For AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group, 2018 was a bit of a breather year. After launching the Polaris architecture in 2016 and the Vega architecture in 2017, for 2018 AMD set about to enjoy their first full year of Vega. Instead of having to launch a third architecture in three years, the company would focus on further expanding the family by bringing Vega's laptop and server variants to market. And while AMD's laptop efforts have gone in an odd direction, their Radeon Instinct server efforts have put some pep back in their figurative step, giving company the claim to the first 7nm GPU.

Following the launch of a late-generation product refresh in November, in the form of the Radeon RX 590, we had expected AMD's consumer side to be done for a while. Instead, AMD made a rather unexpected announcement at CES 2019 last month: the company would be releasing a new high-end consumer card, the Radeon VII (Seven). Based on their aforementioned server GPU and positioned as their latest flagship graphics card for gamers and content creators alike, Radeon VII would once again be AMD’s turn to court enthusiast gamers. Now launching today – on the 7th, appropriately enough – we're taking a look at AMD's latest card, to see how the Radeon VII measures up to the challenge.

On the surface, the Radeon VII would seem to be straightforward. The silicon underpinning the card is AMD's Vega 20 GPU, a derivative of the original Vega 10 that has been enhanced for scientific compute and machine learning, and built on TSMC's cutting-edge 7nm process for improved performance. An important milestone for AMD's server GPU efforts – it's essentially their first high-end server-class GPU since Hawaii all the way back in 2013 – AMD has been eager to show off Vega 20 throughout the later part of its bring-up, as this is the GPU the heart of AMD’s relatively new Radeon Instinct MI50 and MI60 server accelerators.

First and foremost designed for servers then, Vega 20 is not the class of GPU that could cheaply make its way to consumers. Or at least, would seem to be AMD's original thought. But across the aisle, something unexpected has happened: NVIDIA hasn't moved the meter very much in terms of performance-per-dollar. The new Turing-based GeForce RTX cards instead are all about features, looking to usher in a new paradigm of rendering games with real-time raytracing effects, and in the process allocating large parts of the already-large Turing GPUs to this purpose. The end result has been relatively high prices for the GeForce RTX 20 series cards, all the while their performance gains in conventional game are much less than the usual generational uplift.

Faced with a less hostile pricing environment than many were first expecting, AMD has decided to bring Vega 20 to consumers after all, dueling with NVIDIA at one of these higher price points. Hitting the streets at $699, the Radeon VII squares up with the GeForce GTX 2080 as the new flagship Radeon gaming card.

AMD Radeon Series Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon VII AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 AMD Radeon RX 590 AMD Radeon R9 Fury X
Stream Processors 3840
(60 CUs)
4096
(64 CUs)
2304
(36 CUs)
4096
(64 CUs)
ROPs 64 64 32 64
Base Clock 1400MHz 1247MHz 1469MHz N/A
Boost Clock 1750MHz 1546MHz 1545MHz 1050MHz
Memory Clock 2.0Gbps HBM2 1.89Gbps HBM2 8Gbps GDDR5 1Gbps HBM
Memory Bus Width 4096-bit 2048-bit 256-bit 4096-bit
VRAM 16GB 8GB 8GB 4GB
Single Precision 13.8 TFLOPS 12.7 TFLOPS 7.1 TFLOPS 8.6 TFLOPS
Double Precision 3.5 TFLOPS
(1/4 rate)
794 GFLOPS
(1/16 rate)
445 GFLOPS
(1/16 rate)
538 GFLOPS
(1/16 rate)
Board Power 300W 295W 225W 275W
Reference Cooling Open-air triple-fan Blower N/A AIO CLC
Manufacturing Process TSMC 7nm GloFo 14nm GloFo/Samsung 12nm TSMC 28nm
GPU Vega 20
(331 mm2)
Vega 10
(495 mm2)
Polaris 30
(232 mm2)
Fiji
(596 mm2)
Architecture Vega
(GCN 5)
Vega
(GCN 5)
GCN 4 GCN 3
Transistor Count 13.2B 12.5B 5.7B 8.9B
Launch Date 02/07/2019 08/14/2017 11/15/2018 06/24/2015
Launch Price $699 $499 $279 $649

Looking at our specification table, Radeon VII ships with a "peak engine clock" of 1800MHz, while the official boost clock is 1750MHz. This compares favorably to RX Vega 64's peak engine clock, which was just 1630MHz, so AMD has another 10% or so in peak clockspeed to play with. And thanks to an open air cooler and a revised SMU, Radeon VII should be able to boost to and sustain its higher clockspeeds a little more often still. So while AMD's latest card doesn't add more ROPs or CUs (it's actually a small drop from the RX Vega 64), it gains throughput across the board.

However, if anything, the biggest change compared to the RX Vega 64 is that AMD has doubled their memory size and more than doubled their memory bandwidth. This comes courtesy of the 7nm die shrink, which sees AMD's latest GPU come in with a relatively modest die size of 331mm2. The extra space has given AMD room on their interposer for two more HBM2 stacks, allowing for more VRAM and a wider memory bus. AMD has also been able to turn up the memory clockspeed up a bit as well, from 1.89 Gbps/pin on the RX Vega 64 to a flat 2 Gbps/pin for the Radeon VII.

Interestingly, going by its base specifications, the Radeon VII is essentially a Radeon Instinct MI50 at heart. So for AMD, there's potential to cannibalize Instinct sales if the Radeon VII's performance is too good for professional compute users. As a result, AMD has cut back on some of the chip's features just a bit to better differentiate the products. We'll go into more a bit later, but chief among these is that the card operates at a less-than-native FP64 rate, loses its full-chip ECC support, and naturally for a consumer product, it uses the Radeon Software gaming drivers instead of the professional Instinct driver stack.

Of course any time you're talking about putting a server GPU in to a consumer or prosumer card, you're talking about the potential for a powerful card, and this certainly applies to the Radeon VII. Ultimately, the angle that AMD is gunning for with their latest flagship card is on the merit of its competitive performance, further combined with its class-leading 16GB of HBM2 memory. As one of AMD's few clear-cut specification advantages over the NVIDIA competition, VRAM capacity is a big part of AMD's marketing angle; they are going to be heavily emphasizing content creation and VRAM-intensive gaming. Also new to this card and something AMD will be keen to call out is their triple-fan cooler, replacing the warmly received blower on the Radeon RX Vega 64/56 cards.

Furthermore, as a neat change, AMD is throwing their hat into the retail ring as a board vendor and directly selling the new card at the same $699 MSRP. Given that AIBs are also launching their branded reference cards today, it's an option for avoiding inflated launch prices.

Meanwhile, looking at the competitive landscape, there are a few items to tackle today. A big part of the mix is (as has become common lately) a game bundle. The ongoing Raise the Game Fully Loaded pack sees Devil May Cry 5, The Division 2, and Resident Evil 2 included for free with the Radeon VII, RX Vega and RX 590 cards. Meanwhile the RX 580 and RX 570 cards qualify for two out of the three. Normally, a bundle would be a straightforward value-add against a direct competitor – in this case, the RTX 2080 – but NVIDIA has their own dueling Game On bundle with Anthem and Battlefield V. In a scenario where the Radeon VII is expected to trade blows with the RTX 2080 rather than win outright, these value-adds become more and more important.

The launch of the Radeon VII also marks the first product launch since the recent shift in the competitive landscape for variable refresh monitor technologies. Variable refresh rate monitors have turned into a must-have for gamers, and since the launch of variable refresh technology earlier this decade, there's been a clear split between AMD and NVIDIA cards. AMD cards have supported VESA Adaptive Sync – better known under AMD's FreeSync branding – while NVIDIA desktop cards have only supported their proprietary G-Sync. But last month, NVIDIA made the surprise announcement that their cards would support VESA Adaptive Sync on the desktop, under the label of 'G-Sync Compatibility.' Details are sparse on how this program is structured, but at the end of the day, adaptive sync is usable in NVIDIA drivers even if a FreeSync panel isn't 'G-Sync Compatible' certified.

The net result is that while NVIDIA's announcement doesn't hinder AMD as far as features go, it does undermine AMD's FreeSync advantage – all of the cheap VESA Adaptive Sync monitors that used to only be useful on AMD cards are now potentially useful on NVIDIA cards as well. AMD of course has been quite happy to emphasize the "free" part of FreeSync, so as a weapon to use against NVIDIA, it has been significantly blunted. AMD's official line is one of considering this a win for FreeSync, and for freedom of consumer choice, though the reality is often a little more unpredictable.

The launch of the Radeon VII and its competitive positioning against the GeForce RTX 2080 means that AMD also has to crystalize their stance on the current feature gap between their cards and NVIDIA's latest Turing machines. To this end, AMD's position has remained the same on DirectX Raytracing (DXR) and AI-based image quality/performance techniques such as DLSS. In short, AMD's argument goes along the lines that they believe that the performance hit and price premium for these features isn't worth the overall image quality difference. In the meantime, AMD isn't standing still, and along with DXR fallback drivers, they working on support for WinML and DirectML for their cards. The risk to AMD being, of course, is that if DXR or NVIDIA's DLSS efforts end up taking off quickly, then the feature gap is going to become more than a theoretical annoyance.

All told, pushing out a 7nm large gaming GPU for consumers now is a very aggressive move so early in this process' lifecycle, especially as on a cyclical basis, Q1 is typically flat-to-down and Q2 is down. But in context, AMD doesn't have that much time to wait and see. The only major obstacle would be pricing it to be acceptable for consumers.

That brings us to today's launch. For $699, NVIDIA has done the price-bracket shifting already, on terms of dedicated hardware for accelerating raytracing and machine learning workloads. For the Radeon VII, the terms revolve around 16GB HBM2 and prosumer/content creator value. All that remains is their gaming performance.

2/2019 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
  $1299 GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
(Game On Bundle)
Radeon VII
(Raise the Game Bundle)
$699/$719 GeForce RTX 2080
(Game On Bundle)
  $499 GeForce RTX 2070
(Game On Bundle, 1 game)
Radeon RX Vega 64
OR
Radeon RX Vega 56
(Raise the Game Bundle)
$399  
  $349 GeForce RTX 2060
(Game On Bundle, 1 game)
Vega 20: Under The Hood
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  • Kevin G - Thursday, February 07, 2019 - link

    Not a bad showing by AMD but this card isn't the victory that they needed either. The gaming side is OK and lines up with the GTX 1080 Ti and RTX 2080 fairly well. On the compute side it is actually very good with the extra memory capacity and more bandwidth. I have a feeling that this card should have shipped with 128 ROPs which would have given it an edge at higher resolutions.

    I'm also curious as to how this card would fair at even higher resolutions like 5K and 8K. The memory bandwidth is there to humor that idea and might be feasible to get playable frame rates on specific modern games. I'd also be interesting to see how it'd fair with some older, less demanding titles at these resolutions too.
    Reply
  • Holliday75 - Friday, February 08, 2019 - link

    This card feels like its meant to full the gap and now allow Nvidia to be the only player in the game for an extended period of time. This buys them time for their next architecture release. Reply
  • brokerdavelhr - Thursday, February 07, 2019 - link

    Can You please retest running the Radeon VII (an AMD part) on a Ryzen II with X470 with 16 gig of RAM? You always run AMD parts on a non AMD processor. Please retest and post results! Reply
  • mkaibear - Thursday, February 07, 2019 - link

    The point of comparative benchmarking is to change just one thing so you can see the impact of the thing you're changing. Reply
  • brokerdavelhr - Thursday, February 07, 2019 - link

    SO why do they only test on Intel machines? Why not run the same tests on an RYZEN/Nvidia and Ryzen/Radeon combo? My point is that it simply never happens. Put aside the fact that Radeon always fairs better on a AMD machine, it just seems odd is all. For the longest time, nearly every Intel machine ran Nvidia graphics. You are more likely to find a Radeon in a AMD machine than you will an Intel one.
    See my point?
    Reply
  • DominionSeraph - Thursday, February 07, 2019 - link

    Even AMD benches their video cards on Intel processors. Intel is just faster. Reply
  • brokerdavelhr - Thursday, February 07, 2019 - link

    What link is that DS - and if you ask me too google it, I will not take anything you say seriously. Or are you deliberately trolling? I know they do a side by side with intel processors with their own to show the diff, bu thats all. What is the link to the tests you are referring to? Either way - it is unbiased as they bench with both. Not so here which was my point. Reply
  • Klimax - Friday, February 08, 2019 - link

    So can you post AMDs PR results that use AMD CPUs? Reply
  • krazyfrog - Sunday, February 10, 2019 - link

    From AMD's Radeon VII page:

    "Testing done by AMD performance labs 1/21/19 on an Intel Core i7 7700k, 16GB DDR4 3000MHz, Radeon VII, Radeon RX Vega 64, AMD Driver 18.50 and Windows 10. Using Resident Evil 2 @ 3840x2160, Max settings, DirectX® 11:Radeon VII averaged 53 fps. Radeon RX Vega 64 averaged 41 fps. PC manufacturers may vary configurations yielding different results. All scores are an average of 3 runs with the same settings. Performance may vary based on use of latest drivers. RX-291"
    Reply
  • mkaibear - Thursday, February 07, 2019 - link

    Because they are for the most part running gaming tests, and if you want to remove CPU bottlenecks you pick the CPU which you have that's fastest in games.

    Which is Intel.

    If you pick anything else then you are artificially constraining performance which tends to show a regression to the mean - in other words it'll make the difference between AMD and nVidia smaller (whichever one wins)

    Equally the fact that AMD works best with AMD means they absolutely should *not* put an AMD processor in the system - that way they are artificially boosting system performance and skewing their benchmarks.

    You really need to do some reading on how you do a/b testing. Wikipedia has a good article.
    Reply

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