SSD on a graphics card: how it works and possible applications

One of the performance issues that professionals who use their graphics card to create content face on a daily basis is how limited the video memory is, all of a sudden if there is too much data, it ends up on the system’s SSD or whatever. Worse, with a regular hard drive.

The solution to this? put the NVMe memory inside the graphics card either through the M.2 drive slot or with the NVMe memory soldered to the board.

NVMe for expanding VRAM


One of the features of graphics cards used in professional environments is that they usually use VRAM in a configuration known as a clamshell, which is typical of DDR memory, in which two GDDR memory chips are connected to a common memory interface, but because the connection is of two chips instead of one as usual, what is done is dividing the data bus between them in such a way that each memory chip has half the bandwidth than just one, but for each memory controller interface

But with the introduction of DirectStorage API support and SSD memory in GPUs, it is now possible to expose NVMe memory to the GPU / GPU, allowing for an extra layer in the GPU hierarchy that will store data that you can use the GPU for faster access to them.

For example, we may have a scene for rendering that takes up several tens of gigabytes and which usually requires access to the hard disk, thanks to the speed of NVMe access, this information can be accessed very quickly. But wouldn’t it be better if the GPU had this kind of memory?

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My graphics card has an SSD

SSD Samsung

AMD introduced the Radeon SSG a few years ago, this card was AMD Vega with the specialty that it had up to 2TB of NVMe storage in the form of 4 M.2 SSDs inside. This concept did not have much market success, and the Radeon SSG remained anecdote.

But this idea seemed to be to the liking of Microsoft, which decided to standardize it in the DirectStorage API and asked AMD to integrate it into the Xbox X-series SoC.On the other hand, Lisa Su’s developers did not hesitate to offer this SONY technology, and as a result, a new generation of consoles based not only on SSD, but also with a larger capacity “VRAM”.

The concept is very simple, the GPU sees both VRAM and SSD memory as if they were the same memory, but through an advanced memory controller, when a request is made for the address corresponding to the SSD to which it is copied. part of the VRAM itself, which serves as a data cache for the SSD, so thanks to the high speed of the PCI Express interface, data is quickly transferred from NVMe to RAM in a completely transparent way.

How does graphics access the SSD on the card?

Radeon SSG diagram

Each GPU has two DMA modules that allow you to access not only the system RAM, but also the latest GPUs released on the market and compatible with DirectStorage, what has been done is to provide access to the system’s SSD by granting PCI access … Express ports.

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But the installation of the SSD in the GPU is different, since this memory will be in front of the PCI Express port, for this you need to add 4 PCI Express lanes to accommodate the SSD, which AMD did with the Radeon SSG, but in the case of the AMD video card, they added another 16-line PCIe interface, hence it has 4 M.2 drives.

While it may seem silly to place one or more SSD interfaces on a graphics card, or if that fails, soldering an NVMe SSD, this is actually not the case at all if we take into account the huge benefits that this implies, especially for GPUs when looking for large amounts of data.

The key to video editing and professional ray tracing

Video encoding

One of the GPU utilities is when it comes to real-time video encoding and decoding, although there are specialized blocks when it comes to transferring video from one format to another, especially when we are talking about the big one. size, we can find that the information does not fit in VRAM and is dumped to the hard disk.

The fact of having an SSD allows this content to be offloaded to the SSD as soon as it disappears from VRAM, imagine editing a huge video of several tens or hundreds of gigabytes on your PC and find that the graphics have direct access to it. This is extremely useful for what is called Video Encoding – it converts a video file from one format and resolution to another format and resolution in real time for transmission via streaming.

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The fact that the video codec located on the GPU has access to the SSD located on the video card means performance gains, since searching for data is much shorter than searching for an SSD installed on the system. This means you can access your streaming video as quickly as possible, making it ideal for 4K video editing.

Professional ray tracing

Another key utility would be for professional ray tracing in order to fully store the entire spatial data structure of an extremely complex scene, this will help speed up the rendering process and prevent systems from spending a lot of time creating a scene or sequence of images. their.

It can be concluded that adding NVMe drives or SSDs to a graphics card is something that will dramatically improve GPU performance in professional environments, and that it will be spearheading the hardware market for professional content creators.

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