Summary & Conclusion
Since we could not conclusively determine why AMD's latest drivers sometimes cause third-party boards to under-perform the reference Radeon RX Vega 64, despite more aggressive clock rates, we'll have to leave those corner cases out of our evaluation for now. If AMD's software did what they were supposed to do, Sapphire's Radeon RX Vega 64 Nitro+ would be faster in every single benchmark, and not just some of them. Hopefully this gets worked out soon. For now, let's focus on what Sapphire achieved from a technical perspective.
If you had any qualms about AMD's own implementation of Radeon RX Vega 64 and waited patiently for the company's partners to iron out the wrinkles, then this is what you were waiting for. From a technical standpoint, there’s really not much more that could possibly be done. We did uncover a handful of issues, but they aren't attributable to Sapphire's efforts. Loyal AMD customers can continue celebrating the fact that Sapphire continues making Radeon cards exclusively, improving upon AMD's reference designs.
The Radeon RX Vega 64 Nitro+ stays cool and is remarkably quiet for such a power-hungry piece of hardware. Consider that in the context of how much waste heat Sapphire is forced to deal with from Vega 10. At 400W, air cooling simply hits is physical limits. The additional 150 MHz you get from this card compared to AMD's own model (which inevitably hits its temperature limit before going and further) is certainly nice, but it doesn't propel the board into a new performance category. Depending on the game, 10%-higher frequencies do make a difference. But there's really no room for additional overclocking.
Sapphire's default settings and the performance they enable represent a great compromise for those who prioritize performance, but don’t want their PCs to sound like blow driers. If you really want to tweak the Radeon RX Vega 64 Nitro+, consider going the other direction: the card can be made to use less power, run cooler, and make almost no noise at all if you dial it back with a combination of the secondary BIOS and AMD's driver-configurable modes.
Unfortunately, we can only speculate right now about real availability, and whether Sapphire's pricing proves realistic. The Radeon RX Vega 64 Nitro+ is nonetheless a great graphics card. Though, at a price of $660, enthusiasts will no doubt be divided in their willingness to pay so much money with GeForce GTX 1080s selling for almost $150 less. Given a general shortage of Vega cards right now, though, don't expect to find partner boards selling at any kind of discount.
Therefore, our Editor's Choice award represents true appreciation for Sapphire's technical implementation of a GPU that has proven somewhat problematic for other manufacturers, and not necessarily purchasing advice. If you really must have a decked-out Radeon RX Vega 64, it's going to be because you're a die-hard AMD enthusiast with a penchant for exclusivity, and not because we give it a thumbs-up or -down. In the end, there's nothing wrong with paying a premium on this card if you're one of the lucky ones who can get one.
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