Why Nvidia’s shots against AMD drivers just don’t add up
Nvidia is no stranger to criticizing AMD, and more recently, Intel, as the three companies duke it out for the best graphics cards. Earlier this year, Nvidia took a swipe at AMD for its drivers, claiming that optional or beta drivers (which AMD regularly releases) are “sub-par” and don’t provide a “smooth user experience.”
And Nvidia is at it again, shortly before AMD is set to release its new RX 7900 XTX graphics card.
The crux of Nvidia’s argument, which you can discern from the chart above and a blog post Nvidia wrote in April, is that AMD and Intel provide far fewer certified drivers and instead rely on beta drivers between major releases. That’s true, as Nvidia has continued to build its Game Ready Driver program over the past few years. But that doesn’t inherently mean Nvidia’s drivers are better by default.
Certification comes from WHQL, or Windows Hardware Quality Labs. Basically, when a new driver is developed, Nvidia sends it through a rigorous test list from Microsoft to verify that it is stable on Windows. This is a seal of approval, but it does not mean that beta or optional drivers are automatically unstable.
If you track AMD’s driver history, the most recent beta drivers are turned into WHQL certified drivers a few weeks after being out in the wild. The most recent version 22.11.2 was released on December 1st as a beta driver and on December 8th as a WHQL driver. The same applies to the previous version which will be launched on November 16th as a beta driver and November 22nd as a WHQL driver.
Additionally, WHQL means that the driver itself is stable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the supported games are. Nvidia’s GeForce Game Ready driver 526.98 which included Game Ready support Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, for example, launched with the game crashing with DLSS 3 or ray tracing enabled. It wasn’t on the driver, it was on the game itself, but it’s a good illustration of what “Game Ready” actually means.
New drivers can also still cause problems on the Nvidia front. In October, Nvidia confirmed a problem with its WHQL driver internally call of duty modern warfare 2, which soon after fixed it in a hotfix (what you might call a “beta” or “optional” driver). A few weeks after that, Game Ready support was included in a WHQL driver, which is very similar to how AMD handled its driver deployment recently.
Nvidia’s Game Ready program relies on close developer interaction to resolve driver-based issues before the game and driver are released, allowing Nvidia to add more “official” support for games as they are released. This does not mean that games not explicitly listed will not work. In years of having both an AMD and Nvidia machine around, I’ve never encountered a game that ran on Nvidia that refused to run on AMD. This hasn’t always been true in recent years, which is a reality Intel is currently facing with its drivers.
Drivers are an important part of GPU performance in games, but Nvidia’s claim that its drivers are better simply because they’re WHQL certified doesn’t hold ground. The most important aspect is that drivers continue to deliver performance improvements and fix bugs over time, which is something Nvidia and AMD deliver.
In July, AMD delivered a driver that can provide a boost of more than 92% in some specific games. And in October, Nvidia released a driver that provided up to a 24% jump in a game as big as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
Third party testing shows that AMD and Nvidia both delivered overall improvements over the year and delivered higher frame rates simply through driver optimization. That’s what’s important about new GPU drivers between AMD and Nvidia.
If you’re sitting on an old driver, be sure to follow our guide on how to upgrade your GPU drivers. You may be sitting on untapped performance regardless of your GPU brand.