While console gaming sees the rivalry between PS4 Pro vs Xbox One X, PC gamers are equally zealous about the conflict of Nvidia vs AMD, the two top graphics card companies . Unfortunately, if you don’t pledge brand loyalty to either of these companies, it’s easy to get left behind in the arms race between these two.
As 2017 comes to a close, competition in the GPU space is especially heated. The Nvidia GeForce 10 series, based on the Pascal architecture, debuted in May of last year and is showing no signs of stopping. After all, the GeForce GTX 1070 Tijust came out, so we wouldn’t count on seeing the next-generation Volta cards until 2018 at the earliest – and Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang has said as much
On the other end of the spectrum, AMD has Vega. Serving as the long-awaited follow-up to the Fury-riddled Polaris architecture of years past, the Advanced Micro Devices company’s latest graphics cards have only been out since August of this year.
So with both options here to stay, let’s take a look at the differences they both offer – from their initial costs, to the performance they exhibit, to their software and features, drivers and the often messily conceived exclusivity deals you’ll find out there.
There are graphics card choices for days
We’ve all been on Reddit (or, at the very least, read the comments section on a tech website before). AMD is widely known for its affordability, for better or for worse. But are the rumors true?
Well, certain benchmarks would lead us to believe that the AMD Radeon RX Vega 56, which sells for $419 on Amazon (about £320, AU$543) right now, is a better performer than the $449 (about £344, AU$582) Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070. Admittedly, this isn’t a massive price difference, but it is indicative of what you can expect from both Nvidia and AMD at the mid-range.
Go higher and you’ll find that the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 is most comparable to the AMD Radeon Vega 64. At an MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) level, both of these cost about the same. This is, of course, intentional on both companies’ parts.
After revealing its 4K-focused GTX 1080 Ti earlier this year, the Green Team was keen on dropping the price of the 1080 in the process. So that card went from an MSRP of $599 down to $499. Before long, AMD was putting the Vega 64 onto store shelves at the same price.
Across the board, AMD and Nvidia graphics cards both cost about the same relative to their respective performance benchmarks. Our pick of the best graphics card overall, the GTX 1060, is exactly the same price as the AMD Radeon RX 580, and in the budget space, the RX 560 can be found for the same price as the GTX 1050.
Ultimately, who has the better price is more dependent on where you can find a heavy discount. We’d suggest holding off for Black Friday for the most savings.
When you’re trying to build a PC that’s more powerful than your arch-enemy’s, buying a graphics card isn’t a matter of price but performance. Packing the best performance for the lowest cost is the arguably the most pertinent factor in driving GPU sales.
In recent years, AMD fans have lauded the Red Team for doing exactly that, but we’re not convinced they’re right anymore. Instead, bearing in mind the price parity that the two companies have loosely achieved, we digress, Nvidia is killing it. That’s even the case if you ignore that AMD has yet to produce a contender to the GTX 1080 Ti.
To be fair, Vega has only been available for a few months now, and there was no GTX 1080 Ti equivalent at Pascal’s launch either. Still, the GTX 1080 shows the RX Vega 64 up in several different areas, such as multi-rendering and NBody calculation, whereas the RX Vega 64 is better at rendering texture details and complex shading.
In other words, AMD and Nvidia are so close at this point that which is better is more of a matter of what games you play and at what resolution. As we reported back in October, the Vega 64 is a better match for Forza Motorsport 7 at 1080p. At the same time, Nvidia’s flagship GPU managed the frame rate advantage in 4K.
This trend continues down the list of cheaper graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia, including the RX Vega 56, which sees higher frame rates than the GTX 1070 Founders Edition in DirectX 12-heavy games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (91 fps vs 89 fps and 40 fps vs 31 fps, respectively), according to PCGamesN.
Throw a Grand Theft Auto V into the mix, however, and we’re talking 64 fps on the RX Vega 56 vs 79 fps from the GTX 1070.
Software, drivers and features
One key draw to Nvidia hardware over AMD is the Green Team’s GeForce Experience software.
Because it delivers driver updates and optimizes games in addition to letting you broadcast gameplay and capture screenshots as well as videos directly from its easy-to-use interface, Nvidia GeForce Experience is posited as the one PC gaming application to rule them all.
Meanwhile, AMD’s Radeon Crimson ReLive software is playing catch-up. The UI was massively overhauled back in July in preparation for Vega and – at long last – all of the features previously confined to the Red Team’s Catalyst Control Center had migrated to a subsection of Crimson ReLive. Finally, AMD users have explicit control over their GPUs by way of a single application.
As of December 2016, you could already livestream via Radeon Crimson ReLive, but now you can take safety measures to ensure maximum power efficiency while you’re gaming. That includes the ability to underclock memory frequencies, cap frame rates on a hardware level and enable “Enhanced Sync” to decrease frame stutter while it simultaneously combats screen tearing.
Still, GeForce Experience has the game optimization features we’re all crazy for. So when you don’t know what settings are best for your computer in The Witcher 3, Nvidia takes care of the heavy lifting for you.
AMD users can download and install Raptr’s Gaming Evolved tool to optimize their gaming experience. However, the add-on is less than ideal considering its biggest rival’s audience can accomplish nearly everything from within GeForce Experience. That includes using Nvidia Ansel to take way cool in-game photos at resolutions exceeding 63K (16 times that of which a 4K monitor can display).
Nvidia also has a leg up when it comes to streaming games whether it’s to another gaming PC with at least a Maxwell-based GPU, as well as the company’s self-made tablets and set-top box. Not to mention, Nvidia also has a cloud-based gaming service call GeForce Now available to Windows 10 and MacOS users.
It was once rumored that AMD and Nvidia were enacting shady tactics, “paying off” game developers to show preferential treatment towards one or the other. Were this the case, it would certainly explain why certain games run better using GeForce graphics than Radeon and vice versa.
Fortunately, we don’t see these concerns from PC gamers as much anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Following its Capsaicin & Cream livestream event at GDC 2017, we spoke with AMD its to discuss its strategy in contending with Nvidia. The news that the company would partner with Bethesda Softworks to optimize its games for Radeon, Ryzen or both was worrying to say the least. And it still is.
At the time, the potential for games operating more smoothly on AMD systems meant that Nvidia could fight back by partnering with an equally large publisher. Although the latter maneuver hasn’t happened yet, early Wolfenstein IIperformance comparisons, such as this one from TechEpiphany on YouTubehave exhibited better performance and lower temps coming from the AMD Radeon RX 64 when pitted against Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080.
We’re not saying there’s a bias towards AMD in Bethesda’s technical design decisions, however we aren’t ready to take off our tin foil hats quite yet either.
Of course, Bethesda is hardly the only company to show favoritism to either team red or green. If you ever see an AMD or Nvidia splash screen ahead of the title page when you start a game, you can bet it will run better with that company’s hardware.
So, which is better? Neither
There’s so much to love, and in some instances “dis-love,” about both Nvidia and AMD graphics. In the end, both of these companies rely on competition with each other to thrive. Suffice to say, the Nvidia vs AMD debate requires that you understand there’s a reason Radeon and GeForce GPUs are so similar in performance right now.
Each company is doing its best to keep up with the mindshare of the other, and that’s good for us. They’re basically fighting for our money, learning from each other’s mistakes and legislating marked improvements along the way.
It’s up to you who wins the fiery contest of Nvidia vs AMD, although we will say this: Nvidia is unmatched in the 4K market right now. If it helps any, the GTX 1080 Ti is your best bet if you want your PC to keep up with the likes of your Ultra HD display. Otherwise, Nvidia and AMD graphics cards are about the same, at least for the time being.