Back at the beginning of 2011, when I was still going to high school and playing Battlefield 3 all day long, I finally gathered enough money to buy myself new graphics card – AMD Radeon HD 5830. At the time, that card was already one year old, however it was a blast compared to my old HD 3870 that I finally got rid off. But besides increasing my average frame rate in many games by up to 80%, this card had one of the best price to performance ratios that is still unbeatable even today. Packing up 1 GB GDDRG VRAM, I could finally play Battlefield 3 smoothly on medium settings with 60 frames per second.
Those days are, however, long gone. Tech has changed drastically and market power relations are now much more different. AMD seems to be in a standstill, but new Navi architecture looks promising. Unfortunately, there is still no product that would provide price to performance ratio that used to be offered by now very archaic HD 5830.
In the beginning of early 2010s, AMD traded blows well with Nvidia in terms of overall discrete graphics card market share. Radeon HD 5000 series cards were selling like hot potatoes, thus becoming one of the most popular AMD’s graphics division products that this company ever made. According to the data published by John Peddie Research, in 2nd quarter of 2010, AMD held 44,5% of discrete graphics card market, while Nvidia held 54,3%. Although ATi, which later became AMD, last time surpassed Nvidia in 2005, market shares of these two companies in 2010 held market in healthy and competitive state and provided customers with great products that were reasonably priced.
Real problems for AMD started in 2014 when Nvidia introduced its GeForce 900 series. Although slightly less powerful than beefy Radeon R9 295X2 that cost unbelievable 1,500 dollars, GeForce GTX 980 was a great product that cost “only” 550 USD and consumed almost three times less power than AMD’s flagship card. After the introduction of GeForce 900 series, AMD started to lose market share fast. Company tried to tackle the problem with the release of the R9 300 series which offered mediocre improvements to the R9 200 series (and sometimes even worse), but appearance of GTX 1000 series completely obliterated AMD’s hopes for securing more than 30% of discrete GPU market share.
Nvidia’s GeForce 1000 series was so successful that even now, more than 3 years after their introduction, there is still no real reason to upgrade cards such as GTX 1070 or GTX 1080. In the meantime, AMD released RX 400 and RX 500 series cards and also Vega series cards which were only useful to cryptocurrency miners due to its raw compute capabilities and had no real use in gaming performance.
Although AMD’s Vega cards failed in terms of their commercial success, driver updates made them again an appealing products, however, their too big power consumption and (un)availability on market made them to flop again. Real winners from AMD’s 2017 to 2019 era became to two products: RX 570 and RX 580. Even though they are based on the old Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture, these two cards are absolute price to performance powerhouses and as such are worth buying. AMD Graphics division has for long time been known for its bad driver support, however, since 2015 when AMD started releasing their Radeon Software Crimson Edition drivers, performance increases have started to become more notable on various graphics card. Same case is with RX 580 which, after numerous drivers updates, became even more powerful than its 2016’s competitor Nvidia GTX 1060. Paradoxically, RX 580 started to sell much better in late 2018 and early 2019 due to fading of cryptocurrency mining haze.
In second half of 2018 Nvidia introduced its new RTX graphics card series that feature new RT cores that are supposed to help in rendering ray tracing enhanced visuals. New cards brought a bit underwhelming performance improvements compared to Pascal-based 1000 series at much greater price. Ray tracing technology, however, still needs to prove as a viable technology since main of Nvidia’s critics state that company released its ray tracing capable hardware too early, and as such is not worth buying since many developers still don’t have experience in producing such visuals.
During early 2019 Nvidia repetitively mocked AMD for being unable to release new graphics card that would be able to support ray tracing technology. In summer 2019 AMD finally released its new graphics products: Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT. Based on new architecture called RDNA, both cards showed significant performance improvements compared to Vega and RX 500 series cards, but at greater expenses. Even tough new cards don’t support ray tracing technology, their price to performance ratio is much better compared to their Nvidia RTX series counterparts.
Both Nvidia RTX series and AMD RX 5700 series feature great products, however their price value seems to be reserved only for enthusiasts and wealthier consumers. Realistically speaking, Nvidia’s Pascal-based cards and AMD’s Polaris-based cards, such as RX 580, still seem to be doing well on the market with out any need to be replaced in too far future. New Nvidia GTX 1660 series cards provide GTX 1070 performance levels at almost the same price as second-hand GTX 1070 models on the market. Overall, whole market seems to be in a standstill due to developing technologies that will be implemented in new generation of video consoles whose main contenders are PlayStation 5 and Xbox Two.
It is a bit disappointing from AMD to not release any new mainstream consumer cards in 2019 that would be a viable upgrade to now ageing Polaris cards, but also to relatively affordable GTX 1660 series cards that Nvidia seems to be pushing more to the market than RTX series cards. Although 2019 brought new products from both graphics card manufacturers, there is still no rationale to upgrade previous generation products because new one doesn’t bring enough improvements. Graphics card industry seems to be slowing down, but the question is whether is that due to small semiconductor manufacturing nodes improvements, or because of fine-tuning technologies that’ll be utilized by next generation of consoles and thereafter will be released in consumer PC market.