Radeon VII – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good – Radeon VII Gets Big Things Right

It’s time for some serious analysis here. When Radeon VII was announced, everyone was taken a bit by surprise. Not only was the news hidden exceptionally well, but AMD wasn’t expected to bring competitive graphics cards to the market for a while still. Before we start celebrating though, we need to look thoroughly at what we’ve learned so far. The reviews for the Radeon VII have been released, and there’s some cons mixed in with the pros of this release. I do see a brighter future for graphics cards though.

While there are a ton of details to cover about Radeon VII, I want to try and paint a much easier picture to understand. Let’s start with some really good things I noticed about the new graphics card. First, this is some of the best GPU clock speeds I’ve seen from AMD in a long time. The card has a factory boost of 1800MHz, which is much closer to clock speeds Nvidia cards reach. It also seems to maintain that speed much better now. The last iteration of Vega was struggling to get past 1600MHz. On top of that, Vega gen 1 was using much more power to maintain those clocks than want Radeon VII appears to need. Even though the initial power ratings are very close, the first release of Vega had serious throttle issues. This meant heavier than rated power consumption to maintain a boosted GPU speed.

Tech Powerup Radeon VII Overclock Results

This architectural upgrade has some huge performance potential. In the review from TechPowerUp, Strange Brigade did amazing with Radeon VII. It actually beat the RTX 2080 in performance, and even closing the gap with the 2080 Ti fairly closely at 4k res. This is very impressive, yet not without it’s caveats which we’ll discuss soon enough. Also, TechPowerUp showed great overclocking potential. They actually landed on a stable frequency of 1950MHz on the GPU. That number on AMD’s side is unheard of in my experience. Seeing it was exciting to me, but they were also the only site that seemed to have good experience overclocking the card. Many other people struggled to overclock at all, and I can’t say if TechPowerUp was lucky, or more experienced. Other reviewers plan on readdressing overclocking after more updates to different software suites.

The Bad – There’s Things We can’t Ignore

Now we need to address some issues with the Radeon VII release. The big one is reports of a serious short supply of the graphics card in the market. A source at Overlockers UK Forums listed how many units would be available at launch. No matter how you translate it, the numbers are strikingly low. Not only does this negate some of the competitive power against Nvidia, but it hurts the amount of options buyers have. Due to the low output, Radeon VII doesn’t have any after market designs. Granted, the new design is excellent in comparison to previous OEM ones. However, many builders still prefer the after market variants with beefed up coolers, RGB aesthetics, and sturdier VRM components.

Tom's Hardware Radeon VII Avg QHD Performance

Also, while performance is great for AMD, it’s not that great. We always have to consider that while games like Strange Brigade show the card’s potential, most games are under different rules when it comes to graphics performance. Once we put performance on an average as Tom’s Hardware did, we see that the Radeon VII is really smack in the middle of the RTX 2070 and RTX 2080. Even the last generation 1080 Ti is enjoying a minor lead. It’s not good enough to say Radeon has “potential.” At some point, AMD has to be able to work for all the titles in a potential gamer’s library by tackling Nvidia favorites head on.

This brings us to another down side as well. Power consumption may have seen improvements, but the 300W TDP is a bit embarrassing compared to what Nvidia is offering right now. The RTX 2080 Founder’s Edition is only rated for 225W. If we go down to the RTX 2070, that TDP shrinks to an impressive 185W. What makes this worse is that Nvidia hasn’t made it to 7nm manufacturing yet. On a process size nearly double what Radeon VII is enjoying right now, RTX is blowing power consumption out of the water. AMD can claim the first 7nm GPU, but the results of that are a little too underwhelming for what the achievement should be.

The Ugly – NO CROSSFIRE!?!?!

What the heck AMD!?! You have failed me!!! Alright, I’m actually only kidding about feeling like AMD has failed any of us just yet. We’ll come back to that, but we need to address the decision to ax Crossfire. For starters, I completely understand that the future is headed toward mGPU. In short, Crossfire is supported on a driver level and the game code to use multiple GPUs. The other is an API level support that seems to not only have the potential to scale better, but is easier for game developers to enable support for as well.

However, many high end gaming titles support Crossfire still. Where multi-GPU configurations make the most sense is in scenarios where you need high resolution and high refresh rate. A single Radeon VII will struggle with higher settings on certain titles if a player is trying to run 4K resolution and 144Hz refresh rate. I understand it’s a niche market, but we can’t help but realize that the niche also becomes the future. Remember, 1080p and 60 FPS used to be gaming that only the elite hardware builders enjoyed. Now it’s common place. With talks of 8K resolution on the horizon, skipping on Crossfire is my least favorite choice in this release. As hardware improvement shows signs of slowing down, I see the need for mGPU solutions to power the future of game processing.

Radeon VII Indicates a Bright Future

AMD Radeon Road Map

That’s enough doom and gloom though. I still see a bright future for AMD from this release, in spite of the hesitation I’ve listed. For starters, let’s just call the Radeon VII release for what it is. It’s a Beta test of sorts for the new manufacturing process. This gave AMD a chance to release a 7nm product first, while also working out some kinks before releasing their newer Navi architecture later this year. Also, let’s be fair in remembering that computer hardware is a business, and first is helpful for the future no matter who you are.

This brings me to my other optimistic view of this release. I’m hopeful to see Vega 20 come to the mid range graphics segment. I honestly thought Vega was a lost cause after the first release. Even though it had alright performance, I couldn’t imagine the architecture being competitive without a complete overall. As you know though, Vega 20 has been a complete surprise to me. With Navi being the likely contender for the high end when it releases, Vega 20 could find it’s way into some nice mid-range options around next year or so. If 7nm production kinks get worked out, then a competitive graphics card future is on the horizon.

I didn’t get a chance to review the Radeon VII, but I did get to handle it at CES. Check out the video above for that and pardon the audio issues. We think we have some solutions for that for CES next year. Let us know what you think of our analysis of the new release in the comments below and keep checking back for more news and reviews!

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