An interesting night of testing

We have the first review!

Last night I did our first ever live benchmarking session using the just-arrived Radeon Vega Frontier Edition air-cooled graphics card. Purchased directly from a reseller, rather than being sampled by AMD, gave us the opportunity to run testing for a new flagship product without an NDA in place to keep us silenced, so I thought it would be fun to the let the audience and community go along for the ride of a traditional benchmarking session. Though I didn’t get all of what I wanted done in that 4.5-hour window, it was great to see the interest and excitement for the product and the results that we were able to generate.

But to the point of the day – our review of the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition graphics card. Based on the latest flagship GPU architecture from AMD, the Radeon Vega FE card has a lot riding on its shoulders, despite not being aimed at gamers. It is the FIRST card to be released with Vega at its heart. It is the FIRST instance of HBM2 being utilized in a consumer graphics card. It is the FIRST in a new attempt from AMD to target the group of users between gamers and professional users (like NVIDIA has addressed with Titan previously). And, it is the FIRST to command as much attention and expectation for the future of a company, a product line, and a fan base.

Other than the architectural details that AMD gave us previously, we honestly haven’t been briefed on the performance expectations or the advancements in Vega that we should know about. The Vega FE products were released to the market with very little background, only well-spun turns of phrase emphasizing the value of the high performance and compatibility for creators. There has been no typical “tech day” for the media to learn fully about Vega and there were no samples from AMD to media or analysts (that I know of). Unperturbed by that, I purchased one (several actually, seeing which would show up first) and decided to do our testing.

On the following pages, you will see a collection of tests and benchmarks that range from 3DMark to The Witcher 3 to SPECviewperf to LuxMark, attempting to give as wide a viewpoint of the Vega FE product as I can in a rather short time window. The card is sexy (maybe the best looking I have yet seen), but will disappoint many on the gaming front. For professional users that are okay not having certified drivers, performance there is more likely to raise some impressed eyebrows.

Radeon Vega Frontier Edition Specifications

Through leaks and purposeful information dumps over the past couple of months, we already knew a lot about the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition card prior to the official sale date this week. But now with final specifications in hand, we can start to dissect what this card actually is.

  Vega Frontier Edition Titan Xp GTX 1080 Ti Titan X (Pascal) GTX 1080 TITAN X GTX 980 R9 Fury X R9 Fury
GPU Vega GP102 GP102 GP102 GP104 GM200 GM204 Fiji XT Fiji Pro
GPU Cores 4096 3840 3584 3584 2560 3072 2048 4096 3584
Base Clock 1382 MHz 1480 MHz 1480 MHz 1417 MHz 1607 MHz 1000 MHz 1126 MHz 1050 MHz 1000 MHz
Boost Clock 1600 MHz 1582 MHz 1582 MHz 1480 MHz 1733 MHz 1089 MHz 1216 MHz
Texture Units ? 224 224 224 160 192 128 256 224
ROP Units 64 96 88 96 64 96 64 64 64
Memory 16GB 12GB 11GB 12GB 8GB 12GB 4GB 4GB 4GB
Memory Clock 1890 MHz 11400 MHz 11000 MHz 10000 MHz 10000 MHz 7000 MHz 7000 MHz 1000 MHz 1000 MHz
Memory Interface 2048-bit HBM2 384-bit G5X 352-bit 384-bit G5X 256-bit G5X 384-bit 256-bit 4096-bit (HBM) 4096-bit (HBM)
Memory Bandwidth 483 GB/s 547.7 GB/s 484 GB/s 480 GB/s 320 GB/s 336 GB/s 224 GB/s 512 GB/s 512 GB/s
TDP 300 watts 250 watts 250 watts 250 watts 180 watts 250 watts 165 watts 275 watts 275 watts
Peak Compute 13.1 TFLOPS 12.0 TFLOPS 10.6 TFLOPS 10.1 TFLOPS 8.2 TFLOPS 6.14 TFLOPS 4.61 TFLOPS 8.60 TFLOPS 7.20 TFLOPS
Transistor Count ? 12.0B 12.0B 12.0B 7.2B 8.0B 5.2B 8.9B 8.9B
Process Tech 14nm 16nm 16nm 16nm 16nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
MSRP (current) $999 $1200 $699 $1,200 $599 $999 $499 $649 $549

The Vega FE shares enough of a specification listing with the Fury X that it deserves special recognition. Both cards sport 4096 stream processors, 64 ROPs and 256 texture units. The Vega FE is running at much higher clock speeds (35-40% higher) and also upgrades to the next generation of high-bandwidth memory and quadruples capacity. Still, there will be plenty of comparisons between the two products, looking to measure IPC changes from the CUs (compute units) from Fiji to the NCUs built for Vega.

The Radeon Vega GPU

The clock speeds also see another shift this time around with the adoption of “typical” clock speeds. This is something that NVIDIA has been using for a few generations with the introduction of GPU Boost, and tells the consumer how high they should expect clocks to go in a nominal workload. Normally I would say a gaming workload, but since this card is supposedly for professional users and the like, I assume this applies across the board. So even though the GPU is rated at a “peak” clock rate of 1600 MHz, the “typical” clock rate is 1382 MHz. (As an early aside, I did NOT see 1600 MHz in any of my testing time with our Vega FE but did settle in a ~1440 MHz clock most of the time.)

The 13.1 TFLOPs of peak theoretical compute are impressive, beating out the best cards from NVIDIA including the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti and the Titan Xp. How that translates into gaming or rendering power directly will be seen, but in general AMD cards tend to show higher peak rates for equal “real-world” performance.

Vega Frontier Edition will use a set of two stacks of HBM2, 8GB each, for a total graphics memory allotment of 16GB. Running at 1.89 GHz effective speeds, this gives us a total memory bandwidth of 483 GB/s, lower than the 512 GB/s of the Fury X and lower than the Titan Xp that is rated at 547 GB/s with its GDDR5X implementation.

Power consumption is rated at 300 watts for the air cooled card (that we are testing today) and 375 watts for the water cooled version. That variance is definitely raising some concerns as it would indicate that the air cooled version will be thermally limited in some capacity, allowing the water cooled version to run the GPU at a lower temp, hitting clock speeds closer to the peak 1600 MHz for longer periods.

The price of $999 for the model we are testing today (and $1499 for the water cooled option) plant the Vega FE firmly into the Titan realm. The Titan Xp currently sells from NVIDIA for $1200. Obviously for our testing we are going to be looking at much lower priced GeForce cards (GTX 1070 through the GTX 1080 Ti) but we are doing so purely as a way to gauge potential RX Vega performance.

The Gorgeous Radeon Vega Frontier Edition

Let’s talk about the card itself for a bit. I know that the design has been seen in renderings and at trade shows for a while, but in person, I have to say I am impressed. It will likely be a mixed bag – the color scheme is definitely not neutral and if you don’t appreciate the blue/yellow scheme then no amount of quality craftsmanship will make a difference.

The metal shroud and back plate have an excellent brushed metal texture and look to them and even the edges of the PCB are rounded. The fan color perfectly matches that of the blue hue of the card.

A yellow R logo cube rests on the back corner, illuminating the hardware in an elegant light. The top of the card features the Radeon branding with the same yellow backlight but I do wish the Vega logo on the face of the card did the same.

Even the display connector plate feels higher quality than other cards, with a coated metal finish. It features three full-size DisplayPort and a single HDMI port.

Above the dual 8-pin power connectors you’ll find a GPU Tach, a series of LEDs that increase as the GPU load goes up.

Though the look and style of a graphics card can only take you so far, and can only add so much to the value of a product that 99 times out of 100 ends up in a computer case, it is great to see AMD take such pride in this launch. I can only hope that that consumer variant sees as much attention paid to it.

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