Starfield should be running better on Nvidia GPUs than it currently is

A hot potato: Most of the controversy surrounding Team Red’s collaboration with Bethesda on Starfield has concerned the game’s officially available resolution upscaling solutions. However, post-launch performance analyses of the PC version show an unusual comparison between AMD and Nvidia GPUs relative to other recent titles. While this looks suspicious, numerous factors could be behind the discrepancy.

A performance evaluation of Starfield from Digital Foundry shows that Nvidia graphics cards and Intel processors are punching well below their weight. TechSpot’s GPU analysis of one of 2023’s most highly anticipated PC releases paints a similarly puzzling picture.

Starfield is an extremely demanding game. Maintaining 60 frames per second in 1440p at medium graphics settings requires high-end GPUs like the RX 6800 or the GeForce RTX 3090. However, Nvidia cards may be facing an extra disadvantage.

A good comparison point is between AMD’s RX 6800 XT and Nvidia’s RTX 3080, which tend to trade blows in recent computationally expensive games like The Last of Us Part 1 and Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0. However, Starfield sees Team Red’s GPU beat its Nvidia counterpart by over 20 percent, depending on the resolution and settings. It also clearly outperforms the former flagship RTX 3090. Furthermore, Starfield is a rare example in which the RX 7900 XTX prevails over the RTX 4090, despite AMD having designed it to compete with the 4080.

Similarly concerning is Digital Foundry’s discovery that enabling hyperthreading on Intel CPUs degrades Starfield’s performance. Meanwhile, Ryzen CPUs see much more even saturation across all of their threads, particularly compared to most other high-profile titles that tend to lean on a few threads or less.

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The optics of the situation could cast an additional layer of suspicion on AMD’s cooperation with Bethesda on the game. The uproar over the partnership began when Starfield became the latest AMD-sponsored title to feature FSR as its only upscaling option when modders and developers have confirmed that implementing DLSS and XeSS is a non-issue for large developers that have already performed the necessary work for FSR 2.

Although it’s easy to suspect unfair play from Team Red or perhaps neglect on Bethesda’s part concerning competing hardware, observers should remember that it’s Nvidia’s and Intel’s job to optimize their products for significant releases. While AMD’s August drivers improved Starfield’s performance by 16 percent, Intel had to release multiple emergency updates so its Arc Alchemist GPUs could run the game. While Nvidia’s late August drivers mention Starfield, the company likely needs another release to fix the situation. Moreover, it makes sense for Bethesda to focus mainly on AMD chips to optimize performance in the Xbox version.