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)
(64 CUs)
(56 CUs)
(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
Transistor Count 12.5B 12.5B 12.5B 8.9B
Board Power 345W 295W 210W 275W
Manufacturing Process GloFo 14nm GloFo 14nm GloFo 14nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture Vega
(GCN 5)
(GCN 5)
(GCN 5)
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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  • BrokenCrayons - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    The hypothetical APU that contains Zen, Polaris/Vega, and HBM2 would be interesting if AMD can keep the power and heat down. Outside of the many cores Threadripper, Zen doesn't do badly on power versus performance so something like 4-6 CPU cores plus a downclocked and smaller GPU would be good for the industry if the package's TDP ranged from 25-95W for mobile and desktop variants.

    By itself though, Vega is an inelegant and belated response to the 1080. It shares enough in common with Fiji that it strikes me as an inexpensive (to engineer) stopgap that tweaks GCN just enough to keep it going for one more generation. I'm hopeful that AMD will have a better, more efficient design for their next generation GPU. The good news is that with the latest product announcements, AMD will likely avoid bankruptcy and get a bit healthier looking in the near term. Things were looking pretty bad for them until Ryzen's announcement, but we'll need to see a few more quarters of financials that ideally show a profit in order to be certain the company can hang in there. I'm personally willing to go out on a limb and say AMD will be out of the red in Q1 of FY18 even without tweaking the books on a non-GAAP basis. Hopefully, they'll have enough to pay down liabilities and invested in the R&D necessary to stay competitive. With process node shrinks coming far less often these days, there's an several years' long opening for them right now.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    " It shares enough in common with Fiji that it strikes me as an inexpensive (to engineer) stopgap that tweaks GCN just enough to keep it going for one more generation. "

    We thought the same thing about polaris. I think the reality is that AMD cannot afford to do a full up arch, and can only continue to tweak GCN in an attempt to stay relevant.

    They still have not done a Maxwell-Esq redesign of their GPUs streamlining them for consumer use. They continue to put tons of compute in their chips which is great, but it restricts clock rates and pushes power usage sky high.
  • mapesdhs - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    I wonder if AMD decided it made more sense to get back into the CPU game first, then focus later on GPUs once the revenue stream was more healthy.
  • Manch - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    Just like there CPU's it's a jack of all trades design. Cheaper R&D to use one chip for many but you got to live with the trade offs.

    The power requirement doesn't bother me. Maybe after the third party customs coolers, I'll buy one if it's the better deal. I have a ventilated comm closet. All my equipment stays in there, including my PCs. I have outlets on the wall to plug everything else into. Nice and quiet regardless of what I run.
  • Sttm - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    That Battlefield 1 Power Consumption with Air, is that actually correct? 459 watts.... WTF AMD.
  • Aldaris - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    Buggy driver? Something is totally out of whack there.
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    Yes, that is correct.

    I also ran Crysis 3 on the 2016 GPU testbed. That ended up being 464W at the wall.
  • haukionkannel - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    Much better than I expected!
    Nice to see competition Also in GPU highend. I was expecting the Vega to suffer deeply in DX11, but it is actuallu doing very nice in those titles... I am really surpriced!
  • Leyawiin - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    A day late and a dollar short (and a power pig at that). Shame. I was hoping for a repeat of Ryzen's success, but they'll sell every one they make to miners so I guess its still a win.
  • Targon - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    I would love to see a proper comparison between an AMD Ryzen 7 and an Intel i7-7700k at this point with Vega to see how they compare, rather than testing only on an Intel based system, since the 299X is still somewhat new. All of the Ryzen launch reviews were done on a new platform, and the AMD 370X is mature enough where reviews will be done with a lot more information. Vega is a bit of a question mark in terms of how well it does when you compare between the two platforms. Even how well drivers should have matured in how well the 370X chipset deals with the Geforce 1080 is worth looking at in my opinion.

    I've had the thought, without resources, that NVIDIA drivers may not do as well on an AMD based machine compared to an Intel based machine, simply because of driver issues, but without a reasonably high end video card from AMD, there has been no good way to do a comparison to see if some of the game performance differences between processors could have been caused by NVIDIA drivers as well.

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