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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  • msroadkill612 - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    I hear nothing but good from folks who actually use amdS apuS appropriately. The 7850k was a classic for the money.

    Importantly, they have remained in the apu biz all along, and have the unique skillset to competently execute a new gen apu.

    I wouldnt call mobile ryzen a side project. Its a cornerstone.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    For a while those APUs were floating them while their standalone CPUs and GPUs struggled. Maybe they've gotten too slim for three strong tentpoles, alas, and one will always suffer. Reply
  • Da W - Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - link

    Buldozer core sucked next to ''ok'' GCN igpu. It was very bandwith dependant and the igpu was most of the time starving for data. There was no point of pushing another dozer apu. They were waiting for Ryzen core, and infinity fabric to feed the gpu. Vega is just launching now and if you noticed AMD is only making one 8 core monolitic die sold in multiple package (1 for ryzen-2 fro treadripper-4 for epic). They have yet to cut that 8 core die in half and integrate their new Vega core in there, which is, i believe, what R&D is doing as of this morning.... Reply
  • Yaldabaoth - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    So, the TL;DR is that the Vega 64 competes on (relatively) cheap computing power and perhaps 4K gaming, and the Vega 56 competes on (relatively) very cheap computing power and being a value for 1440p gaming? Neither seem to compete on efficiency. Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    Vega 56 seems well positioned for now. 1070 performance at a decently lower price. Question is if Nvidia can/will drop that price on a whim with enough margin (with a smaller die in theory they could, but AMD is probably getting low margins on these). Vega 64 is a far less clear value prospect, in one way it's similar to the 1070 vs 1080, but with Nvidia you're actually getting the best, which 64 can't claim. Reply
  • Jumangi - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    Thats the big unknown. I suspect Nvidia is playing with much better margins than AMD is when looking at the chips to compete with them here. If Nvidia can lower prices on the 1070 to squeeze AMD if they want and still make a good profit. Reply
  • webdoctors - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    The Vega56 is so cheap for the hardware you get I wonder if its being sold for a loss. I commented earlier that I thought these chips would be selling for double what they released at, and if they're profitable at this price point AMD might have some secret low cost manufacturing technology that is worth more than their entire company right now.

    As a consumer I'm practically getting paid to take it LOL.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    I doubt it's at a loss, but it's probably at a very slim margin. Nvidia could potentially split the difference with a 50 dollar drop and still have the smaller cheaper die (presumably, if TSMC/Glofo cost similar). Reply
  • Drumsticks - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    Great review Ryan and Nate. I totally agree with your comment at the end about where Vega was designed. Relative to Nvidia, it's a further step back in almost every metric you can measure - perf/w, perf/mm^2, absolue perf of high end flagship...

    You really have to hope AMD can find one more rabbit in their hat a year or two from now. Nevertheless, the Vega 56 looks like an impressive product, but you can't be happy about getting 8% more performance out of something >50% larger in silicon.
    Reply
  • Morawka - Monday, August 14, 2017 - link

    yup and next generation memory to boot.. AMD need better gpu designers. If not for Crypto, AMD would be in serious trouble. Reply

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