Short of some kind of bizarre catastrophe, AMD will be showing their much-awaited RX Vega line of GPUs at a Siggraph event on 30 July. The company’s new chip has been the source of much excitement, but also much frustration, among the long-suffering AMD customer base. While AMD have plenty of mid-range GPU options at the moment (they love the mid-range so much that the RX 480 got a re-release as the RX 580 within a year), their Polaris era abdicated the upper GPU echelons to Nvidia.
The delayed Vega chip is supposed to be AMD’s re-entry into that top tier market space, so its variants will need to be able to compete with Nvidia’s GTX 1070 and (even more so) the 1080 cards. But Vega’s late arrive means it may not be up against just the 1070s and 1080s for long. Those cards are now a year old, and Nvidia is preparing for the launch of its new Volta chip later this year. Depending on how that performs, Vega may find itself in the unfortunate position of arriving just in time to compete with the prior generation of upper-end cards, rather than the new one.
A lot of these thoughts are speculation at this point, of course. Besides the niche ‘Frontier Edition’ of Vega (aimed at number crunching tasks like video editing, rather than the gaming mainstream), none of the cards are out yet. But there is a fair bit of information out there to piece together, which I’ll do below. This piece is going to stick to broadly layman’s terms about performance, price, and availability; I’ll leave in-depth analysis of teraflop architecture (is that even a thing?) to the specialist tech press.
How many GPUs are we looking at in RX Vega’s line-up?
According to leaked information on the German site 3DCenter, there will be three flavours of RX Vega. Enthusiasts of terrible GPU naming schemes will be delighted to learn that Vega’s (again, if accurate) will not disappoint. It appears there will be a scaled back version sold as the RX Vega XL, an air-cooled RX Vega XT that uses the full power of the chip, and a third, power-hungry beast of a card called the RX Vega XTX which requires water cooling. The XT and XTX should have 8GB of HBM2 VRAM. That detail isn’t listed for the XL (maybe there’ll be 4GB/8GB versions).
Of course that any or all of that could be incorrect. Perhaps those are internal code names (oh god, I hope they are internal code names). Perhaps there aren’t even three variations. The information, though, looks to be credible.
What kind of performance can we expect from RX Vega?
Answering that with specifics ahead of release and proper benchmarking is impossible, but there are bits and pieces of information available that give a general impression. AMD themselves have been cautious about showing Vega in action.
The two demonstrations we do have feature Doom and Prey running at 4K. That Doom demo is the clearest and more impressive of the two, showing miscellaneous ‘Vega’ running the game at 60-70fps at 4K on Ultra settings. Running Doom with the Vulkan API is pretty much the friendliest possible testing bed for AMD, but, nonetheless, those results put it theoretically ahead of the vanilla 1080 and behind the 1080Ti. Adjusting for Doom/Vulkan being an AMD sweet spot, that probably suggests performance on par with the 1080 in other games.
But that Doom video was quite old, from back in January 2017. The Prey demo was much more recent (at Computex in May), and also much more vague. AMD said the game was using two RX Vega cards in Crossfire, and running it at 4K Ultra settings. No frame-rate was shown, though it was clearly above 60. You’d hope so, because Prey is not exactly difficult to run at 60/4K with a top-tier GPU, let alone two. That demo, in short, didn’t really tell us a whole lot (other than the fact AMD didn’t really want to show RX Vega at Computex).
Dipping into slightly more speculative territory, some recent 3DMark 11 scores attributed to Vega have shown up in the last week or so. They fit the bill, in the sense that the newest scores put the ‘687F:C1 8GB’ either a little ahead or a little behind the GTX 1080 (it varies) and well behind the 1080Ti.
Finally, there’s the Vega FE. Not strictly a card for gaming, true. But it’s a Vega card that’s actually out and has been benchmarked. Performance from FE was not particularly good, even falling behind the 1070 in certain games (while, in others, it was touching the vanilla 1080).
Taking all of that into consideration, and baring in mind that Vega is AMD’s push towards the higher end of the GPU hierarchy, performance akin to a vanilla GTX 1080 looks like the safest bet. Probably higher in some AMD-oriented titles, maybe lower in some Nvidia ones. But to expect anything more with the information available at this point seems optimistic, or puts almost evangelical faith in drivers making huge performance gains.
The cut-down version (RX Vega XL, mentioned above) may well be AMD’s GTX 1070 equivalent. I’m not sure what to make of the water-cooled RX Vega XTX; it should be the most powerful option, so if anything in this line-up is going to get close to the 1080Ti, it will be this one.
How about power draw?
It looks bad. The leaked listings have Vega XL/XT requiring 285W (just the GPU, not a total system draw) and Vega XTX thirsty for a massive 375W. The GTX 1080 is listed as requiring 180W, by way of comparison.
Again, the leaks may be nonsense, but they’re supported by Vega: FE benchmarks showing very high power consumption. It looks like Vega will demand a hefty PSU.
How much will RX Vega cost then?
This is how AMD have made their GPUs enticing of late. Okay, yes, GTX 1080 level performance for Vega wouldn’t exactly be outstanding with Volta just around the corner. The power draw looks fairly obscene. But if the price is right, you could still end up with high performance that’s decent value for money.
The problem with any kind of GPU price estimates at the moment is that GPU prices are utterly mental thanks to crypto-currency mining. Until that dies down again (and it will, those mining rates keep fluctuating) the prices are hugely inflated.
Assuming a situation where there’s a more standard pricing model, though, AMD will probably come in cheaper than their Nvidia counterparts. That has been the tactic in the past, and I don’t really see much reason for it to change.
My guess: if the Vega XT turns out to be ‘slightly better than a 1080,’ then it’ll also be priced a little cheaper than Nvidia’s card. Likewise for the XL and the 1070. Basically, I think the company will price the RX Vega variants slightly lower than whatever their nearest competing cards turn out to be.
When are these going to be available, anyway?
RX Vega is expected to ‘launch’ at the Siggraph event on 30 July. I’m putting snarky quote marks around that because history has taught us that the existence of a handful of reference boards at retail doesn’t really mean widespread availability for the masses.
More leaked details suggest that third-party manufacturers are getting the final RX Vega BIOS source on 2 August. To me that sounds like late August (at best) for cards from MSI, Powercolor, Sapphire and the rest. Recalling how long it took AMD partner RX 480s to appear, September could even be a safe assumption. On the brighter side, that should give crypto-currency mining time to calm down a bit.
I’m allergic to speculation, when will there be more concrete information?
As mentioned, the line-up launch will be at Siggraph in LA on 30 July. It’s possible that further RX Vega details will be released by AMD ahead of that date. The chip is ‘on tour’ in July and heading to Budapest on the 18th. With luck, more information will come to light on that date.