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[Please (kindly) let me know if this is not the place for this question]

I'm hoping to learn about GPU programming, but as a college student, I've a quite limited budget. I'm wondering whether I should buy a modestly more expensive GPU that uses GDDR5 memory, or if DDR3 memory is sufficient.

I can see some potential pros and cons:

  • GDDR5 is standard in nearly all but the lowest-end GPUs, so I'd be getting experience that would transfer to most popular cards
  • However, is it possible that learning with DDR3 memory will only help me learn to be more efficient, thus my skills would translate (probably with a bit more difficulty) to even better programming abilities on a higher-end GPU

Any advice or words of wisdom?

Note that I don't want the card for gaming purposes (although I would gladly use it in such a capacity, but that would be a happy by-product of having it around to learn to program on). I also don't really care too much about being able to run programs faster on the GPU; I mainly want the ability to learn how to program on a GPU. I'm currently considering only NVIDIA GPUs, as I've learned a smidgen about CUDA programming.

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    $\begingroup$ I dont think the memory type matters, however you may want to get a new chipset so that you can do most of the state of the art stuff. Since the memory type may a indicator of the chipset... Memory per see should not matter. $\endgroup$ – joojaa Jan 25 '16 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ "Maxwell" is NV's current architecture - it has some new graphics features which are described in NVs GeForce GTX 980 Whitepaper. I believe the lowest end Maxwell is the 950. $\endgroup$ – Daniel M Gessel Jan 25 '16 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ It's really very simple now, especially for Nvidia GPUs: the more you pay, the more you get. Check out this Price/performance ratio table. It roughly shows that if you are low on budget, GeForce GTX 950 is the best you can get. Also it's based on the latest architecture, so you get DirectX 12 and CUDA compute capability 5.2. Alternatively you may look into laptops. Low-end discrete GPUs are almost free there. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Aksamentov - Drop Jan 25 '16 at 17:45
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If your goal is to learn GPU programming, it doesn't matter at all whether you have DDR3 or GDDR5 memory. The way you program it isn't going to change based on how fast the memory is. It will affect performance, but if that's not a primary consideration for you, then you don't need to worry about it.

Do make sure that you get a GPU that supports the latest graphics APIs (DX12 and OpenGL 4.5). I think that's essentially all GPUs made in the past 5 years or so.

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  • $\begingroup$ So there're no architectural differences whatsoever? $\endgroup$ – Ben Sandeen Jan 26 '16 at 1:31
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    $\begingroup$ It's just memory. Of course there are some hardware-level differences in how the chip talks to the memory, but it makes no difference for programming it. In CPU programming, you don't write different code for DDR3 vs DDR4 memory either. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Reed Jan 26 '16 at 2:15

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