It’s a war waged since the beginning of the 3D graphics on gaming PCs. ATI and Nvidia went toe-to-toe through the 1990s and early 2000s. Nvidia won that fight, but ATI received a second chance when AMD acquired the company in 2006. The battle has continued since.
Choosing between AMD and Nvidia can seem confusing at a glance, but one has several key advantages over its competitor. Here’s how AMD and Nvidia compare.
We compare AMD vs. Nvidia with the following in mind:
- General Gaming Performance
- Ray Tracing Performance
- Gaming Laptop Performance
- Upscaling (FSR vs. DLSS)
- Adaptive Sync (FreeSync vs. G-Sync)
- Software & Drivers
- Price Comparison
- The Verdict
AMD vs. Nvidia – General Gaming Performance
Pitting AMD against Nvidia in general game performance is difficult because of the wide range of graphic cards available, but a few trends stand out.
The best video cards from AMD and Nvidia offer similar performance. AMD’s best cards are represented by the RX 6800 XT, RX 6900 XT, and RX 6950XT, while Nvidia’s best are found in the RTX 3080, RTX 3080 Ti, RTX 3090, and 3090 Ti. All of these cards can handle 4K at 60 frames per second or higher in most PC games sold today.
Mid-range performance is where the competition heats up. Nvidia’s cards also take the lead in this category with the RTX 3070 sitting at the top of IGN’s list of the best graphics cards. AMD alternatives like the RX 6700 XT fall slightly behind. The word “slight” is important, though. It’s hard to notice the difference without a framerate counter.
AMD has an edge in the entry-level market with its Radeon RX 6500 XT. Though not as quick as many hoped, the RX 6500 XT is available at or slightly below its $200 MSRP and can outrun the GTX 1650, which is similarly priced.
Nvidia fights back if you can spend a tad more, however, thanks to its bewildering array of budget cards. This includes the GTX 1650 Super, GTX 1660, GTX 1660 Ti, GTX 1660 Super, RTX 2060, and RTX 3050. AMD makes do with older products, like the RX 5600 XT and Radeon RX 580. Though you might find a good deal on a particular budget AMD card, Nvidia’s offerings are more widely available and usually a better value.
This category is close, but Nvidia takes the win. It goes toe-to-toe with AMD on the high end, yet provides a better range of options through the budget and mid-range price points. AMD’s alternatives are spread too thin.
AMD vs. Nvidia – Ray tracing performance
Nvidia brought ray tracing to PC gaming with the launch of the RTX 20 series in 2018. AMD needed a few years to catch up, but the company delivered hardware ray tracing acceleration in the Radeon RX 6000 series.
This has worked in Nvidia’s favor. AMD’s best video cards, such as the Radeon RX 6950 XT, RX 6900 XT, and RX 6800XT, have ray tracing performance more in line with the less expensive Nvidia RTX 3070 and RTX 3070 Ti. Nvidia’s best video cards are up to 50% quicker than AMD hardware when ray tracing is on.
What about game compatibility? Thankfully, nearly all games that support ray tracing are compatible with both Nvidia and AMD hardware. This isn’t completely universal though. Godfall initially only supported AMD, though it has since received an update for Nvidia RTX support. Still, ray tracing exclusives are an exception to the rule.
AMD vs. Nvidia: Gaming laptop performance
The strengths that lead Nvidia to wins in both general and ray tracing performance are repeated in gaming laptops.
AMD and Nvidia both offer multiple laptop graphics solutions, and most compete closely with each other. However, Nvidia has a noticeable lead in the budget and thin-and-light market, where the GTX 1650 mobile and RTX 3050 are widely available. Laptops with AMD discrete graphics, like the HP Victus 16 and Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, are extremely rare.
There’s more competition in the mid-range gaming laptop market, but Nvidia remains the leader. AMD’s RX 6700M and RX 6800M are quick but found in only a few laptops, such as the Asus ROG Strix G15.
The lack of AMD hardware leaves Nvidia to win this category by default. There’s literally hundreds of great gaming laptops with Nvidia hardware which, in turn, means you can shop based on price to snag a better deal.
AMD vs. Nvidia – Upscaling
Upscaling is demanding even on the world’s most powerful consumer video cards. AMD and Nvidia compensate with upscaling features that basically render games at a lower resolution and then upscale the result to your monitor’s native resolution.
AMD’s technology is called FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR 2.0). It’s an open-source technology available to both AMD and Nvidia hardware as well as others, such as Intel. Its first incarnation was a spatial upscaler that could only use data from each frame. The new version, FSR 2.0, is a temporal upscaler, which means it can use data from multiple frames over time. FSR 1.0 is available in over 100 games. FSR 2.0 is newer and only supported by a couple dozen games (so far).
Nvidia’s DLSS is more advanced. It uses machine learning to upscale a game beyond its render resolution. This technique is more capable because it adds new data to each frame. This is not open-source and only works on Nvidia hardware. Over 200 games and apps support DLSS.
This is another win for Nvidia, as the image quality of DLSS is often superior to FSR. Keep in mind, however, that it’s only relevant if you like to play games with ray tracing enabled. The large majority of games available today, including new games, don’t support ray tracing, FSR, or DLSS.
AMD vs. Nvidia – Adaptive sync
Adaptive Sync is one of the most important features of modern video cards, laptop graphics, and PC gaming displays. It allows a gaming monitors and gaming TVs to refresh in sync with the output of a your graphics card. This keeps motion smooth and stops screen-tearing. AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync offer adaptive sync when paired with a compatible display.
The two standards are more similar than they are different. All versions of AMD FreeSync, and Nvidia’s “G-Sync Compatible” version of G-Sync, are built on VESA’s open AdaptiveSync standard. In fact, most monitors that are compatible with one will work with the other – though this isn’t guaranteed unless support is advertised.
Nvidia’s G-Sync and G-Sync Ultimate are a different story. These versions of G-Sync communicate with G-Sync hardware in compatible displays. This enables adaptive sync over a wider range of refresh rates, but G-Sync and G-Sync Ultimate displays only support adaptive sync with Nvidia video cards.
AMD and Nvidia fail to take a lead here. Nvidia’s G-Sync and G-Sync Ultimate are technically superior, but only just. G-Sync and G-Sync Ultimate displays are also rare and expensive. Most gaming monitors sold today stick to AMD FreeSync, Nvidia G-Sync Compatible, or both.
Software & Drivers
AMD and Nvidia provide a variety of software features beyond support for scaling and high refresh rates.
AMD’s features include Radeon Chill, a mode which is meant to reduce fan noise and system temperatures, Radeon Image Sharpening, a filter meant to improve sharpness in games, and AMD Integer Scaling, which can help with presentation of older, retro titles.
Nvidia, meanwhile, offers Nvidia Ansel, a special screenshot mode available in specific games, ShadowPlay for recording games or to assist with streaming, and Nvidia FreeStyle, which can be used to add filters over games for a different look.
AMD and Nvidia also provide overclocking through AMD Performance Tuning and Nvidia GeForce Experience. They’re similar in function, AMD’s app is easier to use. This isn’t a major advantage, however, because third-party overclocking software is available for both AMD and Nvidia hardware.
These added features may appeal in certain situations, but they’re not something most gamers will use every day, or even every month.
Comparing video card pricing is a bit tricky, as most video cards don’t currently sell at MSRP. Pricing has improved in recent months, however. Some cards are now sold near, or even below, MSRP.
Entry-level video cards start at the AMD Radeon 6500XT ($169) and the Nvidia GTX 1650 ($189). These cards aren’t quick, however, so most gamers will want to step up one or two tiers. AMD’s budget options include the Radeon 6600 ($249) and the Radeon 6600 XT ($343). Nvidia competes with the RTX 3050 ($324) and the RTX 3060 ($420).
Nvidia fans, be warned: some entry-level RTX models, like the RTX 3060, remain in limited supply and are extremely expensive for their performance. They’re a bad value at current prices.
Gamers looking for a mid-range option will need to consider options starting near $500. AMD’s cards include the Radeon 6700XT ($399), Radeon 6750XT ($429), and Radeon 6800 ($519), while Nvidia offers the RTX 3060 Ti ($492), RTX 3070 ($574), and RTX 3070 Ti ($629).
The RTX 3070 is the value leader in this category, as it’s powerful enough to handle high resolutions and ray tracing, especially with DLSS turned on. However, AMD’s cards hold up well in games that don’t offer ray tracing.
AMD’s high-end video cards include the Radeon 6800XT ($599), Radeon 6900XT ($679), and Radeon 6950XT ($1,999), while Nvidia offers the RTX 3080 ($781), RTX 3080 Ti ($869), RTX 3090 ($1,100), and RTX 3090 Ti ($1,129).
The RTX 3080 is a great pick in this category if you want to use ray tracing, while the Radeon 6800XT is better if you don’t plan to play games with ray tracing. Both cards deliver most of the performance of more expensive models at an attractive price.
However, it might be wise to hold off on buying any high-end card until AMD announces next-gen hardware to challenge Nvidia’s newly introduced RTX 4090 and RTX 4080.
AMD vs. Nvidia – The Verdict
I’ll be blunt: Nvidia beats AMD, and it’s not even close.
This isn’t to say AMD is hopeless. AMD graphics can do well in general performance tests, especially below 4K resolution, and a variety of AMD cards can provide excellent bang for your buck.
Nvidia takes a big lead in ray tracing, however, and has a superior upscaling solution in the form of DLSS, which makes ray tracing playable on a wide range of Nvidia hardware. Nvidia also dominates the gaming laptop arena.
This conclusion isn’t a shock. The latest Steam Hardware Survey shows over 75% of all players on Steam use Nvidia hardware. AMD is in a distant second with a hair under 15% of the Steam user base. That’s a massive gap – and further proof Nvidia holds the crown.