What Is Shared GPU Memory? Pros and Cons Explained

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What Is Shared GPU Memory? Pros and Cons Explained

Key Points

  • Shared GPU memory is a technology that allows for better overall performance in tasks like 3D modeling and video editing.
  • Shared GPU memory can be more efficient with power compared to running a dedicated graphics card.
  • Shared GPU memory is not a replacement for a dedicated GPU and is not ideal for gaming.

What exactly is shared GPU memory? There are many ways your computer can eke out extra performance when needed. Now, you may have an integrated or dedicated graphics processor. In some cases, you’ll see shared GPU memory employed alongside both of these options. However, understanding how it functions is something else entirely.

Today’s guide will be looking at how this function works, and why you might not want to lean on it in some instances. If you’ve checked your Task Manager or applications like Photoshop and seen your memory pool, then you might already be acquainted with the technique. However, it is time to clarify how the technology works.

Explaining Shared GPU Memory

Graphical processing is one of the most demanding tasks you’ll come across on a computer. Beyond just doing raw computations in series, the need for visual processing is massive. One way this is alleviated is by the use of memory. Dedicated graphics cards come with their own RAM pools to draw from. This is typically faster RAM than you’ll have installed on the mainboard of your computer.

However, if you’re using specialized applications it might not be enough. Taxing applications like Blender, Stable Diffusion, and Photoshop need RAM to function. As such, they might employ shared GPU memory to stabilize performance and get the extra edge needed for handling tasks.

This isn’t necessarily a task delegated to the user, however. In most cases, this is something specified by the manufacturer of the GPU to get optimal performance out of the configuration.

How It Works

Shared GPU memory takes advantage of the RAM available on a system. The exact amount is going to differ from system to system. If you have an integrated GPU and 8GB of RAM on your computer, you could very easily use half of that to handle the graphical processing. This is what enables slower GPUs like the ones packaged alongside a CPU to handle tasks like 3D rendering.

The way it works is that the amount of RAM specified is chosen by the manufacturer. As such, the system will have a default minimum configuration available. It would stand to reason that more RAM equates to faster overall performance.

It isn’t an outright replacement for the RAM found on a dedicated graphics card. However, in a pinch, it is better than relying on the central processor to handle everything.

The Pros of Shared GPU Memory

shared gpu memory
Apple Silicon’s shared memory allows for speedy handling of the most demanding tasks.

While you’re giving up system resources to use shared GPU memory, it does have its advantages. Take a look at a few of the reasons it is a boon to have this technology implemented.

Increased Performance

As you might imagine, shared GPU memory allows for better overall performance. It isn’t going to be enough to max out something like Cyberpunk 2077. However, this increase in performance can handle tasks like 3D modeling and video editing. For example, Apple’s line of Silicon processors utilizes shared memory. You’ll find few complaints about a lack of performance on the work front in terms of power.

Shared GPU memory allows a graphical processor to handle tasks as they appear. With newer processors and faster RAM, it can offer impressive performance despite its overall limitations.

More Efficient with Power

Since you’re not running a dedicated graphics card in some uses, shared GPU memory can be more efficient with power. This means that you still can handle the likes of photo editing, 3D modeling, and video editing without drawing much power from the wall.

While this isn’t a replacement for a dedicated graphics processor, it does work. Since it draws less power, you’ll see this technique employed with high-performance devices like business laptops. You’re going to need that extra graphical power in a variety of different careers. As such, you might as well make the most of the resources your system already has.

It Allows for Better Graphical Processing

Without shared GPU memory, your central processor would handle most tasks. Now, in theory, software rendering was fine and dandy for decades. However, in the modern era, it simply isn’t enough. Computers using shared GPU memory grant access to functions and fluidity that software rendering simply doesn’t have.

As long as there have been personal computers, there have been innovations in shared GPU memory. You can see this, especially with the older European computers like the Amiga 500. One of the techniques pioneered on that machine was shared GPU memory, which allowed for incredible graphical displays at the cost of the system RAM.

Can Complement a Dedicated GPU

If you have a dedicated graphics card, like an RTX series from NVIDIA for example, then it might use shared GPU memory. Of course, you’ll still have access to the speedy dedicated RAM on the device. However, when working in a highly taxing program like Adobe Premiere, the shared GPU memory can deal with tasks when the dedicated VRAM is full.

In this capacity, shared GPU memory can bolster the functionality of your PC. It might not serve as a replacement for a dedicated GPU, but it can enhance one. However, this complementary status isn’t seen with gaming. When you’re gaming, you’ll want to stick to the available VRAM on the dedicated GPU.

Low Cost

Compared to purchasing a brand-new GPU, shared GPU memory is quite cheap. In most cases, you’ve got everything you need to handle it on your computer. Therefore, it only makes sense that is one of the most economical options to get graphical performance on your computer of choice. Shared GPU memory is going to be employed in many capacities, and low-cost electronic devices are prime territory.

Consider a budget laptop for a moment. You don’t want to cram a dedicated GPU into the chassis, it’ll drive the cost up significantly. However, if you provide good baseline performance and implement shared GPU memory, the user will be able to use their computer as intended.

The Cons of Shared GPU Memory

shared gpu memory
An integrated GPU can’t compete with a dedicated one.

It isn’t all roses when it comes to shared GPU memory. Some of the flaws of the system have already been mentioned. With that in mind, let’s explore a few of the drawbacks of such a system.

Performance Isn’t on Par with a Dedicated GPU

This isn’t a surprise if you’ve read along this far. Simply put, shared GPU memory is never going to be a replacement for a dedicated GPU. You can have 1TB of the fastest DDR5 RAM on the planet right now. When it comes time to benchmark things head to head, that same amount of shared GPU memory will falter next to even a mid-range dedicated GPU.

It’s Not Great for Gaming

RAM is fast, there is no getting around it. However, one of the great strengths of a dedicated GPU is that offloads some of the more intensive processes from the CPU. This means you get parallel processing, thanks in part to the dedicated processor on a graphics card.

Shared GPU memory can be used for gaming. However, its implementation is always going to be middling. You aren’t going to max games out by any means. Lower frame rates, lag, and graphical glitches are going to be the unfortunate result of insufficient shared GPU memory.

Slower for Graphical Processing

In a speed test, shared GPU memory will lose every shootout with a dedicated GPU. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The technology isn’t designed to go toe-to-toe with the best graphical processors on the market.

Not a Replacement for a Dedicated GPU

A dedicated GPU is going to be a better bet 99% of the time if you need real graphical processing power. An integrated GPU is going to do just fine for most tasks. However, if you’re expecting to run the latest and greatest games or run intensive shaders on your 3D renders, it just won’t stack up.

Closing Thoughts

Shared GPU memory is a fascinating technique. When well implemented, it helps to make your computer an overall more powerful machine. However, the lack of real power behind it and its need of your system’s RAM will affect performance in other areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is shared GPU memory effective?

For its intended tasks, yes.

Can you game with shared GPU memory?

Sure, just don’t expect top performance while doing so.

Is shared GPU memory ideal for video editing?

No, but it’ll work if you have zero options.

What sort of devices use shared GPU memory?

Anything with an integrated GPU is going to use shared GPU memory.

Should I just get a dedicated GPU?

If your system supports one that is going to give the best performance.

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