We now have three major players vying to be the best graphics cards: AMD, Nvidia, and Intel. The two incumbents recently released their next-generation GPU architectures, with Nvidia Ada Lovelace taking on AMD RDNA 3. The Intel Arc Alchemist architecture also came out last year, but you can certainly make the argument that it was really designed to compete with Nvidia Ampere and AMD RDNA 2. Beyond the hardware, though, software and drivers play a critical role in extracting maximum performance from the GPU, and drivers are becoming increasingly complex.
Consider all the APIs that need to be supported: DirectX 9/10/11/12, OpenGL, Vulkan, OpenCL, and others besides. Then you have potentially multiple generations of hardware — Nvidia’s latest drivers support five different architectures while AMD’s drivers support … well, AMD’s a bit of a special case right now, as one set of drivers only supports the latest RDNA 3 GPUs while the other set supports RDNA 2, RDNA, Vega, and Polaris, but we’re told the two will get a unified driver in the future.
Intel in contrast is at an advantage, since it doesn’t have a huge back catalog of GPUs to support… unless you count integrated graphics. And Intel does support 11th Gen Tiger Lake, 12th Gen Alder Lake, and 13th Gen Raptor Lake integrated graphics with its drivers. That’s a bit interesting, because there’s a huge gulf in performance between many of those integrated solutions and the dedicated Arc GPUs.
One thing we’ve noticed over the years has been the steadily bloating size of GPU driver downloads. Which got us thinking about the current status quo. You might think Nvidia’s drivers would be larger, since it also has some extra stuff like CUDA and DLSS that it needs to support. You’d be partially correct. At present, here’s how the download sizes stack up:
|Driver Version (GPUs)||Download Size (KiB)||Size (MiB)|
|AMD 22.11.2 (RDNA 2 and earlier)||558,886||545.8|
|AMD 23.1.1 (RDNA 3 only)||603,716||589.6|
|Nvidia 528.02 (RTX 40 and earlier)||832,540||813.0|
|Intel 188.8.131.5234 (Arc and Xe)||1,243,656||1,214.5|
We’ve become accustomed to seeing larger download sizes on Nvidia’s drivers — though they did shrink quite a bit back when Nvidia killed off 3D Vision support (RIP). The newer AMD drivers strike us as somewhat odd, however. Why are the drivers that only have to support two GPUs 8% larger than the drivers that support probably over 100 different GPUs? Maybe the unified AMD drivers won’t be much larger and it’s just a matter of tying a few remaining pieces together.
But AMD and Nvidia have nothing on Intel when it comes to driver bloat. 1.21 GB? (opens in new tab) Great Scott! How could they have been so careless? But seriously, you have to wonder what exactly is taking up so much space.
Granted, Intel is newer to this than AMD and Nvidia. It also has tried to stuff in a bunch of extra features, including XeSS support and things like Smooth Sync. But AMD and Nvidia have that sort of stuff as well. More to the point, we can’t help but wonder if the larger, presumably unoptimized file sizes might also correlate with unoptimized code that’s full of extra cruft. Also, will the drivers get even larger when Battlemage arrives?
Thank goodness the best SSDs have become pretty affordable, as these days you can grab a fast 1TB NVMe drive (opens in new tab) for around $85, or alternatively a 2TB SATA drive (opens in new tab). Unpacking and installing the drivers will of course consume even more space, but that’s nothing compared to 100GB and larger game install sizes — unless you have a data cap and like to download drivers on a regular basis. Bon appétit!