AMD Radeon VII 16GB Review: A Surprise Attack on GeForce RTX 2080

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AMD’s Radeon VII announcement was a bit of a surprise to everyone. But regardless of whether you’re a gamer, a content creator, or a reviewer eager for some competition in the high-end graphics market, we can all agree that even an unexpected entry is a breath of fresh air.

The Radeon VII doesn’t quite aspire for tier-one billing. Rather, it goes up against Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2080—a card that only recently usurped Nvidia’s former flagship, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. As a result, Radeon VII is ideal for gaming at 2560 x 1440 with details cranked up or 3840 x 2160 with some quality compromises to keep frame rates fluid. To sweeten the deal, AMD is offering a three-game bundle with Radeon VII that includes Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 5, and The Division 2—one of the better bundles we’ve seen.

Of course, bonus games are a great differentiator, all else being equal. But first, Radeon VII has to prove itself against capable competition. If we take the geometric mean of each game in our benchmark suite’s average frame rate at QHD, Radeon VII is 26% faster than Radeon RX Vega 64. That’s a truly impressive gain. However, the same equation puts Radeon VII at just over 92% of GeForce RTX 2080’s average frame rate in our 11 games. It’s obviously possible to reshuffle the deck using different titles that might be better-optimized for AMD’s GCN architecture. Granted, our benchmarks were run on Nvidia's Founders Edition card, which enjoys a 5%-higher GPU Boost rating than the least-expensive 2080s out there. But even parity between the two boards would be less than stellar from a card launching months later, particularly when AMD’s biggest selling point—16GB of HBM2—isn’t as big of a factor at 2560 x 1440.

Radeon VII’s heavy-hitting memory subsystem improves the new card’s advantage over Radeon RX Vega 64 at 3840 x 2160. The geometric mean of its average frame rates grows to almost 33% higher, exceeding 63 FPS compared to Vega 64’s 48 FPS. AMD even comes a little closer to GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition by achieving 93% of its average frame rate across our suite. But of course, average frame rates aren’t everything. AMD knows that its big strength is Radeon VII’s 16GB of HBM2 and 1 TB/s of bandwidth, so the company is beating that drum hard with data showing where 8GB and 11GB cards may be overrun, resulting in ugly frame time spikes that manifest as stuttering. We think this topic deserves further exploration, and we plan to run additional tests using multiple products from both companies to isolate frame time aberrations using practical examples, rather than hand-picked benchmarks conceived to make 16GB look necessary at a time when it’s especially convenient.

At least for gaming, then, we’d stop short of spending $700 on Radeon VII. The $800 GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition we tested tends to be a bit faster, it uses a lot less power, and it’s significantly quieter. The many 2080s available between $700 and $800 exhibit very similar attributes as Nvidia's reference design. Since two of the three games in AMD’s bundle (Devil May Cry 5 and The Division 2) aren’t available yet, there's plenty of time for additional testing before losing out on those extras. And AMD says it’s working on a potentially more elegant way to handle cooling, rather than spinning its fans up from idle to maximum speed in a matter of seconds.

The company says it controls throttling and fan control on Vega 20 through a network of 64 sensors that create a junction temperature, rather than the edge temperature reported by a single sensor that was used previously. As a result of this more informed reading, the company can be extra aggressive about extracting maximum performance from Vega 20 without exceeding the GPU’s limits. In thermally-constrained scenarios, Radeon VII should run a couple of percent faster with its clock rates modulated according to junction temperature. But because AMD is pushing this GPU hard at the expense of power and heat, there’s no real way to tame the unrefined cooler without giving up peak performance. Any attempt to make Radeon VII quieter is going to cost cooling, leading to lower clock rates. As a result, AMD is fighting an uphill battle against third-party GeForce RTX 2080s selling for $700. Even with a three-game bundle, we think it needs to be less expensive than its primary competition.

But again, that’s for gaming. Content creation is another matter entirely. We don’t have many rendering or encoding workloads in our suite. However, as we recently saw in our Nvidia Titan RTX review, extra memory makes a big difference in workloads able to utilize it. In fact, it can be the difference between a successful run and a crash. Bandwidth-intensive metrics like LuxBall HDR show that Radeon VII is capable of beating monsters like Titan RTX in the right situations. AMD also puts the hurt on GeForce RTX 2080 in the SPECviewperf 13 energy and medical viewsets, both of which presumably benefit from lots of fast on-board memory. Catia, NX, and SolidWorks go AMD’s way, too.

Our Cinema4D and Blender tests favor GeForce RTX 2080. However, once you start getting into more specialized workloads that incorporate specific optimizations for either AMD or Nvidia, recommendations become much harder to generalize. If you already know that your 8K Adobe Premiere projects utilize more memory than what you get from 8GB or 11GB cards, Radeon VII at $700 becomes an almost affordable alternative to the $2,500 Titan RTX with 24GB of GDDR6 (and a lot less memory bandwidth).

In the end, then, Radeon VII looks like the right card for the right kind of customer. By arming it with two times the HBM2 as Radeon RX Vega 64 and moving moving up to 1 TB/s, AMD uncorked its Vega 20 processor to serve up significantly more performance. Some workloads reward Radeon VII with a win over GeForce RTX 2080. Others show Nvidia retaining its lead. But AMD is clear that average frame rates don’t tell the whole story. Under certain conditions, 16GB of memory may also be the key to lower frame times and smoother performance. AMD didn’t give us enough time with Radeon VII to dig deep into those claims. We certainly plan to, though. And perhaps by the time we’re done, the company will have fixed the hardware monitoring issues we encountered and smoothed out Radeon VII’s meteoric fan curve.

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Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • cknobman
    I have to say (as an AMD fan) that I am a little disappointed with this card, especially given the price point.
  • velocityg4
    This might be an attack on the RTX 2080 if the price was closer to that of an RTX 2070. Looking at the results in the article. It only approaches RTX 2080 performance in games which tend to favor AMD cards. Yet even in those it barely surpases the RTX 2080. While the RTX 2080 soundly beats it in nVidia optimized titles. I'd say it would be an RTX 2075 if such a thing existed.

    Don't get me wrong. It is still a better card than an RTX 2070. But it's performance doesn't justify RTX 2080 pricing. Based on current pricing on PCParticker of the 2070 and 2080. $600 USD would be a price better suited for it.

    Compute is a different matter. Depending on your specific work requirements. You can get some great bang for your buck.

    Still it would be nice if AMD could blow out the pricing in the GPU segment as it does in the CPU segment. Although their strategy may be more of an attack on the compute segment. Given the large amount of memory and FP64 performance.

    21749331 said:
    Under the hood, AMD’s Vega 20 graphics processor looks a lot like the Vega 10 powering Radeon RX Vega 64. But a shift from 14nm manufacturing at GlobalFoundries to TSMC’s 7nm node makes it possible for AMD to operate Vega 20 at much higher clock rates than its processor.

    Did you mean predecessor?
  • richardvday
    they cant lower the price without losing money on each card that memory cost so much its half of the BOM
  • King_V
    21749475 said:
    they cant lower the price without losing money on each card that memory cost so much its half of the BOM

    I know this has been mentioned, but do we have any hard data where we know this for certain?

    I remember asking someone before, and they posted a link, but even that seemed to be a he-said-she-said kind of thing.

    I do have to agree, though, overall, with a vague disappointment. Given its performance, value-wise, it seems this is worthwhile only if you really want at least two of the games in the bundle.

    I hadn't thought about what AMD's motivation was, but the thought that even AMD was caught a little by surprise at Nvidia's somewhat arrogant pricing for the RTX 2070/2080/2080Ti, and "smelled blood" as it were, is somewhat plausible.
  • redgarl
    Something is wrong with your Tomb Raider bench, techspot results are giving the RVII the victory.
  • timtiminhouston
    I am an AMD fan but AMD needs to stop letting sales gurus dictate everything. The fact is AMD is WAY behind Nvidia at this point, and there is absolutely no way they should have disabled anything from the datacenter card to make up for not having Tensor OR Ray Tracing; they should have only had less memory. I understand reviewers trying not to savage the card, but let's be honest, if I won this card I would probably sell it unopened. I am all about GPGPU, and in the HD7970 at least I had massive compute compared to the competition (125k Pyrit hashes/sec), even though Nvidia was still better in most games. Not only is this card not better in gaming, it is way behind in GPGPU technology. I look forward to buying a used RTX card in a year or two to see what else the Tensor cores can be used for on Linux, but not so much this card. If I saw it for $300 on Craigslist I might be tempted, but GPU and memory prices are still way over inflated due to the cryptoscam boom. Luckily it looks like they are running short of suckers. This is a hard pass, and no way I can recommend it. A used GTX 1070 or Vega 56 for 200 is far better bang for buck. Hold your money for a year or so.
  • edjetorsy
    I am not impressed by this AMD graphical card at almost the same price for a RTX2080 more performance and lower power consumption.
    The Ryzen CPU however I am interested in, the 2700X is a good deal and waiting for the Ryzen 3e generation to appear and see what this baby can do compare to Intel high end . But no I own a GTX1070 il think I pass this whole RTX and Radeon VII generation, there is not so much to gain for the price at this time.
  • shapoor12
    can't understand the 331mm2 die size on readon vii while rtx 2080 have 545mm2 , amd could smash Nvidia by making bigger cards. why u doing this to yourself AMD? WHY?WHY?
  • Olle P
    At least it's the first 7nm consumer-marketed GPU to the market.
    The price cut from ~$5,000 (vanilla MI50) to $700 doesn't hurt.
    Some undervolting and -clocking should do wonders to noise and heat.

    Time to sit back and wait for Navi...
  • Fulgurant
    "Nvidia’s Turing-based cards proved this by serving up solid performance, but simultaneously turning many gamers off with steep prices. It was only when the company worked its way down to GeForce RTX 2060 and had to compete against Radeon RX Vega 56/64 that it got serious about telling a more compelling value story."

    I don't see how the 2060 is a compelling value story. Sure, it's more cost-efficient than its high-end cousins, but the 2060 offers very little in the way of a performance increase to people who were in the same price bracket previously (1070 owners), and it offers an enormous price and power premium to people who own 1060s.

    Spent ~$370 almost 3 years ago for an Nvidia card? Well now you can plop down roughly the same money for about a 15% performance increase and a 2 GB loss of VRAM. That tech-journalists actually tout this as great progress mystifies me.

    Unfortunately this newest release from AMD doesn't look like it presages significant price pressure to bring Nvidia back down to earth. Things might get better as AMD drives towards down towards the midrange segment, but who knows? Here's hoping.