to GTX 970 for 4GB vram? or wait for pascal a few years later? Just got my 960 for a cheap price. don't want to waste to much upgrading GPU's for numbers of times though..

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03:11 Oct-05-2015

3.5 GB*

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05:41 Oct-05-2015

3.5GB is still plenty for 1080p or less resolution. Unless you are going 2K+ resolution I see nothing wrong with a 970.

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07:44 Oct-05-2015

Even then! I find my rig (GTX 970, i5-4690k, 16GB RAM) can play most games at DSR resolution (2517 x 1527) without issue.

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07:46 Oct-05-2015

I play games at 2560x1440 with 2GB vram, and even Shadow of Mordor didn't have problems :)

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07:50 Oct-05-2015

With Ultra or High Setting??


But nowadays atleast 3GB of VRAM is require to play games at Ultra setting(only 720p-900p)...

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08:18 Oct-05-2015

Ultra at DSR resolutions over here. But if I do have to knock a few settings down to high - it's really not noticeable since the resolution is so high.

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09:24 Oct-05-2015

tweaked high settings :)

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07:14 Oct-05-2015

hey buddy wait for Pascal series...


Even i'm also waiting for it.just look at my AWESOME RIG[LOL]

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17:10 Oct-05-2015

Just to be clear I am not suggesting 2k won't work with 3.5GB VRAM. What I am saying is that for maximum settings on most newer games 3.5GB won't be enough for 2K, but plenty for 1080p. I am sure that most games will play fine even at 2K with 3.5GB, but most likely textures & AA will have to be turned down some for smooth 2K play with 3.5GB VRAM

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20:06 Oct-05-2015

I played Shadow of mordor on Ultra, HD texture pack included. No issue whatsoever….

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19:20 Oct-05-2015

I don't think that you should upgrade right after you have chosen GTX 960. Stick with it until you really feel the lack of performance (in other words, you might want to wait for Pascal series to be released).

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19:26 Oct-05-2015

Especially if you do play on that resolution (1600x900), you won't really need the additional VRAM.

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19:28 Oct-05-2015

that's the point...Wait for Pascal series...

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00:50 Oct-05-2015

My 3GB 780 Ti has yet to be limited by the vram even at 5120x2160 DSR. I don't see any reason to have more for gaming as of yet.

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07:15 Oct-05-2015

Yeah,you are right..

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04:34 Oct-06-2015

Try a heavily modded Skyrim session at that 5120x2160 DSR, & get back with us. I have hit 3.3GB before just at native 1080p on Skyrim with all of the mods I use enabled.

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00:23 Oct-05-2015

Darn you game developers and your wonky VRAM requirements.

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22:49 Oct-04-2015

Nowadays, 2gb is not enough even at my resolution, just look at gtav and batman arkham knight that requires more than just 2gb vram to increase all the settings to ultra, personally i think the 950 ti will have at least a 3-4 gb version.

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22:57 Oct-04-2015

Batman arkham knight... PAHAHAHAHAHAHA

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07:16 Oct-05-2015

Seriously....lol
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

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22:20 Oct-04-2015

where is 3.5 gb?? ("cries in a corner")

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22:43 Oct-04-2015

The GTX 970 has 4GB GDDR5. It's just that the memory controller is gimped whereby only 3.5GB is at its rated speed, but under testing by JayzTwoCents and LinusTechTips there doesn't seem to be any real disadvantage.

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22:17 Oct-04-2015

My 1.5gb Vram i still enough for me on 900p. Altrough Ac: unity requires 2gb, But that's not really a problem atm. because my shared system ram does the other 500mb. Even tho this is much slower, I'm still abble to get 40-60fps without stutters on environement quality: High, texture quality: low AA: FXAA and AO: ssao

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22:15 Oct-04-2015

Wouldn't touch a card with less than 6GB even for 1080p these days due to increasing model complexity, object amount, texture size and draw distances in games (resolution is the least of concerns these days, so please be educated and stop saying 'X GB for X resolution").

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23:02 Oct-04-2015

True...

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03:12 Oct-05-2015

4GB is enough for 1080p today. What are you saying?

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07:18 Oct-05-2015

He says that 6GB is a minimum for 1080p..LOL

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05:13 Oct-05-2015

...says the dude with 24GB RAM....

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05:44 Oct-05-2015

Yeah but his GPUs are only 4GB VRAM, & VRAM doesn't stack in SLI so he has 4GB of VRAM. System RAM is not what is being discussed here.

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21:58 Oct-04-2015

Depends on settings for Max settings No AA on 4K no less than 6GB IMO.

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21:54 Oct-04-2015

4GB I would say for any resolution under 1440P and 6GB and above for anything more than 2160P but that's just my opinion.

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| 60FPS, High, 1080p
Core i7-10700 8-Core 2.90GHz GeForce RTX 2060 6GB 16GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
Core i5-9400F 6-Core 2.9GHz GeForce GTX 770 DirectCU II 2GB OC Edition 16GB
0% No [2 votes]
Pentium Dual Core B960 2.2GHz Radeon HD 6950M 4GB
0% No [2 votes]
| 60FPS, Medium, 720p
Athlon II X2 245 GeForce GTS 250 4GB
| 60FPS, High, 1080p
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Core i5-2400S 2.5GHz Radeon R5 340 (OEM) 4GB
| High, 720p
Core i5-2400S 2.5GHz Radeon R5 340 (OEM) 4GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX Vega 8 8GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 30FPS, Medium, 720p
Ryzen 5 3500U 4-Core 2.1 GHz Radeon RX Vega 8 10GB
| 30FPS, High, 1080p
Core i3-8100 4-Core 3.6GHz GeForce GTX 1060 3GB 16GB
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Ryzen 7 5800H 8-Core 3.2GHz GeForce RTX 3060 Mobile 32GB
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Core i7-4770K 4-Core 3.5GHz GeForce GTX 980 4GB 32GB
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Ryzen 7 5800H 8-Core 3.2GHz GeForce RTX 3060 Mobile 16GB
100% Yes [2 votes]
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Core i5-10400F 6-Core 2.90GHz GeForce RTX 3060 Ti MSI Ventus 2X 8GB 16GB
100% Yes [9 votes]
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Core i7-10700F 8-Core 2.9GHz GeForce GTX 970 Gigabyte G1 Gaming 4GB Edition 16GB
100% Yes [3 votes]
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Core i5-11400F 6-Core 2.6GHz GeForce GTX 1650 Super 4GB 16GB
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Core i7-3770 4-Core 3.4GHz GeForce GTX 1650 Super 4GB 16GB
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Core i7-4770K 4-Core 3.5GHz GeForce GTX 980 4GB 32GB
66.6667% Yes [3 votes]
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100% Yes [1 votes]