AMD, Intel and Nvidia GPU Driver Sizes Compared: Feature Creep

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We now have three major players vying to be the best graphics cards: AMD, Nvidia, and Intel. The two incumbents recently released their next-generation GPU architectures, with Nvidia Ada Lovelace taking on AMD RDNA 3. The Intel Arc Alchemist architecture also came out last year, but you can certainly make the argument that it was really designed to compete with Nvidia Ampere and AMD RDNA 2. Beyond the hardware, though, software and drivers play a critical role in extracting maximum performance from the GPU, and drivers are becoming increasingly complex.

Consider all the APIs that need to be supported: DirectX 9/10/11/12, OpenGL, Vulkan, OpenCL, and others besides. Then you have potentially multiple generations of hardware — Nvidia's latest drivers support five different architectures while AMD's drivers support ... well, AMD's a bit of a special case right now, as one set of drivers only supports the latest RDNA 3 GPUs while the other set supports RDNA 2, RDNA, Vega, and Polaris, but we're told the two will get a unified driver in the future.

Intel in contrast is at an advantage, since it doesn't have a huge back catalog of GPUs to support... unless you count integrated graphics. And Intel does support 11th Gen Tiger Lake, 12th Gen Alder Lake, and 13th Gen Raptor Lake integrated graphics with its drivers. That's a bit interesting, because there's a huge gulf in performance between many of those integrated solutions and the dedicated Arc GPUs.

One thing we've noticed over the years has been the steadily bloating size of GPU driver downloads. Which got us thinking about the current status quo. You might think Nvidia's drivers would be larger, since it also has some extra stuff like CUDA and DLSS that it needs to support. You'd be partially correct. At present, here's how the download sizes stack up:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Driver Download Sizes, January 2023
Driver Version (GPUs)Download Size (KiB)Size (MiB)
AMD 22.11.2 (RDNA 2 and earlier)558,886545.8
AMD 23.1.1 (RDNA 3 only)603,716589.6
Nvidia 528.02 (RTX 40 and earlier)832,540813.0
Intel 31.0.101.4034 (Arc and Xe)1,243,6561,214.5

We've become accustomed to seeing larger download sizes on Nvidia's drivers, though they did shrink quite a bit back when Nvidia killed off 3D Vision support (RIP). Besides the drivers, there's also the included GeForce Experience app — a 124.8 MiB download if you grab it separately, but it's normally packaged with every Nvidia driver.

The newer AMD drivers strike us as somewhat odd, however. Why are the drivers that only have to support two GPUs 8% larger than the drivers that support probably over 100 different GPUs? Maybe the unified AMD drivers won't be much larger and it's just a matter of tying a few remaining pieces together.

But AMD and Nvidia have nothing on Intel when it comes to driver bloat. 1.21 GB? (opens in new tab) Great Scott! How could they have been so careless? But seriously, you have to wonder what exactly is taking up so much space.

Granted, Intel is newer to this than AMD and Nvidia. It also has tried to stuff in a bunch of extra features, including XeSS support and things like Smooth Sync. But AMD and Nvidia have that sort of stuff as well. More to the point, we can't help but wonder if the larger, presumably unoptimized file sizes might also correlate with unoptimized code that's full of extra cruft. Also, will the drivers get even larger when Battlemage arrives?

Thank goodness the best SSDs have become pretty affordable, as these days you can grab a fast 1TB NVMe drive (opens in new tab) for around $85, or alternatively a 2TB SATA drive (opens in new tab). Unpacking and installing the drivers will of course consume even more space, but that's nothing compared to 100GB and larger game install sizes — unless you have a data cap and like to download drivers on a regular basis. Bon appétit!

Jarred Walton

Jarred Walton is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on everything GPU. He has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.

  • -Fran-
    If you just analyse the size in megabytes without listing all features in the "driver", then it's kind of moot?

    Plus, they not only bring "the drivers", so it's hard to just simplify it like that.

    From the top of my head, AMD brings:
    Core driver (DX12, Vulkan, etc support) and configs.
    Adrenalin UI.
    ReLive / Streaming / Recording stuff.
    Subset of Ryzen Master for GPU OC (and in the case of laptops, CPU OC).
    AMD Link: Platform integration and links (Steam, Twitch, etc).
    A web browser (No idea why!).
    Game profiles subsystem.
    Hotkeys and Overlay.
    Video playback and Noise suppression options.
    Notification and Bug Reporting tool subsystems.
    I'm sure I'm missing something else, but that's what I remember (and just checked)

    Regards.
    Reply
  • camtasia_kid
    Most of us have no concern about the size of these critical drivers, and the adjacent fluff features, we care about their stability, performance and overall quality. My primary workstation has 10TB of NVMe drives, and 36 TB of RAID 0 SATA, NAS drives, and even my laptop has 2 TB.
    Reply
  • PlaneInTheSky
    But AMD and Nvidia have nothing on Intel when it comes to driver bloat. 1.21GB (opens in new tab) Great Scott!

    Do you not understand what a driver is? Those are not drivers you are talking about.

    A driver is a dynamic link library with a .sys extention. It comes with a driver installer and catalog file. These driver files are just a few megabytes in size, often just kilobytes. This is basic Windows 101.

    What you are talking about in your article are not drivers. Thank god, because if drivers were actually 500MB-1.2GB in size, we'd have a serious problem.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    PlaneInTheSky said:
    Do you not understand what a driver is? Those are not drivers you are talking about.

    A driver is a dynamic link library with a .sys extention. It comes with a driver installer and catalog file. These driver files are just a few megabytes in size, often just kilobytes. This is basic Windows 101.

    What you are talking about in your article are not drivers. Thank god, because if drivers were actually 500MB-1.2GB in size, we'd have a serious problem.
    Thanks, and welcome to my ignore list.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    camtasia_kid said:
    Most of us have no concern about the size of these critical drivers, and the adjacent fluff features, we care about their stability, performance and overall quality. My primary workstation has 10TB of NVMe drives, and 36 TB of RAID 0 SATA, NAS drives, and even my laptop has 2 TB.
    Well, that's the real question, isn't it? What is it that Intel is doing that requires a 50% larger download, yet generally speaking performance, compatibility, and stability still aren't at the level of AMD and Nvidia? Actually, it's 50% larger than Nvidia's driver download, and over twice as large as AMD's driver download. Given it only has to support a relative handful of different GPUs (four Arc desktop, five or so more Arc mobile, and maybe a dozen different integrated configurations for various 11th/12th/13th Gen CPUs), why is it so big? And it's been big since day one, incidentally. I just wrote this because I updated to the latest beta Arc drivers (again) for some retesting.

    I can't help but be curious about why Intel's drivers, which are quantifiably inferior to Nvidia's drivers, need to be so large. Well, other than potentially being hastily coded and not as optimized. As a CS grad, I have little doubt that larger project sizes to accomplish the same task means less than ideal code. Been there, done that. Maybe Intel is still including all the debug libraries and such, which would certainly bloat the size (and reduce performance).
    Reply
  • PiranhaTech
    Yes and no. GPU gaming performance deals with probably a very small subset of the files. There's a saying that 10% of the code of a program runs 90% of time. Some studies actually say it's 5%/95%. Companies like AMD could also have different teams for different parts of the driver kit. For example, there could be one team that works on the rasterization part, another that works on the Radeon Control Panel

    However, over-bloat can be an indication that they aren't taking the time to polish things.

    The AMD driver for 2 GPUs being around the size of the big set actually makes sense. The UI for the new drivers looks the same, and the bundled software is probably making up the bulk of the package.

    AMDSplashScreen.exe is just a splash screen, and it's 10 MB. QT5's DLLs (Qt5*.dll) are 110 MB on the C:\Program Files\AMD\CNext\CNext folder. C:\Program Files\AMD\CNext... looks like 381 MB of the drivers is mostly the control panel UI and features like Twitch integration. There might be things like GPU-accelerated video decoding going on, but it's hard to tell just by looking at the folder

    100 MB for what looks like a copy of the installer that's probably mostly the base-bones functionality.

    40 MB on localization itself (also CNext folder)

    ffmpeg is there. avcodec-58.dll is around 30 MB. 110 MB for qt5*.dll and 40 MB for localization. There's 180 MB right there. There's a few ffmpeg files that nickel-and-dime the size up, pretty significantly

    This PC has been upgraded a lot, so there's a chance that these could be old file.
    Reply
  • jkflipflop98
    Or maybe Intel's special "rosetta stone" software approach to backwards compatibility requires more coding than the other two entrenched players with hardware compatibility.

    But let's just jump straight to Intel's drivers being "inferior" in some way because of the size of the package download.
    Reply
  • tommo1982
    PiranhaTech said:
    Yes and no. GPU gaming performance deals with probably a very small subset of the files. There's a saying that 10% of the code of a program runs 90% of time. Some studies actually say it's 5%/95%. Companies like AMD could also have different teams for different parts of the driver kit. For example, there could be one team that works on the rasterization part, another that works on the Radeon Control Panel

    However, over-bloat can be an indication that they aren't taking the time to polish things.

    The AMD driver for 2 GPUs being around the size of the big set actually makes sense. The UI for the new drivers looks the same, and the bundled software is probably making up the bulk of the package.

    AMDSplashScreen.exe is just a splash screen, and it's 10 MB. QT5's DLLs (Qt5*.dll) are 110 MB on the C:\Program Files\AMD\CNext\CNext folder. C:\Program Files\AMD\CNext... looks like 381 MB of the drivers is mostly the control panel UI and features like Twitch integration. There might be things like GPU-accelerated video decoding going on, but it's hard to tell just by looking at the folder

    100 MB for what looks like a copy of the installer that's probably mostly the base-bones functionality.

    40 MB on localization itself (also CNext folder)

    ffmpeg is there. avcodec-58.dll is around 30 MB. 110 MB for qt5*.dll and 40 MB for localization. There's 180 MB right there. There's a few ffmpeg files that nickel-and-dime the size up, pretty significantly
    It'd be nice to have an option to choose what I want to install with the GPU driver. I also with there was an option to select the most simplistic interface as possible. Adrenalin should be a driver and architecture specific settings. There's MSI Afterburner to tune the card. Why not work with the guy responsible for it, and divert those people to optimising GPU performance.
    Reply
  • PlaneInTheSky
    JarredWaltonGPU said:
    I can't help but be curious about why Intel's drivers, which are quantifiably inferior to Nvidia's drivers, need to be so large. Well, other than potentially being hastily coded and not as optimized. As a CS grad, I have little doubt that larger project sizes to accomplish the same task means less than ideal code. Been there, done that.

    This idea that Intel their code is "less ideal" because some files you downloaded were larger is complete nonsense.

    Nor does a larger file indicate that it was "hastily coded" or "unoptimized".

    I know you said you put me on ignore, but your article and arguments are just flat out wrong.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    jkflipflop98 said:
    Or maybe Intel's special "rosetta stone" software approach to backwards compatibility requires more coding than the other two entrenched players with hardware compatibility.

    But let's just jump straight to Intel's drivers being "inferior" in some way because of the size of the package download.
    No, it's not jumping straight to Intel's drivers being inferior — that's already a known quantity, one Intel is working to fix but hasn't fully addressed. The point is that Intel's drivers are inferior and twice as large as AMD's drivers (for download size). Doing less with more, in other words. And if Intel is choosing to use binary translation or whatever for backward compatibility, that's usually done to reduce coding effort, not increase it. Intel is playing catch up and I get that. But I'm also not blindly going to pat them on the head and pretend things are great.

    Minecraft with ray tracing finally runs on Arc, for example. It runs super poorly. My most recent test (on A770 8GB) has worse performance than the A750 with previous drivers. Oops. But yes, let's just put "inferior" in quotes and ignore the hard evidence that shows they really do have inferior drivers.
    Reply