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AMD Says its Upcoming RDNA 2 and Navi 2x Will Boost Performance per Watt by 50%

AMD RDNA 2 and Navi 2x slides
(Image credit: AMD)

 AMD has been gaining ground in the GPU market over the past year, with 7nm Navi 1x parts launching at the high-end, mainstream, and budget markets. During its Financial Analysts Day 2020, AMD is finally starting to spill the beans for what comes next. It's not called "Big Navi"—at least not officially—but while it will use a new RDNA 2 architecture for the Navi 2x GPUs, the foundation appears to be largely the same as existing Navi 1x / RDNA parts. These new RDNA 2 GPUs will power both next generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft, and more importantly, we're getting new GPUs for the PC as well.

What isn't clear is what market segments precisely will get Navi 2x, and when they'll get it. Certainly there will be an extreme gaming GPU, as AMD discussed going after 4K gaming. Considering the budget and mainstream RX 5500 XT and RX 5600 XT just arrived, however, it's unlikely we'll see them replaced at the end of the year. That is when the new consumer graphics cards are slated to arrive, incidentally—"by the end of this year." That leaves a bit of wiggle room for AMD to potentially launch them sooner, but we expect the new cards to arrive in the fall rather than the spring or summer.

Besides the architecture name and explicit launch date of this year, which we've already heard before, details remain thin. Navi 2x / RDNA 2 will bring ray tracing support, variable rate shading support, and the always-nebulous "more." AMD also mentioned performance per Watt improvements, however, which is new. The only hard data AMD provided is that just as RDNA 1 brought a 50% improvement in performance per Watt compared to the previous GCN architecture, RDNA 2 is supposed to bring a 50% improvement in performance per Watt compared to RDNA 1.

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AMD RDNA 2 and Navi 2x slides

(Image credit: AMD)
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AMD RDNA 2 and Navi 2x slides

(Image credit: AMD)
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AMD RDNA 2 and Navi 2x slides

(Image credit: AMD)
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AMD RDNA 2 and Navi 2x slides

(Image credit: AMD)
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AMD RDNA 2 and Navi 2x slides

(Image credit: AMD)

What does that mean, exactly? That's where things get very murky. If AMD includes ray tracing performance in any fashion, it should be trivial to achieve a 50% improvement in performance per Watt. Assuming it's more than that, however, and either AMD is looking to provide 50% more performance than current RDNA 1 parts at the same power levels, or else cut power requirements by 33% while keeping performance the same, or most likely RDNA 2 will land somewhere in between those two.

Still, 50% percent performance per watt does give us the potential for a significant jump in AMD graphics performance relative to the RX 5700 XT. Let's also discuss what that might mean. By our own benchmarks, the RTX 2080 Ti is currently the fastest consumer graphics card, beating the RX 5700 XT by about 31% on average. That's not the whole story, however. The RTX 2080 Ti is only 15% faster than the 5700 XT at 1080p medium, 25% faster at 1080p ultra, 40% faster at 1440p ultra, and 50% faster at 4K ultra. The problem is that the RTX 2080 Ti will be two years old this fall, and Nvidia is expected to launch its next-generation Ampere GPUs this year as well.

Without additional details on the hardware, it's too early to draw any conclusions. AMD did show a video of hardware ray tracing that was rendered using its RDNA 2 silicon, but it was not a live demo—the content was previously rendered. We'd love to see improved ray tracing performance compared to Nvidia's RTX 20-series, but even more critical, we'd love to see games doing things with ray tracing that make it into a "must have" feature. We're definitely not there yet.

RDNA 2 will be a common architecture for PCs and next-gen consoles, and AMD notes DirectX Raytracing (DXR) 1.1 capabilities. Unfortunately, that's about the extent of what AMD is saying on the consumer graphics side. Core counts, clock speeds, real-world performance, pricing and 'more' will be revealed later this year. Hopefully Navi 2x parts will prove competitive when they arrive.

Besides RDNA 2 and Navi 2x, AMD also mentioned RDNA 3 and Navi 3x. Not surprisingly, things are incredibly thin here. AMD showed a slide with a tentative launch date of some time before the end of 2022, and other than the RDNA 3 and Navi 3x there's nothing to say. Given RDNA launched in mid-2019 and RDNA 2 is coming at the end of 2020, AMD is running on a 1.5 year cadence of new architectures. That means RDNA 4 and Navi 4x are coming by 2024—you heard it first here, folks!

Jarred Walton

Jarred Walton is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on everything GPU. He has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.