It’s been a long wait, but AMD’s high-end Vega graphics cards have arrived, providing a much-needed alternative to Nvidia’s enthusiast-grade cards, matching the GeForce GTX 1080 on both price and performance.
Building on technologies introduced with the RX Fury, the Radeon RX Vega range is a big step up from the Radeon RX 500-series cards (which launched only recently), and includes a host of new features designed to dramatically increase performance.
The RX Vega currently comes in three varieties: the RX Vega 56, the faster RX Vega 64 and a high-end RX Vega 64 with liquid cooling. Here, we’re concentrating on the standard Vega 64.
HOW MUCH DOES THE RADEON RX VEGA 64 COST?
We’ve reviewed one of AMD’s ‘own-brand’ reference boards, which isn’t actually available to buy, unlike Nvidia’s Founders Edition cards.
RX Vega cards from partners including ASUS, MSI and others will offer the same level of performance, priced from around £470.
For example Sapphire’s RX Vega 64 costs £469.99 from Scan.co.uk.
Limited Edition models sell for rather more, at about £600, while the faster water cooled version starts at around £700.
Expect more options to arrive with a wider range of prices once board partners start to ship products based on their own modified hardware designs.
AMD RADEON RX VEGA 64: FEATURES AND DESIGN
As a replacement for AMD’s previous high-end boards, the Radeon Fury X and Radeon Fury, the RX Vega improves upon the previous design while retaining many core features.
Manufactured using a 14nm process, the RX Vega 64 offers 64 compute units and 4096 stream processors with a greatly increased base clock speed of 1247 MHz, boosting to 1546 MHz under load.
Liquid cooled versions can reach 1667 MHz – an improvement of around 60 percent over the R9 Fury X.
The new card uses the same High Bandwidth Memory architecture found in the Fury boards to achieve a memory bandwidth of 484 GB/s in a new ‘HMB2’ version. This is a little slower than the 512 GB/s memory on the Fury boards.
But Vega doubles the about of RAM from 4GB to 8GB – a very welcome development as Fury cards were often criticised for offering less video memory than some less expensive AMD cards.
Vega also benefits from a new paged memory architecture which greatly improves efficiency when reading data over the PCI Express bus while simultaneously operating as a cache for future data access.
This process is managed by a new High-Bandwidth Cache Controller (HBCC) which allows your PC’s main memory to behave like video memory, potentially giving the Vega chip access to huge amounts of RAM with higher performance than has previously been available.
The Vega architecture also includes a new and more efficient geometry engine which is able to more quickly determine which parts of a scene will be visible, avoiding any wasted computation on those parts which will never be seen.
It is also designed to speed up numerical operations by varying the level of mathematical precision as required.
Vega also benefits from DirectX 12.1 support, rather than DirectX 12.0 which was supported by the Polaris architecture found in the RX 500-series. Furthermore, you can now connect more ultra-high resolution displays to the card simultaneously with higher refresh rates than before.
For example, the Vega RX 64 will allow up to three simultaneous 4K HDR displays at 60Hz, where Polaris is limited to a single monitor.
Although the first wave of RX Vega 64 cards are all based on AMD’s reference design, the cosmetic details of your particular looks will depend on which partner you buy it from. Our review sample which is one of a limited edition batch fitted with a rather fetching brushed aluminium exterior.
We don’t know for how long these versions will be available, but they’re not the best value for money as they do cost around £100 extra yet offer no performance benefit. Limited edition version or not, the reference Vega 64 boards all have a premium metal construction which sets them apart from the less expensive models.
Each board features an illuminated ‘Radeon’ logo along its length, with a smaller illuminated ‘R’ next to the power connectors. Also included is a row of 8 individual LEDs forming a ‘tachometer’, indicating the current GPU load level.
Unusually for a graphics card at this level, the board comes with only four monitor outputs: three DisplayPort 1.4 and one HDMI 2.0b connectors are provided. These allow for multi-monitor ‘Eyefinity’ setups, 4K and HDR.
Despite extensive customisable power management settings, the RX Vega 64 board is rated at up to 295W, or 345W in the liquid cooled version, to allow for higher clock speeds.
This is a much higher requirement than a GeForce GTX 1080, which is rated at only 180W.
The RX Vega 64 board also requires two 8-pin PCI-Express connectors and AMD recommends at least a 750W power supply. That’s 50 percent more powerful than the 500W PSU recommended for use with a GeForce GTX 1080.
AMD RADEON RX VEGA 64: PERFORMANCE
As part of AMD’s new enthusiast grade product line up and based on entirely new silicon, the RX Vega 64 represents a significant step up in performance from the Radeon RX 580.
As you’ll see from our performance results below, it also represents a solid challenge to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 in terms of both price and performance.
The RX Vega 64 delivers ample performance for VR and even 4K gaming with less demanding titles, often outpacing the RX 580 by around 65-70 percent.
When compared to a GTX 1080 results are much closer, with results often within just a handful of frames per second depending on the chosen game and quality settings. If you’re trying to choose between the two, the decision will vary depending on which games you like to play.
Another important factor is that the RX Vega 64 is, of course, a much newer card than the GTX 1080 and developers have therefore had less opportunity to optimise their game code to take full advantage of its new features. We can therefore expect more significant performance improvements on the RX Vega 64 over time.
It should also be noted that the RX Vega 64 has far greater power and cooling requirements than a GTX 1080, so you’ll certainly need to take this into account if your current power supply isn’t up to the task. Our air cooled sample also gets quite loud when pushed to the limit. This become even more critical if you’re intending to set up a dual card configuration.
Should I buy a Radeon RX Vega 64?
If the price is right for you, then the RX Vega 64 is a sound purchase. It similar performance to the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 at around the same price, while offering newer technologies which are yet to be fully exploited.
You can also take advantage of FreeSync monitors which typically cost less than the equivalent G-Sync monitors designed for Nvidia cards.
However you may run into issues related to power and noise as the RX Vega 64 needs considerably more power to run, so you may find that a power supply upgrade is required for the RX Vega 64 which you wouldn’t need for a GeForce GTX 1080.
Those wanting the ultimate performance are still best served by an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti which is much faster, although considerably more expensive.