How does video card mem affect system RAM?

By WWJ ยท 47 replies
Nov 12, 2010
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  1. Hello everyone.

    I've seen here and there around the Internet opposing information that leaves me ignorant on this subject. The opposing views are:

    • Video card memory helps your system performance because it offloads video processing onto the card.
    • Video card memory reduces available system RAM by an equal amount.
    So what's the correct answer? Will a system with 384MB RAM be reduced to 128 useable by a 256MB card?

    I've got an old 1999 vintage Gateway PC on which the video card crapped out. Since replacing it with a 256MB card, the system seems even slower that it was before. I don't use it for gaming at all, just general computing. I can post specifics on my system and card, but I thought first I'd ask this general question.

  2. hellokitty[hk]

    hellokitty[hk] Hello, nice to meet you! Posts: 3,448   +145

    Video card memory only reduces RAM if you use integrated graphics. Otherwise, they are entirely separate.
  3. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    Well thats true in this case, I don't think its entirely true HK :) What if you have Windows XP/Vista/7 in 32bit with say 4 gigs of RAM and a video card with 1GB of RAM. :D
  4. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,974   +2,527

    Well, it's not actually opposing information you've encountered, but rather two truths.

    Recent video cards have onboard memory totaling the advertised value. However, some older cards were sold with a specified amount of RAM onboard, but then tapped into system RAM to augment their onboard memory.

    These cards were plainly stated as such, with wordings like; "128 MBs of Video RAM, with up to 512 MBs total including system RAM. I haven't seen this type of arrangement in a while, I guessing that some of these cards still exist, in very low performance, old back stock type situations.

    You can always determine what processes and programs are using which system resources through "Task Manager". Press "CTRL + Alt + Delete" to summon it.

    Your perceived slowness with the new card could be a simple issue of the video driver software. That's a more likely explanation than the video card using system RAM, but we'd need a make and model on the card to say for sure.

    Please read this post.
  5. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    Thanks for the reply, HK.

    Integrated graphics, that being graphics processing capability built directly into the motherboard? But in that case, you wouldn't be using a separate video card, would you?
  6. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,974   +2,527

    Boards with integrated graphic can be, and are, used with add-in video cards. In most cases, the onboard graphics would be disabled after the video card is installed. The computer's BIOS is responsible for implementing these actions..

    What's the matter, you didn't like my response? It was actually accurate.
  7. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    Thanks for the reply, captaincranky.

    OK, I think it's starting to make sense. I'll go install and run CPU-Z on that machine and post the vitals.

    Yes, I loved it. You just beat me to the draw. :)

    ...the onboard graphics would be disabled after the video card is installed.

    So in that case, effectively the onboard graphics is discounted, RAM is unaffected, and graphics is handled by the video card and its separate memory. No?

    OK, video card make and model and other vitals:

    Attached Files:

  8. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,974   +2,527

    OK, "relic" doesn't quite do this machine justice. I've seen posts where a new video card didn't live up to its expectations, when combined with a slow CPU. This is called "bottle necking". I suppose that that could be in play here. This bad boy has XP as the OS?

    I actually learned Photoshop on machines very similar to this at Phila Community College. I don't remember if they were 500Mhz or 800Mhz CPUs though. The OSes were either Win 95 or 98, not sure.
  9. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    XP, indeed. Ninety-eight originally, but XP manages the limited resources much better, and the computer performs much more stably, smoothly, and swiftly--until this card. I've got three other machines on which I really do everything I need, one with an XP/Vista/7 triple boot.

    At this point the relic really isn't used for anything much more that playing tunes in a bedroom, and I'm challenging myself to see how long I can keep it in service.

    So what do I need, a lesser card? Lesser in what respect, memory?
  10. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,974   +2,527

    I'm thinking that these two parts should play together nicely. That last post was theoretical and aimed at different expected performance levels. Tell us about the video driver, did you update that with the new card?

    The CPU-Z thing was nice and all that, but you still need to get into the task manager and find out, who's using what, what's running, and who's running it. With the amount of RAM in this machine, if there's too many things running, it has to be paging to the HDD quite a bit. This would slow it down also.
  11. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    Honestly I don't remember whether I updated the video driver with the included disc or not. I might've installed the card, saw that it worked, and not bothered with the disc. I'll look into that.

    The CPU-Z thing that was nice and all, as you put it, was your [forum's] idea.

    Whatever's running in Task Manager, and however much it's paging, isn't anything that wasn't running and paging before. But I'll take a look and see what I can see and recognize as anything out of line.

    The RAM is maxed out, btw, as you might suspect.

    I ran the CD, so if the driver wasn't installed before it is now. And, well, the system does seem to run faster now. I'll have to watch it over the next few days and see if that's really so or just the power of suggestion.

    As for the tasks, here's a look at Process Explorer rather than Task Manager. The former includes hardware interrupts, which could be relevant here. Seems normal:

    Attached Files:

  12. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,974   +2,527

    I have no doubt. (About CPU-Z's protagonists here) That said, I'm rather fond of "SIW", (System Information for Windows). But, I've found that recommendation fails to gain traction at times, owing to the fact that CPU-Z has so many hard core devotees here.

    I knew that, or at least I think I did. I do get points for having the good taste not to ask though, don't I?

    Running the risk of antagonizing you further, I'll just say this, "Process Explorer is nice and all that, it's a pity the scroll bar doesn't work it the attachment"! :haha:
  13. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    OK, I'll take a look at SIW.

    Thanks for your good taste in not asking if RAM maxed. I wouldn't've minded, though. It certainly would've been a pertinent question, and I would think the answer for such a relic not obvious.

    I thought about that, but all that stuff way down there isn't making enough fuss to get up here on the dial, so I didn't think it matters. Does it?
  14. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,974   +2,527

    Not really...:rolleyes:
    Actually it's almost one of those "truths we hold self evident". Considering the price and size of RAM DIMMs in that period, 512 is referentially quite a bit.

    My Emachines T-5026 is now pushing six. It'll take 4GBs of RAM, but as the board (Intel 915) is only 32 bit, it won't show the full 4GB to the OS. (In this case you can't blame the missing RAM on 32 bit Windows). In the manual, Intel states that, "you can actually install 8GB, (4X 2GB) in the board, but it will still only display 3.25GB to the OS. I suppose that's what passes for true geek humor.

    I bought a 2GB set of Kingston Value RAM (2 X 1GB @ 667Mhz) for an Intel 965 board about 5 years ago, It cost $218.00..! So, you can picture the market in 1999...!
  15. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    Anyways, thanks much for the info and driver suggestion, that may have done it. Will take me a few days to assess better. I'll post back.
  16. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,974   +2,527

    You're quite welcome. Let us know how you make out.
  17. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    Will do.

    I was just running SIW (on a different machine)... Very comprehensive. Reminds me of AIDA32; maybe it's a successor to it.

    Incidentally... You know, you're not really all that cranky.
  18. ET3D

    ET3D TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,377   +168

    Regarding the 4GB limit on a 32 bit OS, there's a window in the address space for video card RAM. This window isn't as large as the card RAM, it's about 256MB in my experience for current cards (with 1GB of RAM). You can look at the address space in the device manager. For a 32 bit OS, that's part of what's preventing the full 4GB to be used. If you install more than one card each will take that, so two way SLI will take 512MB of the address space.

    Anyway, the "TurboCache" version of the GeForce 6200 is one of the cards mentioned before that does take system RAM. Yours might not be that. How much RAM does your system have, and how much is Windows reporting? What graphics card did you have before?
  19. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    Thanks for your reply, ET3D.

    I don't fully understand your first paragraph, but I think I get the general idea--except that this machine isn't even approaching the 4GB limit.

    Not sure what you're referring to as "address space," maybe this?
    Memory Range:
    IRQ: 11
    I/O Range:

    The version of the GeForce 6200 card is

    System vitals are

    Previous card is:

    Attached Files:

  20. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    What is the meaning of this?

    Last edited by mailpup; 3 Hours Ago at 12:22 AM.. Reason: Please edit your post instead of double posting

    I haven't double-posted anything.
  21. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,974   +2,527

    Gaze Upon These Numbers, and Weep Not......(Well you can maybe a little)..

    I don't believe that your card uses system RAM to augment its onboard RAM.

    The hardware address issue only comes into play when 4GBs of RAM is installed in a 32bit board or OS. All hardware is subtracted from total potential system addresses, (2 to the 32nd = 4GB), and the balance is then "available RAM". It has no bearing on this discussion.

    I looked at the spec sheet on the 6200. The memory bandwidth is an astounding 3.2 Gbs...!

    A new GTX-460 (768MB RAM) loafs along at about 86.4 Gbs. Its bigger brother with 1GB of RAM scurries along at 115.2 Gbs. Um, and that's a reference number, not overclocked.
  22. ET3D

    ET3D TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,377   +168

    I got "Invalid Post specified" following your "system vitals" link.

    The GeForce 6200 seems to be of the non-problematic kind. But, you mention 512MB of RAM in your first post, yet you posted a CPU-Z image showing 384MB of RAM, so unless there's some confusion, part of the memory is gone. It may be that there's another reason for it, for example if you have 4x128MB sticks, one might have been unseated while installing the card, or perhaps has gone bad.
  23. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22


    That was my thought. Glad you confirmed. (I may need to pay attention to that on another machine, though.)

    Not so good, huh? But, well, it's providing great video, and from what we can determine to this point, it ought to be working well with this system, no? I mean, it is, but, no reason it should be slowing anything down.

    In my first post, before I got into the particulars of my system, I was asking the question generally and using some round figures to exemplify.

    Yes, the system is maxed out at 384MB. Sorry for the confusion.
  24. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 12,974   +2,527

    Well, pretty much everything on that particular system happens at a leisurely pace, the transit of information through video memory being no exception. The video card is the most "fleet of foot", as it were.

    I have no doubt the it provides good video for the purpose intended. One caveat though, as the children would be all too quick to point out, "you can't play "Crysis" on it". :rolleyes:
  25. WWJ

    WWJ TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 22

    I've edited my first post to make the example specific to and consistent with my system.


    Yes, granted--per current standards. In the day, with a 500MHz processor and 20GB disk, it was hot sh--.

    Is that some sort of game or something? ;)

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