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Video RAM, or VRAM, is a dual-ported variant of dynamic RAM (DRAM), which was once

commonly used to store the framebuffer in some graphics adapters.

Prior to the development of VRAM, dual-ported memory was quite expensive, limiting
bitmapped graphics to high-end workstations, and PC displays to either character-only modes
(which required much less memory) or to glitches when the display was updated. VR AM
changed all this, allowing the introduction of very low cost, high-resolution, high-speed, color
graphics.

VRAM has two sets of data output pins, and thus two ports that can be used simultaneously.
The first port, the DRAM port, is accessed by the host computer in a manner very similar to
traditional DRAM. The second port, the video port, is typically read-only and is dedicated to
providing a high bandwidth data channel for the graphics chipset.

Typical DRAM arrays normally access a full row of bits (i.e. a word line) at up to 1,024 bits at
one time, but only use one or a few of these for actual data, the remainder being discarded.
Since DRAM cells are destructively read, each bit accessed must be sensed, and re-written.
Thus, 1,024 sense amplifiers are typically used. VRAM operates by not discarding the excess bits
which must be accessed, but making full use of them in a simple way. If each horizontal scan
line of a display is mapped to a full word, then upon reading one word and latching all 1,024
bits into a separate row buffer, these bits can subsequently be serially streamed to the display
circuitry. This will leave access to the DRAM array free to be accessed (read or write) for many
cycles, until the row buffer is almost depleted. A complete DRAM read cycle is only required to
fill the row buffer, leaving most DRAM cycles available for normal accesses.

To use the video port, the controller first uses the DRAM port to select the row of the memory
array that is to be displayed. The VRAM then copies that entire row to an internal row-buffer
which is a shift register. The controller can then continue to use the DRAM port for drawing
objects on the display. Meanwhile, the controller feeds a clock called the shift clock (SCLK) to
the VRAM's video port. Each SCLK pulse causes the VRAM to deliver the next datum, in strict
address order, from the shift register to the video port. For simplicity, the graphics adapter is
usually designed so that the contents of a row, and therefore the contents of the shift-register,
corresponds to a complete horizontal line on the display.
The traditional, standard DRAM used for video cards typically does not have enough bandwidth
to handle the demands of running a card at high resolution and color depths, with acceptable
refresh rates. The main reason why is the two competing access factors for the video memory:
the processor writing new information to the memory, and the RAMDAC reading it many times
per second in order to send video signals to the monitor.

To address this fundamental limitation, a new type of memory was created cal led video RAM or
VRAM. As the name implies, this memory is specifically tailored for use in video systems. The
fundamental difference between VRAM and standard DRAM is that VRAM is dual-ported. This
means that it has two access paths, and can be written to and read from simultaneously. The
advantages of this are of course enormous given what the video card does: many times per
second a new screen image is calculated and written to the memory, and many times per
second this memory is read and sent to the monitor. Dual-porting allows these operations to
occur without bumping into each other.

VRAM provides substantially more bandwidth than either standard DRAM or EDO DRAM;
double in many cases. It is more suited for use in systems requiring high resolution and color
depth displays. The only reason that it hasn't replaced standard DRAM entirely is of course:
cost. VRAM is more complex and requires more silicon per bit than standard DRAM, which
makes it cost more.