A hot potato: Much of the controversy surrounding AMD’s collaboration with Bethesda on Starfield revolved around the game’s upscaling solutions. However, post-release performance analysis of the PC version shows an unusual comparison between AMD Radeon and Nvidia GeForce GPUs, especially when compared to other recent titles. Although this seems suspicious, there are several possible factors that could explain the discrepancy.
A performance evaluation of Starfield by Digital Foundry shows that Nvidia graphics cards and Intel processors punch significantly below their weight. TechSpot’s own GPU performance analysis paints a similarly puzzling picture in one of the most anticipated PC releases of 2023.
Starfield is notoriously challenging. Maintaining 60 frames per second in 1440p at medium graphics settings requires high-end GPUs like the Radeon RX 6800 or the GeForce RTX 3090. But Nvidia cards seem to have an additional challenge.
A meaningful comparison is between the RX 6800 XT from AMD and the RTX 3080 from Nvidia. In other current, computationally intensive games such as The Last of Us Part 1 and Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0, these GPUs are typically on par. But in Starfield, AMD’s GPU outperforms its Nvidia competitor by over 20 percent, depending on resolution and settings. It even outperforms the once-dominant RTX 3090. Notably, Starfield is one of the few games where the RX 7900 XTX outperforms the RTX 4090, even though AMD designed it to compete with the RTX 4080.
Equally concerning is Digital Foundry’s discovery that enabling hyperthreading on Intel CPUs degrades Starfield’s performance. Meanwhile, Ryzen CPUs experience more even saturation of all threads, especially compared to most other high-profile titles, which tend to rely on just a few threads.
The optics of the situation could raise further doubts about AMD’s collaboration with Bethesda for the game. The controversy surrounding the partnership erupted when Starfield, AMD’s latest sponsored title, exclusively featured FSR as an upscaling option. This decision caused a stir, especially since modders and developers have confirmed that the integration of DLSS and XeSS will not be a problem for major developers who have already committed to FSR 2.
While it might be tempting to suspect foul play from AMD or a possible oversight from Bethesda when faced with competing hardware, it’s important to note that both Nvidia and Intel are responsible for optimizing their graphics products for major releases. AMD’s August drivers boosted Starfield’s performance by 16 percent, while Intel had to roll out several emergency patches to ensure its Arc Alchemist GPUs could handle the game. Although Nvidia’s drivers pointed to Starfield in late August, the company likely needs another update to fully resolve the issues. Additionally, it makes sense for Bethesda to focus primarily on AMD chips to optimize performance in the Xbox version.