The history of AMD versus NVIDIA
Before we get into the state of play today, we thought we’d provide some historical context on the two companies and their rivalry.
AMD, or Advanced Micro Devices, is one of the biggest names in the world of computing. Established in 1969 in the heart of California, AMD has participated in a series of acquisitions and sell offs to become the company that it is today.
The most noteworthy of these acquisitions and sell offs was the purchase of ATI Technologies in 2006. This became AMD’s GPU division.
Throughout the past decade, AMD has somewhat struggled against its competitors. Its FX series of CPUs were not able to compete with Intel, whilst its GPUs did not really match up to NVIDIA’s efforts.
However, with the release of their Ryzen CPUs, AMD has made a very strong comeback in recent years. With the launch of its 7nm, RDNA-based Radeon GPUs, AMD is very much back on track.
NVIDIA is very much the young upstart of the GPU world.
Emerging in the 1990s, NVIDIA was one of several new graphics companies (e.g. 3DFX and ATI) that wanted to shake things up.
NVIDIA definitely succeeded in disrupting the computer graphics market and acquired market dominance over ATI prior to that company’s acquisition by AMD.
Today, NVIDIA’s GeForce graphics cards are the go-to choice for many gamers. But, should they be the go-to choice for you? Keep reading to find out.
There’s no doubt that the AMD v NVIDIA battle is hotter than ever, producing some of the best and most-affordable GPUs seen on the market to date. From the more affordable end, we’ve been graced with graphics cards such as the AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT and the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Ti. At the top end, we’ve benefitted from GPUs oozing with sheer power such as the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 and the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT.
Given the quality of GPUs now available, who said competition was bad?!
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at how AMD and NVIDIA GPUs compare across a range of buying factors such as price, performance, features and more.
AMD vs NVIDIA: Price
Let’s begin with the price. After all, if you’re looking to get the best possible graphics card for your money, you’ll want to see how AMD and NVIDIA stack up against each other.
Unfortunately, due to the global supply issues impacting GPUs it’s difficult to compare prices at the moment as they are in almost continual fluctuation.
However, if we look at historic prices of graphics cards, AMD’s offerings have traditionally been the more affordable option. Even today, AMD’s mid-range offerings provide excellent value for money. For example, the RX 5500 XT is reasonably priced and thanks to its generous helping of VRAM, offers great performance. Compare this to NVIDIA’s similarly priced GTX 1650 and the AMD card will provide better performance, in higher-end games.
What about at the higher end of the market?
It’s a similar story, whereby AMD’s top-of-the-range offerings such as the RX 6900 XT come out cheaper than NVIDIA’s top-of-the-range efforts such as the GeForce RTX 3090. But, and it’s a big but, it’s widely acknowledged that at the top of the market, NVIDIA’s GPUs offer superior overall performance.
However, if price is your absolute top concern, an AMD graphics card might be best for you.
AMD vs NVIDIA: Performance
On to what is the most important buying consideration for many gamers; performance.
With today’s AAA titles demanding ever more impressive GPUs, it’s important that you buy the right graphics card with sufficient longevity. So, how do AMD and NVIDIA compare?
In short, after years of lagging behind NVIDIA, AMD is beginning to catch-up. If you want to play the best PC games at 4K and get a solid 60+ FPS frame rate, you’re no longer restricted to NVIDIA.
If you want a graphics card that’ll power AAA titles at 1080p settings, then graphics cards such as the AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT or the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 will easily do the job.
And, if you really want to up the stakes and play AAA games at 1440p with no issues, then you can choose between AMD’s Radeon RX 6700 XT or the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Ti.
In other words, look beyond NVIDIA’s mighty GeForce RTX 3090, and the performance difference between AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards isn’t all that great. However, when things like ray tracing and/or DLSS get turned on, NVIDIA leaps ahead.
If you want the absolute best performance and you’re not so concerned about price, we’d recommend choosing an NVIDIA graphics card.
AMD vs NVIDIA: Power Consumption and Efficiency
As with other aspects of GPU performance, AMD has closed the gap on NVIDIA in recent years. In particular, AMD’s Big Navi architecture (used in the Radeon RX 6000 series of graphics cards), has massively improved the efficiency of AMD’s graphics cards.
AMD’s Navi cards use chips built with TSMC’s 7nm FinFET process and a new architecture which delivers 50% better performance per watt.
Nevertheless, AMD were previously so far behind NVIDIA, that even a massive 50% increase in efficiency didn’t allow them to leapfrog NVIDIA. With NVIDIA’s Ampere architecture pushing higher clocks at the cost of efficiency, the two brands are roughly neck and neck at this point.
So, if we look at the latest generation AMD Big Navi and NVIDIA Ampere GPUs, power and efficiency are remarkably close. In fact, we’d say it’s so close, it’s basically a tie when it comes to power consumption and efficiency.
AMD vs NVIDIA: Featured Technology
How do the two brands’ GPUs compare when it comes to featured technologies?
Both AMD and NVIDIA now support ray tracing. They also both support adaptive sync technology (with NVIDIA doing so with its G-Sync tech, whilst AMD does so with its FreeSync tech).
However, whilst the two brands have many of the same featured technologies, it’s NVIDIA which generally comes out on top. For example, NVIDIA’s performance in ray tracing is quite a bit higher than AMD’s, even without DLSS.
In terms of adaptive syncing, NVIDIA’s G-Sync is generally higher quality and provides better latency than AMD’s FreeSync.
Looking at video encoding and decoding, NVIDIA takes the lead here too. The Ampere codec supports higher-quality encodes and lower CPU utilisation.
If the featured technology of a GPU is particularly important to you, then NVIDIA should be your graphics card of choice.
AMD vs NVIDIA: Drivers and Software
The constantly changing nature of drivers and software makes it difficult to directly compare NVIDIA and AMD. However, there are a few things we can look at such as driver release schedules and user experience.
AMD conducts yearly overhauls of its drivers. Their Radeon Adrenalin 2020 drivers combined everything in one place in order to simplify things. As well as simplifying their driver architecture, AMD also makes a strong effort to regularly release new drivers and iterations of drivers. AMD generally releases a driver per month, but this will often increase when there are major game launches.
How about NVIDIA? The company tends to follow a similar release schedule to AMD, and will release more drivers during game launches or the arrival of new graphics hardware. A key difference between NVIDIA and AMD, is that NVIDIA’s releases tend to be WHQL (Windows Hardware Quality Labs) certified, whereas AMD’s are not (although being WHQL certified isn’t really a major concern from a gaming point of view).
Those points aside though, there isn’t a huge difference between AMD and NVIDIA when it comes to the way they handle drivers and software.
AMD vs NVIDIA: Which one is best?
Although AMD has made huge improvements and advances in recent years, we’d say that NVIDIA still holds the GPU crown.
AMD certainly lands some solid blows against its rival, particularly around power consumption and efficiency, but NVIDIA easily holds the lead in terms of performance and technology (especially when DLSS and RT is factored in).
BUT, which one you choose is presently governed by very limited supply. If you’re looking for a top of the range GPU (whether it’s AMD or NVIDIA), you may just have to wait until the global silicon market has settled down - which will hopefully be by early 2022...