While console gaming sees the rivalry of Xbox One vs PS4, PC gaming has had a war of its own waging for far longer. In building a computer, you might not think picking out a GPU would be as painful a process as it actually is.
Ask any DIY veteran for advice and they're sure to have strong opinions on the video card, whether it be of the Nvidia or AMD variety. So, how do the two camps stack up these days?
Of course, everyone has a budget lined up when configuring a PC. Unless your personal thrill is literally setting fire to everything in your bank account, you're going to aim for the best value-to-performance ratio.
A common misconception is that AMD makes the cheaper graphics hardware while Nvidia makes the pricier, luxury GPUs. Shop around, however, and you'll notice that's not necessarily the case.
While an Nvidia GeForce 980Ti might cost upwards of $600 (about £500, AU$1,000), AMD's closest equivalent – the R9 Fury X – is around the same price, sometimes even more expensive. And that goes without mentioning the 980Ti's sheer performance advantage in just about every benchmark that we've seen.
All in all, straight price-wise, both Nvidia and AMD's graphics cards are on roughly the same level in terms of cost.
In terms of horsepower, however, Nvidia is almost consistently on top. AMD's highest offering, the Fury X for example, boasts an effective memory speed that's seven times slower than that of Nvidia's presently fastest Titan X, according to PC Gamer. Save for texture mapping units, the Titan X is superior in just about every other regard.
And that's without taking into consideration Nvidia's recently announced GTX 1080. For less than the cost of the R9 Fury X ($600 or about £415, AU$813), you can wield the power of two GTX 980s or a single Titan X. That means, for about the same price as an R9 Fury, you'll get about twice the power from Nvidia.
Thankfully, AMD is readying its answer. While the GTX 1080 represents the premiere of Nvidia's latest Pascal architecture, AMD's own next-gen offerings through its Polaris line are right around the corner. We're likely to find out more at the end of this month, by the time the 2016 Computex Taipei trade show rolls around.
Software and features
Software and exclusive features is another area where Nvidia is perceived sovereign, but that's not necessarily the reality either.
While Nvidia does have a handful of exclusive technologies to its name, including PhysX allowing for – you guessed it – some sweet physics enhancements in-game in addition screen tear clobbering G-Sync for compatible monitors, AMD hasn't run into too much trouble offering competitive solutions.
And, if naturally flowing hair is your thing, you'll be delighted to know that both Nvidia and AMD have their own hair physics technologies – AMD's TressFX versus Nvidia's HairWorks – which, at least in graphics card power battles, is important for some reason.
More significant these days, though, is the ability to record gameplay with ease – with such ease, in fact, that a launch-at-startup program handles the entire workload for you.
For instance, with Nvidia's ShadowPlay enabled, your last 20 minutes of gameplay is constantly being recorded without any user guidance. Striking a hotkey will provoke a local save, and you can even manage to stream on Twitch in glorious high definition, if you've got the bandwidth to spare.
Similarly, in classic AMD fashion, you have the option to install the third-party-powered AMD Gaming Evolved, developed in coordination with Raptr. This client packs in both the Plays.tv gameplay recording software along with an optimization tweaker comparable to, but not nearly as beloved as, Nvidia's GeForce Experience. Similarly, AMD Crimson does the same thing. Options.
In many ways, despite AMD encouraging a bit more autonomy on the user-end, those barking Nvidia's name every time software is mentioned aren't completely wrong. That said, with AMD, it's a nice luxury to choose whether you want to register for an account in order to acquire the most up to date drivers for your PC.
For advanced users, driver support is where Nvidia has begun to falter. Previously available as direct downloads from the company's website, Game Ready drivers became locked behind a GeForce Experience registration wall by the tail-end of last year, according to a report from PC World last year.
Contrarily, AMD users still have the option to download from a direct feed, or alternatively, from either AMD Gaming Evolved's Raptr client or Radeon Crimson. The winner here depends entirely on how much control you, the gamer, want over your GPU drivers.
God-forsaken exclusivity deals
Last year, AMD awoke to an unpleasant surprise when it turned out one of the most anticipated PC releases of the year, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, was to take advantage of Nvidia Hairworks exclusively, rather than acknowledging the existence of the card maker's own TressFX technology.
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This, AMD chief gaming scientist Richard Huddy told Ars Technica, "completely sabotaged" the performance of AMD cards running The Witcher 3.
In fact, you can likely find dozens of examples online of games that run better on one graphics card brand than the other, and though no company would come outright and say it, there is undoubtedly something suspicious about a developer favoring one brand of hardware over another.
This is, of course, devastating for the industry as a whole – especially in the PC space – since games promising to be compatible across an entire platform are instead optimized for a single line of SKUs. But it also doesn't bode well for either AMD or Nvidia. The constant mudslinging between the two companies has erupted into making optimization, on both ends, distinctly worse than consoles.
So, which is better? Neither
We know it's a cop-out to say, "Well, there's no telling which is better, both companies are great, let's celebrate competition!" However, both AMD and Nvidia truly have their benefits and drawbacks alike.
Sure, you can count on GeForce Experience projecting an eye-candy UI across your G-Sync-enabled monitor while simultaneously keeping your drivers up to date. But, with AMD, you can grab those drivers yourself whenever you want directly from the company's website. You don't even have to install bloatware!
Both have their exclusive technologies, but they're essentially the same. Both come in at around the same price points for similar performance (though Nvidia is a clear winner in terms of offering the most performance on the high-end). And, in some capacity, they even both have some brilliant software support that makes PC gaming almost as seamless as popping a disc into a console.
Unfortunately, they both appear to have exclusive partnerships with game makers as well, which is good for no one.
Jeremy Laird originally contributed this article
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