AMD’s Vega is the first high-end GPU to come out of Team Red in two years, so you would think that its board partners would be quick jump in with new custom products. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. We’re hearing from sources that AMD’s AIB partners have found several issues with Vega chips that prevent them from creating custom cards for now.
As is often AMD’s strategy, the company rolled out Vega in a staggered release. It first launched the professional workstation-level and air-cooled Vega Frontier Edition in early July, followed by the liquid-cooled version a couple of weeks later. In August, AMD and its partners released the Radeon RX Vega 64 gaming cards, followed shortly after that by the RX Vega 56 cards. All of them were reference designs, and AMD promised custom third-party implementations of Vega later in Q3 ‘17 or early in Q4.
Indeed, most of AMD's partners are working on custom Vega cards--but not all--and for those who are, there seem to be issues.
XFX and Sapphire confirmed that they both have custom boards in the works, but they could not say when they might be ready. PowerColor said that it will have its own custom cards, with mass production scheduled for the beginning of November, but it hasn't yet received the DRAM it needs. (VisionTek didn’t immediately reply to our queries about their future offerings.)
AMD also has partnerships with Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI to build Radeon graphics cards, but these three companies don’t have exclusive deals with AMD. As such, they aren’t driven by necessity and have the luxury of choosing which components to support. We spoke with all three companies, and their responses indicated that their support for the Vega architecture is less definitive than AMD’s exclusive partners.
We already knew that Asus is on board with Vega. The company announced in August that it would be releasing a pair of ROG Strix Vega cards with Asus’ custom cooling solution. Asus confirmed that those cards are still coming, although the release date has been pushed back from September to early October.
Although a Gigabyte rep said it’s likely that the company would be producing a custom Vega card, they would not or could not confirm with 100% certainty that it will. If it does, we likely won’t see it until the end of the year, or later.
MSI’s response surprised us. The company traditionally offers re-engineered graphics cards with custom PCB designs for all high-end GPU platforms, but it appears to be skipping the Vega lineup. A company representative told us that MSI “won’t be making a custom card anytime soon,” but could offer no additional information.
So what gives? Sources tell us that there is too much variance in the quality of the chips AMD is providing. AIB partners are unable to figure out a stable overclocked GPU frequency that works for all cards, and therefore cannot provide any sort of warranty on factory-tuned cards. Further, there continues to be discrepancies between the temperatures the GPU is reporting and what AIB partners are finding in actual measurements. This is true of the actual GPU and the capacitors below the GPU. We have some follow-up testing that will reveal more about these issues.
Finally, as we reported last month, there have been issues due to the different packages for Vega, making it difficult to efficiently mass produce custom Vega cards. We were seeing Vega with molded and unmolded packages, which we noted impacted package height. We were even seeing a third package--we assume, using SK hynix HBM. As we wrote then:
AIB partners face new challenges, since the HBM2 is about 40 μm lower in the unmolded packages, and the third variant's underfill obviously differs somewhat.
For one, the mass production and use of a common cooler for several models must take the applied heat conducting material into account. The thickness must be optimized for the unmolded packages, the viscosity must be high enough, and the resulting contact pressure can't damage anything after being bolted together.
Generally speaking, AIB partners seem optimistic about shipping Vega cards in 2017, and some pointed out that custom Polaris cards came a couple months after the reference card launch. By that timing, we should be seeing some custom Vega cards at the end of September, or at least in October. We’re not getting a strong feeling that will be the case, however.
We’ve reached out to AMD for comment, but the company didn’t immediately reply.