As a growing number of people are finding themselves with more free time at home, PC gaming is becoming more popular than ever. When countries began to implement lockdowns due to the Coronavirus pandemic in March, Steam saw a record-breaking 25.5 million concurrent users, and it’s been floating at around that number since then. It makes sense; quarantine lockdowns caused people to crave for socialization, and multiplayer games are some of the best ways to satisfy that need.
Some gamers are already fortunate enough to have PCs capable of running any game, especially high graphics multiplayer games. For those who are in need of an upgrade, however, deciding where to start can be confusing. This article will focus on just one necessary PC component, and arguably the most important one when planning a new build or upgrade primarily for gaming: graphics cards.
Two Major Players
For the unfamiliar, the most prominent players in graphics card manufacturing are AMD, Inc., and Nvidia Corporation. Intel has recently re-entered the sphere, but their upcoming Xe Graphics have yet to be released.
While both of these giants have decades of years’ worth of experience designing and delivering GPUs for both professional and home consumers, we’re going to focus on the latter. AMD’s Radeon and Nvidia’s GeForce lines of graphics cards are synonymous with gaming. Just like any hobby or industry, there are strong opinions held by diehard fans of each camp—despite both performing essentially the same tasks.
Red Team (AMD) vs Green Team (Nvidia)
Generally, AMD’s graphics cards have been the go-to for budget-conscious gamers and those looking for the best price/performance ratio. They’ve also been the GPU of choice by Mac and Linux gamers. Apple has been pairing their computers and laptops exclusively with AMD GPUs for years, and AMD’s free, open-source graphics drivers make them the only real ideological choice for Linux users.
On the other hand, Nvidia cards have always been sold at a premium over AMD products in the same class. It’s up to the individual to decide whether their higher cost is justified by a more feature-filled software suite, faster-dedicated video encoder, and in most cases, lower power consumption and thermals.
Critics have expressed frustration over Nvidia’s lack of exciting hardware this generation, but many admit that the Green Giant has no need to up its game as the competition simply isn’t putting enough pressure on them.
AMD’s own current top-end card, the Radeon 5700 XT, isn’t able to keep up with Nvidia’s Geforce RTX 2080 Ti—but at a third of the price, it doesn’t have to. Unfortunately for AMD, its lower price isn’t an excuse for driver issues that continue to prevent some buyers from experiencing the 5700 XT’s full performance, even a year after its release.
What A Gamer Needs
When picking out a graphics card, it’s important to closely evaluate what that really means for the end-user. Is that person really going to turn on their computer to just play games? Is it possible that they may also want to use that machine for content production involving graphic design, video editing, or live streaming?
If the answer is yes, you may want to consider Nvidia graphics cards for their superior NVENC dedicated video encoding. It is much more stable and outputs a better quality-per-bitrate than AMD’s AMF encoder, while not being as negatively impacted by general GPU load. Many people are now turning to live streaming as a hobby, so it may be worth considering Nvidia’s graphics cards for this added benefit alone.
In terms of general-purpose GPU computing, both are comparable, though Nvidia does have the upper hand at least in terms of marketing. More people are familiar with Nvidia CUDA than AMD OpenCL libraries. That said, the popularity of CUDA results in a larger user base which is great for requesting support and documentation. On the other hand, either tool is equally powerful for scientific computation. AMD’s cards just have the advantage of being cheaper while performing similarly to Nvidia’s in this regard.
Another important consideration to make is power consumption. Generally, AMD cards require more juice out of a PC’s power supply than Nvidia cards. There are some models of Nvidia’s budget GTX 1650 that can run purely on the PCIe port’s 75 watts of power, a feat no current AMD card can match. Granted, the GTX 1650 isn’t much of a performer, but this kind of efficiency is representative across the stack of Nvidia’s offerings.
The Bottom Line
When preparing to spend hundreds of dollars on one single component of your computer to upgrade, there’s going to be a lot more to consider than this article can definitively decide for you. Hopefully, the guidelines we’ve provided are helpful in at least narrowing down the choices. In the end, either Nvidia or AMD’s graphics cards are sure to be good, but what’s best depends on what other specific needs are required to be met.
AMD historically holds the title of budget king, and that holds true for its current generation of graphics cards. If you’re limiting yourself to the $250–$350 range, AMD’s Radeon RX 5600 XT and RX 5700 are cheaper than Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Super and RTX 2060, while performing marginally better. Even going up to the $400 range, the top-end AMD RX 5700 XT is only 5% slower than Nvidia’s RTX 2070 Super andis priced $100 less.
Despite the close competition, Nvidia remains the no-compromise choice for performance enthusiasts. The fact that AMD doesn’t even have a product to match Nvidia’s top-tier RTX 2080 Ti means that they can continue getting away with pricing it at $1,100, no matter how absurd that looks. Nvidia even wins with regards to certain other aspects of GPUs we didn’t discuss here, such as in deep learning and AI hardware.
AMD did put up a good fight with this generation, and later this year, we may very well see an upset when AMD’s Big Navi is revealed against Nvidia’s Ampere. Who knows, we may even see Intel Xe Graphics lighting a fire under Nvidia’s proverbial butt. No matter who wins, the competition will definitely be good for consumers in the end.