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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.

  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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!
    Reply
  • cleeve
    Thanks burnley, animated GIFs are a bit of a pain to make, but it's nice to know they're appreciated. :)
    Reply
  • 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?
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • knutjb
    How much ram will the 5870 eyefinity version need?
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • How about doing this same comparison with crossfire setups?
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply