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"AMD’s new RX 580 is a great choice for gamers wanting an alternative to the GTX 1060/1070 and PowerColor’s Golden Sample can be regarded as a triumph so far as gaming performance and thermals ...
Nvidia or AMD?
Perceived as the most important piece of hardware by PC gamers, the graphics card also known as the GPU, is responsible for displaying images on the display. Whether it’s for purposes of image editing, watching videos, 3D rendering, video editing or gaming, where the CPU can best be thought of as “The Brains” of the PC – calculating data and sending instructions, the GPU is best thought of as “The Muscle” of the system – applying its strength and energy to push pixels on the screen as fast and as efficiently as possible. Just like any muscle that can be trained to increase it strength, the GPU can be overclocked to increase its performance.
While integrated graphics chips on the CPU can provide the necessary performance for watching videos and less-demanding games, these are by no means ideal for enthusiast gamers. Intel’s HD Graphics technology are designed as a means for displaying basic video output, meaning those use their PCs for casual activities are provided with everything they need. AMD’s APU technology – also known as the Advanced Processing Units, functions as bridge between the integrated technology and discrete graphics cards. By implementing the exact same Radeon cores of the discrete GPUs in to the same component as the CPU, the APU allows for a level of quality in gaming that’s extremely close to that of a gaming console.
For PC gamers looking for the best possible performance – with the option to upgrade their system at a time that suits them, to gain more from their gaming machine through overclocking, multi-GPU configurations and extensive cooling – a discrete graphics card is the only way to achieve this. Leading the PC gaming industry through discrete graphics card technology are two companies, Nvidia and AMD. Providing three tiers of graphics card performance, both companies develop a set number of products for each price category.
Which One's Faster?
Entry-Tier graphics cards provide gamers with a budget of £100-£180 a great solution for gaming, that’s comparable to that of a gaming console. Mid-Tier graphics cards deliver the additional performance that’s required for visual superiority, higher resolutions such as 1440p, Virtual Reality, and faster frame rates. High-End graphics cards prove to be the ideal solution for those seeking the best possible visual clarity, with no compromises being made to performance in order to take full advantage of 1440p and 4K resolutions, multi-monitor setups, and Virtual Reality gaming.
As each GPU that’s designed by AMD and Nvidia receives a custom implementation by third-party vendors through the means of clock speeds, power requirements, styling, and cooling, requirements will remain largely the same for every GPU, with minor changes in respect to the price and performance. As the standard input connection for a display requires either a HDMI or DisplayPort, graphics cards are commonly found with multiple options including older connections such as DVI. This allows for additional compatibility and multi-monitor setups.
Where Entry-Tier GPUs do not provide as much performance as Mid-Tier and High-End solutions, the power requirement also sees a reduction, with some models having the capability to receive power directly from the motherboard, rather than the PSU. GPUs will typically require a PSU that contains a 6-Pin or 8-Pin connector, usually in the form of X2 6-Pin or X2 8-Pin, or a combination between the two.
While the Entry-Tier GPUs request little power, higher performing graphics cards will require more. Proving adequate for the vast majority of modern GPUs, power supplies with a 400W rating with an 80Plus classification will serve the needs of gamers using a single graphics cards. As GPU technology sees a great number of improvements for every generation that follows, energy-efficiency has made strides in regards to power requirement. For specific models of GPUs or dual-GPU configurations, PSU requirements may not be that much higher than that of a single graphics card. PSU’s with a rating of 600W-700W with an 80Plus Gold or higher classification may prove ideal depending on the GPU.
Throughout the duration of a graphics card’s lifespan, gamers will receive on-going software support in the form of drivers – also known as firmware updates. This allows for graphics cards to increase in performance and receive the best possible performance for each new game which is released. These software updates come in two forms. The first is direct support from the GPU manufacturers, AMD and Nvidia. While both companies allow for manual installation of these updates through their websites, they also provide automatic downloads and installation of drivers through their own software application.
This automatic update works in the same manner as a firmware update implemented on gaming consoles. Known as the AMD Catalyst Control Center, AMD’s software also provides access to overclocking features, game profiles, display options and power-efficiency preferences. Using the AMD software, owners of Radeon-based GPUs can receive automatic updating of drivers when they become available. Nvidia uses a similar solution for automatic driver updates, available in two software applications.
The first comes in the form of the Nvidia Control Panel, which operates in a similar manner to the AMD Catalyst Control Center. The second choice is Nvidia GeForce Experience. This software allows for game streaming, recording and automatic display and performance optimization through the functionality of analyzing the gamers hardware. As with the AMD software, GeForce Experience will download and install drivers when they’re available, meaning the gamers don’t have to should they prefer ease-of-use.
The second form of support that GPUs will receive in software comes from the game developers themselves. By working alongside Nvidia or AMD during the development of their games, optimization can be improved and allow for more scalability across a wider range of GPUs. Known as Nvidia: “The Way It’s Meant To Be Played”, games developed in-mind for Nvidia GPUs will also receive additional visual enhancements for owners of Nvidia-based GPUs. Titles such as Watchdogs 2, Assassin’s Creed, and Far Cry – developed by Ubisoft are all part of the “The Way It’s Meant To Be Played” program.
The true remains same for AMD graphics cards which allow game developers to see improved performance from AMD Radeon-based graphics, when collaborating with the GPU engineers. Known as the AMD “Gaming Evolved” program, titles such as Star Wars Battlefront, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, DiRT Rally, and Battlefield 1 all receive enhanced performance for Radeon GPUs.
API Explained & What It Means For Gamers
Known as the API (Application Programming Interface), the most enthusiastic of PC gamers have become more than familiar with the words DirectX and OpenGL. The API functions as the software translator that provides the hardware with a set of instructions sent by the game’s code and the operating system. The same principle applies to gaming consoles such as the Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo. As gaming consoles are built with a set specification of hardware, they receive the benefits of a low-level API.
A low-level API allows game developers to optimize their games to their fullest potential and gain the maximum possible performance from the hardware. Unlike the gaming console, every PC configuration is different – all with different processors, graphics cards, and RAM. Due to the vast quantities of PC configurations, game developers optimize their games through a high-level API. This means universal compatibility across all PC performance tiers, but without the benefit of maximising the performance of each individual PC setup.
While the current APIs – DirectX11 and OpenGL have seen drastic improvements throughout the years with GPU architecture being far more easier to develop for – coming close to that which is offered by gaming consoles, slight issues still remain. Developed by Microsoft and exclusive to PCs with a Windows 10 operating system as well as the Xbox One, the successor to DX11 has arrived. Appropriately titled DirectX12 (DX12), the brand new API allows for dramatic improvements over DX11, providing game developers with same low-level API which was previously exclusive to gaming consoles.
Allowing software to communicate directly to the hardware without the overhead or issues that DX11 sought to overcome, games developed using DX12 can seek more than three times the performance gain compared to DX11 when running on the same set of hardware. As DX12 is a low-level API with the additional benefit of being easier to develop for over a broad range of hardware configurations, gamers can expect faster framerates, enhanced visual effects, and full utilization of their gaming PC’s hardware – regardless of PC configuration.
This benefit of a console-like programming language also extends to the hardware specifications of the latest gaming consoles – the PlayStation4 and the Xbox One, both of which have been manufactured with traditional PC hardware – as opposed to the custom processors which their predecessors utilized. Built with AMD APUs with a similar performance metric across both consoles, the PlayStation4 and the Xbox One use the same X86 PC programming language as traditional PCs. For the gamer, this means PC and consoles games being developed in parallel with optimization benefits across both platforms.
Additionally, the Xbox One utilizes a Windows 10 operating system, meaning even greater enhancements across games which are exclusive to the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. Created by the Khronos Group as an alternative to DirectX, Vulkan is also a low-level API and is the successor to OpenGL. It provides the same benefits to those of DirectX12 but doesn’t require the Windows 10 operating system.
While the only game to support the Vulkan API at this moment in time is DOOM – which has seen astonishing improvements in regards to performance – compared to the game’s alternative choice of OpenGL, there are games in development utilizing the API. Current games which support the more popular DirectX12 API consist of Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Gears of War 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Hitman, Ashes of the Singularity, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Total War: Warhammer, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Forza Motorsport 6: Apex.