Gamers have endured a long wait for the Radeon RX Vega, but the wait is over, or at least nearly. Over the past couple of days, I’ve been learning about how AMD plans to re-enter the high-end graphics card market with its next-generation graphics architecture. The company revealed most of the details of its Ryzen Threadripper CPUs to us ahead of SIGGRAPH, as well, if you’d rather catch up with that news first.
|GTX 970||1050||1178||56||104||1664||224+32||224 GB/s||3.5+0.5GB||145W|
|GTX 980||1126||1216||64||128||2048||256||224 GB/s||4 GB||165W|
|GTX 980 Ti||1002||1075||96||176||2816||384||336 GB/s||6 GB||250W|
|Titan X (Maxwell)||1002||1075||96||192||3072||384||336 GB/s||12 GB||250W|
|GTX 1080||1607||1733||64||160||2560||256||320 GB/s||8GB||180W|
|GTX 1080 Ti||1480||1582||88||224||3584||352||484 GB/s||11GB||250W|
|Titan Xp||1480?||1582||96||240||3840||384||547 GB/s||12GB||250W|
|R9 Fury X||—||1050||64||256||4096||1024||512 GB/s||4GB||275W|
|Radeon RX Vega 64
|Radeon RX Vega 64
|Radeon RX Vega 56||1156||1471||64||224||3584||2048||410 GB/s||8GB||210W|
The high-level details of the Vega architecture have been known to us for some time, but the implementation of that architecture on Radeon RX gaming cards has remained a mystery until now.
AMD will be releasing the Radeon RX Vega with two different GPU configurations across three products. The fully-enabled Vega 10 GPU will find a home in the Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid-Cooled Edition and the Radeon RX Vega 64. Both cards will get a GPU with 4096 stream processors, 256 texturing units, 8GB of HBM2 RAM running at a transfer rate of 484 GB/s, and 64 ROPs.
The RX Vega 64 Liquid-Cooled Edition will be the highest-performance Vega card at launch. This card will offer a typical boost range of 1677 MHz, a base clock of 1406 MHz, and a board power of 345W. It’ll offer peak single-precision performance of 13.7 TFLOPS and peak half-precision performance of 27.5 TFLOPS.
The air-cooled RX Vega 64 will offer a typical boost range of 1546 MHz, a base clock of 1247 MHz, and a board power of 295W. Those figures are good for 12.66 TFLOPS of peak single-precision performance and 25.3 TFLOPS of half-precision throughput. Both of these RX Vega 64 cards are positioned to compete with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080.
The swanky aluminum-bedecked cards you see above are both limited editions, and AMD claims that label is genuine. At least for the air-cooled card, once the stock is sold through, the only way to get a reference air-cooled Vega will be with the black shroud you’ll see below.
The most interesting RX Vega graphics card may be the previously-unknown RX Vega 56. As its name implies, the Vega 10 GPU on this card has 56 of its 64 compute units enabled, for 3584 stream processors in total. Interestingly, it’ll still have all 64 of its ROPs, but it’ll ship with only 224 texturing units enabled. This card will have a typical boost range of 1471 MHz and base clocks of 1156 MHz, and somewhat lower memory clocks resulting in a peak transfer rate of 410 GB/s. AMD claims it’ll be good for 10.5 TFLOPS of peak single-precision throughput and 21 TFLOPS of half-precision throughput. This card will have a board power of 210W, and it’s positioned to compete with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070.
We learned a wealth of new architecture details regarding the Vega GPU at this event, although the short window between the presentation of that information and the NDA lift for this article means that I’ll be holding off on a deep-dive until our full Vega review. The Cliff’s Notes is that some of the performance potential of the Vega architecture, like double-rate packed math, the draw-stream binning rasterizer, support for primitive shaders, and the High Bandwidth Cache Controller, are going to require driver optimizations or developer targeting (or both) to eventually run at their best. Early performance numbers for Vega from Frontier Edition cards didn’t include any gains from the DSBR, for example, and that feature will be enabled for the first time with the Radeon RX Vega release drivers.
AMD took an unusual tack in discussing the potential performance of Radeon RX Vega cards. Instead of focusing on average frame rates, the company argued for the 99th-percentile frame rates (derived from 99th-percentile frame times) that the RX Vega 64 can produce and how those frame rates match up with FreeSync monitors.
The first case that AMD presents is with a premium 3440×1440 FreeSync display with a 48 Hz-to-100-Hz refresh rate range. In this scenario, the company claims the RX Vega 64’s 99th-percentile frame rates will generally fall within the low side of the FreeSync range for the display, meaning gamers shouldn’t experience the tearing and general unpleasantness of un-synced operation beneath the low side of the FreeSync range.
AMD tested the six games it used for this scenario using a mixture of high and ultra presets, so the numbers it generated should be reasonably representative of real-world performance.
AMD also presented 99th-precentile FPS numbers for a Radeon RX Vega 64 paired with a 4K FreeSync display with a refresh rate range of 40 to 60 Hz. In all cases, the Vega card delivered 99th-percentile frame rates that would keep its performance within FreeSync range when paired with such a monitor. In two of the games presented—Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare—the RX Vega 64 delivered markedly better 99th-percentile frame times.
We still need to see average frame rates and frame-time data of our own to gauge the fluidity of the gaming experience from the RX Vega 64, but combined with the recently-introduced Radeon Enhanced Sync and a relatively affordable FreeSync monitor, it seems as though Vega’s smoothness could be competitive with or better than Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080. I have a pair of FreeSync monitors at home waiting for just such a high-performance card to do them justice, so I’m eager to give the RX Vega 64 a shot.
Packing it up
The biggest remaining question for many about RX Vega cards is pricing, and the answer to that question is both simple and complex. The simple answer is that the Radeon RX Vega 56 reference card will start at $399, and that the reference air-cooled Radeon RX Vega 64 will start at $499. The Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid-Cooled Edition will only be available as part of a Radeon Pack for $699.
Radeon Pack is a marketing move that makes buying more AMD or AMD-friendly hardware with one’s Vega card more attractive. AMD really wants Vega buyers to take full advantage of its ecosystem, and the idea is that when one buys an RX Vega Radeon Pack, they’ll get a one-time opportunity to take advantage of discounts on FreeSync monitors and Ryzen CPU-motherboard combos at the point of purchase. AMD will direct buyers to dedicated pages at partner retailers so that they’re fully aware of the discounts available to them before they press “Place Order” and miss out on those opportunities forever.
The Radeon RX Vega 64 will come in two packs: a Black Pack and an Aqua Pack. The Black Pack starts with an air-cooled Radeon RX Vega 64 graphics card in either limited-edition or standard black livery for $599. USA buyers will then receive free copies of Prey and Wolfenstein II no matter what. If they so choose, they can add a Samsung CF791 34″ ultrawide monitor with a FreeSync range of 48-100 Hz and get $200 off its list price. They can also add an eligible Ryzen CPU and motherboard combo to their order and get $100 off that combo. The Aqua Pack will be the only way to get the RX Vega 64 Liquid-Cooled Edition at launch. This $699 package offers the same benefits as the Black Pack for monitors and CPU-motherboard combos.
AMD will also offer the Radeon RX Vega 56 as part of a Radeon Pack. The Radeon Red Pack will run $499, and for that money, buyers will still get Prey and Wolfenstein II and all the other potential trimmings of Vega 64 packs. The company says that it plans to widen the Radeon Pack program to include more FreeSync monitors in the future, so buyers could potentially get discounts on more displays with time—although it seems unlikely that those who want a Radeon RX Vega 64 limited-edition air-cooled card will be able to wait around for that widening of eligibility to occur.
I find it curious that the company isn’t being more aggressive about Vega pricing given that the claimed performance figures for the RX Vega family are no better than those of Nvidia’s GP104-powered GTX 1070 and GTX 1080, cards that launched over a year ago. AMD readily admits that it’s still playing catch-up in the high-end market, but it points out that of the estimated million cards that move per quarter for over $350, it now has two options for buyers to choose from where previously it had zero. That’s an important step, even if it does seem like Nvidia’s next-generation graphics cards could be arriving at any time.
In my conversations with employees, AMD further defended its pricing decisions by arguing along the lines that Vega is an architecture for the future and that Pascal isn’t. Whatever one might think of that angle, staking any large part of Vega’s value on the idea that there are future performance gains coming from future software seems like putting an IOU in the box with every Vega card, and I think it’s probably safer to appreciate any such gains when they come.
Right now, the Radeon RX Vega family seems ready to do the job that AMD wanted it to do: re-establish a foothold in the high-end graphics market as it exists today. Gamers will have a chance to see for themselves whether Vega is a bright new star for the Radeon Technologies Group come August 14. Add-in board partners will also have a chance to show what they can do with Vega, and those cards will arrive later on. Stay tuned for our full review.