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Nvidia vs. AMD

Kevin Parrish
AMD Adrenalin Edition

Talking about Nvidia versus AMD is like stirring up a den of snakes. Fans on both sides will strike out in defense of their preferred brand and Nvidia’s new RTX-series graphics cards only add fuel to that fire. Whether you think they’re great or more like expensive enterprise cards, they are set to shake up the industry with new high-end offerings.

AMD isn’t set to launch anything new in the near future, but its Vega cards are still powerful and the RX 500-series is still an affordable mid-range option. Let’s take a look at the current state of the conflict to see where AMD and Nvidia stand in both desktop and laptop markets. Which chips power the best graphics cards?

The best of the best, tested

Going blow for blow, the top-of-the-line GPU for Nvidia is the upcoming RTX 2080 Ti. Although we don’t have hard performance numbers from unbiased third-parties just yet, it is likely to prove more capable than its predecessor, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. You can pre-order a Founders Edition 2080 Ti for $1,200, while the still-available 1080 Ti can be had for around $650 if you find the right deal.

Other top-tier cards from Nvidia include the GTX 1080 from the last-generation, and the upcoming 2080 and 2070, which will launch at prices of $700-800 and $500-600, depending on edition. The 2080 and 2080 Ti will release together on September 20, with the 2070 launching soon after.

On the AMD side of the ring, the Radeon RX Vega 64 is the most powerful card the red team has, with a price tag of around $580. Its slightly weaker version, the Vega 56, can be had for around $480.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

It should be noted that any performance comparison involving the 2000-series graphics cards would be completely speculative at this point, as we just don’t have any real-world usage numbers for the cards. Until those appear, we’ll be comparing AMD’s cards with the Nvidia 10-series instead.

In Battlefield 1 at 1080p resolution and Ultra settings, AMD’s Radeon RX Vega 64 card managed a 138 frames-per-second (FPS) average. It fell between Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti with a 154 FPS average, and the GTX 1080 with a 135 FPS average. One step down from the Vega 64 is the Vega 56, which trailed behind the trio with an average framerate of 127 FPS. Crank up the resolution to 1440p, and you’ll see a big shift. Both GeForce cards come out on top, leaving the Vega cards in the dust.

Our testing with the resource-intensive Deus Ex: Mankind Divided generated similar results although the average frame counts weren’t quite as high, as is to be expected. Using the 1080p resolution and Ultra settings, the GTX 1080 Ti came out on top with a 102 FPS average, followed by the Radeon RX Vega 64 (78FPS), the GTX 1080 (74FPS), and the Radeon RX Vega 56 (73FPS). The latter cards were essentially running neck-to-neck, which wasn’t the case in Battlefield 1. But again, when switched to 1440p and Ultra details, the rankings went back in favor of the GTX cards.

In the performance-per-watt argument, Nvidia clearly wins. The cards are quieter and more efficient. Thanks to the pricing crisis that hit all graphics cards over the past year, the GTX 1080 is cheaper than the Vega 64 too, with some on sale for as little as $450, while the Vega 64 hovers around $600.

Budget options

Moving away from the top end offerings, the Radeon RX 580 and RX 570 graphics cards tend to out-perform the GeForce GTX 1060 and lower in both Battlefield 1 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided tests. For instance, with Battlefield 1 set at 1080p and Ultra detail settings, the RX 580 had a 91 FPS average followed by the RX 570 (89 FPS) and the GTX 1060 (77 FPS). You’ll see the same order when increasing the resolution to 1440p.

But with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided at 1440p and Ultra settings, we barely saw any performance difference between the GTX 1060 and the RX 570, with the latter hitting a 30 FPS average and the GTX 1060 hitting a 29 FPS average. The RX 580 came out on top with a 35 FPS average. These three cards are obviously not ideal for playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided using these settings. But they are very capable desktop cards when playing the game at 1080p.

The big value resides in these Radeon RX 500 Series cards. Again, they draw more power than Nvidia’s GTX 10 Series models, with the $250 Radeon RX 580 (8GB) requiring 185 watts versus the $280 GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB) pulling 120 watts. But AMD’s RX 580 outperforms the GTX 1060 for a lower price. The $200+ Radeon RX 570 outperforms the GTX 1060 as well. In other words, when it comes to more budget-friendly GPUs, the AMD offerings have a better overall value.

Nvidia may debut mid-range 2000-series cards in the coming months, offering RTX 2060 and RTX 2050 GPUs to mid-range gamers. If the pricing on the higher-end models is anything to go by, though, these will likely be more expensive than existing 10-series and AMD RX-series options.

What about in laptops?

mac gaming lifestyle

Discrete AMD graphics in a laptop is a rare find. The laptops we’ve tested thus far all relied on Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 10 Series for mobile, including the Max-Q variants. For instance, you can’t configure Alienware’s latest 17-inch laptop with a discrete Radeon GPU, while all gaming laptops manufactured by MSI ship with GeForce graphics. Why? Well, you’ll notice that the most recent mobile-focused discrete GPUs from AMD launched just in 2016.

While you see some entry-level options in laptops like the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, they are few and far between. AMD’s recent push, it seems, is to focus on its all-in-one chips combining CPU cores with GPU cores. The company calls this an Accelerated Processing Unit (APU). Nvidia does something similar with its Tegra-branded chips, one of which resides in the Nintendo Switch console. But on a mobile discrete front, Nvidia clearly dominates the laptop market, although AMD’s collaboration with Intel seeks to steal some of that thunder.

Using Battlefield 1 at 1080p and Ultra settings, we found that the Radeon RX Vega M GH packed into two eighth-generation Intel Core i7 “modules” averages 68 frames per second. That’s better than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 with Max-Q chip (65FPS) but falls behind the vanilla GTX 1060 for mobile (86FPS). We saw a similar order with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided at 1080p and Ultra settings, as the RX Vega M GH component averaged at 33FPS, while the GTX 1060 managed 38FPS, and the GTX 1060 with Max-Q hit 31FPS.

Meanwhile, the Radeon RX Vega M GL component fell between the mobile version of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1050 Ti and vanilla GTX 1050 chips. For instance, in Battlefield 1 at 1080p and Ultra settings, the RX Vega M GL scored an average 49FPS while the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti hit a 51FPS average and the GTX 1050 hit a 42FPS average. Again, we saw a similar order with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided at 1080p and Ultra settings.

This establishes Nvidia as the dominant force in the gaming laptop market through its relationships with both mainstream manufacturers like Dell, as well as gaming-specific manufacturers like MSI. Intel’s new modules, which include discrete Radeon graphics, are just now getting off the ground.

No news has been released on RTX-series mobile graphics chips as of yet, but we would expect them to make an appearance over the next few months.

Conclusion

The AMD vs. Nvidia argument is difficult to discuss because fans on both sides are so passionate about their allegiance. Feathers get ruffled, but ultimately, Nvidia offers the most value at both the top end and in the laptop space. AMD’s Vega cards are competitive, but not enough to really recommend, though the RX 500 series offers serious competition at the mid-range and entry level of the desktop graphics market.

If you still need clarification of which company currently dominates the graphics market, look no further than Steam. The April 2018 Steam Hardware & Software Survey shows 76 percent of the graphics cards in use are based on Nvidia GPUs, while 14 percent are AMD-based chips and 10 percent are integrated Intel chips. It has a good start, but that’s a serious gap. If AMD wants to close in on Nvidia, it needs more than just two Vega cards on the market.