AMD’s Vega Arrives to Mixed Reviews, Modest Results

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It’s been over two years since AMD last launched a high-end graphics card that could compete in the upper echelons of the GPU market. That gap is literally unprecedented in the modern era. Starting with the launch of the 3D Rage in April 1996, ATI/AMD have consistently churned out a new GPU every 12 to 18 months. Expectations for the company’s new Vega GPUs have been high, but reviews of the Vega 56 and Vega 64 aren’t nearly as strong as Team Red fans will have hoped for.

We’ve rounded up three reviews from Computer Shopper, PC Gamer, and Tech Report. As we’ve previously discussed, AMD is offering Vega in three configurations: The Vega 56 is $ 400 and intended to compete with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, the Vega 64 (air-cooled) will face off against the GTX 1080, and the Vega 64 liquid cooled is expected to be 6-8 percent faster than the air-cooled variant. AMD, however, isn’t sampling any of the liquid cooler GPUs, so all of the reviews we’ve seen are of the air-cooled model. Pricing on the bundles and cards is shown below, and each of the liquid-cooled cards comes with coupons to defray the cost of other high-end peripherals.

RXVega

All of the reviews point in the same direction. AMD’s RX Vega 64 lags the GTX 1080 by 6-10 percent depending on your benchmark choice, while the GTX 1070 and Vega 56 are at least more evenly matched. But there are problems here. We tallied the benchmark figures from all three reviews, and the overall pattern is consistent: While there are definitely games where Vega takes the lead, the GTX 1080 beats the RX Vega 64 far more often than it loses. Exactly how close they are varies depending on the resolution you care about and how strictly you define a tie between Teams Green and Red. The RX Vega 56 is on far more solid ground and takes more tests from the GTX 1070 than it gives away.

BioShock Infinite is probably the strongest win for AMD and Vega, but it’s also four years old. Graph by Computer Shopper

Unfortunately, GPU comparisons aren’t just about raw performance. Power consumption matters as well, and this is where the RX Vega family really falls down. AMD has pushed Vega right to the edge and the increase in power consumption is significant.

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Tech Report put Vega through its paces with multiple power-saving modes enabled. Even in peak efficiency mode (Vega 56, Power Saver), the much slower card can’t match the GTX 1080’s power draw. Vega 64 in Turbo Mode draws a whopping 176W of additional power compared with the GTX 1080.

We’ve got both the Vega 56 and Vega 64 in-house and intend to review them, but the overall picture here isn’t great. The RX Vega 56 is a solid match to the GTX 1070, but at a significantly higher power consumption. The RX Vega 64 is a less-great match for the GTX 1080, and the implication here is that you’ll need a liquid cooler bundle to match the 1080 in performance cleanly across the board. Toss in the fact that no online retailer appears to have any Vegas in stock and the way cryptocurrency mining has warped the GPU market, and you’ve got a very power-hungry card that competes with, but does not outperform, GPUs that have been on the market for 15 months.  DirectX 12 is not much help in this instance; Nvidia takes a number of DX12 titles from AMD.

It’s possible that we’ll see this situation improve over the long term; AMD’s competitive positioning with the HD 7970 family was significantly better post-launch than it was on launch day. Similarly, we may see future Vega products improve on this design and deliver a faster or more power efficient product. But as of this writing, Vega is better than nothing (which is what AMD had) but far from the knockout blow that AMD fans were hoping for. Threadripper and Ryzen, at least, remain an unqualified success.

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