AMD Radeon RX Vega 56
Is this the Vega card worth waiting for?
WE MENTIONED in our upgrade feature (pg. 26) how the Vega series has been a botched launch for AMD. Whether that’s the jabbing marketing campaigns, the hushedup launch, the confusion over initial price rebates, or the horrendous power draw, pricing, and performance of Red’s flagship card, it’s been less than appealing to jump aboard the AMD hype train. Vega 56, on the other hand, is a different beast. Almost. It’s designed to challenge the mid to high-end range of GPUs, sitting snuggly between the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080, at an affordable price.
So, what are the key differences between this and its elderly kingpin, the Vega 64? For a start, the core clocks have been reduced by 90MHz (from a 1,247 core clock down to 1,156), you get 512 fewer streaming cores (limiting it to 3,584), and 32 fewer TMUs (Texture Mapping Units). Everything else is identical, from the ROPs to the 8GB of HBM 2.0 VRAM. The big differentiator is the price. You can currently grab a Vega 56 for a cool $500, compared to the 64’s $620. And it’s that last part that makes most, if not all the difference.
For the price, Vega 56 is a totally acceptable mid-range 1440p card. In our testing, it easily hit the 60fps sweet spot at the QHD resolution, with an average frame rate of 69 in Far Cry Primal, 67 in The Division, and Total War: Attila and Rise of the Tomb Raider scoring 31 and 36 respectively. On top of that, power draw was far more acceptable than its beefier cousin, drawing a maximum of 331W throughout our load testing.
AMD has clearly been working on the latest drivers for these cards as well, because we saw a marked improvement in frame rates since first testing Vega 64. In fact, in some cases, the 56 outperformed the 64’s figures on our first testing runs. This helps shunt the 56 slightly higher than the GTX 1070 in most cases as well, with the card registering a 5–10 percent performance increase over its Nvidia rival.
However, there’s a problem. Let’s get one thing straight: If you’re after a card designed to hash out cryptocurrency, Vega is the go-to card right now. Nvidia falls a little flat in this regard, which is good for consumers, and sort of bad for AMD’s rep. As the GeForce series is drastically cheaper than its AMD counterparts, if all you’re interested in is gaming, Nvidia reigns as king—quite dramatically, in fact. You can pick up a GTX 1070 right now for less than $400. That’s a $100 saving for a performance difference of less than 7 percent. For a card that’s cooler, quieter, with aftermarket versions available, and drawing less power from the wall, it’s hard to argue against it.
Ultimately, the Radeon RX Vega 56 is a solid attempt at capitalizing on the Vega architecture. Its performance and design are decent enough for the price. However, Nvidia still lies unchallenged across the lion’s share of the high end, with AMD’s only hope lying with Vega 56. And with rumors of a GTX 1070 Ti now seemingly set in stone, it’s unlikely that we’ll see AMD make its way back into the hearts of gamers and out of the hands of the cryptofiends anytime soon. –ZAK STOREY
AMD Radeon RX Vega 56
ALPHA LYRAE Solid 1440p performance; impressive driver updates; AIB cards likely.