AMD or NVIDIA: Does It Matter?

When you are going through the motions of choosing between AMD or NVIDIA, does it really matter? At LockerGnome.net, Tg1998 asks:

AMD or NVIDIA: does the brand of a video card matter? Also, where do you buy NVIDIA’s reference cards?

AMD or NVIDIA: Does It Matter?

AMD or NVIDIA: which graphics card do you use? Does it really matter?

Thanks for writing! I will answer your last question first, TG1998. For readers who don’t know what a reference card is, it’s a graphics card that is created by a manufacturer for the purposes of internal testing, and, as such, it’s designed with tweakable variables (such as voltage), which is appealing to people who like to overclock their machines for better (but potentially hardware damaging) performance. It’s not really intended for a consumer audience, so it’s not generally something you’ll find on the market.

Aside from internal testing, a reference card can be used by sub-manufacturers to further tweak an original design and ensure that it works before it’s mass produced. This is why NVIDIA graphics cards, even those of the same type, can wildly vary in price. For example, see how these two compare:

See what I mean?

To answer your first question, AMD or NVIDIA, the simple answer is no, the brand doesn’t matter. AMD and NVIDIA both make great graphical processing units (GPUs). The main reason that people go with one or another is either personal preference or because they’ve had a bad experience with the other brand. As an example, our very own Scotsman, John McKinlay, will not give AMD another chance after two of its cards barely lasted one year before giving up the ghost. He knows that it might be a bit silly and petty to not give the company another chance, but NVIDIA hasn’t given him any grief yet, so he’s happy to go with the company that hasn’t burned him over the company that has.

I’m sure that many of you have your own favorite manufacturers when it comes to computer components and you will have your own valid reasons for using those components. However, for those of you who have no preference and want to get the lowdown on choosing AMD or NVIDIA, I think we can help you by giving you the pros and the cons of both cards and hopefully it will give you a bit more insight into buying your next graphics card. We’ll start off with John’s least favorite, AMD.

AMD or NVIDIA? AMD Pros and Cons

There are a couple of pros that come to mind when it comes to AMD graphics cards.

The first pro would be that they have better overclocking potential for operating at higher speeds, but this is a superpower that should be used with extreme caution. An unstable overclocking by an inexperienced user could result in burning out the GPU. And even if this worst-case scenario doesn’t come to pass, an overclocker should be aware that power consumption (and the monthly electricity bill) will increase.

The next pro is that AMD cards have a higher memory bandwidth and more video RAM. The higher memory bandwidth allows the graphics card to draw faster and to draw higher quality images, but the RAM isn’t relevant unless you’re running games across multiple monitors.

AMD or NVIDIA? NVIDIA Pros and Cons

NVIDIA currently seems to be leading the field with graphics cards, even though it only produces the GPUs and lets other manufacturers build and ship the graphics cards themselves (as seen in the comparison above). As with anything else, the higher-priced versions will likely perform better and demonstrate greater stability, but do your research before putting down any cash. Consumer reviews from various sources will tell you a more reliable tale than one company’s slick marketing brochures.

The first pro when it comes to NVIDIA cards is that they aren’t as power hungry as the AMD cards, which brings us straight into the con of locked voltage control, which reduces their overclocking potential. This may or may not be of interest to you. You may just want to plug in to the nearest PCI-Express slot, install the drivers, and play your favorite game.

GPU Accelerated PhysX is something that only NVIDIA does. Some games, like Battlefield 3 and Railworks 4, support PhysX and, by default, NVIDIA architecture. NVIDIA cards also allow for Adaptive Vsync, which helps alleviate screen tearing.

The con here is that the 660 Ti and below offer less memory bandwidth and video RAM than comparable AMD cards. Current cards, like the 670 and Titan, seem to have adequate memory bandwidth and video RAM, however, remember that the video RAM is only relevent if you have a multi-monitor setup.

If you like having a bit more performance-based information when trying to answer the AMD or NVIDIA question, you can use a site called Video Card Benchmarks to find what will give you the most performance for your buck. I hope this has helped you.

Community Question: AMD or NVIDIA? Which graphics manufacturer do you prefer, and why?

Image: Day 55 — Graphics Card shared by DaGoaty via Flickr

Article Written by

Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.

  • NAME

    Basically if you just want to game with no crazy set ups, then go Nvidia but if you want some crazy set ups, you want AMD.

    • Nahme

      Actually it’s the opposite…

      • Paul Smith

        No! Fk you.

  • Soylent Gamer

    I don’t run multiple displays, I only use one 1080p display, so I prefer the advanced physx that Nvidia supports.

  • Karl Dinwiddie

    Disclaimers: I own AMD stock and I am only comparing ease of installation on Ubuntu flavored Linux systems, and my skill level is “hobbiest” at best.

    Having recently built Mint systems with lower/(mid?) range Nvidia and AMD graphics cards (around 200 bucks each), I found that installing the AMD driver much easier than the Nvidia one. With AMD you just download their script, run it, reboot. Then you are done and you didn’t leave your system in an unusable state (like I did a couple times trying to get Nvidia going). With Nvidia it was a lot of searching through forums (for example (http://community.linuxmint.com/tutorial/view/176) stop the X server this, mess around with grub some more that. You’ll be there all day. I’ll stand corrected if someone posts a link to instructions that I can try that work and make it as easy as it is for AMD.

    So for someone who wants to build their own Linux system and not have to spend all day figuring out how to install the driver, I prefer AMD.