If you’ve got your eyes set on a brand-new NVidia GPU, but you’ve got an AMD or Intel CPU, will it work? What about AMD and Intel? Can those long-time rivals be combined into one PC?
You can combine any brand graphics card with any brand CPU without worrying about compatibility problems. Currently, all brands are compatible as long as the PC build can sustain both components. Your real compatibility issues pop up when it comes to your PCI slot sizes, the physical space on your motherboard, and the specs of your power supply unit.
Here’s what you should know about trying to combine graphics cards and CPUs from different brands.
A Little Background on the Business Side of AMD, Intel, and NVidia
You’ve definitely seen the brands AMD, Intel, and NVidia around if you’ve been building PCs for any length of time. However, most people don’t know that these three brands have a deep history with each other.
Here’s a quick look at the lore behind how AMD, Intel, and NVidia have all worked with, and against, each other in the past.
Intel’s Failed Attempt to Buy NVidia (And What That Means for Us)
NVidia has been a hot commodity on the PC parts scene for years. Both AMD and Intel have tried to buy NVidia, but both have also failed to realize their hopes of absorbing one of the most recognizable brands out there.
Intel’s failed acquisition was largely due to a deal never being reached by the then CEO of Intel and NVidia. This has had major implications for us on the consumer side of things.
The failure of these three companies to merge into two competitors means that the PC world has stayed somewhat of an open field. It means we have more options for parts and that we also have more questions for how those parts work with each other.
When AMD Bought ATI/Radeon
AMD has been a major player in the global PC component scene since the 80s. The company made a major play on July 24th, 2006 when they announced that they would be purchasing ATI. ATI had been a leader in the graphics card scene especially with their performance brand of GPUs: Radeon.
The sale went through for 5.6 billion dollars later that October. This was a major merger between a leader of graphics card design and a company that had survived the dotcom bust. AMD decided to scrap the ATI branding after their acquisition, but still focussed on creating graphics cards that could rival their then biggest competitor: NVidia.
AMD and Intel have had an on-again off-again relationship for years. These companies have regularly signed deals to work together while working to outplay each other as competitors. This brings us to questions about whether or not AMD, Intel, and NVidia can play nicely inside your PC.
AMD, Intel, and NVidia Graphics Card and CPU Compatibility Issues
Now we’re getting into the meat of these issues. We live in an age where tech brands don’t really like playing nicely together. Apple and Android, PC and Mac, and Xbox and PlayStation all dislike working together even when it would be in our best interest. However, there’s one major exception and those are your GPU and CPU components.
Here’s how AMD and Intel work with each other.
AMD GPUs with Intel CPUs
AMD graphics cards and Intel CPUs are going to be able to work together without much of a problem. There’s nothing inherently in either chip set that’s going to prevent these two devices from working with each other. There’s one big thing that you need to look for though when you’re trying to combine an AMD GPU with an Intel CPU.
You want to make sure that the physical connections are going to match. PCI slots are backwards and forwards compatible, but sometimes the devices can struggle to work if the mismatch is too great. As long as the device is connected properly, they’re still going to work.
Intel GPUs with AMD CPUs
There are a few problems with discussing Intel’s GPU compatibility.
Intel has made laptop GPUs for a while now, but those nearly always appear in the closed-system environment of budget laptops—or at least laptops not aimed at the gaming and high-performance crowd. Intel’s Iris Xe Max GPU has never been compatible with AMD CPUs, but this also really hasn’t been an issue.
Even with the Intel’s Iris Xe Max GPU making the jump from laptop to PC, we still don’t have much of a problem. This is a budget GPU that will appear mostly in lightweight budget builds and pre-built Intel systems. However, a bigger challenge is on the horizon.
Intel is expected to launch their own line of high-end graphics cards late in 2022. These are set to rival AMD and NVidia, but we won’t know if they are compatible with AMD chipsets until closer to their launch.
If the Intel’s Iris Xe Max GPU is any indication, we might have some compatibility problems on the horizon given the popularity of AMD CPUs.
What About the Future of NVidia?
There’s a lot of news about graphics cards these days, but no one is expecting NVidia to go through major changes.
NVidia cards work with both Intel and AMD chips. NVidia is also the biggest graphics card company around with an estimated market share of over 80%. They aren’t just the biggest game in town, they are the game—and the town.
Fans of NVidia’s graphics cards won’t have to worry about any big shake ups in the foreseeable future. Their cards will continue to develop and improve, offering fast memory and some of the best performing cards at each price point.
Other Graphics Card and CPU Compatibility Issues
Now that we’ve gotten our brand woes out of the way, let’s talk about what really upsets the compatibility between a graphics card in a CPU.
These are the four biggest things you need to look out for when trying to find out if your graphics card and your CPU are going to work together.
CPU and GPU Chipsets
Your CPU and your GPU each have their own chipset. These are the core components that allow your processors to, well, process. Older chipsets are often much slower and can have compatibility issues. There is one major compatibility problem with mismatched chipsets.
Let’s talk about bottlenecking. Bottlenecking happens when either your GPU is much faster than your CPU. The performance of your GPU will always be gated by the top performance of your CPU.
A brand-new GPU can work with a very outdated CPU, but you’ll be stuck with outdated performance. If you’re making big leaps in performance, you might need to upgrade your motherboard, CPU, and RAM to get the most out of a brand-new GPU.
Keep in mind that there are big compatibility issues between a motherboard and a CPU. If you’re upgrading your mobo or your CPU, make sure those are compatible before worrying about CPU-GPU compatibility.
The PCI standard has been around for a while. They have also been designed to be backward and forwards compatible into perpetuity. This means you could plug a modern graphics card into a motherboard that was designed twenty years ago—if it fits.
They will technically be compatible, but you can expect some serious performance problems. These physical connections are the biggest compatibility issues for modern GPU and CPU combinations. If you’re looking to plug a PICe 16x into an old PCI 4x, it’s not going to physically fit.
So, lower number PCI cards can fit into larger or equal number PCI slots. A PCI 4x card can fit into any PCI slot equal to or above a 4x. Just expect some performance drops if you try hooking up your 15-year-old graphics card to a brand-new system.
This leads us to the next big problem when it comes to combining graphics cards with CPUs and motherboards. The physical space inside your computer dictates what kind of graphics cards you can use.
Graphics cards have gotten huge. They require their own heat mitigation which only adds to the space that they take up inside of your PC. Depending on the size of your motherboard and the arrangement of your other components, you might not be able to fit your new graphics card even though it could technically fit your PCI slot.
You can try and get around this by moving your components around. Carefully rearranging things can allow an oversized GPU to fit in a streamlined PC build. However, you can measure things carefully before buying new components to ensure they’re going to fit before you get them out of the box.
Power Supply Problems
Your power supply unit is also going to play a major role in the compatibility of your CPU and your GPU. There are two big things we need to look at when it comes to PSU compatibility issues and that’s physical connectors and overall power draw.
The types of connectors that graphics cards use have changed over the years. If your power supply was made before 2015, there’s a chance that it just might not be able to plug into graphics cards made after that date.
Then we need to talk about overall power draw. An older power supply unit might not be able to give enough power for your graphics card as well as the other components in your PC. Keep in mind that the optimal power usage of any power supply unit should be somewhere between 40% and 60% of its maximum.
Equally some people upgrade to a new graphics card, forgetting that it requires 2 or even 3 PCIe power cables. If their PSU only has a single PCIe cable, they might be tempted to use the split (pigtail) connection – which could cause crashes, or worse.
So it’s unfortunately not as simple as saying “ah well, I’ll just quickly upgrade my graphics card – and leave the rest of the components as-is”.