When it comes to computer graphics, two titans dominate the industry: Nvidia and AMD (Advanced Micro Devices). If you're wondering exactly how these two companies compare, and what the differences are between the hardware products they make, you've come to the right place.
We'll take you on a concise but comprehensive tour of how Nvidia and AMD got to where they are today, what you can expect if you're buying any hardware from them, and the other areas of tech they're involved in.
Nvidia vs AMD: the history
US tech firm Nvidia has been around since 1993, founded with the intention of capitalising on the imminent explosion in computer graphics technology – it was the year the likes of Doom and Myst came out, setting new standards in the visuals that computers could produce, and Nvidia wanted to tap into that.
Since then, the company has become known for its GeForce line of graphics cards (for desktops) and integrated graphics (more compact solutions, often for laptops). Its biggest rival in these areas is AMD, but Nvidia has also expanded its operations into other areas of tech – which we'll get into later on.
Founded way back in 1969, AMD is actually focused on CPUs or Central Processing Units first and foremost, and in that regard its biggest competitor is Intel. However, since the 2006 acquisition of graphics card company ATI, the US company has also been making graphics cards and chipsets in competition with Nvidia.
Like Nvidia, AMD makes standalone graphics cards for desktop machines as well as integrated graphics chips for laptop use (and for desktops without a separate card). Like Nvidia, it's invested in a number of areas outside the graphics market too, and custom AMD chips can also be found in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.
Nvidia vs AMD: current hardware
When most people ask about Nvidia vs AMD, they want to know who makes the best graphics cards. Nvidia currently dominates the discrete graphics card market, with more than two-thirds of the market share. In terms of integrated GPUs (Graphics Processing Units), Nvidia is just slightly ahead of AMD, but both lag way behind Intel.
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Read the spec of a laptop or desktop computer and you might not see Nvidia or AMD mentioned. Instead, you might see the names of their competing GPU technologies: GeForce for Nvidia and Radeon for AMD. Whether you're shopping for a pre-built computer or a standalone graphics card, you've got a wide choice of both Nvidia and AMD options to pick from.
Deciding between Nvidia and AMD for your graphics depends on the kind of performance you need and the level of budget you're working to. The two companies know they're competing head-to-head, and so try to match each other in price. At the moment though, it's fair to say Nvidia leads the way in terms of top-tier, 4K performance, as well as in the quality of its bundled graphics management software. AMD, generally speaking, offers better value further down the price points.
At the same time it's also fair to say the landscape is constantly changing, with new hardware rolling out year after year, so it's difficult to be definitive when it comes to buying advice – even when one company gets the edge in a certain section of the market, the other comes back strongly with a card of its own. Fortunately, you can find a ton of graphics card benchmarks easily accessible on the web – by checking these scores, online reviews, and the latest prices, you should be able to work out which cards or integrated graphics options are best for you.
Nvidia vs AMD: other projects
As we've mentioned, Nvidia and AMD both have a whole load of other fingers in a whole load of other pies. Nvidia has the narrower focus in terms of being a company built for graphics, but it turns out that GPUs are particularly effective in a number of other areas of tech – including artificial intelligence.
Nvidia is currently producing tech for all kinds of self-driving car projects, including AI assistance for vehicles from Volkswagen and Uber. The company is also responsible for one of the best Android TV devices around, the Nvidia Shield – though the box is as much about gaming as it is streaming media content.
Over in the AMD camp, it's also waging silicon war against Intel with its CPUs for desktops and laptops. The story is the same as it is with graphics: AMD tends to lead the way with value-for-money offerings, but just falls short at the very premium, high-performance end of the market. With both CPUs and GPUs though, the situation doesn't stay the same for very long.
As you would expect from two companies with a strong line-up of graphics cards, both Nvidia and AMD are busy exploring the possibilities of VR as well – not necessarily with their own branded kit, but by providing processors and chipsets (as well as plenty of graphics know-how) to companies who are making their own devices.
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