AMD vs Nvidia: 2020 year in review

2020, a year that will definitely enter the history books, is at its end. Before the year’s over, let’s look over our shoulders and see how the biggest CPU and GPU companies fared in the year filled with all kinds of challenges. In our first part of the series we’ve looked at Intel and AMD, the two biggest players in the CPU space. Today, we’re moving to GPUs and the battle between Nvidia and AMD.

Nvidia vs AMD: 2019 summary

2019 was a huge year for AMD, but not thanks to its GPU lineup. While the RX 5700 XT offered lots of firepower for the price it didn’t have a huge impact on the market, reaching “blistering” .45 percent of the market in the January 2020 Steam hardware survey. All AMD GPUs combined held only 15.28 percent of the Steam user base. In other words, Nvidia was still dominating.

In 2019, the big green had released the dubiously named Super refresh of its Turing lineup but the bulk of its user base was still rocking Pascal GPUs, an architecture that debuted back in the first half of 2016. Out of the top 10 graphics cards in January 2020, five were Pascal cards (GTX 1050, GTX 1050 Ti, GTX 1060, GTX 1070, GTX 1080), three (GTX 750 Ti, GTX 960, GTX 970) were members of the Maxwell family, which debuted way back in 2014(!), with the RTX 2060 and the GTX 1660 Ti being the only two members of the Turing lineup, the latter coming without RTX support.

And where were AMD cards on this top ten list? Well, the RX 580 was the eleventh most popular card, which says enough about AMD’s market share. The big red scored important wins on the CPU side with Ryzen but the first generation of its RDNA architecture didn’t bring the same results. Nevertheless, AMD did play a major role in the console space, powering both the next Xbox and the PS5.

2019 saw a ton of rumors regarding Nvidia Ampere and AMD Big Navi cards. They were mostly inaccurate but some details ended up being rather close to the truth. At the end of the year, many believed Nvidia would launch new cards in the first half of the year. Even if that was the plan at the end of 2019, the new year will bring surprising new challenges that will shake the world’s economy to its core.

In 2020 Nvidia needed to bring back the excitement and interest its previous launches sparked among fans. The company would achieve that, but not in the way you think. AMD, on the other hand, needed to finally release a GPU that can match Nvidia’s flagship offerings. It too, would reach its goal and then some, but that win isn’t as clear cut as it looks like, notwithstanding stock issues.

Q1 2020 – Next-Gen consoles hide RDNA 2 Secrets, Nvidia launches GeForce now

January 2020 – Nvidia ended 2019 with their stocks valued at $253.30. AMD ended the year sitting at $45.86

January 2020 – Many rumors talk about next-gen console specs, with the mysterious RDNA GPU from AMD in the heart of both machines. Not much is known at the start of the year aside from that both the CPU and GPU should be massive upgrades over the previous generation

January 21, 2020 – AMD releases the RX 5600 XT during CES 2020, offering the best bang for the buck card for gaming at the moment. The RX 5600 XT proves to be an excellent choice for high refresh rate 1080p gaming as well as a pretty solid choice for 1440p gaming, all for an excellent price

February 4, 2020 – Nvidia enters the game streaming market with its GeForce Now service.  While the service was in Beta for a long time, it had gained traction after the official launch, providing a much more consumer-friendly option than the disappointing Google Stadia model

February 2020 – The sudden GeForce Now launch made many publishers pull their games off the platform. The reason behind the massive exodus was the nature of the service, which sells only the infrastructure, not games. On top of that, lots of publishers have plans for their streaming and subscription services, another reason for pulling their games off GeForce Now

March 2020 – Nvidia Ampere rumors talked about RTX 3080 versions with 10GB and 20Gb of memory and RTX 3070 coming with eight and sixteen gigs of VRAM. While these details proved to be true, most other specs, as well as the rumored “lower price” compared to Turing cards, proved false

March 2020 – First rumors regarding the upcoming “Big Navi” GPU from AMD surface, talking about “Nvidia Killer” and 30 percent performance advantage over the RTX 2080 Ti. Others talk about 50 percent better performance per watt compared to the RDNA 1 architecture (RX 5700 XT). Exact specs are unknown, but we know the next GPU will support real-time ray tracing and variable rate shading

March 16, 2020 – Both Microsoft and Sony reveal full specs of their next-gen machines. Both are using RDNA 2-based GPUs. While the PS5 rocks a 36CU (compute units) version, the one in the Xbox Series X has 52CU and more than 12TFLOPs of computing power and performance equivalent to the RTX 2080/2080 Super. Impressive numbers, especially if we consider that the full Big Navi chip will rock more CUs than the Xbox Series X GPU

The first quarter corresponds with the arrival of the Covid-19 global pandemic, negatively affecting most companies in the world. Both Nvidia and AMD were affected, but the real supply and demand drama will take place later in the year

March 2020 – Steam hardware survey for January 2020 puts Nvidia in the first place with 74.96 percent of the market with AMD second holding 15.28 percent of the market.

March 31, 2020 – When it comes to stock prices, Nvidia finished the first quarter with a stock price of $263.60. AMD ended Q1, 2020 with a stock price of $45.48

Q2 2020 – Nvidia reveals Ampere architecture, AMD is focusing on its CPU division

April 2020 – Q2, 2020, saw lots of rumors regarding next-gen GPUs from AMD and Nvidia. Big Navi went through all kinds of specs and all kinds of performance levels. While most rumors were false, some got stuff right. Like the one that claimed the Big Navi graphics card will be twice as powerful as the RX 5700 XT. Or the one that put the Big Navi release date at the end of 2020

April 2020 – As for the Ampere rumors, they were based on leaked data we’ve covered in the Q1 part of the piece. Not much has changed, except for the express shutdown of the rumor that put the Ampere release for early March. The wildest piece of unconfirmed info was speculation about ray tracing co-processor in RTX 3000 cards, which should bring ray tracing performance to the next level. Well, that didn’t happen

April, May 2020 – GeForce Now continued to see publishers pulling games off the platform but Nvidia soon managed to soften the blow by deciding to create deals with publishers ready to make their games playable via GeForce Now

April 16, 2020 – As for the actual products, Nvidia launched RTX Voice in April and this piece of software was a godsend in the Covid-19-struck world where working from home was the new norm

May 14, 2020 – In May, Nvidia released its first Ampere GPU, the GA100. The GA1000 wasn’t a gaming GPU but still, we’ve seen a taste of what will come later in 2020. The GPU is impressive, but extremely expensive and made for machine learning and AI research

June 15, 2020 – While AMD fought Intel with the Ryzen 3000 XT CPUs, the company was practically invisible in Q2, 2020 when it comes to GPUs. The biggest news of the quarter was the release of the Apple-exclusive Radeon Pro 5600M Mobile GPU

June 2020 – As for the next-gen GPU rumors, in June we’ve finally begun to receive relatively correct release dates. We also received leaked images of the RTX 3080 FE model. It featured quite an ugly cooler and everyone hoped the images were fakes. They weren’t and the cooler ended up looking much better in person

June 2020 – When it comes to Covid-19-related issues many GPUs saw a rise in pricing but, luckily, you could buy graphics cards at their regular prices, all you had to do is a bit of research before the purchase. Not even near the situation, we would get into in a just couple of months

June 31, 2020 – As for the June Steam hardware survey AMD rose to 15.98 percent of the market while Nvidia held 73.23 percent of the market

June 31, 2020 – When it comes to stock prices, Nvidia stocks saw a price of $379.91 on the last day of June. AMD stocks ended the last day of June 2020 with a price of $52.61

Q3 2020 – Nvidia fires from all cylinders, AMD prepares for a historic GPU launch

July – The start of the third quarter brought a ton of speculation about Nvidia Ampere and AMD Big Navi graphics cards. We’ve had a ton of info that was debunked but lots of Nvidia rumors proved to be basically identical with the official RTX 3000 specs. The only thing everyone was far, far off from the official spec is the number of CUDA cores in each graphics card.

September 1, 2020 – Nvidia revealed the RTX 3000 lineup on September 2nd and soon after the entire internet exploded. The claimed performance boost was through the roof and it all sounded too good to be true.

September 9, 2020 – A few days later, AMD teased the reveal of the RX 6000 series of graphics cards. The company will unveil the cards on October 28

September 13, 2020 – Nvidia buys ARM for $40 billion. A huge acquisition, especially after we saw what Apple did with their latest Apple Silicone ARM CPUs. But knowing Nvidia, there’s a slim chance we’ll see laptops with powerful ARM by Nvidia CPUs in the future. Maybe the new Nintendo Switch could end up rocking ARM by Nvidia harware

September 16, 2020 – Mid-September brought first reviews of the RTX 3080 and the claimed performance boost wasn’t a 1:1 reflection of Nvidia’s claims but it was pretty close. That meant 4K resolution with max details and 60fps was finally up for grabs for RTX 3080 owners, marking another important milestone for PC gaming and gaming in general.

September 16, 2020 – While the rasterization performance was great, ray tracing performance was far away from what most of us hoped. In other words, for the best ray tracing results, DLSS is highly recommended.

September, October 2020 – A new architecture launch also carries a collection of teething problems. First, we had the famous capacitor gate, which proved to be much less hardware-based than first believed. In the end, most manufacturers just went with a bit lower boost clocks and all was fine. Still, a couple of models got recalled but the scope of the scandal was much smaller than what first reports indicated

September 2020 – Huge power spikes going north of 400W were another Ampere-related issue. That meant that even some low-end 750W power supplies weren’t capable of powering the card, especially when paired with power-hungry CPUs. The RTX 3080 needs a beastly PSU in order to work without hiccups.

September 2020 – We’ve also got the first taste of the massive stock issues every single new GPU will face. At the start, no one was concerned. A couple of months later, users from around the world still face immense stock issues as well as inflated prices for old hardware.

September 24, 2020 – Just a few days before the end of the quarter Nvidia released the RTX 3090, an $1,500 GPU with a monstrous 24GB of GDDR6X memory. It ended up only about ten percent faster than the RTX 3080 but it proved to be a solid choice for professionals who can use the card’s huge memory buffer.

September 24, 2020 – AMD’s Frank Azor agreed on a $10 bet that AMD won’t have a paper launch of its RX 6000 series of graphics cards. Well, that was a lie

September 2020 – After the launch of the RTX 3080 and the RTX, 3090 new rumors suggested Nvidia is preparing to launch the RTX 3080 Ti with 20GB of memory. While the rumors sounded plausible, stock issues and unprecedented demand made Nvidia cancel the 20GB version, at least until the stock situation stabilizes

September 31, 2020 – Steam hardware survey for September 2020 shows AMD holding 16.29 percent of the market share. Nvidia sits at 73.88 percent of the Steam GPU share.

September 31, 2020 – Nvidia stocks saw a steady rise during Q3, ending the quarter at $544.58. AMD stocks rose like crazy during the Q3 ending the quarter at $81.99.

Q4 2020 – AMD launches RX 6000 series, Nvidia launches the rest of RTX 3000 lineup

October 2020 – The last quarter of the year started with RTX 3080 cards nowhere to be seen, at least when it comes to regular retailers. You could backorder one in selected stores, you could refresh your browser every 20 seconds to catch an occasional restock consisting of two or three cards. Or, you could pay scalpers $1000 or more for a brand new RTX 3080

October 2020 – First reports suggested the lack of cards is just a temporary hitch but then Nvidia itself confirmed low availability of its new cards will continue at least until the end of 2020. Follow up reports put the graphics card drought end date further back, as far back as April 2020.

October 2020 – The best way to get a new RTX 3000 card was to get a prebuilt system and sell parts you don’t need. Not quite as getting the RTX 3080 at MSRP but beats buying one for $1,500 from scalpers

October 8, 2020 – While Nvidia has massive issues with the availability of its cards, AMD launched its Ryzen 5000 CPUs and teased the RX 6800 at the end of the presentation. The numbers were very close to the RTX 3080 performance and if AMD manages to secure enough stock to cover the demand and slap the right price, it would sell tons of RX 6800’s and 6800 XT’s only because no one can snag an RTX 3080 or 3090.

October 28, 2020 – AMD unveiled RX 6000 cards at the end of October and performance was surprisingly competitive. There was just a word or two about ray tracing performance but when it comes to rasterization, AMD went for the RTX 3090 with the RX 6900 XT. A pleasant surprise indeed. The RX 6800 and the RX 6800 XT were set to launch on November 18

October 29, 2020 – Just a day after the RX 6000 event, Nvidia launched the RTX 3070. Eight gigs of memory could be too little for future games at 4K but current games work great. The card offered 2080 Ti performance for half the price. Sadly, stock issues and huge demand meant that the majority of users won’t be able to get the card, or at least to buy it for a relatively normal price.

November 18, 2020 – RX 6800 XT reviews have shown that more memory in combination with Infinity Cache can make the RX 6800 XT faster than the RTX 3080 despite the former using much slower GDDR6 memory. At least at 1440p. At 4K, Nvidia’s champion still ruled supreme. As for the RX 6800, it’s a great card that’s a bit too expensive for what it offers. Sadly, the ray tracing performance was way worse than on Nvidia cards. While the performance per watt was increased, the RX 6800 XT power requirements are in the ballpark of RTX 3080

December 2, 2020 – Nvidia quietly launched the RTX 3060 Ti at the beginning of December. The card showed excellent performance for a high refresh rate gaming at 1080p and for 60fps 1440p gaming. MSRP was great but yeah, chances of getting one soon at MSRP are quite low.

December 8, 2020 – A week after the RTX 3060 Ti debuted AMD launched the RX 6900 XT. The card would be a solid buy if it was cheaper. With its current MSRP, the RX 6900 XT is just too expensive for what it offers. Also, it needs a ton of power to run properly

December 2020 – AMD faced even larger issues after the launch of the RX 6000 lineup than Nvidia. If Nvidia’s stock was low AMD’s was virtually nonexistent. When AIB cards finally showed up they rocked prices that were 20-30 percent higher than MSRP. The reality for most users was buying a card from scalpers and paying even higher prices.

December 2020 – Aside from new hardware, old hardware also saw massive price hikes. At the moment RTX 2000 graphics cards sport higher price than ever. No matter which graphics card you want to buy, forget paying MSRP for at least a couple of months.

December 2020 – During mid-December, Nvidia made a PR mess when the company had sent an email to Hardware Unboxed, a prominent YouTube channel dealing with PC gaming hardware. The company basically excluded the channel from receiving future Nvidia FE (founders edition) cards for reviews because, according to Nvidia, Hardware Unboxed didn’t focus on DLSS and ray tracing as much as Nvidia hoped they would have. About a week later, after a massive storm on YouTube and after a week of massive support for Hardware Unboxed from all sides of the internet, Nvidia backed down, apologized, but the case left a sour taste in the mouth of most people who’ve heard about it

December 2020 – Steam hardware survey for November 2020 shows AMD holding 16.53 percent of the market while Nvidia hovers around 73.86 percent of the market. In other words, the two companies didn’t see noticeable changes in their market share. Maybe 2021 will tell a different story.

December 2020 – As for the stock at the moment of the writing AMD stocks have a price of $95.92 while Nvidia stock price sits at $530.88.

What can we expect from nvidia and AMD in 2021?

Before we talk about AMD and Nvidia, let’s say a word or two about Intel. While Intel didn’t talk much about its upcoming XE-HP GPU lineup in 2020, it looks like the company will release a consumer-based GPU in 2021. All reports talk about humble performance (in the ballpark of mid-range AMD and Nvidia graphics cards) and lots of issues that have to be solved. But, in 2021 Intel might finally become the third player in the gaming GPU market. If you expect Intel to challenge the big duo, wait for 2022 or beyond.

As for AMD and Nvidia, stock issues are the biggest hurdles for both companies. Nvidia already confirmed that the scarce availability of the RTX 3000 cards will continue until April 2021. Once the company finally manages to fulfill demand, then it can think about releasing the RTX 3080 Ti with 20GB of memory or the RTX 3070 Ti with 12GB of memory. There’s also the rumored RTX 3060, which could end up being a great buy in the mid-range market.

AMD will also have issues to fulfill demand in the next couple of months. The thing is, AMD had to reserve most of their TSMC wafer share for CPUs and GPUs found in the next-gen consoles. Another large chunk was reserved for Ryzen 5000 CPUs. The rest was made available for the RX 6000 cards, and that’s a very tiny amount. In other words, it looks like AMD won’t be able to cover the demand until April 2021. After the two giants finally manage to satisfy the demand, Nvidia will probably start releasing the Ti version of its graphics cards or, maybe, it will bring a sort of a Super refresh, only for Ampere. AMD will probably focus on its Ryzen CPUs. It will release new RDNA 2 cards (RX 6700, RX 6700 XT) but the focus will stay on the Ryzen lineup.