RX Vega is here

We have the details on performance, clocks, power, and pricing for RX Vega 64 and Vega 56.

Though we are still a couple of weeks from availability and benchmarks, today we finally have the details on the Radeon RX Vega product line. That includes specifications, details on the clock speed changes, pricing, some interesting bundle programs, and how AMD plans to attack NVIDIA through performance experience metrics.

There is a lot going on today and I continue to have less to tell you about more products, so I’m going to defer a story on the architectural revelations that AMD made to media this week and instead focus on what I think more of our readers will want to know. Let’s jump in.

Radeon RX Vega Specifications

Though the leaks have been frequent and getting closer to reality, as it turns out AMD was in fact holding back quite a bit of information about the positioning of RX Vega for today. Radeon will launch the Vega 64 and Vega 56 today, with three different versions of the Vega 64 on the docket. Vega 64 uses the full Vega 10 chip with 64 CUs and 4096 stream processors. Vega 56 will come with 56 CUs enabled (get it?) and 3584 stream processors.

Pictures of the various product designs have already made it out to the field including the Limited Edition with the brushed anodized aluminum shroud, the liquid cooled card with a similar industrial design, and the more standard black shroud version that looks very similar to the previous reference cards from AMD.

  RX Vega 64 Liquid RX Vega 64 Air RX Vega 56 Vega Frontier Edition GTX 1080 Ti GTX 1080 TITAN X GTX 980 R9 Fury X
GPU Vega 10 Vega 10 Vega 10 Vega 10 GP102 GP104 GM200 GM204 Fiji XT
GPU Cores 4096 4096 3584 4096 3584 2560 3072 2048 4096
Base Clock 1406 MHz 1247 MHz 1156 MHz 1382 MHz 1480 MHz 1607 MHz 1000 MHz 1126 MHz 1050 MHz
Boost Clock 1677 MHz 1546 MHz 1471 MHz 1600 MHz 1582 MHz 1733 MHz 1089 MHz 1216 MHz
Texture Units 256 256 256 256 224 160 192 128 256
ROP Units 64 64 ? 64 88 64 96 64 64
Memory 8GB 8GB 8GB 16GB 11GB 8GB 12GB 4GB 4GB
Memory Clock 1890 MHz 1890 MHz 1600 MHz 1890 MHz 11000 MHz 10000 MHz 7000 MHz 7000 MHz 1000 MHz
Memory Interface 2048-bit HBM2 2048-bit HBM2 2048-bit HBM2 2048-bit HBM2 352-bit G5X 256-bit G5X 384-bit 256-bit 4096-bit (HBM)
Memory Bandwidth 484 GB/s 484 GB/s 484 GB/s 484 GB/s 484 GB/s 320 GB/s 336 GB/s 224 GB/s 512 GB/s
TDP 345 watts 295 watts 210 watts 300 watts 250 watts 180 watts 250 watts 165 watts 275 watts
Peak Compute 13.7 TFLOPS 12.6 TFLOPS 10.5 TFLOPS 13.1 TFLOPS 10.6 TFLOPS 8.2 TFLOPS 6.14 TFLOPS 4.61 TFLOPS 8.60 TFLOPS
Transistor Count 12.5B 12.5B 12.5B 12.5B 12.0B 7.2B 8.0B 5.2B 8.9B
Process Tech 14nm 14nm 14nm 14nm 16nm 16nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
MSRP (current) $699 $499 $399 $999 $699 $599 $999 $499 $649

If you are a frequent reader of PC Perspective, you have already seen our reviews of the Vega Frontier Edition air cooled and liquid cards, so some of this is going to look very familiar. Looking at the Vega 64 first, we need to define the biggest change to the performance ratings of RX and FE versions of the Vega architecture. When we listed the “boost clock” of the Vega FE cards, and really any Radeon cards previous to RX Vega, we were referring the maximum clock speed of the card in its out of box state. This was counter to the method that NVIDIA used for its “boost clock” rating that pointed towards a “typical” clock speed that the card would run at in a gaming workload. Essentially, the NVIDIA method was giving consumers a more realistic look at how fast the card would be running while AMD was marketing the theoretical peak with perfect thermals, perfect workloads. This, to be clear, never happened.

With the RX Vega cards and their specifications, the “boost clock” is now a typical clock rate. AMD has told me that this is what they estimate the average clock speed of the card will be during a typical gaming workload with a typical thermal and system design. This is great news! It means that gamers will have a more realistic indication of performance, both theoretical and expected, and the listings on the retailers and partner sites will be accurate. It also means that just looking at the spec table above will give you an impression that the performance gap between Vega FE and RX Vega is smaller than it will be in testing. (This is, of course, if AMD’s claims are true; I haven’t tested it myself yet.)

The air-cooled Vega 64, in both Limited Edition and standard versions, will have a base clock of 1247 MHz and a Boost clock of 1546 MHz. The base clock is more than 100 MHz lower than the Vega FE air cooled card, which is troubling perhaps, but the Boost clock looks like it is 54 MHz lower than the Frontier Edition. However, if AMD’s move to a typical/average clock rating for RX Vega is true, that will be HIGHER than the 1440 MHz average clock rate that we observed with the Vega FE card last month. That ~100 MHz could give the RX Vega a performance advantage of 7-8% over the Vega Frontier Edition.

The liquid cooled RX Vega, which will not be a limited edition according to AMD, has a base clock of 1406 MHz (much better than the air-cooled card, as expected) but a boost clock of 1677 MHz. If that lives up to the claims, it is significant, as it would mean it would be 16-17% higher than the performance of our first air-cooled Vega FE testing. That would give it enough of a performance boost to push up past the GeForce GTX 1080 in nearly all comparisons we performed.

Memory speed and bandwidth for the HBM2 implementation are the same at 1.89 GHz and 484 GB/s of total bandwidth. The RX Vega product family will have 8GB of memory implemented, half of the Vega Frontier Edition. NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1080 has 8GB of memory though the 1080 Ti has 11GB. Clearly, the high cost of HBM2 memory went into this decision and though AMD will be touting the benefits of the HBCC and its capability to address other memory more easily, that feature will need work with developers to be properly implemented and to impact gaming performance.

The power draw of the Vega FE cards was telling for the results we see on RX Vega. The Vega 64 liquid cooled will hit 345 watts, the air-cooled version hits 295 watts, and the Vega 56 comes in at a cool 210 watts. These are power hungry cards and getting these clocks necessary to take on the GTX 1080 have pushed the Vega design outside its most efficient area.

The Vega 56 might be the most interesting product on this slide though – it was a surprise release and we don’t have any relatable experience from the likes of a professional card to lean on. With a ~15% drop in shader count and lower clock speed, this product will be at a noticeably lower performance level than the Vega 64. The HBM2 memory is running at 1.6 GHz rather than 1.89 GHz, bringing memory bandwidth down to 410 GB/s. With a price of $399, it will be taking on the incredibly popular GeForce GTX 1070.

Though I don’t have hardware yet, the clock speeds and power rating of the RX Vega 56 indicate that it will be a massive overclocker. You should not be surprised if gamers can push the RX Vega up to the same clock speeds, or higher, as the RX Vega 64, getting a massive performance boost. Obviously, that will increase your power consumption up to near Vega 64 levels, but if the cooler can keep up with it, we should have no issues.

Pricing is going to be an interesting discussion. The base price of the RX Vega 64 is $499 and the Vega 56 is $399. That positions the Vega 64 against the GTX 1080 (in a world where prices are back to normal in the GPU market) and the Vega 56 against the GTX 1070. The Limited Edition Vega 64 will be $599 and the liquid-cooled Vega 64 will be $699 but come with the option of Radeon Packs. What are those you ask?

Radeon Packs – More Gaming, Less Mining

One of the big things that AMD has been trying to address, much at the behest of the gaming community, is how to get graphics cards in the hands of gamers rather than miners that drive up prices. Though a sale is a sale to both AMD and NVIDIA, there is a danger to the long-term vitality of the PC gaming market if these trends continue. I wrote about these risks on MarketWatch back in June, and the risks still remain real. AMD would also like to get users more invested in the other hardware ecosystems that promoted the Radeon brand including FreeSync displays and even the Ryzen processor and motherboard platform. AMD built the Radeon Packs idea as a way to hit both angles.

The simplest way to understand the packs is that gamers that buy the RX Vega 64 in a Radeon Pack will receive two free games (that differ by region but are Wolfenstein II and Prey in the US), a $200 discount on a 3440×1440 100 Hz FreeSync display and a $100 discount on a Ryzen CPU + motherboard bundle. The purchase of the display and the CPU+MB are optional, and are not required to complete the sale, but the discounts are only offered at the time of purchase. The games will come with the card purchase, regardless.

The RX Vega 64 will have two packs available: Black and Aqua. The Aqua Pack is for the liquid-cooled version of the RX Vega 64 and prices the card itself at $699. The Black Pack is for the RX Vega 64 air-cooled card and comes with a $599 price tag and covers both the Limited Edition card and the standard black shroud card. Finally, the Red Pack is for the RX Vega 56 air-cooled card and is $499.

You’re probably wondering about the supposed price increase on the RX Vega 56 and the RX Vega 64 standard card; they are both actually priced $100 higher than the stand-alone units. First, this is the only way to get the Limited Edition RX Vega 64 card and it will not be sold at $499 individually. Once the limited-edition cards are sold out, the standard card will replace it in the Black Pack. The liquid-cooled card is also only going to be available for $699 and in the Radeon Aqua Pack.

For that added $100 you are getting two free games and $300 in potential discounts on other hardware. If you already have a platform you are happy with, or a monitor you like, and don’t want to upgrade them, you do not have to take advantage of those discounts. Instead, you will be paying $100 more for the fancier card and the two bundled PC titles.

AMD’s intent is two-fold. First, they want to get more users to upgrade to FreeSync displays (and Ryzen systems of course) as it helps them for the relative comparisons to NVIDIA hardware today and incentivizes gamers to stay in the Radeon ecosystem. AMD also hopes that this helps to deter the miners from buying these cards because of their higher price and bundle complications. I personally don’t feel that miners will be deterred by any price change that wouldn’t also scare away all PC gamers and leave AMD in a nearly impossible spot. The only thing that COULD have hindered the purchase of cards by cryptocurrency is if AMD required these packs to be purchased with the discounted hardware, but that would be unfair to the gamers that might have already invested in the AMD ecosystem.

Another side benefit that might be occurring as well with this bundle system is to help resellers like Newegg refocus on the gaming customer. Selling a graphics card is typically a low margin sale and resellers care very little if the card ends up in the hands of a dedicated PC gamer itching to play Prey or a miner putting it on a shelf to earn Ethereum 24 hours a day. But if you can tie other, higher cost products to the sale of the RX Vega, that raises ASPs (average selling prices) and could give Newegg/Amazon/etc. a reason to target and hold product back for these types of sales.

As for on sale and review dates, all AMD has told us this far is “in August.” It’s possible that more details may emerge on the preorder and sale dates from the launch event this evening (starting as this story goes live) so we’ll update if so.

AMD has told us that RX Vega will be on sale and reviews will go live on August 14th!!

Experience Based Performance Testing

For our RX Vega pre-briefing, AMD took an interesting turn on talking about performance metrics and comparisons to the competition. Rather than showing average frame rates in comparison the GTX 1080 or even 99th percentile frame time data that we have come to expect from the new guys helping to run the product and marketing teams, instead we are getting performance comparison based on FreeSync ranges and 99th % minimum frame rates.

The idea is this: for a gamer that buys an RX Vega they should be concerned about getting a smooth gaming experience. AMD showed data from two high-end resolutions, 3440×1440 and 4K, both with variable refresh windows based on the associated FreeSync display.

Based on this slide, AMD is telling us that the GeForce GTX 1080 has 99th % minimum frame rate in the range of 45 to 78 FPS in a range of titles including Ashes, BF1, Hitman, and more. At the same settings, the Radeon RX Vega 64 has a 99th % minimum frame rates in the range of 53 to 76 FPS. Based on AMD’s testing, the GTX 1080 dips lower in some of these games than the RX Vega 64. If you are using a display with a 48-100 Hz variable refresh rate, going below 48 FPS means you are outside the VRR range (which to be clear, is only true on FreeSync monitors, not G-Sync) and that equates to a “poor” gaming experience.

As you look at the numbers for that, AMD is pointing out that the GTX 1080 has a good experience in five of the six games, while the RX Vega 64 has a good experience in all six.

Looking at the same testing process for 4K, with a FreeSync display range of 40-60 Hz, we can again see the ranges that AMD measures.

And again, the Vega 64 performs at higher than 40 FPS in all games while the GTX 1080 does so in only four of six.

Soo….clearly this is not a standard or established performance measurement practice. But it is interesting. AMD is basically telling the community that as long as you meet minimum performance metrics across a range of games you care about, and you have the display capable of making that work, then why do you need to know about the average frame rates? There is some merit to that argument but it ignores some critical pieces of the reason we benchmark.

First, benchmarks are used to measure performance in today’s games, but they are also used to help predict relative performance for future games, higher resolutions, or more intense quality settings. When two cards can both cross 60 FPS for a “good” experience on a particular display, the amount OVER that mark is a good indicator of your ability to move to a different monitor, or go to a higher resolution, or increase anti-aliasing etc. If you could pick between two cards at $499, one that runs BF1 at 65 FPS on 2560×1440 and another that runs at 75 FPS, both with comparable frame time consistency, the faster option would have advantages for the future upgrade path for gamers.

Second, AMD’s testing ignores the fact that NVIDIA G-Sync users don’t worry about whether or not their display integrates LFC (low frame rate compensation). All G-Sync displays have effective 0 FPS minimum frame rate (meaning they don’t regress to tearing/stutter below some panel threshold). So, the GTX 1080, even when it runs below the 40 FPS mark on the created situation AMD shows above, will not stutter, meaning they still have a “good” gaming experience.

Closing Thoughts

AMD’s decision to promote performance in this new, and slightly confusing manner, is interesting and makes us more interested than ever to really put the RX Vega 64 through its paces. We have a unique position here at PC Perspective because we have already seen much of the potential of the Vega GPU with the Frontier Edition reviews. As is always the case with launch information, we wait for our own testing to confirm or counter the claims made by every hardware vendor – this is no different.

The pricing of the Radeon RX Vega 64 and Vega 56 cards, taking out the complexity of the Radeon Packs, is exactly where I stated they would need to be to remain competitive with the NVIDIA GeForce cards already in the market. At $499, and with the higher clock speeds than the Frontier Edition, the air-cooled RX Vega 64 should be a strong performance competitor to the GTX 1080. Yes, it will be drawing more power, there is no magic here today to change that. The RX Vega 56 could be the better part in relation to the GeForce GTX 1070 with the potential for impressive overclocking and a $399 price point.

If you want to get one of the $599 limited edition RX Vega 64 cards, be on the lookout immediately. I was told they will only last until early Q4 and were intended to hold the market until partners like ASUS can get their custom cooled designs on virtual and physical shelves. The liquid-cooled cards at $699 are priced much higher than the stock designs, and once the limited edition air-cooled cards are gone, there will be a $200 gap between the “reference” air-cooled cards and the liquid-cooled. I’m curious if that performance gap will stand long term.

That’s all we can dive into today and until we get cards in our hands to do real-world testing and performance evaluation, AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 and Vega 56 have been fully exposed.