AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 8GB Review

Conclusion

Radeon RX Vega 56 is a close derivative of Vega 64, so its behaviors largely carry over from AMD’s flagship. The company does cut this card’s board power rating by almost 30% through a combination of disabling eight Compute Units, dialing down the GPU’s frequency, and down-clocking its precious HBM2. But it’s ultimately still much more power-hungry, and consequently hotter and louder, than its primary competition, GeForce GTX 1070.

Performance-wise, Radeon RX Vega 56 fares well against the 1070. Even when we compare it to EVGA’s overclocked GeForce GTX 1070 SC Gaming 8GB (there are no Founders Edition cards left to buy), Vega 56 consistently matches or beats it. In the handful of scenarios where AMD is slower, the loss amounts to single-digit percentages. But whereas Vega 64 made a case for 4K gaming at dialed-back detail settings, it’s safer to think of Vega 56 as a solid solution for 2560x1440 displays at maximum quality in the latest games.

Our VR benchmarks are less conclusive. GeForce GTX 1070 is definitely faster than Vega 56 in Chronos and DiRT Rally. It’s technically quicker in Robo Recall as well, though the GeForce also suffers more dropped frames in that game. Serious Sam narrowly favors Vega 56 over GTX 1070, and Arizona Sunshine runs well on both cards.

There’s no way to be delicate about our environmental measurements, though. Despite a much lower board power than Vega 64, Radeon RX Vega 56 (using its default Balanced power profile) consumes ~220W in our typical gaming workload. You can overclock for nominal performance gains, but power consumption rises much faster, thrashing efficiency. Alternatively, you can drop Vega 56’s power limit, cut consumption dramatically, and retain most of the card’s performance. This just wasn’t an option for AMD’s shipping configuration—the company knew it had to beat GeForce GTX 1070 in the benchmarks, and it sacrificed the FPS/watt sweet-spot we calculated for a victory in the discipline gamers care about most: speed.

Beyond the tangibles—performance, power, heat, noise, and efficiency—it’s much more difficult to say whether Radeon RX Vega 56 should be your next graphics card. Weeks after its official debut, Vega 64 remains relatively rare. Those cards we do find in stock sell for ~$700—roughly 40% higher than AMD’s purported launch price and well beyond what any gamer should consider paying.

The company won’t comment on shipping quantities, but again, we know AMD would rather sell its expensive GPUs as Vega 64s than 56es. And given a relatively mature manufacturing platform, the company should yield more completely intact Vega 10 processors. At the same time, Radeon RX Vega 56 appears to be better suited for Ethereum mining than AMD's flagship. Then there’s the lower price tag bound to attract enthusiasts on a tighter budget. Taken together, those variables reasonably suggest less immediate availability and greater demand. That’s not a good prognosis for the likelihood of Vega 56 at a $400 price point.

Fortunately for AMD, GeForce GTX 1070 is a much better cryptocurrency mining card than GTX 1080. So, while gamers can still snag 1080s for as little as $510, 1070s are more elusive. The GeForce GTX 1070 SC Gaming 8GB we used for comparison is out of stock on EVGA’s website (it normally sells for $460). Lower-clocked models are available as low as $430; they’re just not as fast.

In the end, Radeon RX Vega 56’s appeal is a matter of relative comparisons. The preceding 23 pages painted a pretty clear picture of Vega 56’s position against Vega 64, several GeForce cards, and prior-generation Radeons from several different angles. The last one—value—is subject to change on any given day. At $400, we’re willing to overlook higher power consumption and, to a certain extent, more noise than a $460, or even a $430 GeForce GTX 1070, particularly when the Vega 56 is as fast or faster. But if at some point in the future you end up with both cards in your shopping cart and are unsure which way to go, Vega 56 generally wins when it also costs less.

There are still several Vega-specific features that could make this card faster or more capable in the future: Rapid Packed Math, primitive shaders, the Draw Stream Binning Rasterizers, and the HBCC. This is also a youthful product, and there are many examples of AMD’s driver team extracting more performance from new hardware over the course of months. Our Doom, The Division, and Warhammer benchmarks should be evidence of Vega’s potential. But until we see some of those forward-looking features exposed for gamers to enjoy, Vega 56’s success will largely depend on its price relative to GeForce GTX 1070.

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