Are you unsure of whether or not you can pair an AMD CPU with an NVIDIA GPU? Or, an Intel CPU with an AMD GPU? In this post, we cover whether there is an advantage to pairing a CPU and GPU from the same manufacturer together.
One of the most difficult aspects of building your first gaming PC is ensuring that you choose hardware that is compatible. For new builders, making sure your PC components will work together can be confusing. This confusion often extends to your CPU and GPU pairing.
A common misunderstanding many PC gamers have is that they need to pair GPUs and CPUs of the same manufacturer together. Given that AMD, Intel and NVIDIA are all rivals, it would make sense that AMD would only allow AMD GPUs with their CPUs, right?
AMD is the only mainstream semiconductor manufacturer that makes both GPUs and CPUs. (Although, that will be changing soon with the impending launch of Intel’s Arch Alchemist GPUs). That’s led to the understanding that you need to use AMD GPUs with your Ryzen CPU’s.
In the past, those looking for maximum gaming performance would often select an Intel CPU and pair it with an NVIDIA GPU. However, since the initial launch of AMD’s Ryzen lineup of CPUs, AMD’s CPUs have made the decision between Intel and AMD processors much more difficult. AMD Radeon graphics cards however do tend to lag behind NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX series in both features and performance.
That’s led to many PC builders wanting to pair an AMD CPU with an NVIDIA GPU. Can you even do this? Are there any drawbacks to mismatching CPU and GPU manufacturers? In this article, we’ll explore whether or not you can use an AMD CPU with an NVIDIA GPU.
Are NVIDIA GeForce Graphics Cards Compatible with AMD CPUs?
The simple answer is: yes! AMD CPUs are designed to work with any graphics cards, and any modern NVIDIA GeForce GPU will work fine with an AMD CPU. GPU and CPU brands are characteristically inter-compatible.
Where some PC components become incompatible with each other is when the sockets and connectors don’t match up. This is extremely common with CPUs and motherboards, as certain processors only work with sockets and chipsets designed for that CPU.
Modern graphics cards use the PCI Express expansion bus standard, and as long as your motherboard has the right slot for your graphics card you’re good to go. PCIe is a universal standard and therefore you’ll find motherboards for both AMD and Intel CPUs with the right connector for your graphics card.
Another note for GPU compatibility here is PCIe standards. A recent breakthrough in this expansion card slot is the PCIe Gen 4.0 standard which offers improved transfer speeds for expansion cards. This directly correlates with gaming performance. Only a handful of graphics cards support PCIe 4.0, with the RTX 3000 series from NVIDIA being one of them.
PCIe 4.0 is both backwards compatible and forwards compatible. I.e., a PCIe 4.0 card will work in a PCIe 3.0 motherboard, and a PCIe 3.0 card will work in a PCIe 4.0 slot. But you’ll lose some of the performance of these latest cards. Therefore, if you’re buying an RTX 3000 series GPU, consider a motherboard that supports PCIe 4.0.
Are there any benefits to using an AMD GPU with an AMD CPU?
While any CPU and GPU combination will work, there’s some merit in pairing an AMD CPU with a Radeon graphics card. For gamers, the main advantage here is AMD Smart Access Memory.
AMD Smart Access Memory
A feature exclusive to AMD CPUs, Smart Access Memory allows for up to 15% improvements in gaming performance. To take advantage of this feature, you’ll need an RX 6000 series graphics card and an AMD Ryzen 3000 or 5000 series CPU.
With Smart Access Memory, AMD have expanded the data channel available for data transfers between the processor and the GPU’s VRAM video memory. This eliminates memory bottlenecks and improves FPS in some memory-intensive games.
Traditionally, the amount of data that a GPU VRAM and a CPU are able to transfer is capped at 256 MB. This is to keep GPUs compatible with 32-bit processors. In our modern gaming landscape, with GPUs that have 6, 10 or even 12GB of VRAM, this data link limitation is proving to be a bottleneck.
Tech reviewer TechPowerUp looked into the performance gains in 22 games using Smart Access Memory, and found that SAM only means to a 2% bump in performance—not the 15% advertised by AMD. However, as developers become increasingly more adept at implementing this technology, we expect these numbers to improve in the future.
NVIDIA are developing their competitor to Smart Access Memory in the form of Resizable Bar. This feature works with both AMD and Intel CPUs—however it doesn’t support Ryzen 3000 series or under, and currently only works in a handful of games.
Are there any benefits to pairing an Intel CPU with an NVIDIA GPU?
On the other side of the spectrum, are there any advantages of an Intel-NVIDIA pairing? As NVIDIA don’t make their own desktop CPUs, you lose that level of vertical integration that makes features like AMD’s Smart Access Memory possible.
Therefore, there are no tangible benefits for sticking to an Intel-NVIDIA pairing, especially not for gaming.
This may be different for AI-related applications, however. It can be argued that AMD has neglected AI-focused features and capabilities in their CPUs and GPUs. With NVIDIA Tensor Cores and Intel DL Boost, in some AI and machine learning applications, the synergy of AI features here might give an Intel-NVIDIA pairing a performance boost.
Can you pair an NVIDIA graphics card with an AMD Ryzen processor? Yes, absolutely. There are some reasons you may opt for an AMD GPU if you’ve got a Ryzen processor—namely Smart Access Memory—however for most gamers, you’ll see greater performance and better value in opting for an NVIDIA 3000 series GPU.
That is, of course, if you can get your hands on one. Given the ongoing GPU availability crisis, it is incredibly difficult to buy graphics cards right now. The answer, for now at least, to the question “What brand of GPU should I pair with my AMD CPU?” is whatever GPU you’re able to get.