We’ve seen the architecture. We’ve seen the teasers. We’ve seen the Frontier. And we’ve seen the specifications. Now the end game for AMD’s Radeon RX Vega release is finally upon us: the actual launch of the hardware. Today is AMD’s moment to shine, as for the first time in over a year, they are back in the high-end video card market. And whether their drip feeding marketing strategy has ultimately succeeded in building up consumer hype or burnt everyone out prematurely, I think it’s safe to say that everyone is eager to see what AMD can do with their best foot forward on the GPU front.

Launching today is the AMD Radeon RX Vega 64, or just Vega 64 for short. Based on a fully enabled Vega 10 GPU, the Vega 64 will come in two physical variants: air cooled and liquid cooled. The air cooled card is your traditional blower-based design, and depending on the specific SKU, is either available in AMD’s traditional RX-style shroud, or a brushed-aluminum shroud for the aptly named Limited Edition.

Meanwhile the Vega 64 Liquid Cooled card is larger, more powerful, and more power hungry, utilizing a Radeon R9 Fury X-style external radiator as part of a closed loop liquid cooling setup in order to maximize cooling performance, and in turn clockspeeds. You actually won’t see AMD playing this card up too much – AMD considers the air cooled Vega 64 to be their baseline – but for gamers who seek the best Vega possible, AMD has put together quite a stunner.

Also having its embargo lifted today, but not launching until August 28th, is the cut-down AMD Radeon RX Vega 56. This card features lower clockspeeds and fewer enabled CUs – 56 out of 64, appropriately enough – however it also features lower power consumption and a lower price to match. Interestingly enough, going into today’s release of the Vega 64, it’s the Vega 56 that AMD has put the bulk of their marketing muscle behind.

AMD Radeon RX Series Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 AMD Radeon R9 Fury X
Stream Processors 4096
(64 CUs)
4096
(64 CUs)
3584
(56 CUs)
4096
(64 CUs)
Texture Units 256 256 224 256
ROPs 64 64 64 64
Base Clock 1406MHz 1247MHz 1156MHz N/A
Boost Clock 1677MHz 1546MHz 1471MHz 1050MHz
Memory Clock 1.89Gbps HBM2 1.89Gbps HBM2 1.6Gbps HBM2 1Gbps HBM
Memory Bus Width 2048-bit 2048-bit 2048-bit 4096-bit
VRAM 8GB 8GB 8GB 4GB
Transistor Count 12.5B 12.5B 12.5B 8.9B
Board Power 345W 295W 210W 275W
(Typical)
Manufacturing Process GloFo 14nm GloFo 14nm GloFo 14nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture Vega
(GCN 5)
Vega
(GCN 5)
Vega
(GCN 5)
GCN 3
GPU Vega 10 Vega 10 Vega 10 Fiji
Launch Date 08/14/2017 08/14/2017 08/28/2017 06/24/2015
Launch Price $699* $499/599* $399/499* $649

Between these SKUs, AMD is looking to take on NVIDIA’s longstanding gaming champions, the GeForce GTX 1080 and the GeForce GTX 1070. In both performance and pricing, AMD expects to be able to bring NVIDIA’s cards to a draw, if not pulling out a victory for Team Red. This means we’ll see the $500 Vega 64 set against the GTX 1080, while the $400 Vega 56 goes up against the GTX 1070. At the same time however, the dark specter of cryptocurrency mining hangs over the gaming video card market, threatening to disrupt pricing, availability, and the best-laid plans of vendors and consumers alike. Suffice it to say, this is a launch like no other in a time like no other.

Overall it has been an interesting past year and a half to say the least. With a finite capacity to design chips, AMD’s decision to focus on the mid-range market with the Polaris series meant that the company effectively ceded the high-end video card market to NVIDIA once the latter’s GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 launched. This has meant that for the past 15 months, NVIDIA has had free run of the high-end market. Meanwhile AMD’s efforts to focus on the mid-range market to win back market share meant that AMD initially got the jump on NVIDIA in this market by releasing Polaris ahead of NVIDIA’s answer, and their market share has recovered some. However it’s a constant fight against the dominating NVIDIA, and one that’s been made harder by essentially being invisible to the few high-end buyers and the many window shoppers. That is a problem that ends today with the launch of the Vega 64.

I’d like to say that today’s launch is AMD landing a decisive blow in the video card marketplace, but the truth of the matter is that while AMD PR puts on their best face, there are signs that behind the scenes things are more chaotic than anyone would care for. Vega video cards were originally supposed to be out in the first-half of this year, and while AMD technically made that with the launch of the Vega Frontier Edition cards, it’s just that: a technicality. It was certainly not the launch that anyone was expecting at the start of 2017, especially since some of Vega’s new architectural functionality wasn’t even enabled at the time.

More recently, AMD’s focus on product promotion and on product sampling has been erratic. We’ve only had the Vega 64 since Thursday, giving us less than 4 days to completely evaluate the thing. Adding to the chaos, Thursday evening AMD informed us that we’d receive the Vega 56 on Friday, and encouraging us to focus on that instead. The reasoning behind this is complex – I don’t think AMD knew if it could have Vega 56 samples ready, for a start – but ultimately boils down to AMD wanting to put their best foot forward. And right now, the company believes that the Vega 56 will do better against the GTX 1070 than the Vega 64 will do against the GTX 1080.

Regardless, it means that we’ve only had a very limited amount of time to evaluate the performance and architectural aspects of AMD’s new cards, and even less time to write about them. Never mind chasing down interesting odds & ends. So while this is a full review of the Vega 64 and Vega 56, there’s some further investigating left to do once we recover from this blitz of a weekend and get our bearings back.

So without further ado, let’s dig into AMD return to the high-end market with their Vega architecture, Vega 10 GPU, and the Vega 64 & Vega 56 video cards.

Vega 10: Fiji of the Stars
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  • Dr.Neale - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    Hear, hear!

    Indeed, this needed to be noted.

    Thank you for doing so!
    Reply
  • Otritus - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    in the first page on the AMD Radeon RX Series Specification Comparison chart it says vega 56 has 3585 shaders instead of 3584 shaders Reply
  • Otritus - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    gtx 1070 msrp is 349, price drop after 1080 ti Reply
  • Targon - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    I'd be surprised if we don't need another two to three months to see how the Vega performance ends up with the expected driver updates. Every high end card from AMD and NVIDIA gets at least one big driver update to add 5-10 percent performance in games. Reply
  • Cellar Door - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    Thanks for your excellent work Ryan. Reply
  • redwarrior - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    Did you noter that the duynamic cache controller that AMD has touted is disabled at this point since the drivers have not been perfected to operate the cache efficiently. Once they solve that issue performance will jump anywhere from 10 to 15%. There is also some feature with the shaders that is also still disabled. All in all if we exercise a little patience Vega 64 should be a credible performer about half way between 1080 and 1080 Ti in performance. I hope when the drivers are more mature that people will do further reviews on these Vega offerings. Reply
  • AndrewJacksonZA - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    Thank you Ryan. Reply
  • ddriver - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    It seems amd still have a long way to do with the drivers, despite vega being so late... Judging by the battlefield result, a title that has both optimized for amd rather than exclusively for nvidia, and has been optimized on driver level by amd, this is where vega's actual graphics capabilities lie when it comes to the actual hardware, between the 1080 and the Ti.

    The good (for amd) news and bad (for people like me) is that vega looks like it has exceptional compute performance, which means prices will no doubt go through the roof because of the mining craze. This is not bad for gamers, since nvidia seems like the better value, but people who need compute for stuff other than mining will have to wait a while before vega could be bought at a good price.
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    If we have to rely on AMD optimizing every single game for VEGA, we will never see its true potential. AMD couldnt manage to do it right in a year and some change. Reply
  • ddriver - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    nvidia is pretty much doing that, they spend a tremendous amount of money doing other's work, money that amd is not in the position to spend Reply

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