Why I’m almost ready to switch to AMD GPUs for streaming

Although AMD makes some of the best graphics cards, they were much less competent than Nvidia GPUs for streaming. Nvidia GPUs almost always offer better encoding performance and additional features that AMD cards lack. It’s one of the reasons I decided to switch to Nvidia graphics despite being a longtime AMD fan; I just don’t want to miss out on a good streaming experience.

But all that could be different now thanks to two major updates to AMD software: a brand new encoder and AMD Noise Suppression, which are competitors to Nvidia NVENC and RTX Voice. I’ve been testing AMD’s new tools and the results make me think that moving to AMD is now a possibility.

Streaming looks just as good on AMD

Left to right, AMF vs. NVENC. Matthew Connatser/Digital Trends

When it comes to streaming, having a good encoder is crucial, and if you’re streaming games you’ll probably want to use GPU encoding instead of CPU encoding. Nvidia’s NVENC encoder not only has good quality, but it doesn’t consume very much data, which is crucial for streaming. You want the best possible ratio of visual quality to data usage, and in this area Nvidia’s encoder was way ahead of AMD’s. But now that the latest version of AMD’s AMF encoder is finally out, I think Nvidia has lost that advantage.

The image above is from the opening shot of 3DMark’s Time Spy benchmark, which I recorded with optimized streaming settings at 6000 Kbps. I chose this particular part because there is a lot of foliage, which is often difficult to capture with good quality (especially when there is very little data), but as you can see the difference between AMF and NVENC is essentially non-existent . AMF also performs well in the rest of the benchmark and you wouldn’t see any difference if the two shots weren’t labeled.

It is particularly important that AMF was able to achieve this at the same bitrate that NVENC was using. It would be pretty pointless if AMF looked good but required a much higher bitrate to compensate. Twitch, arguably the most popular game streaming platform, only allows up to 6000 Kbps, which is a very small amount of data to work with. In terms of recording, each video was only around 3 minutes long and each was around 100MB, which is really good for people who upload raw stream VODs to YouTube for archival purposes.

AMD RX 6950 XT graphics card on a pink background.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

However, only AMD GPUs based on the RDNA2 architecture (including RX 6000 series GPUs) can take full advantage of the AMF encoder, as older GPUs lack support for B-frames, which help improve image quality. This is a hardware limitation, not a software limitation, so your RX 5700 XT will never quite stream as well as an RX 6950 XT.

What AMD really needs to focus on going forward is updating its encoder as often as Nvidia. The latest version of AMF was ready and just standing there as open source software until the contributors at Open Broadcast Software finally added it to the app, and now we have to wait for all streaming services to update so they can use the new encoder can use. I would like to see AMD take as active a role in this space as Nvidia does, not only when it comes to creating updates, but also when it comes to distributing those updates.

AMD Noise Suppression is good but has poor support

A podcast microphone with headphones on it.
Getty Images

Audio quality is an important (and sometimes neglected) part of streaming, and here, too, Nvidia has the edge thanks to its RTX Voice software, which is basically an AI-enhanced noise gate. AMD is catching up in this area with its new Noise Suppression tool, which is supposed to do exactly the same thing as RTX Voice.

Given that AMD GPUs don’t have AI acceleration capabilities like Nvidia GPUs, I was skeptical that the noise reduction would be any good. Much to my surprise, the results were quite good: my gaming keyboard was almost inaudible even while I was speaking, and the quality of my voice was not reduced. If I switched to AMD Noise Suppression, I don’t think anyone watching my streams would be able to tell the difference.

But did AMD GPUs even need this feature? Why not just put a noise gate in OBS? Well, the problem with noise gates is that they only work based on volume and background noise can get pretty loud, especially the clicking sounds of gaming keyboards. RTX Voice is an important part of my streaming setup because it can intelligently separate my voice and keyboard. Now that AMD GPUs have the exact same functionality, I can actually consider streaming on AMD hardware, like my ROG Zephyrus G14.

I also like that AMD’s Noise Suppression is built into the Radeon driver suite, while RTX Voice can only be used by installing Nvidia Broadcast. AMD’s solution is not only simpler, but also more reliable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started my stream only to find my mic audio wasn’t getting through because Nvidia Broadcast was closed for some reason. Nvidia could learn a lot from AMD when it comes to driver packages, not just for this specific feature but in general.

But I have quite a bit of criticism for AMD here when it comes to support. Noise reduction requires not only an RX 6000 GPU, but also a Ryzen 5000 CPU or newer. The CPU requirement in particular is frustrating and almost certainly arbitrary. Not only does it ban users running older versions of Ryzen (most of which are still fast enough in 2022), but it also bans anyone using an Intel CPU. It’s impossible to justify this requirement when Intel makes some of the best CPUs available today.

Finally caught up in key areas for now

Having finally closed the gap in video and audio quality capabilities, AMD GPUs are finally as capable as Nvidia GPUs for streaming in key areas. While the level of support AMD offers leaves a lot to be desired, current-gen AMD hardware lets you stream games with the same quality you would see from an Nvidia PC. There are some other features that Nvidia offers such as: A digital green screen for webcam users, for example, but AMD doesn’t really need to offer the same feature when third-party software can do the same.

AMD’s focus now should be on making sure it never falls that far behind again. AMF underperformed NVENC for several years, and RTX Voice has been around since 2020. Technology is always a moving target, and it’s hard to imagine Nvidia resting on its laurels any time soon. To compete with Nvidia, AMD can’t just rely on open-source software and hope someone makes something. AMD has to do that itself.

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