AMD Radeon VII Evaluate: RTX Killer or Flop?

The Radeon VII is AMD's latest GPU offering for gamers. However, you may not find that the Radeon VII is based on an existing computer product that has been redesigned for gaming and content creation. Based on the Radeon Instinct MI50, the Radeon VII consists essentially of gimped Vega 20 silicon, although it cannot gimp in a way that is important to gamers.

Then what was changed? Double precision floating point (FP64) has been disabled, reducing performance from 6.7 TFLOPS to just 1.7 TFLOPS. However, this has no effect on gaming. AMD has also disabled PCIe 4.0 and limited the Radeon VII to the most commonly used PCIe 3.0 interface, which is also not a problem.

When Radeon VII was announced at the CES a month ago, she was not very enthusiastic. Everyone was hoping for AMD's new GPU architecture Navi. A repurposed computer product wasn't exactly what everyone climbed onto the walls for, and certainly not for $ 700.

Yes, this is a new 7nm graphics card, but based on the 5th generation GCN architecture that is also used by Vega 56 and Vega 64. By switching from the 14nm process from GlobalFoundries to the 7nm FinFET process from TSMC, AMD was able to reduce the chip size by 32% and at the same time 6% more transistors. Technically speaking, Radeon VII should be called Vega 60 or similar in view of the technical data. What we have here are 60 processing units for a total of 3840 stream processors, or 6% fewer cores than Vega 64, although you can expect it to be faster.

The cores are clocked at least 13% higher and we have some serious memory expansions and I'm not just talking about the insanely 16 GB VRAM capacity (at least for games). The Radeon VII not only has as much memory as your entire system, but also a massive 4096-bit memory bus, which enables an incredible memory bandwidth of 1 TB / s, which is twice as large as that of Vega 64.

CEO Lisa Su has stated that the Radeon VII will be competitive with Nvidia's GeForce RTX 2080 and will be available as such at the same price of $ 700. It is believed that even at this price, AMD will not make a profit from these things. We assume that we will not be offering them for sale anytime soon.

Our test system for this test consisted of an Intel Core i9-9900K with 5 GHz and 32 GB DDR4-3400 memory. When testing the Radeon VII, we encountered numerous stability problems with the early drivers of AMD. When we put this content together, a fix had to be published.

Instead of testing more than 30 games, we stick to a dozen titles that show exactly how the Radeon VII performs in a variety of titles. Once a stable driver has been provided, a mega benchmark session with 2 or 3 dozen tested games follows.

Benchmarks

First, we have Fortnite and I have to say that this is not a good start for Radeon VII as it is 20% behind the RTX 2080. Fortunately, as you will see, this is not the norm. But we have a good mix of games that I think give a fairly accurate picture of overall performance.

Fortnite is certainly a worst-case scenario, as the new Radeon GPU could only keep up with the RTX 2070 and was only 22% faster than Vega 64. It is also far from the now 2 year old GTX 1080 Ti.

It is a bit brutal. So we come to more promising results.

Battlefield V looks a lot better. The Radeon VII was killed in BF5 using the DirectX 11 API and averaged an impressive 122 fps. The 1% low performance was slightly lower than expected, but we see something similar on Vega 64 and 56. Compared to Vega 64, we see a 31% increase in the average frame rate, which is very nice.

Here we have another title that the Radeon VII cannot keep up with. I mean 156 fps in World of Tanks is plenty of performance … but it also meant that the new Radeon GPU was 17% slower than the RTX 2080 and only slightly faster than the RTX 2070. All in all a bad result, although Vega never did well. So this title is not entirely surprising. Vega 64 barely beats the GTX 1070.

One title where the Radeon GPUs tear up is Strange Brigade, although like Battlefield V we see a slightly weaker performance than expected of 1%. It's not terrible and there was no sign of stuttering, but the 1% lows are still low compared to the GeForce GPUs. When comparing the average frame rate, the Radeon VII was 10% faster than the RTX 2080.

Are you starting to notice what we did here?

We give you bad news, followed by good news. Just trying to gently let you down is all that really interests me. That said, it's time for some bad news, Monster Hunter: World sees the Radeon VII fall well behind the RTX 2080. Here it is 16% slower and only 7% faster than the RTX 2070, so let's go ahead.

The Radeon VII is back on track for Shadow of the Tomb Raider. However, if you expected, or at least hoped for, an RTX 2080 killer, these results won't exactly cause tingling in your spine. It is a few frames faster on average, while it is a few frames less for the 1% low result. Basically, it's comparable to the RTX 2080 in one of the best looking titles of 2018.

The Nvidia Turing architecture works well for Rainbow Six Siege, and where the Radeon GPUs once had a strong performance advantage in this title, that's no longer the case. Here the Radeon VII struggled to keep up with the RTX 2080 and was only a whisker ahead of the RTX 2070.

Far Cry 5 is a well-optimized title and is also sponsored by AMD. I would say this is a fairly balanced playing field, and as such the Radeon VII and GeForce RTX 2080 are basically neck and neck.

Forza Horizon 4 is another well-optimized title, and while Vega gives the GeForce 10 series Pascal-based GPUs a hard note, the new RTX models don't suffer from the same weakness, and the RTX 2080 could only outperform the new Radeon VII .

Resident Evil 2 is another well-optimized title that works well for a wide range of hardware. Here the RTX 2080 and the Radeon VII together with the 2-year-old GTX 1080 Ti, another $ 700 part, fit together very evenly.

We want to seriously remove ARMA 3 from the test. I set my foot and deleted GTA V. As I see it, the days of ARMA 3 are numbered. It is basically a dual-core CPU benchmark, so the results are somewhat distorted due to the CPU bottleneck, but since some games only have a limited CPU, this is not exactly unrealistic.

Hitman's performance is even between the GTX 1080 Ti, the RTX 2080 and the Radeon VII, although this is a title that is somewhat CPU-limited at 1440p.

power consumption

We all know that AMD is at least a generation behind Nvidia in terms of efficiency. The Radeon VII is a bit slower than the GTX 1080 Ti, and here we see that it uses a whisker more power than this GPU. Given the fact that we're comparing a two year old product using TSMC's 16nm process to a brand new product using TSMC's 7nm process, that's pretty depressing.

Granted, the GTX 1080 Ti is a specially designed gaming graphics card, but at the end of the day, players don't care. The RTX 2080 is 65% larger and contains approximately the same number of transistors, but reduces total system consumption by 15%, with total system consumption being a significant number.

At operating temperatures, the temperatures are fine on their own, comparable to those of the RTX 2080 Founders Edition. The problem is the fan speed required to allow these temperatures …

It's worth noting that we replaced the Hitachi HM-03 carbon fiber pads with Arctic's MX-4 thermal paste after tearing the card off in our unboxing a few days ago.

With a room temperature of 21 degrees, the Radeon VII reached 74 degrees. However, when we went back and tested again with the thermal grease, this temperature dropped to only 69 degrees under the same conditions and the fan speed remained unchanged.

In other words, the Radeon VII is bloody loud, even when running at just under 70 degrees. As soon as the card was subjected to a load, the three fans turned on a vacuum cleaner at 2900 rpm. At that point, I realized that this is an AMD reference card that makes sense. I mean, the map looks beautiful, but boy, it's hard on the ears. Nvidia Founder Edition cards are not exactly quiet, but the fans only rotate at 2000 rpm and are significantly quieter.

Service summary

Before we continue, please note that we haven't tested more games in our first test because we're not entirely sure which drivers AMD provides. As already mentioned, we find them unstable and have confirmed this with other publications. Performance is accurate, but before testing dozens of games, we'd rather wait for a more stable driver.

AMD had hinted that the Radeon VII was on par with the RTX 2080, and we suspect this statement could be true if you choose the games and settings to be within a percentage of each other. With our fairly random selection of games – if you like, our Whitman sampler – the Radeon VII was 4% slower on average. This is still pretty decent and is only noticeable in Battlefield V and Strange Brigade.

The performance was similar in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Far Cry 5, Resident Evil 2, Hitman 2 and ARMA 3. Then we saw the Radeon VII fall behind in Forza Horizon 4 and then in Rainbow Six Siege, Monster Hunter World, World fall far behind in tanks and Fortnite. Given the fact that the Radeon VII achieves the same MSRP of $ 700 as the RTX 2080, this is a disappointing result.

If you were disappointed that the GeForce RTX 2080 was only slightly faster than the two-year-old GTX 1080 Ti, you will no doubt be disappointed that the Radeon VII is a bit slower. As we have seen, power consumption has not improved. In fact, it's a little worse, so I'm not sure what else we can say at this point …

At least the Radeon VII is 31% faster than the RTX 2060. You just have to close your eyes and ignore the fact that it costs 100% more. Or maybe Radeon VII will be sold relatively soon on the street for a little closer to $ 600 where it is cheaper and a little more sensible.

Vega 64 costs $ 500 MSRP, which makes the Radeon VII 40% more expensive, but only 23% faster. This is worse than with RTX boards. The only salvation is that AMD has not attempted to sell us technology that does not deliver while effectively cheating customers with a month of pre-order. I have to look at the positive sides.

Cost per frame and final thoughts

We're not even going to try to gloss it over – not that we'll ever do it – I think I'm getting over disappointing GPU releases. If you look at the cost per frame data, the value is of course worse than the RTX 2080, and although it is faster than Vega 56 and 64, it is far worse.

Honestly, we'd rather reject a few quality settings and enjoy the almost 25% increase in value with Vega 56 or just buy an RTX 2060 because it's a little faster and a little cheaper. Then I would only grin when Radeon VII owners tell me 6 GB of VRAM is not enough.

At this point, you may be wondering where the overclocking performance is, but unfortunately we don't have anything for you right now. AMD's WattMan broke and made my already unstable card even more unstable. So we have to check that again later. To update: AMD released new Radeon VII drivers on the first day of release that resolve all stability issues. The performance is the same, but at least everyone who bought this card should have a flawless experience. We have therefore updated our evaluation result.

There's also this massive 16GB frame buffer and crazy 1TB / s memory bandwidth that could be beneficial for content creators and other GPU-accelerated applications.

Another issue for Radeon VII will be availability. The retailers we spoke to said that availability was much worse than when the RTX 2080 Ti was released. Although we suspect demand for this new Radeon GPU will be low, production may be even lower. Therefore, we are not sure if or when we will see custom AIB models. AMD has told us that AIBs can develop their own models, but we suspect that few will. We saw that this happened at Vega. There simply wasn't enough volume and demand to justify the board partner's investment.

It's worth noting that with every Radeon VII card, AMD offers an attractive game pack with free copies of the Resident Evil 2 remake The Division 2 and Devil May Cry 5. Although it is difficult to compare with other bundles because they are constantly changing, it is a good offer that AMD is offering to start with.

The bottom line is that Radeon VII is nothing more than a gap to the now heavily delayed navigation system. That way, AMD can hold hand halfway up and say we're still here, people, don't forget us. The only hope for the Radeon VII now is that production costs will drop and can drop to $ 600 in the coming months. It's a big question, and even there, it would only be slightly cheaper than Vega 64 and the RTX 2080.

This is not good news for gamers who want good value for high-end GPUs. AMD also needs a miracle with Navi. We ride a lot with it, but given what they have achieved with Ryzen, we firmly believe that anything is possible.

Purchasing links:

Advantages: Faster Radeon graphics, yay! AMD fans get a faster GPU, but you have to pay for it and it's no better than the competition. Massive 16 GB frame buffer and crazy 1 TB / s memory bandwidth have to be good for something.

Disadvantage: Radeon VII runs hot and loud. The value is worse than RTX cards, and you don't even benefit from doubts about DLSS or ray tracing for the extra money. Early drivers could mean more performance across the board. If not, AMD will have to cut prices by at least $ 100.

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