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8/12/05 New PCs: what does shared memory for video mean?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / August 10, 2005 11:12 PM PDT

Members, thank you for your participation this week. We have a lot of great answers to this week's topic on what shared memory for video is, so I encourage you to read through the selected submissions. If you have any further questions on this topic, please post them below in this discussion. We are all here to help as a community so the more we share, the more we all learn.

Thanks again and happy Friday!
-Lee Koo
CNET Community


I'm in the market for a new PC, and what I've come across
with most off-the-shelf systems is a specification of shared
memory for video. When they refer to memory, what do they
mean? Is that a good or bad thing, and should I be concerned? I will be primarily using my computer for Web surfing, e-mail
reading, and photo editing. However, I plan to expand my
usage to watching movies, playing games, and maybe even
editing some video. Since these are all video related, I'm a
bit worried that somehow the shared memory for video may
prevent me from doing these things. Any explanation and
recommendations are appreciated. I really don't want to
regret this big purchase.

Submitted by: Sandra W.


Both shared and dedicated memory have their advantages and drawbacks. You need to decide which one is best for you.

To understand shared memory, you first need to know what memory is. Memory usually refers to Random Access Memory, or RAM. When you run programs or applications on your computer, the code of those applications is loaded into the RAM, from where it is executed. The information stored in the RAM can be accessed in any random order (as opposed to a sequential access), hence the code in the RAM can be executed quickly and when required, making RAM perfect for this task.

Your monitor/LCD display needs to be instructed how to display what you see on the screen. This information is placed by the operating system and the applications you run in a similar form of random quick access memory. This could be the computer?s all-purpose system RAM, or RAM that has been specifically allotted to this task, such as a video/graphics card?s built in memory. In the latter case, this memory would be reserved solely for the task of screen display, and would be isolated from the memory available for other tasks. This is known as dedicated memory. But in the former case, you might see sharing of memory between the display and the computer applications.

In shared memory for video, the memory used for displaying the contents on the screen, will be part of the memory used by the computer for other tasks. In other words, your video RAM will actually be a part of the all-purpose system RAM. Thus, if your computer has a system RAM of 64 MB, and the current monitor settings (screensize, pixels per inch etc) require 8 MB of memory to function correctly, then your operating system and applications will have only 56 MB of RAM available to them. The other 8 MB of RAM is shared with the computer?s display, and since the display is always on, it?s never available for anything but video/display. This means the programs and applications you run now have 8MB less of memory in which to operate at all times.

The advantage of shared RAM is that it costs less than dedicated video RAM. If you aren?t going to need a lot of memory, and you don?t really want to spend much money on it, then shared RAM would be a perfectly good option. Also if you plan to buy a lot of RAM, more than you need for your computer activities, then it doesn?t hurt to share some with the video. (If you get 1 GB of memory, then sharing 128 MB on display would usually be fine, since there would be 872 MB left for other processes).

There are disadvantages too that you should know of. Like I mentioned before, the RAM assigned to display will be constantly used by the display, thus it isn?t really shared but rather lost to the video. You must make sure there will always be enough left for running other applications. But in some cases the opposite may occur. There may not be enough RAM shared with the video, although you have more system RAM than you need to run your programs. This will make it hard to play today?s graphics intensive games. In most computers the amount of shared RAM can be changed, but this usually involves entering into the BIOS and changing settings there. It is not a good idea to tamper with the BIOS if you don?t know what you?re doing, since you may inadvertently change other settings that might altogether disable your monitor, or some other hardware device. Also in most cases of shared memory, it is only possible to increase the amount of RAM shared with the video to a certain limit predetermined by the manufacturer. Thus you may not be able to share as much memory with the video as you need to. This can turn into a bit of a problem some time down the line when you buy the newest game.

Now you?re probably thinking it's just easier to go with dedicated memory rather than shared. Think again. My own laptop computer has 384 MB of RAM which meets the minimum requirements of most memory guzzling software. However it has a low end graphics card ? an nVidia GeForce4 440 which has only 64 MB of built in dedicated video memory. So although I?m using dedicated memory rather than shared, I am unable to play the newest games which require heavy graphics, since I don't have enough video RAM.

In the end you realize the question isn?t about whether shared memory is a good thing or not. It?s about how much memory you need for each task, and choosing the optimum solution.

That brings us to the final issue. How much memory do YOU need? For surfing, emails and photo editing, the amount of memory required is minimal, and you would be fine with any shared memory scheme, since even very low memory would meet the minimum requirements. Movie watching is also possible on a computer with low video RAM (shared or unshared).

However you express a desire for playing games and video editing. Doom 3, one of the newest, and most graphics intensive games, has a minimum requirement of 64 MB of hardware accelerated video RAM in addition to 384 MB of system RAM. And this is the bare minimum. If you really want to enjoy a gaming experience, you would want a system RAM of 512 MB or over and a separate high end graphics card with dedicated memory of 128 MB or more. Adobe Premier, one of the best video editing softwares, recommends 1 GB of system RAM itself. In these instances, memory sharing would not be an optimum solution. You would need a lot of video RAM as well as a lot of system RAM. It isn't common to buy shared memory in such large amounts. And anyway, for the video you?d be better off purchasing a separate high end graphics card with sufficient dedicated video memory, since you want to play those 3D games.

Your best bet would be to go for a system RAM of 512 MB or more (1 GB recommended) , and a high end graphics card with dedicated RAM of 128 MB or more (256 recommended but expensive). Since the high end graphics card will have the video memory required for the task, you would not need to share memory.
These of course are very high memory quantities/values and will probably cost a fair deal of money, but they will be ideal for the tasks you wish to use this computer for. Else if cost is a big issue, I?ve provided you with enough information here to make your own decision between the two (shared or dedicated), and if you go for shared, you can decide how much you would like shared.

Hope this helps. Good luck with the purchase.

Submitted by: Gary P. of Atlanta, Georgia (USA)

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Honorable mentions
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / August 10, 2005 11:12 PM PDT

Sandra, when they talk about "shared video memory", they mean the video board built into the computer is using up some of your regular system memory as part of its normal operation, rather than the video adapter having its own dedicated memory chips built onto it.

(So, for example, if your computer comes with 256MB of system memory, but the computer has "shared video memory" - it may "borrow" 32MB from your 256MB, effectively leaving Windows with 224MB to work with.)

As long as you have enough system memory installed in the computer, this probably isn't a really big problem in and of itself, but there's another "catch". The video chipsets that used shared memory are generally used because they're inexpensive. They're not geared towards "performance". They're probably just fine for web surfing, email and basic photo editing. But if you're planning on playing games, video editing and movie-watching - you could easily be left wanting something more.

If you're really happy with everything else about the computer in question though, the shared video memory still might not be a "deal breaker". On most of these systems, you can install a better video card after the fact. (You may want to verify that the computer does, indeed, have a usable "AGP" or "PCI express" type video slot inside it for this purpose.) If so, installing a new video board in that slot should automatically disable the built-in video - and all you'd have to do is move your monitor's video cable to the plug on the back of the new board you put in.) Good video cards for gaming aren't cheap (which is why so many manufacturers give you inexpensive, relatively poor-performing video in the systems the way you buy them "off the shelf"), but you wouldn't have to make the investment until you're really ready to use it, if you go this route.

Submitted by: Tom W.




When you see the notation that a computer uses shared memory for the video, it means that the computer doesn't have a separate video card. Instead, it uses a function of the motherboard's chipset to display video. The other marketing term sometimes used for this is onboard video. The term shared memory refers to the fact that the onboard video doesn't have its own dedicated memory to use as a frame buffer like a video card does. Instead, the chipset uses a portion of the system memory (RAM) as a frame buffer. That's why in a system that uses onboard video Windows will report that the amount of installed memory is smaller than the size of the modules installed. For example, if the system has a 256MB RAM module installed but has the video memory share set at 64MB, Windows will report that 192MB of RAM is installed.

With modern processors and motherboards, and inexpensive system RAM, onboard video is not a handicap for everyday computing tasks like using MS Office, the internet, and email. It won't affect photoediting or movie watching either, usually. However throw games into the equation and you've got a problem. With the exception of some chipsets which have versions of the nVidia GeForce or ATI Radeon video chipset built in, onboard video will make games run like slideshows. Even those with the more capable video chipsets aren't going to be speed demons because they contain detuned versions of several generations-old video chipsets. If you want to be able to play 3D games on the computer, you're going to need one which has a dedicated game-capable video card.

The most inexpensive computers, usually from the large brand name companies, have no capacity for even installing a high performance video card because they don't have the necessary AGP or PCI-X slot. So what you should buy is a computer which either already has a games-capable video card installed when you purchase it, or has an AGP or PCI-X slot built-in for upgrading from the onboard video. This means that you aren't going to be able to use the slim-case $299 computers that are so heavily advertised, but it doesn't mean that you have to get one of the $6000 dual video card gaming monsters in a custom airbrushed case either.

Just to confuse the issue just a bit more, if the system you buy includes a flat panel LCD monitor, you should look into that monitor's specs regarding response time if you are going to want to watch movies or play fast moving games on it. Less expensive LCD monitors often use slow-reacting LCD panels that cause blurring and streaking (ghosting) of fast moving images, making movie watching and game playing an unpleasant experience. Older style CRT monitors don't have this issue at all, but it is something to watch for when buying a system with an LCD, especially in low-priced packages that include the monitor.

Submitted by: Steve S. of Osage Beach, MO



Dear Sandra W.,
When you're in the market for a new PC, you will usually come across the option you described. It's what is commonly know as getting either integrated graphics (Intel Extreme Graphics 2) or dedicated graphics (i.e., ATI Radeon, nVidia GeForce). There is a difference, often quite significant, especially given the tasks you hope to work on.

First of all, when they refer to memory, it means one of two things: system memory or video memory. When you choose integrated graphics, what is actually happening is your computer is using a portion of your system memory to run graphics. For example, if you buy a system with 512MB of memory and the specifications state it has a 64MB integrated graphics system, it means that you have 448MB of memory that the system has access to and 64MB that the graphics has access to (448+64=512MB). When you choose dedicated graphics (a video card installed), it is exactly that: the memory on the board is entirely separate and dedicated solely to graphics. For example, if you buy a system with 512MB of memory and an ATI Radeon X800 video card with 256MB of memory, your system can access the entire 512MB of memory on the motherboard; the video graphics subsystem has its on memory on its own card, so it can access the entire 256MB of memory that is for its exclusive use. The advantage here is the memory on a dedicated video card can move at the speed the graphics chip operates at, resulting in vastly superior graphics as compared to integrated graphics. Also, having dedicated graphics takes quite a load off the processor subsystem because the graphics card has its own processor dedicated solely to graphics (hence the chipset names such as ATI Radeon and nVidia GeForce).

Second, integrated graphics is not necessarily a bad thing, but not one I would personally choose. The decision lies with each individual based on their usage. If you were to purchase a computer with integrated graphics, you can always upgrade to a video card if your system has a PCI Express x16 slot. This used to be AGP graphics, but as always with computers, things change. Part of the issue is you will probably save money initially by going with integrated graphics; you can always upgrade to a card later. However, given that you plan on watching movies, playing games, and editing video, dedicated graphics is the way to go. This allows you to put the strain on your system, and it will likely handle it without a hiccup. The system processor will process the data for your game, video, etc., and the graphics chip will render all your graphics.

I hope I have been able to answer most of your questions and adress most of your concerns. Good luck on your new computer purchase, and I am sure you will make the decision that is most appropriate to and beneficial to your situation.

Submitted by: Eduardo G.



First, a few definitions are in order... Video memory refers to memory that memory that the graphic processor (GPU) uses to store bits of the image you see on your monitor. It stores color information for each pixel on the screen. Way back in the "dark ages" of computing, (i.e. the 1980's and 1990's), a video card was - as the name suggests, a card that was plugged into the computer's main board. Since it was separate, it required its own memory.

The trend as of say, the last 5 years or so has been to consolidate video into the circuitry of the motherboard. Some bean counting electronics wizard who designed these consolidated motherboards figured out that they no longer needed to add extra video memory (which, at the time was NOT as cheap as it is these days) dedicated to video when there was a pool of memory already on the system - the main system memory. By using system memory, they could shave the cost of having separate (and expensive) video memory from the price of making the motherboard. The upshot of this is a cheaper system. Fewer components often yield lower prices.

This can be a problem if you don't have a lot of overall system memory to begin with. Some high end video devices can make use of 128 or more MBs of RAM to make things look good - especially when playing games or processing video. If you've only got 256 MB RAM on your system and the video subsystem is taking half of it away, your system is going to be very sluggish especially with Windows XP.

Therefore, if you're going with a motherboard that has onboard video, it's best to have LOTS of extra RAM that can be dedicated to video. I would recommend a bare minimum of 640 MB overall RAM. That'll give you 512 MB for the system and 128 MB dedicated to video. Remember, when buying a computer, the MORE RAM you add, the better your system performance will be.

The downside to having built in video is that you're stuck to whatever the motherboard comes with. On the bright side, most modern video chipsets are good enough for most tasks. You'd have to look awful hard to find one that won't work with most PC based MPEG (DVD) players or most games. It?s generally a good idea to look through all of the games and applications you?re planning on playing/using to see what they suggest for their recommended systems.

Hedging your bets...

Many of the lower-ended motherboards do not have an AGP (Advanced Graphics Port) slot so you can add a better video card should you want to, or need to, somewhere down the line. On the plus side, it's cheaper - once again, the mantra "fewer components, lower cost." The big tick in the negative column, however, is that once your system?s warranty expires, should you need to replace the onboard video because it died or want to replace the onboard video with a newer, more powerful video card with all the cool features (TV capture, S-Video output, etc?), you will probably have to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water - an upgrade will mean a new motherboard and with the rate things are changing these day, quite possibly will mean new RAM and a CPU - at which point, you might as well buy a new computer. Of course, this IS what the manufacturers want - you spending money on their wares. Getting another $500 to $1500 from you is better for them than the cheap fix - a $50 video card.

Video cards come in many flavors from generic low end starting at about $35 and going all the way up to gaming specialty cards going for over $400. Most all of them are made to make use of the AGP slot on a motherboard. PCI slot video cards are slower and getting harder to find and have fewer features than their faster AGP cousins. Thus, it?s best to get a system with an AGP slot built onto the motherboard. It doesn?t add much to the cost of the system and, if nothing else, gives you some insurance.

Submitted by: Pete Z.




When the specs state that the video memory is shared, they mean that instead of a separate video card, the system is using a video chip situated on the motherboard and that the chip is sharing the system memory rather than using it's own dedicated memory. All video cards use memory to do their job, whether they use the systems or their own.

Separate video cards have their own memory, ranging from 64MB's to 512MB's.
An on-board video card is adequate for web surfing, using basic applications like a word processor, spread sheet, simple photo editing etc. In other words tasks that don't need much video horsepower. If it is sharing the systems memory, and you have 512MB's of system memory or more, you will have no problems doing basic tasks on your system, since you will still have well over the 256MB's that you require to run your system, as long as you don't run a large number of applications at once. If you do that, you may find it necessary to add more memory to the system so it can keep that many tasks open without running out of system resources.

Where you will run into problems is if you are running applications that require a more powerful video card with a lot of resident memory available to it. By the way, any video card worth it's salt will have 128MB's or 256MB's of it's own memory. Don't bother with a system that has a 64MB video card. You will be buying old technology. Also the newest video cards are PCI Express cards. AGP video cards are still excellent, but the newest systems have PCI Express video. A separate video card, depending on the card of course, will do a better job of running video intensive tasks such as games, graphics applications etc. Also, because the video card has its own memory, the system will be able to use all its memory for running programs, since it won't have to share its memory with the video card.

I recommend either purchasing a higher end system that includes a separate video card or at least getting a system that has a video card slot so that you can have one added later if necessary. Be careful, many of the entry level systems do not have a video card slot. Keep away from them.

If you will definitely be playing games on your system and doing video editing, rather than having to start upgrading your system soon after you get it home, you may as well get the right piece of equipment to begin with. A system with a separate video card will probably have better parts as well, since they are meant for higher performance in general.

Please let us know more specifically which programs you will be using as well as your budjet. Also, let us know which systems you are considering. With that added info, I'm sure you will recieve a great deal of advice.

Hope I've been some help to you.

Submitted by: Larry H.



This is a great question and one that is very confusing for the average PC user.

To start with, video systems require a RAM memory area to store the data about what you see on the monitor screen. This can be supplied by memory on a video card (dedicated memory) or by system memory (shared memory). In a dedicated memory scheme, the memory for the video is supplied by a dedicated video card and is not used by the operating system, such as Windows XP. In a shared memory scheme, the memory for the video is supplied by the RAM that the operating system uses. This memory area cannot be used by the OS and is subtracted from available memory by the BIOS. What this means is that if the system has 512 MB of RAM and 128 MB is used for video, than the OS will only have 384 MB available to use, not the full 512 MB. You will have to make allowances for that when you look at application requirements.

For general use, shared memory video is ok. It is much slower than dedicated memory, but fast enough to not impact daily usage. However, it is in no way suitable for games, video editing and any other high demand video. For those types of applications, a good video card is a requirement. In fact, a lot of the latest games will not work with shared memory video. They require a good video card to be playable.

This does not mean that the system you are looking at is a bad system. It probably has an available AGP or PCIe video card slot for upgrading and very good video cards are available online and at electronics stores for good prices. Simply get a video card that meets your needs and put it in the system. The BIOS will detect the change and release the reserved memory back to the system for the OS.

The main thing you are looking for in a new system is amount of RAM, size of hard drive, type of optical drive, and USB port placement. The brand of CPU and speed are not as important as you might think, since a system with a fast CPU and inadequate RAM and/or too small a hard drive is slower and more frustrating to use than a system with a slower CPU and plenty of RAM and larger hard drive. The minimum amount of RAM I would recommend is 512 MB with 1 gigabyte if you can afford it. Since you want to do video editing, which takes a lot of disk space, go for the biggest drive you can get, such as 200 or 300 gigabytes. You will be surprised at how fast you can eat up disk space with videos.

For advice on a good video card, search CNET and Tom?s Hardware Guide ( Tom?s Hardware Guide is unbiased and very thorough with their hardware reviews and they have a great video card section to help you determine what is best for you.

I hope this helps you with your decision.

Submitted by: David L. of Mesquite, TX
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And the answer is....
by cayble / August 12, 2005 7:40 AM PDT
In reply to: Honorable mentions

To put it in the simplest of terms that gets to the root of the question for people who don?t understand the issues involved is; shared video is a lower end hardware setup that allows the video processes to borrow memory from the Random Access Memory of the computer to run all video. This is a cheaper alternative then a video card that has its own onboard memory to run video so it can be attractive from that perspective. The two drawbacks are first that it will use up a portion of the general system RAM and will tend to make the computer run, at the very least, a little slower on some occasions compared to a similar system with a dedicated video card, and secondly the video processing in a dedicated video card is almost always somewhat better if not tremendously better in most circumstances.
The question really is, how does one who still doesn?t know what?s best for them come to a decision? Go for economy or go for performance? The important thing to remember is this; for general web surfing, emailing, all older games and even many current games integrated video, with enough RAM in the main system will do the job without a lot of difficulty. On the other hand, many new games are outstripping the capacity of integrated video already, particularly when playing online games with multiple players, and many other types of applications are going to require an ever increasing video rendering capacity in the near future.
If someone is about to purchase a new computer and doesn?t know which way to go on the video issue, just be careful you do not under estimate the interest and usage that you may develop in the first year or so of ownership. I have known at least 3 people, one over 70 years old, who purchased a new computer ?on the cheap? for emails and surfing and photo storage, and within 2 years had to purchase new ones because they underestimated their interest. They could have purchased a unit that would have met their needs the first time for about 15% more then what they paid; instead they sold what they had at a 50% loss and had to buy a whole new unit.
The message is, if your only going to save fifty to one hundred dollars on a fairly significant purchase, you had better be very very very sure you are saving the money by not purchasing something you don?t wish you had in six months.

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THIS is the winner
by ChazzMatt / August 14, 2005 11:28 AM PDT
In reply to: And the answer is....

the explanation above was concise without obsessing over confusing technical issues.

In all the computers I've built, I rarely ever recommend shared RAM. it's what Dell and others have gone to, to cut costs and they think you won't notice the difference. With dedicated RAM on a separate video card, I find windows pop open faster and I can have more web page windows open without the system getting too sluggish -- because my video RAM is dedicated to display while all my system RAM is dedicated to applications.

Due to code bloat, modern applications use more and more RAM -- and this won't get better. You don't need some of it being siphoned off for other purposes.

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Other explanations from our members
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / August 10, 2005 11:13 PM PDT

Sandra W.

Buying a new computer is exciting. Shared video memory is apparently a cheap way to build a system and thus you see it in a lot of big box stores. Two things you need to know about this. The shared memory never works as well as an equal amount of memory from a dedicated video card. Also, the shared memory will effectively reduce the amount of usable memory for your other systems. For example if they sell you a machine that they say has 256 MB of memory with 64 MB shared video. You only have about 192 MB available to run your applications. If all you are doing is email, web surfing, and BASIC photo editing. That may be fine (although 256 MB is pretty small for today's standards. I would go with more).

Just make sure your computer has an open AGP slot on the motherboard before you buy. If the sales rep doesn't know if it does or not, ask to open the cover and look for yourself. It should be a long black slot set more towards the center of the motherboard. The AGP slot is specific for video cards. If you have one of those slots and it's open, you're good. When you are ready to start playing games, you can buy a kickin video card from ATI or NVIDIA and install it yourself. My maching was an off the shelf system with 512 MB and 64 shared which worked for me for a while until someone bought me a video game that the shared video couldn't handle. I purchased a NVIDIA GEFORCE card and all my video runs much more smoothly. The card was amazingly easy to install and the effect on video performance was instant. If the computer you are looking at doesn't have an AGP slot, you can purchase a video card which works in the smaller PCI slots, but these cards tend to cost more money and since PCI is designed to handle a whole group of peripherals (modems, sounds cards, etc.), I don't know if you will get the same performance as a card installed in an AGP slot.

So I say for now, if all you are doing is web surf and email, you can buy any machine at any price and do that. Just look at the mother board and make sure there is room for expansion. Good luck.

Submitted by: Dan K.



Given the demands we place upon our PCs, even when we didn't have them in mind when choosing the system, this is a good question. The "X" MB of shared video memory is main memory that is allocated by the computer's BIOS for exclusive use by the integrated video card instead of being available for Windows to use and allocate to the apps you run. Should you only use the PC for general web activities, this won't be a problem. But as you want photo, video editing and gaming potential this will become an issue. This will show itself as
a) excessive hard drive activity as Windows swaps sections of virtual memory in and out of main memory - along with the delay as the data is transferred and then read. Not what you want when editing or playing games. For example; I've seen 512MB systems with 128MB shared video memory. A typical XP system with antivirus, firewall and 4-6 other system tray apps will use 256MB. So on the 128MB shared system only 128MB is left, which will quickly get eaten when you start editing or playing and will definitely not be enough. You would want at least 256MB free for gaming or editing.
b) reduced video performance as the video card itself competes with the rest of the system for memory access via the memory controller, this will most likely show up as skipped frames or a stutter - just the thing to spoil that great movie you had on.
c) the integrated video card itself will be a low end card, not the best for gaming or video editing.
So, for your needs, shared video memory is bad.

Assuming the motherboard will give the desired performance - in most brand name systems they will give acceptable but not desirable performance - you could simply ensure the system chosen has an available slot for your video card, ideally PCI Express to allow an upgrade path, and purchase a video card along with your system to replace the integrated card. This is the Gaffer Tape and Blu-Tac method - it ain't pretty and isn't the best, but it will work. By far the best option would be to visit your local dedicated PC store and have a system built to suit your needs rather than making do with a versatile but unspecialised brand-name system. The custom system may cost a little more, but will take care of your needs properly and not be cluttered by unneeded bundled software.

When you do get your system, your monitor will also need to be considered. An LCD looks flash, gives great colour and doesn't cause eye strain from inadequate refresh rates - On the downside, if it doesn't have a response time of 8ms or less it won't be too good for games or video editing.
A CRT on the other hand has the best response for games and video editing, but is heavy and consumes more power.

Good luck with your purchase.

Submitted by: Thur T.



There are 2 really important questions you need to answer for yourself:
A) what kind of games interest you?
B) how serious are you about video editing?

In answer to your question, the shared memory they are refering to is your Ready Access Memory (RAM). On board video nowadays is vastly improved over what used to be pretty much only adequate for 2D applications but now are almost always AGP(a special bus for video needed for high speed 3D graphics) solutions that typically allow you to allocate either 32 or 64 MB of your system memory which allows you to view fancy graphics and load elaborate screen savers (such as the aquarium screen saver that comes with WinXP Plus!)
For the casual gamer this is quite adequate, especially if you are upgrading from another "off the shelf" computer that's a PIII or older - a modest computer for less than 800 bucks will greatly improve your computing pleasure (most especially if you are new to broadband internet access)!
The down side of this graphics solution is a dedicated graphics card has it's own processor and memory whereas onboard graphics uses your main processor and system memory. Clearly this is not a high performance solution, but what exactly does that mean to you?
The bottom line is you will be able to play almost any game, however if you want to play the latest and the greatest or very demanding games such as Half Life 2 or Doom 3 you wouldn't be able to enjoy all of the features or play competitively; and you will be able to do video editing, only less quickly and it will use up most of your computer's resourses.
Seriouse gaming computers use cutting edge technology that comes dearly, (although Alienware now makes gaming computers priced for more mainstream users like yourself as well as more high end models)
So in closing I'd like to point out that the newest graphics technology is called PCI Express and the newest processor technology is dual core processors. I mention this because you are refering to your new computer as a "big purchase" and these are available in "off the shelf" computers (just not the cheapest ones) and although you absolutely don't need these things for the computing you described, you will be looking toward the future.

Submitted by: Marty B.



Shared memory GPUs use a chunk of your main system memory whereas regular GPUs have their own dedicated memory. The only shared memory GPU I would consider is ATI's new Radeon Xpress 200, used by the HP a1130n and several other AMD Athlon 64 based PCs. (nVidia's next shared memory GPU will be worth a look when it ships.) It's a few times faster than Intel's latest shared memory graphics chip.

I built a Shuttle ST20G5 SFF machine that uses this ATI GPU and found that it was sufficient for playing UT2004 Demo at 800x600 res. At higher resolutions shared memory GPUs lack the memory bandwidth necessary to maintain decent framerates. For serious gaming and perhaps high-resolution video editing, plan on adding a proper graphics card. These store-bought PCs may or may not have a power supply capable of handling high-end graphics cards so I advise sticking with midrange cards such as the nVidia 6600GT. The new card will override the onboard GPU or, in the case of some of ATI's newer cards when paired with the Xpress 200, allow you to use both GPUs on separate monitors at the same time. For non-gaming use a separate video card is rarely required, but plan on installing 1GB of main memory to compensate for losing 128MB of RAM to the shared memory GPU.

Submitted by: Brian S.



Hi there:

Yes, you should be concerned if you?re going to do some video editing and video games. When buying a PC, try getting the one that has an open AGP (Accelerated Graphic Port) slot. Shared video memory is only good enough to run the OS (Operating System) and other small applications that don?t require very high memory bandwidth. (e.g. Internet, email, office software and some of the older games?)

When buying a video card (which goes into the AGP slot) the minimum I would recommend is 128MB. They are not expensive. You can find a decent one for about $100. Buying online is usually cheaper and some of the dealers I like are: and . If you prefer buying a PC with the Video Card already installed try looking for the one that does not say; ??SHARED VIDEO?? or something of that nature in the description. Anyway Good luck!

Submitted by: Eugene G.



Your did not say if you were buying a Desktop or a Laptop. If you plan on a Desktop, then just get any new model that has a decent video card, already built in. Don?t buy one with share video Ram. You computer should have at least 128 megabytes ( I use 256mb on my PC) of dedicated video ram, soldered onboard the ram module. This frees up the regular ram memory that is being used by the main CPU to run your computer. If already have a computer with shared video ram, then all you need is to add the maximum amount of ram your computer will hold. This is usually up 2 gigabits on most desktops. Ram is cheap now days, and it is the best investment you can make in upgrading your computer without having to get a new motherboard and CPU processor.

Most desktops ship nowadays with only 512mb of high speed ram sitting in two to four rows on the motherboard. My new PC shipped to me with two, 256mb ram chips for a total of 512mb. I added a 1 gigabyte ram module latter to bring it up too 1.5 gigabytes. If you have a laptop like mine, then shared video ram comes built in to my mobile laptop. I just added 2 gigs of memory too max out my laptop with ram. This makes my laptop much faster using Photoshop. As a professional digital photographer, I use a lot of programs that hog memory. You can never have too much ram! I always recommend to friends and family, that they buy as much ram as they can afford. Ram lets you use your computer faster, by letting you open more programs and documents on your desktop. Each program uses a certain amount of onboard ram when it is launched. Some programs like Photoshop use large chunks of ram, while you are working or viewing multiple images at once. When Photoshop uses up all of the onboard ram, it starts to swap data to the hard drive, by writing and reading to free space on your C hard drive. Which is a very slow way to move megabytes of data though your computer?s system buss and CPU. Ram can move data very quickly in and out of the CPU at an almost instantaneous rate.

Hard drives are used for the storage of programs and data that you will use again. Ram stores temporary data, like Windows XP, during the boot up. All data is lost in the Ram chips, when you turn off the computer. That is why ram is called volatile memory. It only holds data as long as there is power to the chip. If you should crash the computer while writing a word document, you will probably lose the text forever, unless you saved it from the ram onto your hard drive.

For all the stuff you want to do with your computer, Ram makes it happen fast. 256mb of ram on a separate Video card frees up the main ram chips on the motherboard for the CPU, making your computer faster and more robust.

Submitted by: Gary W.



Dear Sandra,
shared video memory is very common in off the shelf systems, what this means is that instead of having a dedicated graphics (video) card the system has one built in to the motherboard (main system board), this uses the computer's main memory (ram) instead of a stand-alone card which uses its own memory. This can slow down the system. This is not the main problem with shared video memory as it is easy to buy more RAM, more that this denotes poor graphics capabilities due to their being no stand alone card! (stand alone cards are far superior in terms of power). For web surfing and email, in-built graphics are fine, for photo editing they are acceptable (space is more important), watching movies will be fine, video editing will struggle a little bit (main processor is more important) but if you intend on playing games with lots of nice detail and a high resolution then you will need a dedicated graphics card by ati or nvidia. This is easy to specify on any manufacturer website but can also be retrofitted later.

as you have not specified a price range i will just put down some spending ratios for you!
memory (ram):2 (dell and some other manufacturers overcharge hideously for ram so it may be worth fitting some yourself as it is a very simple procedure to do)
hard drive:2 (editing videos and photos and storing games can take up lots of space)
if you plan on editing video and watching dvds you will need a dvd writer

obviously this is a very rough guide that will only work in certain price ranges but anything within a couple of points on each item will probably be just fine. Remember if in doubt spend more not less
Happy Shopping!

Submitted by: Ed C.



From my practical experience, if you are doing photo editing or video editing, do not use video sharing. Today's good photo editing and video editing software is memory intensive. This means that it uses a lot of memory and the short answer is you do not want other applications sharing the memory that your photo or video editing application is using. Refer to how to setup photo shop caching and this will give you some idea of the type of memory these apps use. I cannot explain all the nuances of memory usage and caching here.

I will give and overview of ROM Shadowing, aka, memory sharing:
ROM chips are slow compared to DRAM. This is why in most systems, ROM is copied into RAM at start up to allow for faster access during normal operations. The performance increase is slight and may cause problems if it is improperly setup. Sometimes it causes problems even if it is properly set up. Therefore, if possible, and not absolutely necessary, it is wise not to use ROM shadowing.

Also, it is useless in 32 bit systems as it is meant to be used with 16 bit systems. The 32 bit systems do not use the 16 bit ROM code, but load 32 bit drivers into RAM, which replaces the 16 bit BIOS code used during system start up. This may also be a source of potential driver conflicts. If you are running DOS -Based programs and games, then you can manually optimize upper memory area configurations, but for the most part, in today's world, it is not worth it.

If you are using and older windows machine, it is probably time for an upgrade. With new technology, you should not have to use memory sharing. If you are using Photo Shop CS2 as a photo editor, I recommend a minimum of 2GB of memory. More memory will help you, but memory sharing will most likely cause you problems.There are more detailed discussions of this over the Internet, google memory sharing or ROM shadowing.

Submitted by: Luther H.



You may visit about link for definition of Shared Memory

As it states part of Main Memory is used for video display. It will use the memory that application would use. This is not recommended for Gaming, Video Editing, etc. You may refer to above link for term like Video RAM, Adapter, etc.
Refer to this link for Memory Definition And I also recommend to download this excellent memory guide in PDF format


For role of memory in computer. It also suggests how much memory is recommended for PC depending on OperatingSys , Hardware & usage pattern. Visit this link for WinXP

Submitted by: Ashar B. of India
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by dsterling9 / August 15, 2005 6:12 AM PDT

One of the post suggested asking the sales rep if the computer you're looking ask has an open AGP slot and that if the sales rep does not know ask to open the machine and check for yourself. If the sales rep does not know...RUN...DO NOT WALK...out of the stores and never look back. If the sales rep (clerk) does not know any more than that about the machine GOD help you if you need assistance/service.

Just my opinion!

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You forgot something critical in your explanation.
by edge_bit / August 11, 2005 9:16 PM PDT


If this individual is simply trying to save some cash and might have more cash down the road to buy an expensive video card all they need now is a fully integrated system with shared video/system RAM - AND the ability to have an AGP or PCIe add-in video board added at the store.

If you're not buying a big-name pre-made PC, its next to impossible to find a new system board that doesn't support PCIe these days. I would definitely recommend finding a PCIe compatible system because it allows you to expand into the future.

AGP is the other standard that most systems in homes right now probably use. It is just about at the end of its run and new video boards will not likely support it in the future.

So go ahead and buy a system from a local computer shop with a brand new integrated motherboard. All you have to make sure of is that the integrated video is moderately good and that you buy lots of system RAM. If you're buying a new computer these days 1024MB (1GB) of RAM is pretty cheap and I'd recommend going with that.

The local Future Shop (the same as Best Buy in the US) doesn't seem to carry many PCIe-compatible systems yet. I wouldn't recommend one of these stores if you have a specific purpose in mind for your system.

Well, thats about it.


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you're right
by garyofcourse / August 11, 2005 11:34 PM PDT

Buying what you can afford now and updating/expanding later is a good idea.
- Gary P.

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Well done on a brilliant analysis
by bren2310 / August 11, 2005 9:58 PM PDT

Although this topic is not something of immediate concern to me it may well be an issue at sometime in the future. And I too would not have had a clue as to the best option. (Its a bit like optical zoom v digital zoom when buying a camera). So thank you for your quite brilliant analysis of the subject. I will now be able to make an informed decision when the time comes.


Brendan Earley

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by garyofcourse / August 12, 2005 3:22 AM PDT

I appreciate the compliment. I surfed some websites to make sure my info was correct, and I learnt a few new things myself.
Gary P.

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Shared memory. Absolutely NOT!
by g52ultra / August 11, 2005 10:08 PM PDT

i'd like to add something to that. The most graphics intensive features of next years Windows Vista will want 128mb min of dedicated video. I really think that if you are buying a computer right now, you shouldn't rip yourself off in the future, by buying one of these inferior shared systems. The only reason manufacturers make them this way is because it's the cheapest way possible to make a computer. The Best Buy's stores shelves are lined with them.

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I am throughly confused now
by mustang3 / August 11, 2005 10:29 PM PDT

I just got out the paperwork that came with our Dell 8400. The memory is 1 GB Dual Channel SDRAM at 400 MHz.

It has a 128 MB PCI Express x 16 ATI Radeon X300 SE Video Card

160 GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)

It has a 24 Bit Sound Blaster Live Advanced HD audio
Sound Card

Is this enough of what you are talking about or do I need something else added. Basically what I do on the computer is email, photo editing and printing and storage. I have Word Office installed and The Print Shop. It came with a trial version of Jasc Studio Pro but I am thinking about buying a hardcopy rather than a download when the trial runs out in 7 more days.
I really didn't know what I was needing when I ordered this computer so I tried to go with the middle of the line features.

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Dell 8400
by gtoguy / August 11, 2005 11:17 PM PDT

This is one of DELL's best systems. It does have a separate video card. It can be upgraded, although it is pretty well equipped already. You should be perfectly fine with it. J.M.

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Check Out Dimension 9100
by davedude / August 13, 2005 1:24 AM PDT
In reply to: Dell 8400

I believe Dell has replaced the Dimension 8400 with the 9100. The model is very similar to the 8400, but sports a sleeker BTX case, the beefier Radian X600 256MB graphics card, dual core processor support, and several other very nice features. I would definitely recommend this desktop for any power user with a limited budget.

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it's simple, really...
by cadavatar / August 11, 2005 11:26 PM PDT

Sounds to me like that's a decent system. Go with it. If you have a problem, you can always add memory of a video card.

But my suspicion is that it'll be great for your needs.

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yes you're good
by garyofcourse / August 11, 2005 11:57 PM PDT

Basically, the RAM you have on your computer is 1GB of system RAM and 128 MB of video RAM. The 1GB of system RAM was precisely what I recommended. 1GB of system RAM will allow you to do practically any memory intensive task. The video RAM of 128MB will allow you to run graphic intensive softwares (video editing, designing etc) and play the latest games. If you are an avid gamer I might have recommended 256MB video RAM, but 128 mb is still a very good amount especially if you only play games occasionally, or arent too picky about game performance.
I say you've made a good buy, stick with it.
-Gary P

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Shared Memory- NO NO
by gtoguy / August 11, 2005 10:41 PM PDT

Most of your 'SALE' new computers don't even HAVE an AGP slot for a video card. Shared memory ALWAYS slows your system down. If you can find a system with a separate video card, you will be better off. What if you want to get a nice flat screen monitor with a DIGITAL input? There are no DIGITAL VIDEO connectors on low priced computers. For the best performance, You want a system with an AGP slot, that you can install a video card with a digital output. That is the fastest setup. J.M.

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AGP is not the fastest, that was last year
by funkid7 / August 11, 2005 11:27 PM PDT
In reply to: Shared Memory- NO NO

PCI Express(newest, not old PCI) is better and faster than AGP. Nvidia has even faster coming soon, if not already being marketed. I will have to go and take a peek again.
THere are games being developed even now that are designed to run only with the new dual core technology and high-end graphics of tomorrow. But this is already in the works today. Check out "CityLife" and especially "Spore" soon coming from Will Wright of Maxis. These games will not run with integrated anything! The word Integrated should be a warning word, meaning: DO NOT BUY THIS! IMHO.

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(NT) Just upgrade motherboard
by iron1800 / August 12, 2005 10:35 PM PDT
In reply to: Shared Memory- NO NO

The cheapest way would to be to upgrade your motherboard. This can be done pretty cheap through or many other online computer wholesalers for around $200.00 though you have to have a little computer experience. They also have onlie tutorials that walk you through the process.

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Know your stuff
by Ricosan / August 12, 2005 3:10 AM PDT

Most of the computers I've checked out at various stores (Including Best Buy, CompUSA, Circuit City) are set at a build-in GPU but give the option of upgrading to an AGP or PCI-E card. Shared memory is pretty much a lost cause unless all you'd use it for is email and word processing (Then again the next gen Windows requires dedicated). If you intend on gaming or doing other video memory tasking projects, I suggest you learn as much as you can about the build and theory of computing... Think of it as buying a car... don't buy one to race unless you know how to drive well and know what goes on under the hood.

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AGP and shared memory
by Olifrench / August 11, 2005 10:10 PM PDT

Apart from the man who talked about 'Ready Access Memory', nobody has talked about AGP also sharing memory, which, if I remember, was one of the selling points of the technology when it came out, but I believe was largely ignored because better performance was had by adding more memory on the card.

I suspect integrated graphic chipsets use AGP technology.

Two questions: 1)Is it only coincidental that integrated graphics use shared memory? In other words, wouldn't it be possible for them to use dedicated graphics memory on the motherboard? 2) Is it correct to say, as several contributors have, that graphics cards have their own processors but integrated graphics don't? Are we not talking of GPUs in both cases?

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Shared video RAM? noooooooooo
by Eldor Luedtke / August 11, 2005 11:39 PM PDT
In reply to: AGP and shared memory

OK, AGP is also faster than PCI (I know, PCIX is REAL fast), integrated GPUs use AGP now, but, I would NOT use shared RAM integrated GPU for anything more than web, email, spread sheet, ect. One thing I did not see pointed out is that system ram is generaly slower than dedicated RAM on a vidio card, also,128 MB is NOT so expensive on a good video card. I will use the example of DOOM 3, the box may SAY 384 MB in minimum, but my wife played it as well as an expansion pack on a system with an AMD Athlon XP 1700+, 256MB RAM and an nVidia FX5200 video card with 128 MB on it, game played nice and smooth. If her video was integrated it would have not worked well at all, if at all. If you want to play the newest 3D games, and be able to for some time to come, get the fastes PC and video with the most RAM you can afford, that way it will be around for a while.

Please excuse poor gramar/spelling, this is a rush job, must go Happy

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by garyofcourse / August 12, 2005 12:47 AM PDT
In reply to: AGP and shared memory

1) it is not coincidental, it is the only possibility. if the card does not have its own dedicated memory, the only other memory available to it is the system RAM which it needs to share. i agree, the motherboard has memory of its own (look like black rectangles on the motherboard), but this is used solely to carry out the activities of the motherboard. thus a graphics card cannot use any memory on the motherboard. im sure its possible to make one of these tho, but then the graphics card would only work on that motherboard. Manufacturers would not usually want to create platform dependant products like this since they wouldnt sell.
2) all graphics cards need to have some processing power. nowadays integrated graphics cards are not so much actual cards but rather just a component of the motherboard. i think they would use the chipsets/microprocessors on the motherboard. im not sure if this qualifies as the card having its own processor or not, since the card is one with the motherboard.

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by Olifrench / August 12, 2005 9:26 AM PDT
In reply to: well..

Bit of a muddled answer there, gary. With respect.

It seems a given that integrated graphics (you can't really talk of a 'card' since there is no card but the chips are on the motherboard, by definition) use shared memory but I was asking if it was just the way it is or if it would be possible to have video memory on the motherboard (which could be faster than the system RAM). You didn't really answer that question.

The second question was whether it was correct to affirm that graphic cards had their own processors and imply that integrated graphics hadn't. We're not talking geography, here. Or whether it qualifies as separate if it's on the same support. I was asking if there is not a GPU in the integrated graphics chip set and on the separate graphics card, these GPUs being the processors that people refer to when they say that the separate graphics card has its own processor.

Not that I am saying that integrated graphics are as good as separate graphics cards, of course. But maybe they could?

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Just a minor correction.
by packetman / August 11, 2005 11:08 PM PDT

In you example, the amount of memory available for applications with 128MB of shared RAM used for video would be 896, not 872. It would be 1024MB (or 1GB) - 128MB.

Not much I will admit, but to some of us, the 24MB is important.

"Gee, will they ever need more than 640KB of RAM?" I remember when this was a HUGE chunk of memory....

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by garyofcourse / August 12, 2005 12:52 AM PDT

oops. you're right. for a moment there i forgot 1gb was 1024 mb and not 1000. thanks.
and yeah, its funny how today 640kb is almost nothing.
Gary P

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Do not get integrated video!!!
by Zippy / August 11, 2005 11:21 PM PDT

No matter what anyone says about integrated video's sole use of system memory, the real issue is how well your entire computer as a unit will function. No matter if you end up playing graphics-intensive games or just solitare, a video card should ALWAYS be purchased with a computer system as it frees up both memory and processor resources. Integrated video (and sound) tax your system and slow it down considerably. Also, due to the bandwidth of AGP and PCI Express ports, therre is no video slowdown or graphic-rendering slowdown that you will experience with integrated video for all and any graphics-related applications, which is just about everything since everything you do no the computer is graphics-related. So whatever you do, spend those extra 100 bucks and get a decent video card and sound card for all your systems!!! Plus, it is much easier to replace an expansion card than it is to get your motehrboard fixed or replaced when something goes wrong with the sound or graphics Wink

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integrated no big deal
by cadavatar / August 11, 2005 11:24 PM PDT

If you only have so much to spend, you CAN get your foot in the door with integrated video. Then you'll have the choice of whether it suits your needs okay. If not, it almost always can be disabled and a higher-end video card can be installed.

I've used many machines with integrated video, with very few problems.

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yeah this is the famous water cooler story
by funkid7 / August 11, 2005 11:44 PM PDT
In reply to: integrated no big deal

the story I hear almost daily in the media bizz; another fellow is there at the water cooler, this morning. telling that same old story of regrets and headaches, he made the same old mistake and bought integrated last year and now he wants to disable it and buy a card? these stories always end the same or continue just a few months later with; Now I have this hardware conflict or I just shelled out another 100 bucks for...!
Do the math:
buy integrated shelfer: "500 bucks, cool! it will last about a year if I quickly buy all the software I need before it gets too taxing on memory." That usually happens the same month you buy a shelfer. so shell out another 500 right away. a year later shell out more sweat and frustration as you attempt to upgrade this shelfer. In utter frustration, you go out and buy the correct model that IS upgradable for another 1000 and now it needs new software so you go and spend another 500 on new stuff to play with and,....
I see this over and over and it is always the same. Shelfers and integrated means short lived. Have never ever heard a positive story about integrated, until just now, above.

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Positive Story about integrated?
by cadavatar / August 12, 2005 2:02 AM PDT

I have about 100 if them.

No negative experiences with integrated video.

Sorry to disappoint you.

Like I've said, I have purchased hundreds of computers for CAD use, as well as other purposes.

Problems? None, at least not with the video.

I guess it boils down to who you believe. I'm a Sys Admin with 7 years experience, working for an IT / Engineering firm. My opinion might matter.

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by Zippy / August 12, 2005 6:14 AM PDT

As a techie, you might also admit that having integrated audio and video taxes a system significantly more than having audio and video cards. I mean, integrated will work, but you get more bang for your buck if you just shell out a 100 more bucks (or less) for the expansion cards. I am not sure how many people who KNOW would choose to get integrated over cards. Would YOU choose that for yourself? Even to just surf the web or whatever b/c of performance difference, I would not choose integrated.

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