Final Words

Bringing this review to a close, if it feels like Vega has been a long time coming, it’s not just your imagination. AMD first unveiled the Vega name 17 months ago, and it was 7 months ago when we got our first peek into the Vega architecture. So today’s launch has in fact been a long time coming, especially by GPU standards. Ultimately what it means is that AMD has had plenty of time to make noise and build up demand for the Radeon RX Vega lineup, and today they get to show their cards, both figuratively and literally.

Vega comes at an interesting (if not critical) time for AMD. They’ve been absent from the enthusiast and high-end video card markets for this entire generation of cards thus far, and while this has allowed them to recapture some of their market share in the mid-range market, it has hurt their visibility to some extent. Furthermore the recent spike in demand for GPUs from cryptocurrency miners has completely turned the video card market on its head, obliterating supplies of AMD’s thus-far leading video cards, the Radeon RX 580 and RX 570.

So for AMD, the RX Vega launch is a chance to re-enter a market they’ve been gone from for far too long. It’s a chance to re-establish a regular supply of video cards to at least some portion of the market. And it’s an opportunity to push their GPU architecture and performance forward, closing the performance and efficiency gaps with NVIDIA. In short, the Vega launch has the potential to be AMD’s brightest day.

So how does AMD fare? The answer to that is ultimately going to hinge on your opinion on power efficiency. But before we get too far, let’s start with the Radeon RX Vega 64, AMD’s flagship card. Previously we’ve been told that it would trade blows with NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1080, and indeed it does just that. At 3840x2160, the Vega 64 is on average neck-and-neck with the GeForce GTX 1080 in gaming performance, with the two cards routinely trading the lead, and AMD holding it more often. Of course the “anything but identical” principle applies here, as while the cards are equal on average, they can sometimes be quite far apart on individual games.

Unfortunately for AMD, their GTX 1080-like performance doesn’t come cheap from a power perspective. The Vega 64 has a board power rating of 295W, and it lives up to that rating. Relative to the GeForce GTX 1080, we’ve seen power measurements at the wall anywhere between 110W and 150W higher than the GeForce GTX 1080, all for the same performance. Thankfully for AMD, buyers are focused on price and performance first and foremost (and in that order), so if all you’re looking for is a fast AMD card at a reasonable price, the Vega 64 delivers where it needs to: it is a solid AMD counterpart to the GeForce GTX 1080. However if you care about the power consumption and the heat generated by your GPU, the Vega 64 is in a very rough spot.

On the other hand, the Radeon RX Vega 56 looks better for AMD, so it’s easy to see why in recent days they have shifted their promotional efforts to the cheaper member of the RX Vega family. Though a step down from the RX Vega 64, the Vega 56 delivers around 90% of Vega 64’s performance for 80% of the price. Furthermore, when compared head-to-head with the GeForce GTX 1070, its closest competition, the Vega 56 enjoys a small but none the less significant 8% performance advantage over its NVIDIA counterpart. Whereas the Vega 64 could only draw to a tie, the Vega 56 can win in its market segment.

Vega 56’s power consumption also looks better than Vega 64’s, thanks to binning and its lower clockspeeds. Its power consumption is still notably worse than the GTX 1070’s by anywhere between 45W and 75W at the wall, but on both a relative basis and an absolute basis, it’s at least closer. Consequently, just how well the Vega 56 fares depends on your views on power consumption. It’s faster than the GTX 1070, and even if retail prices are just similar to the GTX 1070 rather than cheaper, then for some buyers looking to maximize performance for their dollar, that will be enough. But it’s certainly not a very well rounded card if power consumption and noise are factored in.

The one wildcard here with the RX Vega 56 is going to be where retail prices actually end up. AMD’s $399 MSRP is rather aggressive, especially when GTX 1070 cards are retailing for closer to $449 due to cryptocurrency miner demand. If they can sustain that price, then Vega 56 is going to be real hot stuff, besting GTX 1070 in price and performance. Otherwise at GTX 1070-like prices it still has the performance advantage, but not the initiative on pricing. At any rate, this is a question we can’t answer today; the Vega 56 won’t be launching for another two weeks.

Closing things on a broader architectural note, Vega has been a rather conflicting launch. A maxim we embrace here at AnandTech is that “there’s no such thing as a bad card, only bad prices”, reflecting the fact that how good or bad a product is depends heavily on how it’s priced. A fantastic product can be priced so high as to be unaffordably expensive, and a mediocre product can be priced so low as to be a bargain for the masses. And AMD seems to embrace this as well, having priced the RX Vega cards aggressively enough that at least on a price/performance basis, they’re competitive with NVIDIA if not enjoying a small lead.

The catch for AMD is that what they need to price RX Vega at to be competitive and what it should be able to do are at odds with each other. The Vega 10 is a large, power-hungry GPU. Much larger and much more power hungry than NVIDIA’s competing GP104 GPU. And while this isn’t an immediate consumer concern – we pay what the market will bear, not what it costs AMD to make a chip with a nice gross margin on the side – from a technology and architectural perspective it indicates that AMD has moved farther away from NVIDIA in the last couple of years. Whereas the Radeon R9 Fury X was almost a win that AMD didn’t get, the RX Vega 64 doesn’t appear to be fighting in the weight class it was even designed for. Instead the power efficiency gap between AMD and NVIDIA has grown since 2015, and apparently by quite a bit.

The good news for AMD is that this doesn’t come anywhere close to dooming the RX Vega line or the company. RX Vega still has a place in the market – albeit as the bargain option – and AMD can still sell every Polaris 10 GPU they can make. All the while AMD is still ramping up their Radeon Instinct lineup and general assault into deep learning servers, where Vega’s compute-heavy design should fare better.

In the meantime, from an architectural perspective there’s a lot I like about Vega. I’m interested in seeing where fast FP16 performance goes in the gaming market, and the primitive shader looks like it could really upend how geometry is processed at the GPU level given sufficient developer buy-in. Meanwhile the high-bandwidth cache controller concept is a very forward looking one, and one that in time may prove a major evolutionary step for stand-alone GPUs. However I can’t help but wish that these advancements came with a more competitive video card stack. As great as Vega is architecturally, it’s clear that performance and power consumption aren’t where they need to be for AMD to take on a surging NVIDIA.

So here’s to hoping for a better fight in the next round of the GPU wars.

Power, Temperature, & Noise
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  • npz - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    My point was that since most modern games have recieved enhancements for ps4 pro and more will moving forward -- given it's the engine the devs use -- and that the vast majority are cross platform, then major PC games will already have a built in fp16 optimazation path to be taken advantage of.

    Also don't forget s
    Scorpio's arrival which will likely feature the same, so there's would be even more incentive for using this on PC
    Reply
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    From what I have heard, Scorpio will not contain double rate fp16.

    And I am not sure that your claim that most modern game engines have been enhanced to take advantage of double rate fp16. I highly doubt that's true. Maybe a few games have cobbled in code to take advantage of low-hanging fp16 fruit.

    As far as AMD's "advantage", don't forget that NVIDIA had double rate FP16 before AMD. They left it out of Pascal to help differentiate their various data center cards (namely the P100 from the P40) in machine learning tasks. But now that the Volta GV100 has tensor cores it's not necessary to restrict double rate FP16 to only the GV100. For all we know double rate FP16 will be in their entire Volta lineup.
    Reply
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    edit: I meant to say "They left it out of mainstream Pascal..." (as in GP102, GP104, GP106, GP107, GP108) Reply
  • Santoval - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    I am almost 100% certain that consumer Volta GPUs will have disabled double rate FP16 and completely certain that it will have disabled tensor cores. Otherwise they will kiss their super high margins of professional GPU cards goodbye, and Nvidia is never going to do that. Tensor cores were largely added so that Nvidia can compete with Google's tensor CPU in the AI / deep learning space. Google still does not sell that CPU but that might change. Unlike Google's CPU, which can be used only for AI inference, Volta's tensor cores will do both inference and training, and that is very important for this market. Reply
  • Yojimbo - Wednesday, August 16, 2017 - link

    Well, my point was that since they have tensor cores they can afford to have double rate FP16, so of course I agree that there will not be tensor cores enabled on consumer Volta cards. If the tensor cores give significantly superior performance to simple double rate FP16 (and NVIDIA's benchmarks show that they do) then why would NVIDIA need to wall off simple double rate FP16 to protect their V100 card? As much as NVIDIA want to try to protect their margins they also need to stave off competition. The tensor cores allow them to do both at once. They push forward the capabilities of the ultra high end (V100 while allowing double rate FP16 to trickle down to cheaper cards to stave off competition. I am not saying that I think they definitely will do it, but I see the opportunity is there. Frankly, I think the reason they wouldn't do it is if they don't think the cost of power budget or dollars to implement it is worth the gain in performance in gaming. Also, perhaps they want to create three tiers: the V100 with tensor cores, the Volta Titan X and/or Tesla V40 with double rate FP16, and everything else.

    As far as Google's TPUs, their TPU 2 can do training and inferencing. Their first TPU did only inferencing on 8 bit quantized (integer) networks. The TPU 2 does training and inferencing on FP16-based networks. The advantage NVIDIA's GPUs have are that they are general purpose parallel processors, and not specific to running computations for convolutional neural networks.
    Reply
  • Santoval - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    Nope, it was explicitly stated by MS that Scorpio's GPU will ship with disabled Rapid Math. Why? I have no idea. Reply
  • Nintendo Maniac 64 - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    Codemasters apparently doesn't realize that the Tegra X1 used in the Nintendo Switch also supports fp16, so it's not something unique to the PS4 Pro... Reply
  • OrphanageExplosion - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    There was also FP16 support in the PlayStation 3's RSX GPU. Generally speaking, the PS3 still lagged behind Xbox 360 in platform comparisons.

    The 30% perf improvement for Mass Effect is referring to the checkerboard resolve shader, not the entire rendering pipeline.

    For a more measured view of what FP16 brings to the table, check out this post: http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showpost.php?p=2223481...
    Reply
  • Wise lnvestor - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    Did you even read the gamingbolt article? And look at the picture? When a dev talk about how much they saved in milliseconds, IT IS THE ENTIRE rendering pipeline. Reply
  • romrunning - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    6th para - "seceded" should be "ceded" - AMD basically yielded the high-market to Nvidia, not "withdraw" to Nvidia. :) Reply

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