Nvidia VS. AMD By Josh Blagden | JB - Mac Help | JBlagden

Nvidia VS. AMD By Josh Blagden

This is a debate which has raged on for a while. Some say Nvidia is better and others say AMD is better. It really depends on  what you need a graphics card to do. For OpenGL tasks, like gaming, Nvidia GPUs are better. AMD GPUs are better for OpenCL tasks, like video editing. It's a bit like programming languages, where there's no best programming language; just the best one for the job. So, if you mainly play games and rarely edit video, Nvidia would be the better option. But if you frequently edit video and rarely play games, AMD would be the better option. Until today, I didn't realize this. I discovered this by comparing my Nvidia GT 740 to the AMD Radeon R7 250 on CompuBench. I found out that the AMD R7 250 is roughly twice as fast as my Nvidia GT 740 for OpenCL tasks, despite being in the same price bracket.

In addition to performance, there's the issue of temperature. AMD GPUs tend to run hotter than Nvidia GPUs. In a desktop, this doesn't matter very much, if at all. In a laptop, one of three things could happen: 1) the laptop will run a little hot. 2)The CPU might have to throttle itself sooner than it would with an Nvidia GPU due to the extra heat inside the laptop. 3) If the laptop has lead-free solder, the motherboard could fry, though it doesn’t help that Apple’s newer computers are thinner, which probably decreases their ability to vent hot air.

Another issue is driver support. For years, Apple used Nvidia GPUs in its Macs, and consequently, had better driver support for them, even for Nvidia PC cards. There are Mac-specific graphics cards as well as the more common PC graphics cards. The difference between Mac and PC graphics cards is the firmware. Mac-specific graphics cards use EFI while PC graphics cards BIOS. The only difference you’ll notice is that if you use a Mac-specific graphics card in a pre-2013 Mac Pro, you’ll get a boot screen, while you won’t get a boot screen with a PC graphics card. You can still use a PC graphics card in a pre-2013 Mac Pro, you just won’t get a boot screen. Also, there are a lot more PC graphics cards than Mac-specific graphics cards, and they also cost a lot less. The difference is hardly an issue with pre-2012 Mac Pros and it’s irrelevant on other Macs from 2011 and later because they have integrated graphics, while the Mac Pros never did. Though, to use a graphics card with a modern Mac, you’ll need a PCIe-to-Thunderbolt adapter like the Akitio Thunder2 or the FirmTek Thundertek.

© Joshua Blagden & Justin Barczak 2013-2015
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