How Much RAM Does Your Graphics Card Really Need?

Game Benchmark: Grand Theft Auto IV

We saved the most interesting benchmark for last: Grand Theft Auto IV.

It's the most interesting for our purposes because GTA IV actually reports the exact amount of graphics card RAM it needs for the graphical settings the user chooses, which is absolutely perfect for our purposes. It turns the theoretical into tangible when you can see the actual memory usage impact of choosing higher draw distances, texture resolution, shadow fidelity, and resolution.

We did have to use a little trick to force GTA into allowing us to use more video memory than what our 512MB and 1GB video cards offered. By making a text file called "commandline.txt" that contains the command "-norestrictions," the game allowed us to choose settings beyond the capabilities of the hardware.

In this case, we first ran settings that would use just under 500MB of memory at 2560x1600. We then ran a second run that used over 1GB of video memory to see what would happen to the 512MB and 1GB cards compared to their 2GB counterpart.

First, we'll try the benchmark using less than 500MB of video RAM:

There are no surprises as there is no difference. Now, we'll see what happens when we use over 1GB of texture RAM:

There's some contrast for you: the 512MB card is completely unable to run the game at this demanding setting. The 1GB card is able to run surprisingly close to the 2GB card up to 1920x1200, but it takes a notable hit at 2560x1600.

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    Top Comments
  • burnley14
    I really like the alternating images you use in these articles, they are very helpful and make it much easier to compare the various detail settings.

    Also, great article overall. Keep up the good work!
    39
  • cleeve
    Thanks burnley, animated GIFs are a bit of a pain to make, but it's nice to know they're appreciated. :)
    33
  • cleeve
    knutjbHow much ram will the 5870 eyefinity version need?


    Depends on the resolution and settings just like everything else. but it's a good question, if there's enough interest in this article I'll look into that in the future.
    19
  • Other Comments
  • radiowars
    Great article guys. I've debated this many times with friends- good to see a definite result. Heh, GTX 275 w/ 896 works well @ 1680x1050 for me. I doubt I'd need anything higher than that for my resolution.
    9
  • burnley14
    I really like the alternating images you use in these articles, they are very helpful and make it much easier to compare the various detail settings.

    Also, great article overall. Keep up the good work!
    39
  • cleeve
    Thanks burnley, animated GIFs are a bit of a pain to make, but it's nice to know they're appreciated. :)
    33
  • blueer03
    This was very interesting. But I would like to see the performance difference from a mid-stream (say a 4850) as compared to a high end video card. Would it have made sense to spring for the 1GB 4850, or would there be no difference because of the cards inherent limitations? And the same thing with the lower level cards. At what point in the hierarchy of video cards does springing for more than the reference memory levels make sense?
    0
  • cleeve
    With lower end cards you'd see the same effect, but with the lower frame-rates that those cards would produce. The end result is the same: one they run out of RAM at a certain setting, the performance will suffer, but until then it's the same across the board.
    4
  • knutjb
    How much ram will the 5870 eyefinity version need?
    3
  • cleeve
    knutjbHow much ram will the 5870 eyefinity version need?


    Depends on the resolution and settings just like everything else. but it's a good question, if there's enough interest in this article I'll look into that in the future.
    19
  • liquidsnake718
    Im surprised that Crysis doesnt utilize all the RAM(even for an older title) for distance similarly to titles like GTA. Im sure the new Crytek engine will make use of Ram so we can see even buildings and huge alien robots further in the distance with vivid details.

    We can only look forward to a more intense and visually stunning Crysis 2 as I can only imagine how the story would progress and end up being in space. I can imagine huge asteroids looking as real coming at the player using nvidias 3d vision and utilizing AA in order to make it apparent from a distance.

    Think Halo style world but with unrivaled graphics and a more realistic feel with DX11.
    2
  • Anonymous
    How about doing this same comparison with crossfire setups?
    11
  • Arkz
    il tell ya whats a bitch, i have a 1920x1080 monitor, nice? yes. I have an 8800GT too.. nice? kinda.. its the 256MB version.. so.. if i wanna turn up the sexiness i get baaaad fps
    -8
  • HibyPrime
    Would have been nice to see more of the GTA4 benches, as it's pretty safe to say it requires the most video ram of current gen games.

    Slowly increase the ram from the 500mb point to see where the 512 cuts out. Maxing out all of the sliders to see if the 2GB is ever able to make a win over the 1GB as well as showing the visual difference from the 1GB up to whatever the max is.
    2
  • tjf311
    What if I wanted to run in crossfire? What would be the optimal configuration then? 2x? 3x? 4x?
    1
  • Shnur
    Great article!
    I am actually looking forward a 5870 (or nVidia next-gen if it comes in this year) after prices are settled and early drivers are out of the way so I can really see an improvement over my 4870 1gb. This is the kind of article I wanted to see for a while and I give you guys a big heads up for it! It would be nice at a later time to see with the new cards how does 2gb vs 1gb performs when paired in CF/SLI so we can eliminate the card speed factor that we have here, because even if the game would like to use more ram, the card is not fast enough to process the information, when you get two cards, there's more power as for processing but same storage, that would be a great thing to check :)
    And I'm looking forward an eyefinity review with a game running on 3 HD screens or something similar because as of today an HD screens costs about 200$ so buying two or three is expensive but still on the level of "affordable" when a single 30" is more expensive than this...
    1
  • Supertrek32
    CleeveThanks burnley, animated GIFs are a bit of a pain to make, but it's nice to know they're appreciated.

    It's a very nice thing to have. I wish more benchmarks on Tom's had these, since I'm reading to find out what I want to buy. It's great for figuring out if the next card is worth it for that next step up.

    It answers the "Yeah, I could use very-high instead of regular-high with this card instead of that, but will I even be able to tell the difference?" question.
    2
  • megamanx00
    Indeed 2GB is rather frivolous right now. Given current prices I'd really recommend a 1GB 4870 over a 512MB 4870. GRID and FarCry2 are games that currently favor 1GB, and I'm sure we'll see more this fall.
    2
  • eddieroolz
    Great article, very well written and informational.
    5
  • WINTERLORD
    great article. and good to know. all this graphics stuff latly makes me wanna upgrade lol. that and i have a new favorite game. intersting to say the least, and from looking at this, i would definatly get atleast a 1gb card in the future. since games are always changing like the editor said, i believe that when directx 11 comes out and 2 years down the road, that you would definatly want 1gb of ram on your card. but seems like 512 would be good for a good long time as well
    0
  • IzzyCraft
    The more the better as long as the gpu and setup can use all of it. Seems like 1 gig is a norm now and a good apart for those who are cranking up the AA and AF and resolution esp if that AA is super-sampling.
    0
  • porksmuggler
    excellent article, nice overview of a frequently debated issue.
    4
  • intelx
    very good article, saving money with the same speed.
    0