Why Nvidia’s Shots vs. AMD Drivers Just Don’t Match

Nvidia is no stranger to criticizing AMD, and more recently, Intel, as the three companies battle it out for the best graphics cards. Earlier this year, Nvidia goes after AMD for its drivers, claiming that the optional or beta drivers (which AMD releases frequently) are “average” and do not provide a “smooth user experience”.

And Nvidia is back, shortly before AMD launches its new RX 7900 XTX graphics card.

The crux of Nvidia’s argument, which you can discern in the table above and a blog post that 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 develop its Game Ready Driver program over the past few years. But that doesn’t inherently mean that Nvidia’s drivers are better by default.

The certification comes from WHQL, or Windows Hardware Quality Labs. In short, every time a new driver is developed, Nvidia puts it through Microsoft’s rigorous test list to verify that it’s stable on Windows. That’s a stamp of approval, but it doesn’t mean that beta or optional drivers are automatically unstable.

If you follow AMD’s driver history, the most recent beta drivers are transformed into WHQL-certified drivers within weeks of their release in the wild. The most recent version 22.11.2 was released as a beta driver on December 1 as a beta driver and December 8 as a WHQL driver. The same goes for the previous version which was launched on November 16 as a beta pilot and on November 22 as a WHQL pilot.

Also, 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 alongside the game crashing with DLSS 3 or ray tracing enabled. It wasn’t about the pilot, it was about the game itself, but it’s a good illustration of what “Game Ready” really means.

New drivers can also cause issues on the Nvidia front. In October, Nvidia confirmed a problem with its WHQL driver on the inside Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, which he fixed in a hotfix shortly after (what you might call a “beta” or “optional” driver). A few weeks later, Game Ready support was included in a WHQL driver, which is very similar to how AMD has been handling its driver rollouts recently.

Three RTX 4080 cards on a pink background.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Nvidia’s Game Ready program relies on close interaction with developers to resolve driver issues prior to game and driver release, allowing Nvidia to add more “official” support for games as they come out. That doesn’t mean games that aren’t explicitly listed won’t work. In the years that I have both an AMD and Nvidia machine nearby, I have never encountered a game running on Nvidia that refused to run on AMD. This has not always been the case in recent years, which is a reality that Intel is currently facing with its drivers.

Drivers are a critical part of GPU performance in games, but Nvidia’s claim that its drivers are better simply because they’re WHQL-certified doesn’t hold up. The most important aspect is that the drivers continue to improve performance and fix bugs over time, which Nvidia and AMD offer.

In July, AMD has delivered a driver this could provide an increase of over 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 tests show than AMD and Nvidia both delivered overall improvements over the year, delivering higher frame rates simply through driver optimizations. This is what is important with the new GPU drivers between AMD and Nvidia.

If you’re sitting on an older 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.

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