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AMD Radeon VII Review – Can AMD Beat Nvidia?

AMD Radeon VII Review – Can AMD Beat Nvidia?

AMD Radeon VII review 10 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX Vega asdasdasThe AMD Radeon VII is an unexpected return for AMD to the top end of the graphics market. It’s an unusual product, too: the first consumer 7nm to arrive, and a card that’s arrived at the consumer market by way of the workstation ranks. Can the AMD Radeon VII steal us away from the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080, or is AMD still failing to compete?

AMD Radeon VII Review – The Core

The card in our AMD Radeon VII review uses the existing Graphics Core Next 5 architecture, and it revises the VEGA 10 core that was used fcor 2017’s Radeon RX Vega 56 and 64 cards. It’s now called VEGA 20.

The move to 7nm is this card’s most significant change. AMD’s previous generation of GPUs used a 14nm manufacturing process, while Nvidia’s Turing GPUs rely on 12nm.

Shrinking the manufacturing process has a knock-on effect in several important areas. For starters, it means that AMD can build this card using a smaller die with more transistors. That means less electricity leakage and better tolerances that can be used to deliver higher clock speeds.

AMD Radeon VII review 10 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX VegaasdasdaThe Radeon VII has a 331mm2 die with 13.2 billion transistors. The Vega 64 had a larger 486mm2 die with 12.5 billion transistors. Nvidia’s key competition, the GeForce RTX 2080, has a 545mm2 die with 13.6 billion transistors, while the RTX 2070 turns up with a 445mm2 die with 10.8 billion transistors.

The smaller, more efficient die means that AMD has been able to cram in loads of stream processors alongside impressive clock speeds. You get 3,840 stream processors, and the card runs at a core of 1,400MHz. That’s fewer stream processors than the Vega 64, but a far better clock. The RTX 2080 has 2,944 stream processors, but a better base clock of 1,515MHz.

The AMD Radeon VII boosts to 1,750MHz, and has a “peak engine clock” of 1,800MHz. That’s miles better than the Vega 64, and also beyond the RTX 2080.

The AMD Radeon VII has its die shrink, additional transistors and impressive clock speeds – so where does that leave the new card in terms of theoretical performance? You’re looking at 13.8 single-precision TFLOPS on this card. That’s just over 1 TFLOPS more than the Radeon RX Vega 64. The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 has 10.1 TFLOPS, while the RTX 2080 Ti has 13.4 TFLOPS.

These figures don’t come anywhere close to telling the full story, but they certainly bode well.

AMD Radeon VII review 10 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX VegaasdasdaA smaller die also means that there’s more space elsewhere. The big beneficiary on the Radeon VII is memory.

This is one of the first consumer graphics cards to arrive with a mighty 16GB of memory. It’s HBM2 memory, which was first introduced in last year’s Vega chips. Since then, it’s been given a boost, with double the bus width and faster clock speeds.

HBM2 memory differs, fundamentally, from the GDDR6 Nvidia uses. HBM2 has huge bus width but lower speeds – whereas GDDR5 and GDDR6 memory has narrower buses, but faster speeds.

AMD’s memory has a 4,096-bit bus clocked to 2,000MHz. Nvidia’s GDDR6 memory only has a 256-bit bus, but it at 7,000MHz. It must also be said that the RTX 2080 only had 8GB of memory – fine for modern games, but half as much as the AMD Radeon VII.

So, the AMD Radeon VII and its boosted, revised memory delivers a peak bandwidth figure of 1,028GB/s. That’s more than twice as quick as the Vega 64. It’s a similar distance ahead of the RTX 2080, and it even beats the RTX 2080 Ti too.

Aside from the die shrink, the VEGA 20 core isn’t too much different from AMD’s previous designs. The higher clock speeds mean that the chip can hammer through more instructions, and the memory controller has been improved. Shader processing has been simplified to make those tasks run more smoothly. Integer and floating-point operation has been improved, but that’s to be expected from a new generation of GPU.

AMD Radeon VII review 02 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX VegaElsewhere, you get a next-generation compute engine that can natively process 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit or 64-bit operations at higher frequencies. However, this is a change that will impact on work tasks more than on gaming.

You get loads of minor improvements, but no huge new features – nothing like the Nvidia’s Ray-Tracing. There are also no equivalent on the AMD cards, which means that you can’t experience Ray-Tracing improvements if you use the Radeon VII.

Of course, the absence of those features isn’t a terminal issue: only two games currently support Ray-Tracing. AMD also says that it will support Ray-Tracing further down the line, although it’s not clear how that will happen – presumably AMD will release a driver update.

AMD’s new card does support DLSS via a technology called DirectML, which is included in DirectX 12. However, developer support is required to get this feature working, and that’s up in the air. That feature also runs directly on the GPU, whereas Nvidia runs it on its own cores. So DLSS will likely work better on Nvidia hardware without putting a strain on the rest of the GPU.

Even if AMD does improve DLSS and include Ray-Tracing support, though, this could all be moot – because Nvidia has a significant head start. Developers are currently working on Ray-Tracing and DLSS even if game support is lacking. It’s only going to become a bigger issue if those Nvidia features gain popularity in the future.

AMD Radeon VII review 05 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX VegaAMD loses out when it comes to syncing on monitors, too. It used to be the case that AMD supported FreeSync, while Nvidia had G-Sync. Now Nvidia supports both, while AMD remains FreeSync-only. Consumers undoubtedly have more choice here if they’ve got Nvidia hardware.

And then, finally, there’s another area where AMD can’t compete: power efficiency. Despite the Radeon deploying the 7nm die-shrink, this card still arrives with a TDP of 300W.

That’s only 5W less than the Vega 64, which is impressive when it comes to increasing performance without ramping up the power requirements, but AMD still pales in comparison to Nvidia. The RTX 2080 and RTX 2070 have 215W and 175W TDPs respectively.

The high power requirement means that the AMD Radeon VII has two 8-pin power adapters. The RTX 2080 and RTX 2070 only require single 8- and 6-pin connectors.

And, finally, you get support for all of the usual APIs, including DirectX 12, Vulkan, OpenGL 4.6, TressFX and OpenCL 2.2.

One thing you don’t get is CrossFire support, but few people even use that these days – and connecting two 16GB cards and getting them working properly would have been a nightmare.

Click here for all of our in-depth graphics card reviews – including the RTX 2080 Ti, RTX 2080, RTX 2070 and RTX 2060!

AMD Radeon VII review 09 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX VegaAMD Radeon VII Review – The Card

The reference model used in our AMD Radeon VII review is a great-looking card. It’s built from bright, rock-solid aluminium, and the design is simple and striking in equal measure.

On the metal rear you have neat, narrow slats to improve airflow. The side has illuminated Radeon lettering, and on the corner of the GPU is a plastic cube with the Radeon R that lights up in red too.

Three fans chill the GPU. They’re smart and subtle, and their edges are beveled to provide a little extra sheen. Indeed, lots of the edges are beveled, and it makes this GPU look far sleeker and more mature than the majority of Nvidia cards – and even Nvidia’s Founders Edition hardware.

It’s a dual-slot card that doesn’t encroach on more PCI slots like some of the beefier third-party cards around.

At the rear you get three DisplayPort outputs and one HDMI port, but no USB Type-C.

AMD Radeon VII review 08 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX VegaAll of AMD’s board partners have copied this design for their releases. It’s a good thing that the card looks so good – because, right now, that’s all you’re getting.

AMD has added some value by bundling the card in our AMD Radeon VII review with free games. If you buy now you’ll get Resident Evil 2, The Division 2 and Devil May Cry 5 – so that’s three new, generous titles included.

The Ultimate Guide to Intel Coffee Lake – including the Core i7-8700K

AMD Radeon VII Review – Pricing

At the time of writing our AMD Radeon VII review, the market for this card is extremely simple.

There are six AMD Radeon VII cards available now, although the numbers of cards you can buy will always vary based on which retailer you use.

Prices range from £650 to £750 in the UK, and from $699 to $799 in the US. None of these board partner cards come overclocked, all have the same triple-fan design, and all come with the three free games. So, really, you’ve just got to pick the cheapest card, or stick with a preferred brand.

AMD Radeon VII review 06 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX VegaIt’s a far easier choice than trying to pick an RTX 2080, although our AMD Radeon VII review reveals that this card is no cheaper than Nvidia’s competing GPU.

The RTX 2080 ranges in price from £640 to £900 in the UK and $699 to around $1,100 in the US. That’s a wider range, but you do get far more choice.

Board partners have taken the RTX 2080 and used their own cooler designs, and many of those RTX 2080 cards have significant overclocks.

It’s relatively simple to buy an AMD Radeon VII, then, but the RTX 2080 certainly has more choice available.

The RTX 2070 also has loads more board partner choice, too, and it’s cheaper – loads are available for less than £500 or $500. It’s a weaker card, of course, but it could be a money-saving option.

Here are our favourite laptops for every price and situation!

AMD Radeon VII Review – Performance

AMD Radeon VII review 01 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX Vega amd 4k averagesOur AMD Radeon VII review shows that this is a fast card, but it’s never able to consistently outpace the RTX 2080.

When running at 1080p the AMD Radeon VII returned minimum framerates between 37fps and 148fps, with the vast majority of minimums sailing past 60fps. In 1080p average benchmarks, the AMD Radeon VII’s results ranged between 68fps and 172fps.

They’re excellent results. They mean that the AMD Radeon VII will play any of today’s top games, without any complaints, at 1080p.

However, its minimum results here were almost always behind the RTX 2080, and often by at least 10fps. The Radeon’s 1080p averages were more than 10fps behind the RTX 2080 in six games. The AMD Radeon VII was faster in Battlefield V and in one Warhammer test, but they’re rare victories.

In fact, at 1080p, the AMD Radeon VII was actually closer to the RTX 2070 than the RTX 2080.

AMD Radeon VII review 01 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX Vega amd theoreticalA similar pattern emerged at 1440p in our AMD Radeon VII review. The Radeon was closer to the RTX 2080 in 1440p minimum benchmarks than it was at 1080p, but it was still behind the RTX 2080 in most tests and only a similar distance ahead of the RTX 2070.

The AMD Radeon VII also occupied the space between the RTX 2070 and RTX 2080 in 1440p average framerate tests. The RTX 2080 was five frames or more ahead of the AMD Radeon VII in seven of our tests, and the AMD card never overhauled the Nvidia card. The Radeon VII did beat the RTX 2070 in every test, so that’s something. However, we’d expect nothing less from a card that costs a couple of hundred pounds or dollars more.

The AMD Radeon VII played every game smoothly at 1440p. Its minimum framerates ranged from 33fps to 116fps, with 1440p averages coming in from 56fps to 140fps. This card may not be able to beat the RTX 2080 at 1440p, but it will play any game you throw at it.

The AMD Radeon VII delivered 4K minimums that ranged between 26fps and 77fps, with most of its minimum framerates arriving in the mid-thirties. Its averages at 4K ranged between 35fps and 87fps, with plenty hitting the forties and fifties. You’ll certainly be able to play the vast majority of games at 4K without any problems.

Interestingly, the AMD Radeon VII also did a better job of competing with the RTX 2080 at this higher resolution. It was faster than the RTX 2080 in four minimum framerate tests, and beat the RTX 2070 in every benchmark.

In average 4K benchmarks the Radeon VII beat the RTX 2080 in three tests, and both cards returned the same score in two tests. The RTX 2080 beat the AMD Radeon VII in six games.

The AMD Radeon VII was better at 4K, but it still lost out to the RTX 2080 most of the time.

Theoretical tests back up our gaming benchmarks. In the older 3D Mark Fire Strike tests the AMD Radeon VII was a tiny bit behind the RTX 2080 until it hit the demanding Ultra test. At that point the Radeon VII was a tad quicker. The AMD card was comfortably ahead of the RTX 2070 in these tests.

In the DirectX 12-heavy Time Spy tests the AMD Radeon VII was far closer to the RTX 2070 than the RTX 2080. That doesn’t bode well for gaming in the future.

Similarly, the AMD Radeon VII fell behind the RTX 2070 in two of VR Mark’s core tests, and it was behind the RTX 2080 in all three of those benchmarks. That doesn’t bode well for VR gaming, either.

All of these results – in theoretical benchmarks and in games – are measured with the GPUs running at their normal speeds. The RTX 2070 and RTX 2080 are obviously available with overclocked models that will deliver a little extra performance. That isn’t something you get with the AMD Radeon VII.

And then, finally, we’ve got to talk about heat and power. The AMD Radeon VII has a higher TDP than the RTX 2080 and the RTX 2070, and its hungrier power requirements manifest in a couple of ways.

The AMD Radeon VII always consumes more power than Nvidia’s cards, and it’s always a few degrees hotter. This is true when both idling and at load. None of the temperatures are dangerous, though, so this won’t be a concern for most gamers.

The card is noticeably louder than anything from Nvidia, though, and that’s a problem – you will notice this chip’s three fans whirring away in your PC, and you’re not getting any real extra performance to justify the higher power draw, temperature and noise levels.

Interested in an AMD Ryzen build after our AMD Radeon VII Review? Check out our in-depth guide to AMD AM4 motherboards – and our top recommendations for every budget and form factor!

AMD Radeon VII review 04 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX VegaAMD Radeon VII Review – Conclusion

The card in our AMD Radeon VII review is an unexpected addition to the high-end market – it’s always good to see AMD releasing new cards, and consumers are the real winners when there’s more competition around.

However, our AMD Radeon VII review shows that this GPU isn’t quite good enough to present a true threat to Nvidia’s RTX 2080. It’s even worth considering the RTX 2070 over the AMD card, depending on what you want to do with your new GPU and how much you’ve got to spend.

While it does play any game at 1080p and 1440p, for instance, the Radeon VII almost always fell behind the RTX 2080. It’ll run most games at 4K and it beat the RTX 2080 in a few tests. However, the Nvidia card was still ahead of the AMD Radeon VII in most games.

The AMD Radeon VII’s better 4K performance, 16GB of memory and improved compute architecture could make it a viable prospect for creative work. However, the AMD card won’t ever streak ahead of the RTX 2080. Bear in mind, too, that the card may run out of GPU headroom before 16GB ever becomes truly necessary. If you do need a card for content tasks, the Radeon VII may be a good bet. That said, we’d look up specific apps first to see if you’ll make any gains.

Elsewhere, the Radeon has consistent downsides. The AMD Radeon VII is hotter, louder and more power-hungry than the RTX 2080. And, while Nvidia’s new features aren’t yet hitting mainstream acceptance, those Turing cards do at least have native Ray-Tracing and proper DLSS. Nvidia’s cards also support both G-Sync and FreeSync, while the Radeon only supports the latter.

AMD Radeon VII review 10 AMD Radeon review Radeon VII review RX VegaThe future looks rosier for Nvidia. Ray-tracing in particular should continue to be adopted, and Nvidia still has the headroom of a move to 7nm – a move that AMD has already made.

The AMD Radeon VII lags behind the RTX 2080 in most gaming benchmarks – even when it closes the gap a little at 4K. It could even be worth buying the cheaper RTX 2070 if you’re not interested in 4K gaming. The Radeon has some high-end computing clout thanks to 16GB of memory, but we’d look up specific apps to see if it’ll make a difference before you opt for this card.

Competition is good, of course, but the AMD Radeon VII isn’t quite good enough to succeed. It’s just as expensive as entry-level RTX 2080 cards but it’s weaker in most benchmarks. It’s hotter, louder and less frugal than the Nvidia card, too, and doesn’t have as much board partner variation.

Welcome back to the high end, AMD – but please do better next time.

The AMD Radeon VII starts at £650 in the UK and $699 in the US. Discuss our AMD Radeon VII review on our Facebook and Twitter pages. And, if you need some more inspiration after reading our AMD Radeon VII review, check out our guide to our favourite laptops or go deep with our ultimate guide to 4K monitors – covering the technology, the terms and our top recommendations!

The Good

  • Strong 1080p and 1440p performance
  • Plays games at 4K
  • 16GB of memory included
  • A good option for content creation

The Bad

  • Consistently behind RTX 2080
  • No cheaper than RTX 2080
  • Fewer board partner options
  • Hotter, louder and less efficient than Nvidia rivals
  • Poorer new technology support than Nvidia

The Specs

Stream processors: 3,840
Base clock: 1,400MHz
Boost clock: 1,800MHz
Memory: 16GB, 4,096-bit 2,000MHz HBM2
Connectivity: PCI Express 3.0
Display Outputs: DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0b
TDP: 300W
Power connections: 2 x 8-pin
Supported APIs: DirectX 12, OpenGL 4.6, OpenCL 2.2, Vulkan

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
AMD Radeon VII

About Author

Mike Jennings

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