This Boring AMD GPU is IMPORTANT! Radeon RX 5500 Explained
Well another AMD GPU is going to be launched soon – and no it’s not the RX 5800 – it’s the RX 5500, which finally brings Navi to the masses. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the energy and the technology that goes behind manufacturing these GPUs. Props to AMD, let’s give them a round of applause. I know that a lot of you were hoping for something that would compete against the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti or some other high-end GPUs from NVIDIA, but that isn’t the case with this new GPU. In fact, it doesn’t even compete with the GTX 1660 series. And frankly if we were to expect a higher-end GPU from AMD, given the current shortages affecting their 7nm process, it would take significantly longer for those to even come out in the first place. However, before you ignore the RX 5500 just because it’s a ‘boring’ entry-level graphics card you need to know a few things about why we think this might be AMD’s most important GPU launch of 2019.
A Long Overdue Update
I’m going to start with a little bit of a flashback. Basically, while AMD’s mid- to high-end GPUs have received regular updates over the past few years their entry-level models haven’t. That means that a lot of the Radeon cards in pre-built desktops and notebooks are based off an architecture that’s four years old. Even on retail shelves right now, almost every AMD GPU that’s under $200 is an RX 500 series that’s based on fourth generation GCN technology. Now four years might not sound like a lot, but in tech terms that’s a lifetime, especially when we have NVIDIA launching much more powerful and efficient GPUs, affordable ones too. Needless to say, AMD was in desperate need of an update and that’s where the RX 5500 series comes into play.
This new GPU is based off the new 7nm RDNA architecture, so it is a derivative of the existing RX 5700 series. From a spec standpoint, it will comes with 1408 stream processors across 22 compute units, which is a little more than half of what the RX 5700 XT has. On the memory side, the RX 5500 will have 14Gbps GDDR6 which operates on a 128-bit memory bus, and on the desktop side there will be both 4GB and 8GB cards. Pricing isn’t available yet even though the cards are supposed to be available in October or November. Personally, I think the RX 5500M will be targeted towards thin-and-light notebooks and its specs are pretty similar to the desktop variant. It operates at lower clocks and has 4GB of memory as usual. The RDNA architecture significantly improves performance while lowering power consumption and also decreases die size. Honestly, for desktop users these things are less of a concern, but this is a huge deal for the notebook market. AMD didn’t really share all that much about performance, but what they did show was pretty interesting. If these numbers are accurate then expect roughly the same frame rates as RX 580 or something that sits between the GeForce GTX 1650 and GTX 1660. This actually brings me to one of the reasons why the RX 5500 might be so important for AMD. Right now NVIDIA doesn’t have anything that can directly compete against it in the desktop or notebook segments. That might change in the next few months, but the Radeon lineup desperately needed some fresh blood at affordable price points. The only red flag here is that these numbers are expected performance rather than actual numbers, so keep that in mind.
Personally, I think the big highlight of this launch is the RX 5500M, because right now the GTX 1650 Mobile GPU offers an amazing combination of performance and efficiency for thin-and-light notebooks. For example, the new Razer Blade Stealth will come with an Intel Ice Lake CPU and optional GTX 1650 Mobile graphics. The RX 5500M could give notebook manufacturers access to even more graphics horsepower in their small form factor designs.
Why is the RX 5500 so important for AMD? Well, first of all, it gives system builders an alternative to the GTX 1650 for their more affordable gaming rigs. Secondly, it can be used in notebooks where GPUs like the RX 570/ RX 580 or even the RX 5700 series cannot be used because they consume a lot of power and produce way too much heat. Seriously, the Radeon lineup needed newer products so that they can sell in bigger volumes to fund future development and that’s exactly what’s happening here. It actually allows notebook manufacturers like MSI to come up with designs like the Alpha 15, which is a 15-inch thin-and-light gaming notebook. It has a Ryzen 7 3750H CPU, the RX 5500M GPU, a 144Hz FreeSync display, and more, which is exactly what we would want from an all AMD gaming notebook. That’s a big step forward from something like the cheap looking ASUS TUF Gaming FX505 we saw at this year’s CES.
Power & Heat
But what about the concerns that I mentioned about power consumption and heat management? While AMD’s RX 5500M is an improvement over previous generations it still looks inefficient compared to NVIDIA’s notebook models. AMD claims that the RX 5500M has a nominal power consumption of 85 watts and that it can be configured upwards or downwards based on what a notebook design requires. Meanwhile, NVIDIA claims that their GTX 1660 Ti Mobile GPU can be configured anywhere from 60 watts to 80 watts. Even though both AMD and NVIDIA measure power consumption differently, the performance difference between these two GPUs is going to be massive despite the similar power specs. Also, just for your reference, the GTX 1650 Mobile is weighted between 30 watts and 60 watts. Heat and power consumption are two huge factors for notebook manufacturers, so we will just have to wait and see how they will be able to incorporate the new RX 5500 in their designs.
Now another issue that AMD might run into is delays caused by bottlenecks in the 7nm manufacturing process. We are already starting to see prices on Ryzen 3000 CPUs skyrocket and that could potentially affect availability of these new GPUs, which is definitely something that I’m a little worried about. For now that pretty much covers everything, and you know what? I’m actually pretty excited for this little graphics card because it gets the latest architecture from AMD into a smaller form factor and power envelope. I think that’s a great alternative for system builders who are looking to build affordable gaming rigs and that’s great news. I want to know your thoughts about the RX 5500, are you excited about it even though it’s only an entry-level part?