Swap on video RAM

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In the unlikely case that you have very little RAM and a surplus of video RAM, you can use the latter as swap.

MTD Kernel Subsystem

Potential benefits

A graphics card with GDDR SDRAM or DDR SDRAM may be used as swap by using the MTD subsystem of the kernel. Systems with dedicated graphics memory of 256 MB or greater which also have limited amounts of system memory (DDR SDRAM) may benefit the most from this type of setup.

Note: Using legacy AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) card may limit reads to approximately 8 MB per second (but port speed is from 266MB/s to 2133MB/s so may it work fast). AGP bus has a limited amount of bus bandwidth.
  • This will not work with binary drivers.
  • Unless your graphics driver can be made to use less ram than is detected, Xorg may crash when you try to use the same section of RAM to store textures as swap. Using a video driver that allows you to override videoram should increase stability.

Kernel requirements

MTD is in the mainline kernel since version 2.6.23.


When you are running a kernel with MTD modules, you have to load the modules specifying the pci address ranges that correspond to the ram on your video card.

To find the available memory ranges run the following command and look for the VGA compatible controller section (see the example below).

$ lspci -vvv
01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: NVIDIA Corporation GK104 [GeForce GTX 670] (rev a1) (prog-if 00 [VGA controller])
	Subsystem: ASUSTeK Computer Inc. Device 8405
	Control: I/O+ Mem+ BusMaster+ SpecCycle- MemWINV- VGASnoop- ParErr- Stepping- SERR- FastB2B- DisINTx-
	Status: Cap+ 66MHz- UDF- FastB2B- ParErr- DEVSEL=fast >TAbort- <TAbort- <MAbort- >SERR- <PERR- INTx-
	Latency: 0
	Interrupt: pin A routed to IRQ 57
	Region 0: Memory at f5000000 (32-bit, non-prefetchable) [size=16M]
	Region 1: Memory at e8000000 (64-bit, prefetchable) [size=128M]
	Region 3: Memory at f0000000 (64-bit, prefetchable) [size=32M]
	Region 5: I/O ports at e000 [size=128]
	[virtual] Expansion ROM at f6000000 [disabled] [size=512K]
	Capabilities: <access denied>
	Kernel driver in use: nvidia
	Kernel modules: nouveau, nvidia
Note: Systems with multiple GPUs will likely have multiple entries here.

Of most potential benefit is a region that is prefetchable, 64-bit, and the largest in size.

Note: The graphics card used above has 2 GB of GDDR5 SDRAM, though as indicated above the full amount is not exposed or listed by the command provided above.

A video card needs some of its memory to function, as such some calculations are needed. The offsets are easy to calculate as powers of 2. The card should use the beginning of the address range as a framebuffer for textures and such. However, if limited or as indicated in the beginning of this article, if two programs try to write to the same sectors, stability issues are likely to occur.

Warning: The following example is dated and may no longer be accurate.

As an example: For a total of 256 MB of graphics memory, the forumla is 2^28 (two to the twenty-eighth power). Approximately 64 MB could be left for graphics memory and as such the start range for the swap usage of graphics memory would be calculated with the formula 2^26.

Using the numbers above, you can take the difference and determine a reseasonable range for usage as swap memory. leaving 2^24 (32M) for the normal function (less will work fine)


Configure the slram module:

# /etc/modprobe.d/modprobe.conf
options slram map=VRAM,0xStartRange,+0xUsedAmount

Load the modules on boot:

# /etc/modules-load.d/vramswap.conf

Create a systemd service:

# /usr/lib/systemd/system/vramswap.service
Description=Swap on Video RAM

ExecStart=/usr/bin/mkswap /dev/mtdblock0
ExecStart=/usr/bin/swapon /dev/mtdblock0 -p 10
ExecStop=/usr/bin/swapoff /dev/mtdblock0


Xorg driver config

To keep X stable, your video driver needs to be told to use less than the detected videoram.

# /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/vramswap.conf
Section "Device"
    Driver "radeon" # or whichever other driver you use
    VideoRam 32768
	#other stuff

The above example specifies that you use 32 MB of graphics memory.

Note: Some drivers might take the number for videoram as being in MiB. See relevant manpages.


The following command may help you getting the used swap in the different spaces like disk partitions, flash disks and possibly this example of the swap on video ram

swapon -s

See also

FUSE filesystem

This method works on hardware with OpenCL support using a FUSE filesystem backing a swapfile. See GPGPU for more information.


First, install vramfs-gitAUR. Then, create an empty directory as mount point (e.g /tmp/vram).

Now run the following commands as root to set up the vramfs and a swapfile.

vramfs /tmp/vram 256MB -f # Substitute 256M with your target vramfs size
dd if=/dev/zero of=/tmp/vram/swapfile bs=1M count=200 # Substitute 200 with your target swapspace size in MB
chmod 600 /tmp/vram/swapfile
mkswap /tmp/vram/swapfile
swapon /tmp/vram/swapfile

Your Swap should now be ready. Run swapon to check.

See Swap#Swap file for more information.

Note: This is not persistent and will be gone after a system reboot.
Tip: You can also use /tmp/vram as temporary storage, much like a Tmpfs.


swapon: /tmp/vram/swapfile: skipping - it appears to have holes.

The swapfile created is not contiguous. A loop device can be set up to work around this issue.

cd /tmp/vram
LOOPDEV=$(losetup -f)
truncate -s 4G swapfile # replace 4G with target swapspace size, has to be smaller than the allocated vramfs
losetup $LOOPDEV swapfile
mkswap $LOOPDEV
swapon $LOOPDEV

See also