New ar­chi­tec­ture, bet­ter mem­ory de­sign

HWM (Malaysia) - - LAB EXAM -

If you didn’t al­ready know, the Vega 64 comes in two ref­er­ence cooler de­signs: one with a lim­ited edi­tion sil­ver shroud, and the other be­ing the sig­na­ture matte black and an­odized alu­minum de­sign that AMD has fit­ted on its cards in years (since the Radeon R9 Fury cards, if we’re not mis­taken). With that said, you’ll also see that the same ref­er­ence cooler shroud dec­o­rates the Vega 56.

On an aes­thetic level, the ra­tio of an­odized black alu­minum is higher than the amount of plas­tic that was used to build the cooler shroud, and for ob­vi­ous (en­gi­neer­ing) rea­sons. Com­pared to plas­tic, me­tal con­ducts heat bet­ter. That ben­e­fit is also some­thing of a draw­back: you’re not go­ing to want to be putting your hands on this card when it’s work­ing in full swing, not un­less you’re in­ten­tion­ally look­ing to give your fin­gers some­thing of a burn. Like all ref­er­ence cool­ers, the card em­ploys a blower-style fan, which sucks in air from the top of the card and ex­hausts through the back of the card, where you’ll find all of the card’s out­put ports. On that note, the card of­fers three Dis­playPort 1.4 out­puts and a sin­gle HDMI 2.0b out­put. Much like NVIDIA’s high-end GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, the RX Vega 56 doesn’t come with a dual-link DVI port. Then again, we are fairly cer­tain that the gam­ing mon­i­tor that one would use with a card of this cal­iber won’t have a DVI in­put.

Mov­ing for­ward, let’s talk about the driv­ing force and the beat­ing heart of the Vega 64: its Vega 10 GPU, and the new High Band­width Mem­ory 2 (HBM2) for­mat. Com­pared to Fiji and the first it­er­a­tion of HBM, the Vega 10 is built in and around a new 14nm lithog­ra­phy, ver­sus the now ar­chaic 28nm die ar­chi­tec­ture that was used in Fiji.

The GPU die is also smaller, pack­ing 8GB of HBM2, 4,096 stream pro­ces­sors, and 64 com­pute units (hence its name­sake), all spread across a 2,048-bit mem­ory bus. Its mem­ory clock speed is rated at 945MHz, but don’t let that lower-than-av­er­age mem­ory clock speed fool you. Thanks to some im­prove­ments im­ple­mented on HBM2, the GPU’s base clock speed is set to run at 1,630MHz out of the box, which is ac­tu­ally a lit­tle higher than what AMD rated dur­ing the com­pany’s pre-SIGGRAPH pre­sen­ta­tion.

Alas, all that graph­i­cal prow­ess comes with a pretty hefty price: power con­sump­tion. To power it prop­erly, the card re­quires two 8-pin PCIe con­nec­tors to be, well, con­nected to it. Oh, and the GPUTach me­ter makes a re­turn to the Vega 64, es­sen­tially pro­vid­ing users with a vis­ual sense of the card’s work­load in real time.

On the other end of the card, the RX Vega 56 also comes with a dual switch that al­lows you to switch to the sec­ondary BIOS, which makes the card con­sumes less power (at the cost of per­for­mance, ob­vi­ously). On its de­fault BIOS con­fig­u­ra­tion, the card will pull a max­i­mum TDP of 210W, while run­ning on the power-sav­ing con­fig­u­ra­tion will en­able the card to pull be­tween 135W (in power sav­ing mode) and 173W (in turbo mode).

Putting it through its paces

So then, the mil­lion dol­lar ques­tion still re­mains: how does the Vega 64 per­form? To an­swer the ques­tion, we tested the card us­ing our test bed, which com­prises the fol­low­ing com­po­nents:

• AMD Ryzen 7 1800X • Gi­ga­byte AORUS AX370-Gam­ing 5 • 16GB (2x 8GB) Geil EVO X DDR4-3200 RAM

(auto-timings: 16-16-16-36) • Noc­tua NH-U12S SE-UM4 Cooler • Kingston HyperX Preda­tor

PCIe SSD (480GB) • WD Caviar Black (6TB) • Cor­sair RM1000 PSU Our bench­mark­ing pro­grams also in­cluded the fol­low­ing:

Bench­marks:

• Fu­ture­mark 3DMark 2013 • Unig­ine Su­per­po­si­tion

Games:

• Deus Ex: Mankind Di­vided • DOOM • Hit­man

That brings us to our next point: over­clock­ing. Now, we should make it clear that while we did man­age to over­clock the card, the amount of over­clock­ing head­room that the card gave us wasn’t what we’d call sub­stan­tial. At best, we man­aged to bring up the GPU’s core clock by an ad­di­tional five per­cent (1.72GHz, more or less), and the mem­ory clock from 945MHz to 970MHz. By com­par­i­son, the Vega 56 that we tested shows nearly dou­ble the over­clock­ing head­room, but not with­out some form of di­min­ish­ing re­turns.

With the Vega 64, the card just wouldn’t budge any fur­ther than five per­cent. That brings us into an­other re­lated segue, we also com­pared the Vega 64 with the Vega 56 and NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1080 FE.

Dur­ing 3DMark’s Fire Strike and Time Spy tests, it was quite ob­vi­ous that, de­spite the lim­ited over­clock­ing head­room, the Vega 64 was clearly pulling ahead of the other two cards. Like­wise, the card was also a pretty solid per­former in Unig­ine’s Su­per­po­si­tion bench­mark on all three res­o­lu­tions, with the shaders set at 4K op­ti­miza­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, the game por­tion of our Lab Exam con­firms that NVIDIA’s year-old GeForce GTX 1080 ac­tu­ally putting the Vega 64 through its paces (al­beit not by a lot), with the card go­ing al­most toe-to-toe with AMD’s top-dol­lar card in cer­tain ti­tles, and in dif­fer­ent res­o­lu­tions too. Nev­er­the­less, it does show that the Vega 64 is ca­pa­ble of hold­ing its own in the triple-A ti­tles we used.

The only is­sue we found with the card was its power con­sump­tion. Out of the box, we noted that the card was draw­ing an ap­prox­i­mate 450W off the wall, and this was be­fore we over­clocked it. Af­ter over­clock­ing (and crank­ing up the fan’s speed to run at nearly 5,000 rpm), that num­ber spiked to nearly 500W, mak­ing it one of the thirsti­est ref­er­ence-cooled cards that we’ve tested to date.

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