Gaming Rig Graphics Card – Nvidia or AMD?

My gaming rig is 10 years old, and I'm in dire need of a replacement. But what is the best gaming rig graphics card? Nvidia or AMD?

Every time I buy a new computer, I have to learn everything about hardware and the state of various operating systems all over again. In a series of posts, I’ll got through some of the important things to consider when buying a gaming rig:

  1. Operating system: Windows or Linux?
  2. CPU: Intel or AMD?
  3. Graphics card: Nvidia or AMD?
  4. Form factor: Laptop or desktop?
  5. Tinkering factor: Parts or pre-assembled?
  6. Sustainability: New or second-hand?
  7. Conclusion: So what’s the ultimate gaming rig setup, then!?

I’ve decided on this specific order of things because decisions taken on the top of the list might limit the available choices later.

This third post is about finding the right gaming rig graphics card.

The Playing Field

I’ll focus on GPU in this post because that’s where I will spend the most money. Motherboard, RAM and other hardware are also important1, of course, but the GPU is one of core the parts of a gaming rig. We covered another core component, the CPU, in an earlier post.

The GPU market is dominated mainly by two big players: Nvidia with their GeForce GPU technology, and AMD, which makes Radeon GPUs. As with the CPU market, AMD is the David that tries to take on Goliath, but in this case, the Goliath is Nvidia.

I’m pretty agnostic when it comes to hardware. For me, there are 3 important things to consider:

  • Is the hardware Linux compatible? Since I want to use Linux as my primary operating system, this is important.
  • How does the hardware perform on Linux compared to the competitor’s?
  • How much bang will I get for my bucks?

The logo on the hardware doesn’t matter. It’s inside the chassis, after all.

Gaming rig Graphics Card

Even if there are really only two viable options on the market today, Nvidia’s GeForce and AMD’s Radeon, finding the right GPU is a bit lot more complicated than finding the right CPU. There is a myriad of different models available, with various memory options. and cards operating at different clock frequencies. To add another layer of complexity, neither AMD nor Nvidia sell many graphics card themselves. Instead, they sell their GPUs to companies like ASUS, MSI, and Gigabyte, which manufacture the actual graphics cards. And just to top it off, both Nvidia and AMD have integrated proprietary technologies into their GPUs.

Nvidia GeForce

The current generation of Nvidia’s GeForce family of GPUs is the GTX 16 series and RTX 20 series. The RTX 20 series started shipping late last year, and introduced Nvidia’s Turing micro architecture. These are the first graphics cards to implement real time hardware ray-tracing in consumer graphics cards. The RTX 20 series also contains Tensor cores, a neural net AI component designed to create even more lifelike computer graphics.

The GTX 16 series started shipping earlier this year, and is based on the same Turing architecture as the RTX 20 series. But they don’t feature hardware ray-tracing, nor the Tensor cores, which makes GTX 16 series GPUs graphics cards considerably cheaper than RTX 20 series cards. Naturally, the GTX 16 series GPUs also deliver less oomph than the RTX 20 series.

AMD Radeon

AMD’s range of GPUs seems a tad more complicated than Nvidia’s line-up. From what I can tell, the current generation of AMD’s Radeon family of GPUs is the 500 series, the RX Vega series, and the RX 5000 series.

The 500 series was launched in 2017. Looking only at when at the launch date, it’s probably means it’s on par with Nvidia’s GTX 10 series in terms of technology. In terms of performance, however, The RX Vega series is the one that AMD launched to compete with Nvidia’s GTX 10 series. From what I can tell be skimming reviews, it looks like the RX Vega performance isn’t quite the same as the GTX 10 performance. But RX Vega based cards are way cheaper than graphics cards with GTX 10 series chips.

With Nvidia’s launch of their GTX 20 series, AMD’s RX Vega GPUs are now obsolete. But AMD just launched the RX 5000 series this month, with cards that are on par with Nvidia’s RTX 20 series in terms of performance. The RX 5000 cards are, not surprisingly, also cheaper than Nvidia’s RTX 20 series.

And the Winner is

Finding the best graphics card is impossible. I could spend hours and hours reading reviews, looking at benchmark graphs, and watching videos. But my patience is limited. At the end of the day, I don’t really think that I will notice much difference between an AMD graphics card and its Nvidia counterpart and vice versa.

The general consensus on the internet is that Nvidia’s GPUs generally perform better than comparable AMD GPUs. But they are also more expensive. In addition to that, I’ll need a high-end monitor to get the most out of the high-end cards.

It would be natural to go with a mid-range graphics card with AMD Radeon technology. They are generally cheaper, and deliver more or less the same performance.

But What About Linux!?

Both AMD and Nvidia provide Linux drivers, and from what I can tell both brands perform well on. But for some reason, it just feels safer to pick Nvidia over AMD when I want to use Linux as my operating system.

With a larger use base, its more likely that they will provide high quality Linux drivers. Please note, however, that this conclusion is based on nothing more than my gut filing. I might be terribly, terribly wrong.

But as it seems right now, my gaming rig graphics card of choice will be a mid-range Nvidia GeForce based cards. It’ll be expensive, but with great performance, both in Windows and Linux. Exactly which GPU series, we’ll see when we get to the end of this gaming rig series of posts.

  1. The motherboard, in particular, might have some issues on Linux if it has any crazy-ass proprietary features. ↩︎


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