Morning, folks. I’m fighting intermittent power outages thanks to an ice storm in the locale of the TR labs last night, but that hasn’t stopped me from collecting and digesting data on AMD’s latest graphics card: the Radeon RX 590. The company didn’t share a ton of details about this card with us, so I’ll keep this short. The RX 590 uses the same basic Polaris 10 GPU that’s powered the RX 480 and got a boost in the RX 580. This time, the performance improvements come courtesy of a move to GlobalFoundries’ 12LP process, an improved version of the basic 14-nm FinFET technology that has underpinned AMD’s CPUs and GPUs for some time now.
The XFX RX 590 Fatboy card (and yes, that is its name) that we’ve had the privilege of playing with over the past few days carries a 1600-MHz boost clock range, up a fair bit compared to the roughly 1400-MHz range that RX 580 partner cards could boast of. We’ll be adding more to this article as we can, but all of our test data is present and accounted for. If you’d rather not page through reams of frame-time data, you can skip ahead to the conclusion at leisure.
Our testing methods
If you’re new to The Tech Report, we don’t benchmark games like most other sites on the web. Instead of throwing out a simple FPS average—a number that tells us only the broadest strokes of what it’s like to play a game on a particular graphics card—we go much deeper. We capture the amount of time it takes the graphics card to render each and every frame of animation before slicing and dicing those numbers with our own custom-built tools. We call this method Inside the Second, and we think it’s the industry standard for quantifying graphics performance. Accept no substitutes.
What’s more, we don’t rely on canned in-game benchmarks—routines that may not be representative of performance in actual gameplay—to gather our test data. Instead of clicking a button and getting a potentially misleading result from those pre-baked benches, we go through the laborious work of seeking out test scenarios that are typical of what one might actually encounter in a game. Thanks to our use of manual data-collection tools, we can go pretty much anywhere and test pretty much anything we want in a given title.
Most of the frame-time data you’ll see on the following pages were captured with OCAT, a software utility that uses data from the Event Timers for Windows API to tell us when critical events happen in the graphics pipeline. We perform each test run at least three times and take the median of those runs where applicable to arrive at a final result. Where OCAT didn’t suit our needs, we relied on the PresentMon utility.
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Our test system was configured like so:
|Processor||Intel Core i9-9900K|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Master|
|Memory size||16 GB (2x 8 GB)|
|Memory type||G.Skill Flare X DDR4-3200|
|Memory timings||14-14-14-34 2T|
|Storage||Samsung 960 Pro 512 GB NVMe SSD (OS)
Corsair Force LE 960 GB SATA SSD (games)
|Power supply||Seasonic Prime Platinum 1000 W|
|OS||Windows 10 Pro with April 2018 Update|
Thanks to Intel, Corsair, G.Skill, and Gigabyte for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. AMD, Nvidia, and EVGA supplied the graphics cards for testing, as well. Have a gander at our fine Gigabyte Z390 Aorus Master motherboard before it got buried beneath a pile of graphics cards and a CPU cooler:
Unless otherwise specified, image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests. We tested each graphics card at a resolution of 1920×1080 and 60 Hz, unless otherwise noted.
The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Far Cry 5
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
The Witcher 3
Gears of War 4
A quick look at power consumption and noise levels
From the preceding pages, we know that the RX 590 can generally deliver higher average frame rates and lower 99th-percentile frame times than its arch-rival GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB. The question behind those numbers is just how much power the RX 590 has to burn to get there. To find out, we fired up Doom‘s Vulkan renderer, a notoriously hard-hitting load for any graphics card, and had a look at the opening vista of the game’s Foundry level.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the RX 590’s contribution to a system’s power draw is that it’s not that much higher than that of the RX 580 8 GB, itself a card that was pushed hard on the voltage-and-frequency-scaling curve to deliver competitive performance against the GTX 1060 6 GB. Even so, the 12LP Polaris chip is consuming GTX 1070 Ti power to deliver its only-somewhat-superior-to-a-GTX-1060-6-GB performance levels. Performance-per-watt continues to be a challenge for Radeon graphics cards, and any gamer who wants to add one of these cards to a system may find they need a more powerful PSU than they might for use with any GeForce.
For its part, however, XFX has done a fine job of quietly dissipating the extra 100 W of power the RX 590 pulls down and converts into heat over our single-fan GTX 1060 6 GB. One thing our noise results don’t capture is that the Fatboy card has a piercing coil whine that’s easily audible above the soft sound of its fans. Coil whine is a common sound to hear from a graphics card, but even with that in mind, the XFX card’s song is lower-pitched than usual and sounds almost like the Radeon R9 Fury X’s liquid-cooling apparatus in operation. Those with sensitive ears may not find that sonic signature to their liking.
Our value scatters boil down the story of the RX 590 quite well. On the back of its clock-speed boost alone, the RX 590 capably steps into the wide gap left by the RX 580 8 GB and the GTX 1060 6 GB in today’s midrange graphics-card market. Perhaps more critically, the RX 590 is the first midrange card we’ve reviewed that clears the 60-FPS mark for 99th-percentile FPS per dollar. For 1920×1080 gaming at high or ultra settings, the RX 590 proves both swift and smooth. Can’t ask for much more than that.
For the first time in a long time for a Radeon launch, the move to GlobalFoundries’ 12LP process has apparently yielded enough performance headroom that AMD’s engineers didn’t feel the need to hurl this card over the shoulder of the voltage-and-frequency-scaling curve (or at least not any more so than it already was). With our XFX RX 590 on our test bench, I observed less than 20 watts’ extra draw on our power meter versus a hopped-up RX 580 8 GB. AMD is still nowhere close to matching Nvidia for performance per watt, but it’s nice to know that the RX 590 shouldn’t be much more demanding of power supplies or custom coolers to deliver its extra performance.
For all of the RX 590’s virtues, I wish AMD had found another $30 or so to trim from its suggested price tag. If the RX 590 had landed at $250 or so, it would be a total, 100%, no-brainer pick versus Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB and a long-demanded shot in the arm for midrange graphics performance. Pricing for the RX 580 might have had to shift downward accordingly, but if AMD really wanted to get serious about upending the midrange graphics-card market, selling RX 580 8 GB cards for around $200 wouldn’t be a bad move. In fact, $200 is close to the going rate for entry-level RX 580 8 GBs right now, making the RX 590’s asking price pretty hard to swallow.
If the $280 asking price for the RX 590 persists, I fear buyers will be tempted to step all the way up to high-end graphics cards with superior performance potential. Our scatter plots above use suggested prices as a fixed point of reference, but real-world prices for high-end cards are quite a bit different right now.
Savvy shoppers can keep an eye out for a discounted RX Vega 56, GTX 1070, or GTX 1070 Ti for less than $100 extra than an RX 590 seems set to command. The most affordable GTX 1070s on Newegg right now fall in the $340 to $350 range, and the most deeply discounted GTX 1070 Ti is just $360. ASRock is even selling a reference RX Vega 56 for $350 as I write this.
Those discounts will likely shift around as we move through the holiday season, but if they’re typical of graphics-card prices for the near future, patient folks who have some flexibility in their budgets may find that stepping up to a high-end graphics card just isn’t that hard on the wallet, and that’s bad news for the RX 590 at the moment.
All that said, discounts don’t last forever, and old stock of high-end graphics cards may not, either. If you’re shopping for a graphics card in the under-$300 range and were already considering spending $250 or $260 on a GTX 1060 6 GB or Radeon RX 580, I would spend the extra $20 or $30 on an RX 590 without hesitation. It shouldn’t come as a shock that this card comes TR Recommended.