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AMD RX Vega 64 & Vega 56 Performance Review

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  • Author: SKYMTL
  • Date: August 14, 2017
  • Product Name: RX Vega 64 / RX Vega 56
  • Warranty: 3 years

Conclusion; Value First & Some Brutal Truths

So there you have it. After a nearly two years of false leads, junk tabloid journalism, an endless number of teases by AMD and a solid 48 hours of benchmarking we now know where AMD’s RX Vega fits into things. For those who waited all this time in the hope Vega would compete with the best NVIDIA had to offer, this launch will likely end with a mix of regret and hope. But if you are someone who appreciates value, then AMD might just have something for you.

Let’s start this off with a very simple analogy between Zen and Vega. AMD’s Hawaii was a last hurrah for the old competitive ways of ATI and the long wait for the follow up Fiji architecture allowed NVIDIA to move ahead by (almost) a whole generation. Now the two years between Fiji and Vega have compounded the issue and NVIDIA’s GeForce lineup has gone even further afield. A generational leap forward was needed in an effort to better align AMD’s GPU division with the impending release of Volta, not a 16 moth old GTX 1080. The Zen architecture is indeed a saving grace on the x86 side -finally competing against the latest Intel CPUs- and Vega was seen as a similar knight in shining armor for the Radeon Technology Group. From a gaming standpoint, it simply isn’t.

When taken inside a bubble the RX Vega 64 does post some very competitive scores in nearly every single game. Once everything is averaged out, it trades blows almost evenly with the GTX 1080 due to its superiority in DX12 applications. That goes for both our 1440P and 4K tests. One concern however is the dearth of DX12 and Vulkan titles that have been launched as of late since AMD’s best wins seem to be narrowly focused in these two APIs. While there was an initial surge of compatible games last year, the list has really thinned out and it doesn’t look to be improving all that much through the rest of 2017. Hopefully that situation changes. So if this was a year ago, I’d be singing AMD’s praises from the hilltop regardless of the 64’s obvious inability to land an absolute killing blow. But at this point I’m a bit more apprehensive about what the future holds for the continued shift to DX12 and Vulkan.

Vega 64 does perform admirably on the whole but it is also quite simply an unpleasant card to have in the same room as you. It has loud fan speeds, a voracious appetite for electricity and exudes blasts of hot air that feel like Lucifer’s own breath. This is a card pushed to the ragged edges of air cooling and it shows. Luckily some of these issues can be taken care of by AMD’s intrepid board partners and their custom cooling solutions. And yet if there’s $50 separating the reference Vega 64 and GTX 1080 at retail and you don’t have any brand preference, I’d recommend one of two routes: jump onto the NVIDIA bandwagon or save some money by buying an RX Vega 56 if an AMD card is a necessity.

You heard that right, my experience with Vega 64 completely justified AMD’s last minute request for reviewers to focus on the Vega 56. This cut down version of Vega 10 is a pretty compelling graphics card if you can overlook its power consumption, heat and noise limitations. I’m not quite sure why you would want to overlook those things though. Against the GTX 1070, it won far more often than it lost and at times the RX Vega 56 even came close to putting down the GTX 1080. If you are looking for a slightly more future-proof $400 gaming solution than the GTX 1070 and you tend to game with headphones plugged in, this could be a good fit.

The RX Vega 56 is infinitely better behaved than its bigger, more obnoxious brother. So whereas the RX Vega 64 is thoroughly underwhelming in my books, the Vega 56 ended up being a pretty solid GPU from a value standpoint provided you’ll actually be able to find it at $400. But is the $20 premium over the GTX 1070 worthwhile? I’d say that $20 makes it a good value rather than a screaming deal, drawing the 56 even with its competitor.

I know it sounds like I am harping a lot on Vega’s power consumption in this conclusion but it points towards the reason why it lacks a competitive edge. When you have what amounts to be an upper mid-tier GPU that consumes significantly more power than the competitor’s leading edge card, questions need to be raised. In my testing the deltas were extreme with the 56 requiring almost 100W more than the 1070 and the 64 beating NVIDIA’s 1080 by a shocking 117W. There’s no justification other than to assume AMD realized their architecture was behind the times and to insure competitiveness, blasted it with voltage and cranked clock speeds. It feels like AMD tried to pull a page from NVIDIA’s book by designing a highly competitive compute architecture, adapted it to the mass market gaming side and failed to hit efficiency targets.

With all of this being said, what AMD has done here is nothing short of masterful; they’ve laid just enough breadcrumbs over the space of more than a year to keep potential buyers in a state of perpetual suspended animation. Then they used events to insure interest remained at a slow, steady boil by allowing the press and online personalities to release tantalizing morsels of information and unboxings at strategic intervals. Folks waited, and waited, and waited some more. Vega is what they are left with and looking back on this long, meandering path I’m honestly not sure this strategy will work in the long run.

To be clear I’m not saying that people who are waiting for a particular piece of technology should be ridiculed. Rather, I hope after this protracted and painful launch potential buyers will be a lot more careful before waving the “I’m waiting for xxx!!” as a banner of pride or in the name of brand loyalty. Because the moral of this story is pretty simple: if you have the money and want a graphics card, stop daydreaming, buy the best you can afford NOW and get on with gaming.

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