The AMD Radeon RX Vega Review: Vega 64, Vega 64 Liquid, Vega 56 Tested
Noise, Efficiency, Conclusions
Here is the tale of a blower cooler on a 300-watt GPU – it’s just is not a fantastic solution. The standard RX Vega 64 sits at a reasonable 35 dbA at idle but gets extremely loud when running a full load, even at stock settings. The 46 dbA score is significantly louder than the GTX 1080/1070 or even the GTX 1080 Ti that has to keep a 250 watt TDP in order. Doing the testing in an open-air test bed, it was obvious to the office which card was being run at any given moment. I don’t think the noise levels that the air-cooled cards cause is a total deal breaker, but you can see why AMD was hesitant to crank up the fan speed any higher by default, even when we pushed the temperature and power target higher.
Looking at how the Radeon RX Vega 64 and Vega 56 stand in a line up with the current GeForce family, they honestly both do better than I expected coming off the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition reviews I wrote last month. The RX Vega 64, and I am only going to reference the air-cooled variant for the time being, can trade blows with the GeForce GTX 1080, of which it shares the same $499 MSRP. Removing the ever troublesome GTAV out of the mix, which honestly isn’t fair to NVIDIA as it was and remains a very popular gaming title, the biggest losses for the RX Vega 64 come in the newly released Hellblade and Sniper Elite 4 running in the DX11 configuration. In Rise of the Tomb Raider the Vega 64 has the slight edge, though in other games like Hitman, Fallout 4, and Dirt Rally, the back and forth is close enough to call a tie. For all intents and purposes, the RX Vega 64 can compete with the GTX 1080.
The Vega 64 Liquid is an interesting beast. It improves on the air cooler performance by anywhere from 0-13%, with too many instances of low single digits average frame rate increases to impress me. It often is able to make the difference between a win and a loss for the Vega 64 family, but it does so with the added cost of $200 on the MSRP. Comparing a card starting at $699 to one starting at $499 is poor form, especially considering that the MUCH more powerful GTX 1080 Ti exists at that same $699 price tag. The RX Vega 64 Liquid is the sexiest of the bunch by far, but will only sell to true AMD fans that want the best Vega can offer and don’t care about the value they are buying into.
Most interesting is the RX Vega 56. With a $399 price tag that goes after the GTX 1070, it matches or beats the GeForce offering in every single test except Grand Theft Auto V. On average, we see that performance uplift hover in the 6-8% range, not enough to be earth shattering but enough to raise eyebrows at the aggressive move AMD has decided to go with on a very expensive collection of technologies. RX Vega 56 was created late in the game when AMD realized it needed an impactful “win” with this launch, and it clearly has done that. I’m not sure what the cost is for AMD financially, but consumers care about performance per dollar first and foremost.
I am very curious about the frame time variance that was apparently in our capture-based testing with all the RX Vega cards and in the majority of the games and configurations we tested. Only in a couple of cases was it large enough to notice in gameplay, it otherwise remains more of a technological oddity and curiosity that will warrant further investigation. Is there something inherent in the GPU or clock design that is causing it?
Power and Efficiency
There is no fun way to spin this one for AMD, the RX Vega architecture and the Vega 10 GPU is far behind the NVIDIA GeForce Pascal designs in terms of performance efficiency. Need to see that graphically?
If you care about performance per watt, whether for being “green,” for power costs, or for noise/heat, the Pascal architecture remains the best option by a considerable margin. The move to HBM2 was at least partially to offer lower power consumption through the memory interface but it is not enough to move the needle on Vega.
It’s fair to note that for some gamers and enthusiasts, power consumption doesn’t matter. They don’t care about noise of a system that is under their desk while they wear headphones during gaming sessions. In that case, the performance per dollar metric outweighs everything else.
Pricing and Bundles and Market Issues
The Radeon RX Vega 64 will be available starting today for $499 for the standard air cooled card, $599 for the limited edition in the Radeon Pack, and $699 for the liquid cooled. The RX Vega 56 will start shipping on August 28 at $399.
- Radeon RX Vega 64 - $499 – Amazon.com
- Radeon RX Vega 64 Limited Edition – Amazon.com
- Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid Edition – Amazon.com
- Radeon RX Vega 56 - $399
Pricing will be an interesting topic in the coming days. With the market still in turmoil from GPU scarcity caused in large part by cryptocurrency mining operations, cards priced near the MSRP are tougher to come by. As I discussed on the first page, this is a large part of the reason for the Radeon Packs to exist at all, as it gives AMD the ability to sell cards at $499 or $599 (for the RX Vega 64 at least) depending on the sell-through rate in near real-time. This allows AMD to profit a bit more off the mining craze if it continues to keep inventory low, or drop the price to the official MSRP for more stock if availability is stable.
While a smart move financially, I don’t think the intent of curbing sales to mining operations is going to pan out. Those who buy GPUs for profit rather than for gaming have no issue paying the $100 (or more) added fee for a card that pay for itself in X number of days. What that payoff day is still being determined (early testing on our part shows only 35 MH/s on Ethereum today) but it may spike lower as mining software is tuned for the Vega architecture.
It is a struggle to compare like for like cards at “$499” when options are hard to come by. For us, comparing the cards in a state that we believe the market will return to in a reasonable timeframe made the most sense.
(Editor's note: We still have much to test and dive into on Vega including a look at the architecture itself, how the use of the new Power Save options in Wattman improve efficiency, how HBCC states might impact games at 4K, etc. We had VERY limited time with this hardware before launch. Follow-ups soon. But I do not expect our view on the current status of the RX Vega products to change with that information.)
So, what do we make of all this Vega stuff? The combination of the RX Vega 64 and the RX Vega 56 put AMD and the Radeon brand back on the map for high end consumer graphics. It doesn’t bring them to a leadership position, as the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti will continue to hold on to that spot, but it makes them competitive in a way they haven’t been since the release of the Fury X more than two years ago. The RX Vega 64 has a tough battle ahead of it with the GTX 1080, as it offers nearly equivalent performance but at the cost of noticeably higher power consumption and noise. The RX Vega 56 is a more significant victory as it means the GTX 1070 is no longer the fastest card at the $399 price point. Yes, the GTX 1070 is still much more efficient, but for consumers that don’t have interest in that area of discussion, the RX Vega 56 is a very compelling option.
I think I will be most interested in what AMD’s partners can come up with starting next month. I fully expect to see custom air-cooled cards from the likes of ASUS, MSI, and others that bring clock speeds at or near the level of the RX Vega 64 Liquid. Blower style coolers are necessary evils for some system builder situations but board partners are going to get more from this GPU without having to resort to the much more expensive route of liquid cooling.
With AMD’s cards now on the table, it’s time to see what NVIDIA chooses to do, if anything. Will they make any pricing moves on the GTX 1080 or GTX 1070 to take mindshare back from an aggressive Radeon marketing team? There appears to be no reason to release a higher performance part than the GTX 1080 Ti with it still holding a 25-30% lead over the GTX 1080 and RX Vega 64. It is also possible that NVIDIA remains confident in its lineup, its software advantage, and its power efficiency and chooses not to affect its own profitability with GeForce price changes. NVIDIA will likely wait and see how RX Vega inventory holds up, and how the mining market shifts in the coming weeks, before considering any major moves.
It took more than a year of news releases, architectural sneak peeks, unboxings, and reveals, but Radeon RX Vega is finally here. AMD is back in the high-end of the gaming market. It’s not a home run, but after getting hands on with Vega Frontier Edition, I don’t think we had that mindset anymore, and as a result I view the performance increases from it to RX Vega a strong move in the right direction. The question that remains is how many people they have just convinced to buy in.
Radeon RX Vega 56 for Price/Performance Leadership