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Here’s why Nvidia’s shots against AMD drivers just don’t add up

Nvidia is no stranger to criticizing AMD, and more recently, Intel, as the three companies duke it out for the best graphics cards. Earlier this year, Nvidia jabbed at AMD for its drivers, claiming that optional or beta drivers (which AMD frequently releases) are “sub-par” and don’t provide a “smooth user experience.”

And Nvidia is at it again, shortly before AMD is set to release its new RX 7900 XTX graphics card.

For anyone keeping track of driver releases for gamers:#GeForce #GameReadyDrivers

— Sean Pelletier (@PellyNV) December 8, 2022

The crux of Nvidia’s argument, which you can discern from the chart above and a blog post Nvidia wrote in April, is that AMD and Intel provide far fewer certified drivers and instead rely on beta drivers in between major releases. That’s true, as Nvidia has continued to build its Game Ready Driver program over the past several years. But it doesn’t inherently mean Nvidia’s drivers are better by default.

Certification comes from WHQL, or Windows Hardware Quality Labs. In short, whenever a new driver is developed, Nvidia sends it through a rigorous test list from Microsoft to verify that it’s stable on Windows. It’s a seal of approval, but that doesn’t mean beta or optional drivers are automatically unstable.

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If you track AMD’s driver history, most recent beta drivers are turned into WHQL-certified drivers a couple of weeks after being out in the wild. The most recent version 22.11.2 was released as a beta driver on December 1 as a beta driver and on December 8 as a WHQL driver. The same goes for the previous version which launch on November 16 as a beta driver and November 22 as a WHQL driver.

In addition, WHQL means the driver itself is stable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the games supported are. Nvidia’s GeForce Game Ready driver 526.98 that included Game Ready support for Warhammer 40,000: Darktidefor example, launched alongside the game crashing with DLSS 3 or ray tracing enabled. That wasn’t on the driver, it was on the game itself, but it’s a good illustration of what “Game Ready” actually means.

New drivers can still cause issues on the Nvidia front, too. In October, Nvidia confirmed an issue with its WHQL driver inside Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, which it patched in a hotfix shortly after (what you might call a “beta” or “optional” driver). A few weeks after that, Game Ready support was included in a WHQL driver, which is very similar to how AMD has handled its driver rollouts recently.

Three RTX 4080 cards sitting on a pink background.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Nvidia’s Game Ready program relies on close developer interaction to fix driver-based issues before the game and driver are released, which allows Nvidia to add more “official” support for games as they’re released. That doesn’t mean games that aren’t explicitly listed won’t work. In years of having both an AMD and Nvidia machine close by, I’ve never encountered a game that worked on Nvidia that refused to work on AMD. That wasn’t always true in years past, which is a reality Intel is currently facing with its drivers.

Drivers are a vital part of GPU performance in games, but Nvidia’s claim that its drivers are better simply because they’re WHQL Certified doesn’t hold ground. The more important aspect is that drivers continue to deliver performance improvements and fix bugs over time, which is something Nvidia and AMD deliver on.

In July, AMD delivered a driver that could provide upwards of a 92% boost in some specific games. And in October, Nvidia released a driver that provided up to a 24% jump in a game as big as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. 

Third-party testing shows that AMD and Nvidia have both provided overall improvements over the year, delivering higher frame rates simply through driver optimization. That’s what’s important about new GPU drivers between AMD and Nvidia.

If you’re sitting on an old driver, make sure to follow our guide on how to upgrade your GPU drivers. You might be sitting on untapped performance, regardless of your GPU brand.

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Jacob Roach
Senior Staff Writer, Computing
Jacob Roach is a writer covering computing and gaming at Digital Trends. After realizing Crysis wouldn't run on a laptop, he…
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