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Video Card Performance: 2GB vs 4GB Memory

Video Card Performance: 2GB vs 4GB Memory

Written on July 26, 2012 by William George

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Warning: Always look at the date when you read a hardware article. Some of the content in this article is most likely out of date, as it was written on July 26, 2012. Check out our more recent articles.

Introduction

As of this writing the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 is the fastest single GPU gaming video card available. It bests the Radeon HD 7970 in most tests, and while the GTX 690 is faster it is only because it is two GPUs on a single card. In its reference design, NVIDIA equipped the GTX 680 with 2GB of video memory (VRAM) and it performs extremely well with that. However, several of the brands that make video cards with the GTX 680 chip are now offering 4GB versions! This doubling of the VRAM comes at an added price, and certainly appeals to those who think bigger numbers must be better... but is that really the case? Does doubling the memory on a video card of this caliber actually improve game performance, and if so under what circumstances?

Test Methodology

In order to answer these questions, we ran a series of gaming benchmarks on a fairly high-end system. The core specs were as follows:
 
Zotac GeForce GTX 680 video card
 
As you can see listed above, two Zotac GeForce GTX 680 video cards were tested: one with 2GB of video RAM and another with 4GB. We wanted to test both a fairly typical resolution as well as something much more demanding, so all of the tests were run on a single 27” 1920x1080 monitor first - and then a second time on a set of three such monitors, in NVIDIA’s Surround View mode for a combined 5760x1080 resolution.
 
The tests we ran were as follows:
 
DiRT Showdown - The benchmark tool built into the game was run, with all settings at absolute maximum (including AA / AF).
 
Skyrim - With settings at Ultra and the high-res texture pack installed, Fraps was used to record the frame rates during the first 180 seconds of the intro. This is one of the few exactly repeatable sections of the game, and also fairly demanding due to the high amount of detail in the forest scenery.
 
Battlefield 3 - With settings at maximum, I recorded the frame rate via Fraps during the first 100 seconds of the intro to mission 4 of the single-player campaign. Use of this section was inspired by the testing methodology for benchmarking this game at Tom’s Hardware.
 
Unigine Heaven - This one isn’t technically a game, but is built as a benchmark that tests in a similar way to games - visually moving around in a highly detailed 3D environment. Settings were at maximum again, including the “extreme” setting for tessellation.

Test Results

With the descriptions out of the way, here are the results:

Video RAM Gaming Benchmark - Skyrim
 
Skyrim turns out to not be very demanding on the video RAM, even with the high-res texture pack loaded. In full NVIDIA Surround mode across three screens the minimum frame rate dips only to the 30fps level - which is still very playable - but no significant difference existed between the 2GB and 4GB cards. Some small aberrations on minimum frame rates actually put the 2GB card ahead of the 4GB model, but the variance is so small that it is within the margin of error.
 
Video RAM Gaming Benchmark - Battlefield 3
 
The test I ran in Battlefield 3 was less intensive than Skyrim on a single screen, but demanded more from the video cards when spanned across three monitors. In fact, if you want to run a three-screen setup with this game and maintain maximum settings, a dual GPU configuration would be a good idea. Still, though, no performance difference existed between the 2GB and 4GB cards.
 
Video RAM Gaming Benchmark - DiRT Showdown
 
DiRT Showdown, the latest in a well-respected series of racing games, turned out to be the most punishing game test we ran. There was no difference between the 2GB and 4GB cards, but even on a single screen the frame rates in the benchmark were below what most gamers would consider smoothly playable. In all fairness, though, this game did have higher options we were able to set for things like AA than any of the other games. Still, beware of maxing out the settings on this with any single video card... or consider a dual GPU setup if you don't want to compromise at all on quality.
 
Video RAM Gaming Benchmark - Unigine Heaven
 
This is the only test where a difference between the 2 and 4GB cards showed up, and even here it was only at the higher resolution setting. When spanning three 1080P monitors in Surround mode, the 4GB card posted average frame rates about 10% higher and minimum frame rates nearly triple those of the 2GB card. It looks like in a test this detailed and with more than six million pixels being displayed that 2GB of video memory isn’t quite enough.

Conclusion

So, what can we glean from all of that? For one thing, with any single monitor the 2GB video card is plenty - even on the most demanding games and benchmarks out today. When you scale up to three high-res screens the games we tested were all still fine on 2GB, though maxing out some games’ settings at that resolution really needs more than a single GPU to keep smooth frame rates. With the right combination of high resolution and high detail, though, there is the potential for 2GB to be insufficient. For future games, or perhaps current games that were not tested in this article, you might be better off with a 4GB card if - and only if - you plan to run across a multi-screen configuration.

Three monitors in NVIDIA Surround



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Colin

What if you have two 2gb cards would that be better than one 4gb card?

Posted on 2012-08-24 04:55:36
Bob12flach

Is it usefull to have more vram for future games?

Posted on 2012-10-03 17:00:02

It is a little hard to answer that, since it depends on knowing what future games will need - but it is safe to assume that as graphics complexity advances more VRAM will be utilized.  The harder question, and more applicable here, is how much?  Personally, I don't think that the 2GB shipping on most modern high-end cards will be a limiting factor as long as they are useful in terms of performance.  By the time 3-5 years have passed most gamers will want to get an upgrade anyways, and I don't expect VRAM needs to go too high in that short space of time.

Posted on 2012-10-03 17:32:01
Hax0r

So; I have a question, In your opinion, would it be best to buy one 2 GB VRAM EVGA GeForce GTX 690 Hydro Copper Signature for a single monitor, and for multiple, lets just say 3, Two 4GB VRAM EVGA GeForce GTX 680 Classified Hydro Copper GPU's? 

Posted on 2012-10-06 01:27:28

Honestly, a GTX 690 is probably overkill for a single monitor.  I would go with a GTX 680 2GB, or even a 670 or lower (I own a 660 Ti, personally, and it does great at 1920x1200).  The one exception might be if you are going to use a 2560x1600 monitor, in which case I could see going for the 690.

If you are going up to three monitors, that is the one time where 4GB versions of the cards can *sometimes* help performance, though not in all games... but if you are dropping that kind of cash then aiming for as much future-proofing as possible, via higher video RAM, is probably worthwhile.

Posted on 2012-10-07 04:17:31
Hax0r

Dear Mr. George:
Thank you very much for taking the time to respond; I truly appreciate it. I have another question: from a gaming perspective, I can appreciate the concept of multiple angled monitors to create a panoramic field of view; however, in terms of VRAM, what determines the exact consumption and requirements, to elaborate-let's say that I bought a single 103" monitor (Don't have the money, and it would be a pointless waste) and I used a 690. Would the 2 GB still cover it? Is it # monitors, ppi, monitor size, or some combination of these, or something else entirely? Is there some sort of formula for calculating VRAM given a set of certain parameters? Thank you once more for your time, considerations, and advice,Sincerely,Chandler

P.S. 
For my monitor, I plan on modifying a retina display, 2880x1800 pixel resolution, this is why I lean towards higher performance/capacity graphics.

Posted on 2012-10-08 08:23:06

Pixel count and game complexity.  The computer doesn't care (or even know) what the physical screen size is, but it does have to calculate what color each pixel should be - and the more of them, the more work the video card has to do.  It also means keeping track of more data in the video card's RAM, though I don't know exactly how much space is taken up purely with that info.

The other part of the equation is the game's complexity.  The more detailed the textures it uses, and the more of them involved in displaying a given area in-game, the more the card has to keep track of.  Some games, like Skyrim, feature optional high-res texture packs which can be used if you want even better looking visuals and have enough graphics memory / performance to handle the added load.
With a non-standard resolution like you described you may have other troubles besides just video RAM: I don't know if many games will handle displaying at that size.  It is a 16:10 aspect ratio, so that at least helps.  In terms of total pixel count, 2880x1800 is a little lower than the triple 1080P monitor setup we tested on... so I think the results of the comparisons here should still be applicable to you.Good luck with your project!

Posted on 2012-10-08 15:59:49
Poopsuauce

 BF3 Multiplayer will use more than 2gb on a GTX 680 on triple 1080p, on ultra with 4xMSAA or higher.

Posted on 2012-11-10 19:28:52

We didn't find any difference with that setting in single-player, but it is certainly possible that multiplayer is more demanding. Did you find this in your own experience, or on a review somewhere? Any links you have with related info would be most appreciated!

Posted on 2012-11-11 05:38:31
Albert

Mr.George is that this GTX *** VGA used on dekstop PC different with GT*** VGA usually used on laptop. IF it's different how could i know my GT*** VGA I used on laptop could run the game if the video card requirement written in GTX series?
And As for Radeon card is that also different Radeon VGA that's used on the dekstop PC with the ones used on the laptop?

Posted on 2012-11-20 16:16:31

Yes, desktop and laptop video cards are different - even if the model numbers are nearly identical.  This is because laptops have to run off battery power, and cannot put off as much heat since the cooling fans they have are much less powerful than a desktop.  

For example, the GeForce GTX 680 is the fastest single-chip desktop video card on the market right now.  The laptop version, though, is called the GTX 680M (notice the M there, for 'mobile') and is a little slower than the desktop-class GTX 660 Ti.

The only way to really get a feel for how fast laptop video cards are is to look at their specs - number of cores, core speed, memory bus width, and memory speed - and then compare those to similar desktop cards.  You can also simply reference benchmarks, and the website notebookcheck.net has a lot of good info like that about laptop-specific hardware.

You will notice the same thing with CPUs as well: the laptop models will have lower clock speeds, usually by about 20%, and sometimes have less cores than their desktop counterparts too.  For example, the Core i5 3000-series desktop chips are all quad-core, but the same series of mobile processors are only dual-cores.

Posted on 2012-11-20 16:59:50

Excellent article. My use is for Photoshop and Premiere Pro. In two other Puget Systems articles on Photoshop and Premiere CS6, the GTX 680 had great results using the 2GB model. Would I benefit much with a 4GB model (again only for Ps and Pr)? Thanks!

Posted on 2012-11-23 09:14:51

We didn't test that specifically, but I don't think so.  My reasoning is that those other articles showed very little difference between 1GB and 2GB cards, so I don't think going with even more memory would be likely to help.  There may be some special-use cases with those applications that could benefit, but nothing that was covered by our testing at least.

Posted on 2012-11-23 17:03:08
Pete

I work with the CS6, mostly Photoshop and Premiere Pro as well for videos - I'd love to see some serious testing on those applications to know for sure if there are any benefits to 4g over 2g since I'm in the market for a new GPU.

Wondering if gddr6 will be in the next GPU line up too.

New games may start using loads more memory now that the PS4 and XB1 consoles are out with 8g of ram - wonder if 4g may be of more use in the near future for gaming at that point.

Posted on 2013-06-23 16:25:20
Guest

This article was very helpful. Thanks!

Posted on 2012-12-11 04:50:05
albert

 Thanks a lot mr.George. Looks like my choice goes to GTX650. Well there's another question I want to ask. What is really the difference between GTX650 and GTX650Ti. What makes Ti is better? is it because it's a newer series?
And as for GTX650 with 1GB memory is enough to play nowadays high-end games? or should I get GTX650 with 2GB memory?
Thanks. Sorry for my not so good english

Posted on 2012-12-17 17:00:50

For gaming, I don't think there are going to be many cases where a card with performance levels near the GTX 650 needs more than 1GB of memory.  The GTX 650 Ti is a slightly faster card, between the 650 and 660.  I'm not sure why NVIDIA chooses to use the 'Ti' tag on the end of some models instead of just using an intermediate number (like 655), but that is the basic concept.

Posted on 2012-12-17 18:29:12
HÅRETERÆVHØL

In max payne 3 on ultra settings it uses over 2 gbs of ram so if you have 2 gb or less you cant play it on high..

Posted on 2012-12-29 16:08:31
Kawa

For a game like Dragon Nest.. what kind of video card is recommended?

Posted on 2013-01-11 23:25:49

That game's recommendations are simply a GeForce 8000 series or higher... so just about any modern video card will likely do it. I don't have any hands-on experience with it, though, so I can't say more. You might ask on their forums.

Posted on 2013-01-11 23:56:05
TMan9976

I am running a EVGA GTX 680 2GB Signature + with Skyrim on a 1920 x 1080 monitor and max out VRAM with stuttering. I achieve this feat by using many high resolution texture mods in addition to tweaking shadow and other settings and run max settings on all available options. I am buying a 4GB VRAM version to try to solve this little piccadillo. 

Posted on 2013-01-22 06:50:21

Interesting - I play Skyrim at home on a GTX 660 Ti 2GB, at 1920x1200 with all graphics options in the game maxed-out and the official high-res texture pack installed... and it is silky-smooth.  Perhaps some of the other mods you have are pushing things even more?  If so, I will be curious to see if the added video card RAM fixes your performance issue - please post back with your thoughts after you are done!

Posted on 2013-01-22 17:08:31
emerzon

this zotac video card 2gb or 4gb is DDR3?????? SIR....

Posted on 2013-01-29 02:10:36

Both of the video cards in this article (and I believe all GTX 680's in production regardless of brand) use GDDR5 memory.

Posted on 2013-01-29 02:33:35
Hector Sanchez

I'm planning to get an AlienWare M17x laptop for my birthday here are the specs:

Windows 7 Home Premium, 64bit (Windows 8 Upgradeable)

3rd Generation Intel Core i7-3610QM (6MB Cache, up to 3.3GHz w/ Turbo Boost 2.0)

8GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 1600MHz (2DIMMS)

1TB RAID 0 (2x 500GB SATA 3B/s 7,200 RPM)

2GB GDDR5 AMD Radeon HD 7970M

17.3-inch WideFHD 1920 x 1080 60Hz WLED

Slot-Loading Dual Layer DVD Burner (DVD+-RW, CD-RW)
I want to know if I should get it. I want to play games like BF3, BO2, etc on high or max settings. Will it cut it?

Posted on 2013-04-07 16:27:12
Zakart

Hello George, I just wanted to drop in and say thank you for answering the questions. As I went through your answers it answered all my questions and should help me make a better decision about 2GB vs 4GB GPU.
Thanks

Posted on 2013-06-11 17:32:28

I'm glad this article helped, and appreciate your kind words :)

Posted on 2013-06-11 17:33:50
ignas

can i ask u this which better to use AMD Radeon HD 8970M 2GB or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770M 3GB ... if the games will be played on 1 screen and both laptops have 8gb ram and intel i7 processor ... can u replay as soon as possible plz

Posted on 2013-06-18 11:44:31
Xactally

Great work mate u know your stuff. This is a topic that is hard to get a straight forward answer on but you nailed it. So thank you for your knowledge and work.

Posted on 2013-06-25 06:58:19
Spark

But in games isn't ram and cpu the most demanding?

Posted on 2013-07-21 06:16:11
commonsense boy

lol its a ps4 ram hype proven just that hype article LOL more and more ram doesn't make magically graphics better....

you only need ram until you run out of adding more to do nothing is pointless SONY LOL PS4

pc gpu cards need to start using low latency memory latency is killing these cards and EDRAM chuck 64mb of edram on the thing and 2gb gddr5 job done plenty for the next ten years with ease COMMONSENSE

ps4s 8 gb proven bs in so many ways 1 its pointless 2 it was a lie anyway its 4.5gb for games and simply adding more and more large slow external memory isnt going to do SHIT

faster memory better memory higher bandwidth memory yes more shit ram no its that simple

Posted on 2013-07-27 07:51:00
commonsense boy

16mb can just about do a 1080p render in edram give these cards 64mb esram and smaller gddr5 and allow both pools of ram to work on gaming frames etc PROBLEM SOLVED

Posted on 2013-07-27 07:53:12
Fadi

There is one very useful application for the extra VRAM. When I fly my flight simulators, My 480's 1.5GB of VRAM is always maxed out!! I feel 4GB would go a long way with X-Plane flight simulator. Maybe you should have added X-Plane to your bench mark.

Posted on 2013-08-19 08:32:17

That is good to know! I wonder if X-Plane needs between 1.5 and 2GB, though, or if it would really benefit from >2GB of video RAM. Unfortunately no one here that I know has a copy of X-Plane, so we can't really test it easily :(

Posted on 2013-08-19 15:56:12
Fadi

A demo copy is available on - http://www.x-plane.com/downloa... . The limitation is that after 15 minutes, it'll not allow you to use a joystick anymore but you won't need to run the benchmark. As I haven't flown X-Plane with one of those 4GB cards, I won't be able to tell you for sure but from my experience with flight simulators, I know that they are intensly V-Ram hungry and that an extra 500mb of VRAM will not make a dent. It's literally populating and animating an entire world from scratch, including roads, cars, other airplanes. It preloads endless amounts of objects and the textures in the VRAM. If you do endup making a test, be sure go to to the graphics settings and put all the textures, lighting and anti-aliasing at highest levels. My gut is telling me that the 4GB would shine over the 2GB. I'll be getting a 4GB model soon (either GTX 770 or 680) but don't really have a 2GB counter part to run the comparison myself.

Posted on 2013-08-21 06:49:56

Thank you for the info about the demo - that is good to know! I may see about using that for a future test like this :)

Posted on 2013-08-21 16:00:42
Fadi

Glad to help! I found another use for the extra V-Ram. Skyrim's Vanilla looks can sometimes be pretty hanous, so there's this big community of moders. Mods change alot the textures, armours, character models, the ambient lighting, the colors, light and shadow. One of the problems that Moders run into is that Skyrim has 3.1GB RAM stability limit (as all 32bit programs do) and if you mod too much, you can make it unstable because it needs more RAM than can be allocated by the 32bit architecture. Anyways, this youtube video ( http://tinyurl.com/l7b83vn ) shows you this tool that's used to minimize the use of RAM and one of the tricks it uses was to transfer some of the information from RAM to the VRAM. Before the tool's usage, Skyrin was running at 2.6GB of RAM + 2GB of VRAM and after the patch, it was running at 0.7GB RAM + 3GB of VRAM. The guy was running a 4GB VRAM GTX 470 which meant that the tool could transfer even more stuff to the VRAM and he can install even more mods. These are non-standard usages but who hasn't seen a really well moded version of Skyrim and wanted his game to look lie that?

Posted on 2013-08-22 05:37:29
Alexander

MSI N770 TF 4GD5/OC (GeForce GTX 770 GAMING) or ASUS GTX770-DC2OC-2GD5 for BattleField 4 on 1080p max ultra settings or crysis 3?

Posted on 2013-08-25 02:00:59
Yop

For those asking about BF4 requirements, I found benchmarks for the BF4 Alpha here: http://www.bf4blog.com/battlef... If the info is correct, BF4 would be the first game to use more than 2gb at 1080p (when using MSAAx4).

Posted on 2013-09-19 00:03:31
irfan ahamed

hi i am irfan, i am a graphic designer fully worked in corel draw x5, illustrator cs 6, photoshop cs6, my system config is i3 3rd generation processor, 8 gb dd3 ram, i am going to attach new graphic card for my system. i want good graphic quality in working time if you don't mind please refer or suggest which one i pick graphic card. i am so confusing. best and cheap graphics card.

please
thanks

Posted on 2013-10-11 15:14:05

Of the programs you mentioned, Photoshop is probably the most needy in terms of graphics power. We have an article from last year about graphics card performance in CS6, which should help you decide what card to get:

http://www.pugetsystems.com/la...

Posted on 2013-10-11 15:17:03
Ernest

Right now at this moment of time I'm deciding between the laptop GS70 MSI AND THE G750jx ASUS. Main difference in performance is the graphics card which is gtx765m 2gbvram on the msi and gtx770m 3gb vram on the ASUS. Is there a major difference between this two graphics card?

Posted on 2013-10-12 03:40:16

There is a pretty decent performance difference between those, but not due to the amount of RAM so much as the fact that the 770M is about 30% faster. It also uses a faster memory interface (192-bit vs 123-bit on the 765M). If all else is equal, the 770M is a better card for gaming... but if you aren't using the GPU heavily, the other could save you money and give you longer battery life (since it uses less power).

Posted on 2013-10-12 16:47:13
NewsCentral

Which Card would last longer it I wasn't planning on upgrading for at least 4 years? Nvidia GeForce 775M with 2GB GDDR5 or the Nvidia GeForce 780M with 4GB of GDDR5? Thanks

Posted on 2013-10-25 20:32:25
Daniel Brown

I'm not aware of any NVIDIA GeForce 775M part. Maybe you meant the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M or the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770M?

Beyond the VRAM difference, the higher model number cards generally have faster 3D processors. The performance of the 3D processor is the main consideration for gaming, the amount of VRAM is secondary. So if you are looking to keep your system relevant for as long as possible into the future, it would generally be best to go with the higher model number card (in this case the 780M).

Posted on 2013-10-25 20:57:35
NewsCentral

Thanks for the quick reply, greatly appreciated

Posted on 2013-10-26 06:41:00
firdzy

Why the 2 gb version is better than the 4 gb version . wHY?

Posted on 2013-11-29 13:46:10
cmdrshefardtechi

should I buy gtx-760 4GB or 2GB considering following?

1080p resolution
single monitor
medium to high setting
Should be able to play games for next 3-4 years.

Posted on 2013-12-16 07:02:28

All of our testing data in this article would point to 2GB being plenty for that resolution. Please note, though, that this is a year and a half old now - newer games may need more memory, and if they don't today there is definitely a chance they will as the years go by. We haven't revisited this topic yet, so until we do it might be a good idea to look and see if there are any other, more recent articles on this topic available.

Posted on 2013-12-16 17:07:58
Menertho

I have a question: Should I get the R9 270x with 2GB vRAM or 4GB? I have a 1080p single monitor. I would like to use it for the next 2 years and play at around high settings.

Posted on 2014-01-19 00:08:04
shibukoden

Great article .. Thanks william

Posted on 2014-02-16 20:06:34
Soulsbane96

I realize this is a 2 year old article, but it still is relevant and the article itself was very helpful, so I figure I'll ask my question here.
I am a first time PC builder (well, technically this'll be my second build, but the first time I've chosen my own parts) and I was wondering if it would be better to get a(n?) R9 270x OC 2gb, 270x 4gb, or r9 280 (not x).

The article clearly says that 2 vs 4gb wouldnt matter, but they're both the same price on newegg, so was gonna go with 4 instead. However, I'm debating between the 4gb 270x and a 3gb 280 because the 280 has a 384 bit interface vs the 270x's 256bit.
Would the extra 50$ be worth it to go with a 280 rather than the 270x 4gb? They're all from Gigabyte if that matters, and I plan to run Skyrim with High res texture packs and ~150 mods, some of which are graphical enhancements and mesh mods, BF3/4, DOTA 2, and a smattering of new games whenever they come out.

Posted on 2014-04-07 23:21:31

Hmm, that is a tricky question - because you aren't just comparing the same card with two different amounts of memory, but also a card with a faster GPU and memory bus. I would say that the faster R9 280 3GB is going to beat the R9 270X all the time - no matter how much memory the 270X has. It would be difficult to find a case where the difference between 3GB and 4GB of video memory was enough to offset the 280's faster GPU *and* faster memory bus, and I definitely don't think you are going to hit any problems with that card's 3GB of memory unless you are playing at very high resolutions (above 2560x1600).

Thus, if the $50 difference doesn't break your budget it would probably be the best way to go.

Posted on 2014-04-08 15:54:18
dEaTh

so if i am going to have a single monitor 2gb is enough for the upcoming games also ?

Posted on 2014-04-26 10:39:22
magiccoupons

Thanks! This was helpful, was considering whether to get the 2GB or 4GB version of the Gigabyte GTX 760, looks like I'll be going for the cheaper option, cheers

Posted on 2014-05-22 11:58:04
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