Nvidia vs. AMD

Despite Vega, Team Green leads in the Nvidia vs. AMD battle in 2018

AMD Adrenalin Edition

The Nvidia vs. AMD debate is like stirring up a den of snakes. Fans on both sides will strike out in defense of their preferred brand. The debate will never end as long as both manufacturers continue to feed the graphics market.

With AMD’s new Vega-based graphics products now on the streets, 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

Desktop PCs are important for AMD, since it has a chance to market directly to gamers rather than depending on relationships with manufacturing partners. Knowing this, AMD re-entered the high-end graphics game with the Vega chips in 2017, ready to take on Nvidia’s 10 series.

Going blow for blow, the top-of-the-line GPU for Nvidia is the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, which will cost you a hefty $700 when bought directly through Nvidia’s website (assuming they’re in stock). On the AMD side of the ring, you’ve got the Radeon RX Vega 64. Let’s see how the two stack up both in terms of performance and value.

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Let’s start with Battlefield 1. In our testing 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.

Out 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 here. The company’s cards come at a higher cost but are quieter and more efficient. On the other hand, most gamers will care more about price than wattage — and rightfully so. The $500 RX Vega 64 is a cheaper option than the $550 GTX 1080, and as we’ve shown in our numbers, there’s only a three-frame difference between the two.

Budget options

On the lower end of the desktop GPU spectrum, 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 $229 Radeon RX 580 (8GB) requiring 185 watts versus the $299 GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB) pulling 120 watts. But AMD’s RX 580 outperforms the GTX 1060 for a lower price. The $170 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.

An important thing to keep in mind is that when we’re spouting prices and power requirements, they’re based on Nvidia’s Founders Edition cards sold directly by the company. Meanwhile, AMD doesn’t sell graphics cards directly to customers, but instead it relies on third-party manufacturers. Typically, that means prices will be higher, and with the graphics card market thrown into chaos due to cryptocurrency, prices will be even higher for now. That’s why Nvidia can’t keep is Founders Edition models in stock.

For example, the Sapphire Radeon Nitro+ RX 580 with 8GB of memory currently retails for $359 on Newegg while MSI’s RX 580 Armor MK2 8G OC 8GB card sells for $339 — a far cry from AMD’s suggested $229 price. Meanwhile, EVGA’s single-fan GTX 1060 SC Gaming ACX 2.0 (6GB) sells for $319 on Newegg along with the dual-fan GTX 1060 06G-P4-6262-KR card (6GB) sells for $329. That’s slightly higher than Nvidia’s Founders Edition model sold on its site.

What about in laptops?

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Here we don’t have a bunch of numbers because, quite frankly, 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? Head here and notice that the most recent mobile-focused discrete GPUs launched in 2016.

While you see some entry-level options in laptops like the 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.

All we can really say is that Nvidia is dominates the laptop market through its relationships with both mainstream manufacturers like Dell, as well as gaming-specific manufacturers like MSI. Intel’s new modules, which do include discrete Radeon graphics, are just now getting off the ground. We also haven’t benchmarked AMD’s latest Ryzen all-in-one chips for mobile despite having integrated Vega graphics. Even in most of the mainstream laptops you’ll find, manufacturers either rely on Intel’s integrated graphics or pair an Intel processor with a discrete Nvidia graphics chip.

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 in the end, you can’t help but notice that Nvidia takes the graphics lead in both the desktop and laptop markets.

AMD’s product rollout is also problematic. Aside from the two new Vega cards, which only target the top-end, the company’s last major GPU family shipped in 2015. A year later, Nvidia launched the first two cards in its performance-driven GTX 10 Series. AMD responded with the budget-focused RX 400 Series, tweaked and re-branded the family as the 500 Series in early 2017, and didn’t launch its two performance Vega cards until the latter half of 2017. Meanwhile, Nvidia grew its GTX 10 Series from two to ten products since launch.

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 75.26 percent of the graphics cards in use are based on Nvidia GPUs, while 14.89 percent are AMD-based chips. It’s got 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.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how great AMD cards are if they don’t show up in laptops. In order to make a serious kind of headway on Nvidia, it’s going to need to solidify relationships and build trust. Those don’t come easy.