The Radeon VII is AMD's latest GPU offering aimed at gamers, but what you may not realize is that Radeon VII is based on an existing compute product that's been re-purposed for gaming and content creation. Based on the Radeon Instinct MI50, the Radeon VII is essentially just gimped Vega 20 silicon, though it’s not gimped in a way that’s meaningful to gamers.
So what’s been modified then? Double-precision floating-point (FP64) has been disabled, reducing performance from 6.7 TFLOPS down to just 1.7 TFLOPS, but this has no impact on gaming. AMD has also disabled PCIe 4.0, limiting the Radeon VII to the more commonly used PCIe 3.0 interface, which is not an issue either.
When Radeon VII was announced at CES a month ago, it wasn’t met with a lot of fanfare. Everyone was hoping for AMD’s new GPU architecture Navi. So a repurposed compute product wasn’t exactly what everyone was clambering up the walls for, and certainly not for $700.
Yes, this is a new 7nm graphics card, but it’s based on 5th-gen GCN architecture, the same used by Vega 56 and Vega 64. The move from GlobalFoundries' 14nm process to TSMC's 7nm FinFET process has allowed AMD to shrink the die size by 32% while also packing in 6% more transistors. Technically Radeon VII should be called Vega 60 or something similar given the specs. What we have here is 60 compute units for a total of 3840 stream processors, or 6% fewer cores than Vega 64 even though you can expect it to be faster.
The cores are clocked at least 13% higher and we have some serious memory upgrades and I’m not just talking about the insanely unnecessary (at least for gaming) 16GB VRAM capacity. In addition to having as much memory as your entire system, the Radeon VII also gets a massive 4096-bit wide memory bus, allowing for an insane 1TB/s memory bandwidth, double that of Vega 64.
CEO Lisa Su has stated that the Radeon VII performs competitively with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2080 and as such will be available at the same $700 asking price. It’s believed AMD’s not turning a profit on these things, even at this price, so we guess we’re not going to see them on sale anytime soon.
Our test system for this review was comprised of an Intel Core i9-9900K clocked at 5 GHz with 32GB of DDR4-3400 memory. While testing the Radeon VII, we ran into numerous stability issues with the early drivers supplied by AMD and as we pieced this content together, a fix had yet to be issued.
Instead of testing 30+ games we're sticking with a dozen titles that accurately represent how the Radeon VII performs across a wide range of titles. Once a stable driver has been provided a mega benchmark session will follow with 2 or 3 dozen games tested.
First up we have Fortnite and I have to say this is not a good start for Radeon VII as it trails the RTX 2080 by 20%. Thankfully, this isn’t the norm as you're about to see. But we do have a good mix of games that I believe paints a pretty accurate picture of the overall performance.
Fortnite is certainly a worst case scenario as the new Radeon GPU was only able to match the RTX 2070, and it was only 22% faster than Vega 64. It’s also a far cry from the now 2 year old GTX 1080 Ti.
That’s a bit brutal so let’s move onto some far more promising results.
Battlefield V looks much better. The Radeon VII slayed in BF5 using the DirectX 11 API, pumping out an impressive 122 fps on average. The 1% low performance was a little lower than expected but we do see a similar thing with Vega 64 and 56. When compared to Vega 64 we do see a 31% boost to the average frame rate so that’s quite nice.
Here we have another title where the Radeon VII is unable to keep up. I mean, 156 fps in World of Tanks is ample performance… but it also meant the new Radeon GPU was 17% slower than the RTX 2080 and only slightly faster than the RTX 2070. So a poor result overall, though Vega never did well in this title so the result isn’t entirely surprising. Vega 64 only just beats the GTX 1070 after all.
A title where the Radeon GPUs shred is Strange Brigade, though like Battlefield V we do see slightly weaker than expected 1% low performance. It’s not horrible and there was no sign of stuttering but the 1% lows are still low relative to the GeForce GPUs. Still when comparing the average frame rate the Radeon VII was 10% faster than the RTX 2080.
Are you starting to notice what we’ve done here…?
We're giving you bad news followed by some good news, just trying to let you guys down gently is all, I really do care. That said it’s time for some bad news, Monster Hunter: World sees the Radeon VII fall well behind the RTX 2080, here it’s 16% slower and just 7% faster than the RTX 2070, so let’s move along.
The Radeon VII’s back on track for Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Though if you were expecting or at least hoping for an RTX 2080-killer then these results won’t exactly send tingles through your spine. It’s a few frames faster on average while a few frames down for the 1% low result, so basically it’s on par with the RTX 2080 in one of 2018’s best looking titles.
Nvidia Turing architecture is well suited to Rainbow Six Siege and where the Radeon GPUs once enjoyed a strong performance advantage in this title, that’s no more. Here the Radeon VII struggled to keep pace with the RTX 2080 and in fact was just a whisker ahead of the RTX 2070.
Far Cry 5 is a well optimized title and it also happens to be sponsored by AMD. I would say this is a fairly even 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 Pascal based GeForce 10 series GPUs a pounding, the new RTX models don’t suffer from the same weakness and the RTX 2080 was just able to outpace the new Radeon VII.
Resident Evil 2 is yet another well optimized title that scales well across a wide range of hardware. Here the RTX 2080 and Radeon VII are very evenly matched along with the 2 year old GTX 1080 Ti, another $700 part.
We seriously want to drop ARMA 3 from the testing. I’ve put my foot down and deleted GTA V and how I see it ARMA 3’s days are also numbered. It’s basically a dual-core CPU benchmark, so it’s going to skew the results somewhat due to the CPU bottleneck, but given some games are CPU limited it’s not exactly unrealistic either.
The performance in Hitman is even between the GTX 1080 Ti, RTX 2080 and Radeon VII, though this is a title that’s somewhat CPU limited at 1440p.
We all know AMD’s at least a generation behind Nvidia when it comes to efficiency. The Radeon VII is slightly slower than the GTX 1080 Ti, and here we see it consumes a whisker more power that that GPU. Given 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 purpose-built gaming graphics card, but at the end of the day gamers don’t care about that. The RTX 2080 is 65% larger and packs roughly the same amount of transistors, yet reduced total system consumption by 15%, for total system consumption that’s a significant number.
Moving on to operating temperatures, the temperatures alone are okay, comparable to that of the RTX 2080 Founders Edition. The issue is the fan speed required to allow these temperatures...
It's worth mentioning that we replaced the Hitachi HM-03 carbon fiber pads with Arctic’s MX-4 thermal paste after tearing the card down in our unboxing a few days ago.
Out of the box with an ambient room temp of 21 degrees the Radeon VII hit 74 degrees. However when we went back and re-tested using the thermal paste that temperature under the same conditions dropped to just 69 degrees and the fan speed went unchanged.
In other words, the Radeon VII is bloody loud, even when running at just shy of 70 degrees. As soon as the card was placed under any kind of load, the three fans spun up to a vacuum cleaner like 2900 RPM. It was at this point that I realized, yeah this is an AMD reference card, that makes sense. I mean the card looks beautiful, but boy is it hard on the ears. Nvidia Founder Edition cards aren’t exactly quiet, but the fans only spin at 2000 RPM and they are significantly quieter.
Before we move on, please note we haven’t tested with more games on our day-one review as we're not fully confident in the drivers AMD’s provided. As mentioned earlier, we are finding them unstable and we’ve confirmed this with other fellow publications. The performance is accurate nonetheless, but before we go crazy on testing dozens of games, we rather wait for a more stable driver.
AMD had hinted the Radeon VII is on par with the RTX 2080 and we guess that statement could be true if you cherry picked the games and settings to get them within a percent of one another. However across our fairly random selection of games -- our whitman's sampler if you will -- the Radeon VII was 4% slower on average. That's still fairly decent, standing out only in Battlefield V and Strange Brigade.
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 well behind in Rainbow Six Siege, Monster Hunter World, World of Tanks and Fortnite. Given the Radeon VII arrives at the same $700 MSRP as the RTX 2080, we’d say this is a disappointing result.
Moreover, if you were disappointed that the GeForce RTX 2080 was only slightly faster than the two year old GTX 1080 Ti, then you’re no doubt disappointed that the Radeon VII is slightly slower. Also, as we saw power consumption isn’t improved. In fact, it’s slightly worse, so I’m not sure what more we can say at this point...
At least the Radeon VII is a full 31% faster than the RTX 2060. You just have to close your eyes and ignore the fact that it costs 100% more. Or perhaps relatively soon we'll see Radeon VII selling on the street for something closer to $600 where it's better value and makes somewhat better sense.
Vega 64 comes at a $500 MSRP, making the Radeon VII 40% more expensive but it's only 23% faster. That’s even worse than RTX boards. The only saving grace here is that AMD hasn’t tried to sell us on a technology that won’t deliver, while effectively scamming customers with a month long pre-order period… gotta look on the bright side guys.
Cost per Frame and Closing Thoughts
We're not even going to try and sugar coat it -- not that we ever do -- I guess I’m just getting over disappointing GPU releases. Looking at cost per frame data, naturally it’s worse value than the RTX 2080 and despite being faster than Vega 56 and 64, it’s way worse value.
Frankly we would rather turn down a few quality settings and enjoy the almost 25% improvement in value with Vega 56, or just get an RTX 2060 given it’s slightly faster and slightly cheaper, then I'd just grin as Radeon VII owners tell me 6GB of VRAM isn’t enough.
At this point you might be wondering where the overclocking performance is, but unfortunately we have nothing for you right now. AMD’s WattMan is broken and it just made my already unstable card even more unstable. So this is something we’ll have to revisit later on. Update: AMD released new Radeon VII drivers that address all stability issues on release day one. Performance is the same, but at least anyone who bought this card should enjoy a flawless experience. We've updated our review score as a result.
There’s also that massive 16GB frame buffer and insane 1TB/s memory bandwidth which could be beneficial for content creators and other GPU accelerated applications.
Another issue for Radeon VII will be availability. The retailers we’ve spoken to have said availability’s much worse than what we saw with the RTX 2080 Ti upon release. So while we suspect demand for this new Radeon GPU will be low, production might be even lower. As such we’re not sure if or when we'll see custom AIB models. AMD has told us AIBs are free to develop their own models, but we suspect few will. We saw this happen with Vega, there just wasn’t enough volume and demand to warrant the investment from board partners.
It's worth mentioning that AMD is offering an attractive game bundle with free copies of the Resident Evil 2 remake, The Division 2, and Devil May Cry 5 shipping with every Radeon VII card. Though it's hard to compare with other bundles since these change all the time, it's a good one AMD is offering at launch.
Bottom line, Radeon VII looks to be nothing more than a stop gap to the now heavily delayed Navi. It’s a way for AMD to stick their hand up half way and say we're still here guys, don’t forget about us. The only hope for the Radeon VII now is that production costs will come down over the coming months and they can start to edge down to $600. It’s a big ask, and even there it would become only slightly better value than Vega 64 and the RTX 2080.
This is not great news for gamers wanting good value on high-end GPUs. AMD also needs a miracle with Navi. A lot’s riding on that one, but given what they’ve achieved with Ryzen, we strongly believe anything is possible.
- GeForce RTX 2060 on Amazon, Newegg
- GeForce RTX 2070 on Amazon, Newegg
- GeForce RTX 2080 on Amazon, Newegg
- GeForce RTX 2080 Ti on Amazon, Newegg
- Radeon RX Vega 56 on Amazon, Newegg
- Radeon RX Vega 64 on Amazon, Newegg
- Radeon RX 570 on Amazon, Newegg
- Radeon RX 580 on Amazon, Newegg
Pros: Faster Radeon graphics, yay! AMD fans get a faster GPU but you're going to have to pay for it and it's not better than the competition. Massive 16GB frame buffer and insane 1TB/s memory bandwidth must be good for something.
Cons: Radeon VII runs hot and loud. Value is worse than RTX cards, and you don't even get the benefit of the doubt of DLSS or ray tracing for the extra money. Early drivers could mean more performance down the line. If not, AMD will have to cut pricing by at least $100.