Date: February 7, 2019
Author(s): Rob Williams
AMD’s competition has launched four current-gen GPUs since the fall, so its fans have understandably been anxious for a follow up to 2017’s RX Vega. With the new Radeon VII, AMD is responding. It’s the “world’s first 7nm gaming” GPU, and with 16GB of VRAM, it’s one that’s built for high detail at high resolution.
In the lead-up to last month’s CES, the rumor mill seemed to be on fire with AMD speculation. One rumor was of an RX Vega follow-up, and lo and behold, Lisa Su announced the Vega-based Radeon VII during AMD’s first-ever CES keynote. The card becomes the world’s first gaming GPU built on a 7nm process, and with 16GB of memory under its hood, it’s built for heavy workloads.
The “VII” in Radeon VII represents the fact that the card is built using 7nm, and also that it’s a follow-up to the original Vega, which spawned RX Vega 56 and 64. The new card has a cool name, but it doesn’t exactly open the doors for bigger or smaller models, and that’s likely on purpose.
During a briefing with AMD a few weeks ago to discuss the Radeon VII, we were surprised by the fact that the company jumped into a look at creative workloads before gaming ones, despite the card being touted as the “world’s first 7nm gaming” GPU. Highlighting VII’s gaming focus is likely for marketing more than anything else, because “world’s first 7nm jack-of-all-trades card” doesn’t have the same ring to it. With its “do everything” ambition, the Radeon VII is similar to NVIDIA’s TITAN series. It just doesn’t have the Tensor or RT cores that the TITAN RTX does (but its saving grace is that it costs 1/4th as much).
With 16GB of HBM2, Radeon VII feels like a professional-grade card out-of-the-gate, and at launch, we questioned whether or not it should have been called the Radeon Pro VII (or even Frontier Edition 2). We’re talking 1TB/s of available memory bandwidth, after all. Creative users will lust for that long before gamers will.
|AMD’s Radeon Gaming GPU Lineup|
|Cores||Base MHz||Peak FP32||Memory||Bandwidth||TDP||Price|
|Radeon VII||3840||1400||13.8 TFLOPS||16 GB 4||1 TB/s||300W||$699|
|Vega 64||4096||1546||12.6 TFLOPS||8 GB 4||484 GB/s||295W||$499|
|Vega 56||3584||1471||10.5 TFLOPS||8 GB 4||410 GB/s||210W||$449|
|RX 590||2304||1576||7.1 TFLOPS||8 GB 3||256 GB/s||225W||$279|
|RX 580||2304||1340||6.1 TFLOPS||8 GB 3||256 GB/s||185W||$229|
|RX 570||2048||1244||5.1 TFLOPS||8 GB 3||224 GB/s||150W||$179|
|RX 560||896||1175||2.6 TFLOPS||4 GB 3||112 GB/s||80W||$119|
|RX 550||640||1183||1.2 TFLOPS||2 GB 3||112 GB/s||50W||$99|
|Notes||1 GDDR6; 2 GDDR5X; 3 GDDR5; 4 HBM2|
Architecture: Radeon RX 550~590 = Polaris; Radeon VII, RX Vega 56 & 64 = Vega
The move to 7nm helps AMD develop a GPU that’s more power efficient, but what fun would there be in releasing a product that only delivered the same performance, but at less power? It’s much better when we get far greater performance for the same power – or perhaps 5W more than RX Vega 64, as AMD’s spec sheet shows.
As our power testing will highlight later, AMD’s TDP spec doesn’t align with our real-world testing, but that’s a good thing, since VII draws a good deal less power than the Vega 64, despite its big performance boost, and having twice the amount of HBM2.
On the topic of VRAM, AMD’s marketing push with this card hovers a lot around the importance of future-proofing ourselves with lots of memory. As games with bigger textures get released, and we play our games at higher resolutions, the need for more GPU memory is undoubtedly going to increase.
I admit I do find some of AMD’s assumptions to be a little slanted, though. I don’t personally think 16GB of VRAM is going to do many people much good with gaming now, or in the next few years – and by the time a few years pass, we’ll have new GPUs to use.
In the press deck (slide seen below), AMD highlights 11GB as being “required” for gaming in 2019, which isn’t even close to being the case. Also strange is that the marker is notches higher than the 11GB it references, exaggerating the differences a bit.
The reviewer’s guide breaks down a few modern games that can use more than 8GB of VRAM, but I consider this flawed based on the fact that current memory tools only detect whether or not memory is allocated, not if all of that allocated data is required. Do you really believe Black Ops 4 needs 12GB of VRAM? Or that Star Control: Origins needs 9GB? I’m not convinced.
With VII being derived from Instinct, it feels to me like AMD was forced to a 16GB VRAM config, and now has to justify that reality through what I’d consider to be misleading marketing. Ultimately, it feels like AMD didn’t even know where to target this card, so it just decided to target it everywhere. That even includes 1080p resolution. That’s a resolution we haven’t used in our high-end GPU launch reviews since 2014. How many people need 300+ FPS in Siege, really?
To add to this, the night prior to this article’s embargo lift, AMD told us that it decided to increase the double-precision (FP64) performance on this card to twice what was previously announced – which was already twice what we were told after CES. AMD’s RX Vega 64 offered about 0.8 TFLOPS of FP64, whereas Radeon VII, after AMD’s whim, becomes 3.52 TFLOPS. That means the card doesn’t just target gaming and creative, but now also science and finance. For comparison’s sake, the 2080 Ti offers 0.42 TFLOPS of FP64 performance.
The upside to any confusion surrounding Radeon VII is that the card is a good jack-of-all-trades. It’s going to be a solid option for most workloads, and now with increased FP64, it becomes a relative steal at $700 to those who need it. Two of these GPUs would give us the same spec’d FP64 performance as one TITAN V.
With gaming, which happens to be the focus of this article (I know, it’s hard to tell), we have many benchmarks that will help us turn our gaming assumptions into answers. Another article takes a look at the card’s workstation performance, so feel free to open that one in a new tab!
|Techgage Gaming GPU Test PC|
|Processor||Intel Core i9-9900K (3.6GHz Base, 5.0GHz Turbo, 8C/16T)|
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-E GAMING|
CPU tested with BIOS 0602 (October 19, 2018)
|Memory||G.SKILL TridentZ (F4-3400C16-8GSXW) 8GB x 2|
Operates at DDR4-3400 16-16-16 (1.35V)
|AMD Graphics||AMD Radeon VII (16GB; Jan 22 Press Driver)|
AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 (8GB; Jan 22 Press Driver)
AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 (8GB; Radeon 18.12.3) *
AMD Radeon RX 590 (8GB; Radeon 18.12.3) *
AMD Radeon RX 580 (8GB; Radeon 18.12.3) *
AMD Radeon RX 570 (4GB; Radeon 18.12.3) *
AMD Radeon RX 550 (2GB; Radeon 18.12.3) *
|NVIDIA Graphics||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti (11GB; GeForce 417.71)|
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 (8GB; GeForce 417.71)
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 (8GB; GeForce 417.71)
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 (6GB; GeForce 417.35) *
NVIDIA TITAN Xp (12GB; GeForce 417.35) *
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti (11GB; GeForce 417.71)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB; GeForce 417.35) *
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 Ti (8GB; GeForce 417.35) *
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB; GeForce 417.35) *
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB; GeForce 417.35) *
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti (4GB; GeForce 417.35) *
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 (2GB; GeForce 417.35) *
|Storage||Kingston SSDNow V310 960GB (SATA 6Gbps)|
|Power Supply||Corsair RM650x (650W)|
|Chassis||NZXT S340 Elite Mid-tower|
|Cooling||Corsair Hydro H100i V2 AIO Liquid Cooler (240mm)|
|Et cetera||Windows 10 Pro (64-bit; build 17763)|
|Notes||* Synthetic tests only.|
A total of eight games are included in our current test suite. Recent additions include Battlefield V, Forza Horizon 4, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Beyond these eight titles, UL’s 3DMark and VRMark, as well as Unigine’s Superposition, are used for some quick and dirty tests that you may be able to run at home.
Here’s the full list of tested synthetic benchmarks, games, and developer allegiances:
For our apples-to-apples testing, the graphics settings seen above apply to every one of our tested resolutions so as to deliver easily comparable results. In most cases, each configuration is tested twice, with more runs added if the initial results make the extra testing necessary (which isn’t required too often).
The VII kicks off our performance look with some solid results. It and NVIDIA’s RTX 2080 effectively offer equal performance in this particular title. It’s worth noting that AMD’s card doesn’t support the game’s DXR ray traced feature, which is very cool, but not particularly important. If you want high resolutions like 3440x and 4K+, DXR wouldn’t be an option anyway.
The VII continues to shine, outperforming the 2080 in all resolutions in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. At 1440p, the gap is actually pretty significant at 8 FPS, which is whittled down to 3 FPS at 4K. Fortunately for NVIDIA, its 2080 Ti isn’t sweating losing the top spot.
Like many other racing titles, the smoother the F1 series runs, the better the experience. Fortunately, you really don’t need that powerful of a GPU to get great frame rates out of this one. Even the Vega 64 hits 83 FPS average at 1440p, which is more than satisfactory for max detail.
Unlike the previous titles, which showed the VII to about match (or exceed) RTX 2080 performance, NVIDIA strikes back hard here. At 4K, the VII is suitable for about 60 FPS, but the 2080 has it beat by 8 FPS.
With Far Cry 5, we return to equalization between the RTX 2080 and Radeon VII. Interestingly, the RTX 2080 delivered a slightly better minimum on each run, but the VII led with the best average FPS result. So far, things are looking good for the VII, so let’s see how another four titles fare (on the next page!)
The VII continues to perform very closely to NVIDIA’s RTX 2080, which is good to see. Another take is that the VII continues to outperform last gen’s 1080 Ti, which RX Vega 64 desperately hoped to match. It might have taken another year and a half, but AMD’s accomplished it.
That said, FH4 is one title that gave us issues in testing. On occasion, the game would crash to desktop, with nary an error, or lock up, requiring a hard reboot. This is one of two games we had issues with, and AMD alleges that the issues will disappear with the post-launch driver release. We’ll be ready to test once that driver drops, to check up on that promise.
The 2080 Ti does a good job here of separating itself from the rest of the pack, and in the usual matchup between the 2080 and VII, we again see NVIDIA take the lead. At 4K, this game is truly hard on the graphics processor. It might be worth noting that the “High” detail setting is used for testing, which isn’t the highest – so this game might prove to be a good benchmark for some time to come. Especially now that it has ultrawide support!
At both 1440p and ultrawide, the RTX 2080 outperformed the VII, but at 4K, the cards are about matched. Well, at the top-end; at minimum, the VII proved 5 FPS better. That’s not too bad, considering the fact that SotTR is an NVIDIA-sponsored title.
At the top of the page, we mentioned that Forza Horizon 4 was one title that gave us issues in benchmarking (only on Radeon VII). Wildlands is the second game, but its reaction to VII was much more severe than FH4‘s.
Because we didn’t want to drop one of our eight games, we benchmarked the timedemo using Fraps instead of letting the game tell us the result, as the benchmark crashes at the end of its run, before it can show a result, every single time. Fortunately, the Fraps method of recording the framerate gives the exact same results, so we can see how the VII fares, even though Wildlands kind of hates it.
To be clear, this game is simply unplayable on Radeon VII as of the time of writing. Even sitting at the main menu, the game will eventually lock up, or the entire PC. As covered above, AMD says this issue will be fixed in the post-launch driver.
Looking beyond that rather severe issue, the VII delivered solid performance in Wildlands, not falling too far behind NVIDIA, which sponsors it as a The Way It’s Meant To Be Played title.
NVIDIA’s 2080 beats out AMD’s Radeon VII in the 1080p Fire Strike test, but the VII redeems itself at 4K, pressing 400 points ahead of the 2080. With the DX12-bound Time Spy, also at 4K, NVIDIA leaps to the top of the charts, sitting only behind the 2080 Ti. Somehow, NVIDIA’s RTX absolutely dominates Time Spy, evidenced also by comparing the RTX 2060 to the Vega 64 and GTX 1080.
In Time Spy, NVIDIA’s strong DX12 performance (in that particular test) pushed the RTX 2080 far ahead of the VII, and we see the same thing happen here, in VRMark. With the Cyan room, which is also DX12, the VII sits just a bit behind the 2080. With the Blue room, which represents future VR workloads, the VII falls much further behind, looking at the 1080 Ti’s back.
To wrap up our performance testing, Superposition actually weighs the RTX 2070 higher than the Radeon VII at 1080p (with Extreme settings), but at 4K (with Optimized settings), those roles are reversed. It’s hard to gauge how important a test like this is in comparison to actual gaming, but it’s good to see the VII comfortably outperform the Vega 64 in every possible case.
To test for power consumption, a Kill-A-Watt that the PC itself is plugged into is used for monitoring a Far Cry 5 4K benchmark run. Admittedly, we don’t have the best methods for power testing, and would love to improve them in the future, but for now, we use what we have, and that’s our eyeballs. Over the course of the one-minute benchmark, a rough average is pulled.
7nm can of course mean less power draw, and in Radeon VII’s case, it manages to draw ~50W less than the Vega 64, while easily outperforming it at the same time. Of course, RX Vega’s high power draw can be remedied with Wattman, but sadly, most people won’t know to use it, so it’s nice to see VII’s power draw to be a lot more modest out-of-the-gate. It could possibly be improved further if you want to spend time in Wattman, but up to this point, time hasn’t allowed us to dig into that.
It feels weird to summarize a graphics card for gaming use when it feels so much like a workstation card, but fortunately, we have another article to dive deeper into that side of the market. To wrap things up in this article, we want focus on gaming – especially for the “World’s First 7nm gaming” GPU.
Is this world-first worth $699? That is going to largely depend on your level of enthusiasm for buying a card that offers a bit less performance than the RTX 2080, but for the same amount of money. Across our twenty-six sets of results from real games (not synthetics), NVIDIA led the pack fifteen times, sometimes to a significant degree (mostly in Monster Hunter World and F1 2018.)
If you’re indifferent to features like Microsoft’s DXR, and NVIDIA’s own technologies like DLSS, Ansel, and don’t mind slightly weaker performance, then the Radeon VII could serve you well. For gamers who are also content creators, the card looks even better. For those folks, 16GB for $700 will seem like a steal, especially when AMD’s OpenCL performance is as strong as it is (the compute article can fill you in).
When all is said and done, general performance expectations of the Radeon VII based on our testing can be seen in this table:
Game Performance Expectations
|RTX 2080 Ti||★★★★★||★★★★★||★★★★||★★★★||★★★★|
|GTX 1080 Ti||★★★★★||★★★★★||★★★★||★★★||★★★★|
|RX Vega 64||★★★★★||★★★★||★★★||★★||★★★|
|GTX 1070 Ti||★★★★||★★★||★★||★||★★|
|RX Vega 56||★★★★||★★★||★★||★||★★|
|GTX 1050 Ti||★★||★||★||★||★|
|144Hz values estimated for high detail 1080p 144 FPS.|
★★★★★ 60 FPS? More like 100 FPS. As future-proofed as it can get.
★★★★ Surpass 60 FPS at high quality settings with ease.
★★★ Hit 60 FPS with high quality settings.
★★ Nothing too impressive; it gets the job done (60 FPS will require tweaking).
★ Not recommended.
NVIDIA’s RTX 2080 beat out AMD’s Radeon VII in the majority of our tests, but ultimately, both cards perform about the same. It’d be hard to award an extra star somewhere to one card over another, because both trade punches, and NVIDIA doesn’t deliver so much extra performance in all of its cases to warrant a bump. Ultimately, the 2080 Ti should be your choice if you want the best possible 4K experience. Otherwise, both the Radeon VII and 2080 offer very good performance.
Unfortunately, my experience with Radeon VII was marred with issues in two of the eight games tested, especially with Wildlands, which simply refused to complete a benchmark run without crashing (and again, even sitting at the main menu will encourage a spontaneous crash at some point).
In talking to site friends who also have the VII in for testing, I can say that no one was able to report similar crashes to me, although none of them test with either of the two games that bugged out on us (the second one being Forza Horizon 4). I do expect these issues to be fixed, but would have loved to have not seen them in 25% of the games I tested with. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter any real issues when testing the VII for workstation performance (again, head here if you want to read that).
If there’s another caveat with VII to be aware of, it’s that its fan noise is loud in comparison to NVIDIA’s cards. In testing the six GPUs for gaming here, only the Vega 64 and VII stood out to me on the noise-front. I watched a fair bit of TV while running all of this benchmarking, and with the VII (and V64), I had to crank the volume on the TV in order to hear it, whereas when the NVIDIA cards were testing, I didn’t even think of it. It doesn’t take a hardcore workload to hear the card, either. Merely sitting at a game’s main menu would cause it to happen to us.
As mentioned in the power section above, AMD’s tools can help you refine things to make the situation better, but we didn’t have time to dig in before embargo. For headphones users, this noise might not matter much, but if you use speakers, you are going to easily hear the VII above any other recent card, at least without tweaking.
We didn’t want to finish up this look without a mention of AMD’s ongoing game bundle, which applies just fine to the new Radeon VII. Purchased separately, these games would cost you about $180, so if you’re keen on them, that is a substantial savings. Even if you were planning to purchase only one of these games, that’s still money saved. And, if you didn’t want any of them, you’re probably more concerned about your creative work that needs tackling!
By now, you should know whether or not a Radeon VII is for you, and if you deem that one is, then hopefully you will be able to find one in stock soon. Pre-launch rumors claimed that availability would be pretty rough at launch, but we have quite literally no knowledge on the actuality of card supply. All we can do is hope there’s enough for those who want it, if not now, then soon.
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