There are dozens of proven APIs specializing in generating graphics – but OpenGL and Vulkan are the toughest nuts to crack regarding choosing which is better.

Application Programming Interfaces like OpenGL and Vulkan are crucial in developing and rendering 2D and 3D graphics applications.

They serve as a bridge between hardware and software, providing developers with the necessary functions to communicate with the GPU or graphics card – vital for creating our favorite video games! However, many gamers encounter a dilemma – which is better for video game performance? OpenGL and Vulcan have pros and cons, but our guide can make that choice easier.

Understanding OpenGL

OpenGL is a universal and open-source API specification for rendering 2D and 3D vector graphics, designed for cross-platform use. Its essential purpose is to execute commands through the GPU, resulting in hardware acceleration. OpenGL is one of the most popular APIs used in video game development.

Classics like Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Portal came to life thanks to this particular API. Despite being older than Vulkan, OpenGL remains a top choice for game and application developers due to its massive user base, cross-platform nature, and ease of use.

Introducing Vulkan

Vulkan is a low-overhead, cross-platform 3D graphics API released in 2016. It is definitely more challenging to work with than OpenGL but delivers precise control over the hardware, resulting in better overall performance on newer GPUs.

Vulkan runs on many different operating systems, significantly lowering CPU usage, which makes it a standard choice among experienced developers. Among video games made with Vulkan, you can find Valheim, Red Dead Redemption 2, No Man’s Sky, Fortnite, and Baldur’s Gate 3.

Performance Comparison

Knowing all this, we can proceed to the details that interest us the most. How do OpenGL and Vulkan affect game performance? Firstly, not all video games support the Vulkan selection option. Secondly, Vulkan works best with AMD products, as it is based on AMD’s Mantel. Lastly, Vulkan outperforms older APIs like OpenGL in scaling on multi-cores.

So overall, it boosts video game performance by reducing hardware overload, leading to better graphics quality and higher frame-per-second rates. However, picking this API may result in various minor errors. Many are unnoticeable to the human eye, so it is still a better option than OpenGL, typically used in older games and applications.

Let’s take a look at a real-world example. 2016’s Doom was the third video game to support Vulkan. Depending on the graphics card used, playing with Vulkan can bring a wide variety of results, with one thing for sure – AMD performs the best.

Doom Vulkan guarantees noticeably higher frames per second rates for its products – although it may turn out unstable on older graphics cards. On the other hand, OpenGL offers solid performance in exchange for lower frames per second and higher hardware overhead.

Compatibility and Support

Choosing the best API depends on the operating system since some are incompatible with each other. OpenGL is available on various platforms, including Windows, Linux, and macOS.

On the other hand, Vulkan runs on Windows, Linux, Android, Nintendo Switch, Stadia, and more. That makes its cross-platform compatibility better not only than that of OpenGL but also DirectX, which works exclusively on Windows.

Choosing Between OpenGL and Vulkan

So, how should the average player decide on a better API for their upcoming gaming session? First, consider what hardware you use and what games you play.

Remember that not all titles run on Vulkan, so sometimes a change is simply impossible. Also, the graphics card plays a crucial role in determining which API you should pick, as OpenGL performs better on Nvidia and Vulkan on AMD.

However, many games allow players to switch between APIs and test the performance themselves. We highly recommend this method as the result can depend on even the slightest factors. So, if you ever encounter an option to switch to Vulkan, try it out and see how it affects the overall performance.


OpenGL vs Vulkan comparison doesn’t just boil down to these two APIs, as there is another – DirectX. For now, the latter is most often used by developers despite being available only on Windows. Meanwhile, OpenGL and Vulkan belong to open-source APIs supporting gaming on other platforms.

If Vulkan ever becomes the default API, the choice of the operating system will no longer matter for video games. At this point, we recommend switching between APIs (if available) to keep track of what actually changes. And while OpenGL is a legacy version of Vulkan, it’s not going anywhere since many video games still use it in 2024.