id's John Carmack is hard pressed to pick a favorite graphics card

If there is one person who has the most influence on the hardware purchase decisions of a PC gamer, it's id Software's lead programmer John Carmack. The game engines he designed for titles like the Doom and Quake series have helped to push the idea of the 3D graphics accelerator card in PCs. For a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s Carmack helped to shape how the PC hardware industry developed their graphics chips and drivers because gamers wanted to play id's games at fast frame rates and high resolutions.

While id's influence on the PC hardware and graphics industry have lost some of their luster (due in part to id not releasing a new game for over six years) that may change with the release of Rage in September. id's first person shooter will be the debut of Carmack's next major graphics engine (id tech 5) and its visuals are already blowing people away at press events.

PC Gamer recently chatted with Carmack and asked him a simple question, "If you were to buy a graphics card right now, what would you get?". In typical Carmack fashion the answer was long, detailed and, ultimately, non-specific. While he admitted that id has had more development time with Nvidia-based cards he added, "You almost can’t make a bad decision with graphics cards nowadays. Any of the add-in cards from AMD or Nvidia are all insanely powerful."

He also talked about the integrated graphics chip business which usually can't handle running high end PC games like Rage. However that could change as well. Carmack says, "To some degree, it seems almost inevitable where the world of multi-hundred-dollar add-in cards are doing something that’s being done pretty well by an on-die chip. Not right now, maybe not next year, but it’s hard to imagine a world five years from now where you don’t have competent graphics on every CPU die."

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Video game sales in US up 20 percent in April

Next Story

Facebook-based Civilization World gets closer to beta testing

38 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

I've had a mixed bag over the years starting with an 512KB Trident then S3Virge then added an Vodoo2 sold both of those for an nVidia TnT2 32MB onto an GeForce4 MX440 upto an ATI Radeon 9600pro into an HD2600XT + another 1 for Crossfire and then finally I've ended up with 2 HD5770's in Crossfire I can honestly say I've never had much problems with any of them that wasn't fixed with a driver update or two or three

haha DAOWAce i remember my last ATI card was call a 'all in one wonder' or something like that , was a decent card then , man that was long ago. Remember the first 3D cards for quake 2 and its coloured lighting , really was light years ahead of anything else , voodoo something or other i think. Think quake 2 was the last game that made me go WOW thats so far ahead of the competition.

The last ATI card I used was based on a Rage chip.. All in Wonder comes to mind, but I can't remember clearly. Been with NVIDIA ever since that time.

After that, I switched to a 3850 due to recent experiences with NVIDIA's drivers being quite awful.

The same day I installed the card, I had 22 bluescreens, which corrupted some data on my drive and somehow forced bad sectors on the disk.

When I finally got an upgrade to the 9800GTX+, I never ever looked back and recommended everyone stay clear of ATI cards. I still stand by that.

To each their own, but NVIDIA is still superior with their technology/drivers. ATI's drivers have only been made usable by third party programs, like ATI Tray Tools. Note that I haven't even gone into the technical diffierences between the hardware/drivers.

Haha! See? Nvidia! Okay I joke. But this guy is a legend, he was almost involved in the special FPU hack for super fast inverse square operation for lighting computations in the quake 3 engine. NEVER FORGET 0x5F3759DF

Can somebody thinking about why graphics cards dont increase their performance for about 18 mounths?
(Maybe the answer is in Carmack's report, or not? )

As much as I like id, I really don't like the fact that they're working more closely with NVIDIA. It's a little unfair that they tweak their games to run better on NVIDIA hardware than ATI/AMD hardware. It's been like that with Doom 3 and I certainly hope it won't be the case with Rage.

I've used both up until recently and after 4 years i'm back to nvidia mainly for two reasons. 1. Was time to upgrade from my 4870 radeon as it was starting to show its age and 2. I picked the best card in my price range which was a 480GT. And I couldn't be happier. I never had an issue with drivers from either company. And when others were complaining about games not running on the ati cards I was playing them with no issues at all. Like he said, you really can't make a bad choice. I'm not pro or against either company. They bother have strengths and weaknesses its just down to who you prefer. Developers make em for both and the drivers come often enough to keep up with the demand. ATI were ahead for a good while, now its nvidia's turn. Looking forward to Rage to! I miss ID.

I owned cards from both companies and never had any issues too. The last time i had problems with drivers was with the Rage Fury. That was like 12 years ago ...

CCC is crap but i really don't understand where all those i could not play this or that game with an ATI card comments are coming from.

Since this seems to be the topic, I have no preference about AMD or NVIDIA, but for some reason I've stuck with NVIDIA at least for as long as I still purchased PC's. I think it was more about convenience than anything else. I knew their product lines better so I just stuck to following them more.

I've owned several Nvidia based cards and they have always failed just out of warranty, or the ones that failed in warranty took so long to replace I ended up buying an ATI, the ATI cards I have had though have always worked a treat even standing up to being volt modded.

I'm sure there are stories of completely the opposite out there but at the end of the day its personal preference, and I will probably buy an Nvidia based card again in the future, but that will be a long way off

I think GPU cards are almost the same with both nVidia and ATI. I mean it probably depends on the card you get and how the drivers respond, but from a gaming standpoint, whether I get the next GTA, or the next Crysis, I think my GPU's will last a long time and still give me excellent performance. What I mean I guess is that if I buy a GTX400 or ATI6000 series, they'll perform nearly the same with minor difference, give or take a few issues. It comes down to preference!

Udedenkz said,
AMD Drivers are really bad compared to NVIDIA drivers. That is all I have to say.

Well i was a long time NVIDIA user myself (Geforce 2 GTS 32MB , Geforce 3 Ti200 64MB , Geforce 7900GT 256MB) but my current card 'Radeon HD 5670 512MB' , which replaced the Geforce 7900GT (was a upgrade as i needed to play Mafia II on PC and it was a slide show basically with the Geforce 7900GT), is pretty good (it's a nice bang for the buck card which i got back around Aug 2010) but i do have to agree that, at least based on my experience, Nvidia does seem to have better drivers as i noticed the Windows 7 Aero crashes from time to time (not a lot but it happens) then i have to kill the WinSAT.EXE in the processes tab for the Aero to come back to life which to me suggest it's ATI drivers as i never had that issue with Nvidia not even once.

but other than that my overall experience with ATI has been positive. but as far as drivers go i am going to side with Nvidia overall but then again with Nvidia's recent issues with GPU's burning out sure is not looking good for Nvidia.

Udedenkz said,
AMD Drivers are really bad compared to NVIDIA drivers. That is all I have to say.

For AMD drivers being so bad I have never had a crash with any of my 300 or so games. I was a long time Nvidia fan from the TNT all the way up to a 7800(AGP). When I looked for a new card to give my AGP rig a little more life there was nothing from Nvida so I went for an AMD 3850 and have not looked back.

the graphics cards which do the work of outputting the graphics get better and better as people work on the design more.... every step in every frame that is rendered takes less and less time...

but the people who make the game engines which use these graphics cards dont get any more powerful themselves... yet they have to come up with new engines almost like a graphics card serves up video frames ... where their 'engine' is the design behind the graphics cards

hmm thats beginning to sound circular, i think i better shut up before i start sounding really crazy...

Had tons of problems with Crossfire, for 2 months i lost HDMI Overscan setting.. sold them.. Got 2 GTX460, never looked back since. The only game that doesn,t use SLI is Shift2 right now.. i have over 40 games..

lol only 40-ish? How long have you been gaming, like 2 years?

I use nVidia exclusively as well. I've never had a good experience with ATi/AMD, though I use AMD chipsets on my motherboards, which means no SLI. I'm still not sure what all the fuss is about, I've always used a single card and been able to play every game I have had at an acceptable resolution and almost always with maxed out settings.

I have being using both brand since the Nvidia RIVA TNT in 1998

I loved them both, and I kept switching, when I felt there was a better performance/value in the other brand.

Still, overall, as much as I loved some of my Ati cards (9800 was my favorite at a time) -
I still overall more pleased with my Nvidia experience. Overall it was more smooth experience for me...

So I agree with Carmack - you cannot name the favourite card, since they all do so well. but I did spend more time with nvidia.

I'm personally more nVidia. I have been with nVidia since the STB Velocity 128 card I got back in 1999. I have had an ATI card in between though.

carmack is the man

"To some degree, it seems almost inevitable where the world of multi-hundred-dollar add-in cards are doing something that's being done pretty well by an on-die chip. Not right now, maybe not next year, but it's hard to imagine a world five years from now where you don't have competent graphics on every CPU die."

That is his cautionary tale as I take it. We should be worried about the broad ramifications regarding the success 'good enough' devices, like the simple hardware of the mobile market, can have on our long term effects on innovation in the industry.

I've purchased one ATI card. Every game I tried to play would play for about 2 minutes before the game would lockup. I replaced it with an NVIDIA card and every game played flawlessly. I never looked back since then.

ToastedJellyBowl said,
I've purchased one ATI card. Every game I tried to play would play for about 2 minutes before the game would lockup. I replaced it with an NVIDIA card and every game played flawlessly. I never looked back since then.

There was obviously an issue with the card and should have been RMA?

He's right really, both brands are very good. Price:Performance ratio right now is the decider of whether to go AMD/Nvidia for the next graphics upgrade.

Salty Wagyu said,
He's right really, both brands are very good. Price:Performance ratio right now is the decider of whether to go AMD/Nvidia for the next graphics upgrade.
Indeed. And that can easily vary by model.

i wish more people were like him. at least he is honest and says his experience with nvidia.
but some people take it too seriously. they like nvidia so "amd is crap", and they have met people who have amd and have problems like if nvidia didn't have problems, so they havent used amd/ati but still bash it or well in the other side, amd released a new powerful card which is really fast "nvidia crap". add some benchmaarks which are stupid numbers and it gets worse.

i like/prefer AMD. and i have never have a problem. so i pick up what works for me.

EmilyTheStrange said,
i wish more people were like him. at least he is honest and says his experience with nvidia.
but some people take it too seriously. they like nvidia so "amd is crap", and they have met people who have amd and have problems like if nvidia didn't have problems, so they havent used amd/ati but still bash it or well in the other side, amd released a new powerful card which is really fast "nvidia crap". add some benchmaarks which are stupid numbers and it gets worse.

i like/prefer AMD. and i have never have a problem. so i pick up what works for me.

Worst card I ever had was from Nvidia. What was even worse was the problem was one they knew about and said they weren't gonna be bothered to fix.

WickedScribbler said,

Worst card I ever had was from Nvidia. What was even worse was the problem was one they knew about and said they weren't gonna be bothered to fix.

Now the cute part: Nvidia rarely makes any cards at all.

That said, I currently prefer Nvidia. There was a time where ATI (before the merge) was kicking the crap out of Nvidia chips. If I switched I would also miss Digital Vibrance. Nvidia seems to get more game support for the most part.

Oh, you might enjoy this: http://youtu.be/EdExkuvGySE

Jaybonaut said,

Now the cute part: Nvidia rarely makes any cards at all.

That said, I currently prefer Nvidia. There was a time where ATI (before the merge) was kicking the crap out of Nvidia chips. If I switched I would also miss Digital Vibrance. Nvidia seems to get more game support for the most part.

Oh, you might enjoy this: http://youtu.be/EdExkuvGySE

I respect your experience and opinion of nvidia, but what really puts me off from purchasing their cards is that from what I read about their drivers being fatal toward the card (burning out etc). I've have never heard of an ATi card frying from a driver.

Jaybonaut said,

Now the cute part: Nvidia rarely makes any cards at all.

That said, I currently prefer Nvidia. There was a time where ATI (before the merge) was kicking the crap out of Nvidia chips. If I switched I would also miss Digital Vibrance. Nvidia seems to get more game support for the most part.

Oh, you might enjoy this: http://youtu.be/EdExkuvGySE

It makes no difference how often a company makes cards or what have you. When you buy a card from X manufacturer, and one of your programs won't work for whatever reason and said card maker (in this case Nvidia) says "we know there is a problem with this program, we know what the problem is, but we won't fix the problem with our drivers", you kinda lose faith at that point.

WickedScribbler said,

Worst card I ever had was from Nvidia. What was even worse was the problem was one they knew about and said they weren't gonna be bothered to fix.

my friend has a mac... and she got a problem, she could have bought a new comp for what she paid fixing it.. (they fixed it and she had to pay, it wasn't a "no thanks" choice haha) but the problem was the nvidia card on her mbp. (so she hates nvidia, also mac lol but thats another story)
for me, i havent had problem with 1 or 2 nvidia cards, but i used it and liked ATI years ago and i keep using it. since before amd bought it. now even amd support stereoscopic 3d, so people cant say nvidia has 3d vision, and opencl keep being more and more supported, hopefully 3d applications do it aswell so there wont be "nvidia is better because it supports cuda"