AMD Navi: Everything you need to know

Is AMD's Navi back on track for 2019? Here's everything you need to know

After having announced its high-end Radeon VII at CES 2019, AMD is now turning its attention to the mid-range market with its 7nm Navi graphics. Navi looks to hone in on AMD’s strength: Delivering the most graphics bang for its price point.

Despite its potential, PC gamers may not want to get too excited about Navi, at least initially. Leaked roadmaps for Navi suggest that AMD is focusing its efforts with Navi on semi-custom chips, so Navi will likely be catered for Sony’s PlayStation 5 console to begin with. However, more recent rumors point to an early-2019 reveal of Navi graphics cards, with potentially explosive performance and pricing.

When these cards do arrive, they could be hotly competitive at the mid-range where AMD has typically made its bread and butter in the GPU market.

Pricing and availability

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G & Ryzen 3 2200G Review fan
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Rumors had it that Navi could be announced at CES 2019, but the spotlight was obviously on the company’s new higher-end Radeon VII graphics cards. Though it’s been delayed, that doesn’t mean Navi is dead in the water though.

In a corporate blog post, AMD Chief Technology Officer Mark Papermaster outlined that the company is working with fabrication partner TSMC to launch its 7nm products, including Navi, in 2019. “Our work with TSMC on their 7nm node has gone very well and we have seen excellent results from early silicon,” Papermaster wrote. At the time, however, he didn’t provide specifics about the product nor a timeline.

A fresh round of reporting states that we could see the new Navi cards show up as soon as July of this year. That pegs it for E3, of course, which could line up with an announcement from Sony on the Playstation 5. The reporting also states that we could get an announcement on Navi in June, which would hopefully provide some more details on specifications and features.

AMD will likely first introduce Navi in two variants, but the model numbers have been largely disputed. Initial reports suggest that Navi 10 and Navi 11 GPUs would be the first to launch, but now it’s believed that Navi 12 and Navi 10 will be first in the series. Earlier reports claimed that Navi 10 will be the first Navi to ship, but a more recent report from Wcctech suggests that Navi 12 will be the first to launch, with a debut occurring in the first half of 2019.

AMD’s initial launch of Navi will be to support game consoles, and there is speculation that PC gamers will have to wait until late 2020 for the Navi 20 to arrive on PCs. That said, the latest rumors claim that we may see some cards appear before the end of 2019, and that Navi will be priced between $130 and $250. At that price, Navi will take on rival Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, undercutting the new 2060 by quite a bit. AMD’s offering should come with a bit more power though. This pricing estimate is in line with Navi’s position as a Polaris successor. AMD’s Radeon RX 500 series cards typically range between $115 to $289.

The rumor that speculated on the high-performance and low-pricing of the Navi generation also suggested AMD may opt for a psychological advantage with the generation’s naming convention. Much like it opted to call its Ryzen chipsets the 400-series (a single digit ahead of Intel’s 300-series), AMD may call its Navi cards the RX 3000-series, making it sound like it’s one better than Nvidia’s 2000-series. For now, it’s all just speculation.

Architecture and performance

AMD hasn’t given us any hard information on Navi’s potential performance. We’ve been told it’s good, but how good? Navi should deliver plenty of performance thanks to its new 7nm process, and it’s been leaked internal testing has yielded positive results. Fudzilla cited anonymous sources claiming that Navi’s performance in early benchmarks had exceeded AMD’s expectations, and the chip is expected to deliver top performance at mid-range prices.

We initially heard that the best release card would deliver Vega 56-level performance at around $250, although the last we heard it might actually equal RTX 2070 performance for that same cost. The high-end solution, said to be called the 3080, would have 8GB of GDDR6 we’re told, offering around 15 percent more power than the Vega 64 at a TDP of just 150 watts. The 3070 would be closer to a Vega 56 at just 120 watts, while the 3060 is said to have RX 580-like performance for just 75 watts.

Those numbers seem exceedingly optimistic, so we wouldn’t be surprised if reality scales things back a little when we learn more.

Early reports suggested that Navi will be the last AMD GPU to be based on its graphics core next (GCN) architecture. However, more recent reports indicate that Navi will debut with a new microarchitecture, which will help it overcome some of the limitations of the GCN framework. This means that we could see faster clock speeds, more shaders, and better efficiency. AMD also confirmed that Navi will be a scalable architecture that will support both HBM2 and GDDR6 memory. AMD said that it won’t use a multi-chip module approach for Navi, according to PC World.

Ray tracing?

amd-ces-2018-Dr.-Lisa-Su
AMD

AMD originally stated that it wouldn’t be supporting ray tracing, which has been a hallmark of Nvidia’s RTX series, at least not until the technology can be implemented on all of its graphics cards. “Utilization of ray tracing games will not proceed unless we can offer ray tracing in all product ranges from low end to high end,” AMD’s senior vice president of engineering at the Radeon Technologies Group told 4Gamer in an interview.

This news has led to speculation that Sony’s upcoming Playstation 5 won’t support ray tracing, given that the console is expected to be powered by Navi graphics, and AMD’s hesitation on implementing this tech could be based on cost. AMD CEO Lisa Su had hinted about Navi’s competitive pricing in a prior interview with PCGamesN, where she discussed performance-per-watt and performance-per-dollar as motivations behind Navi’s design.

At CES 2019, however, Su did state that AMD was “deep in development” on ray tracing technology. AMD even announced that the Radeon VII will support a DLSS-like upscaling technology. Whether or not either of these advanced AI features will be included on Navi is still unknown.

To keep Navi’s pricing competitive, it’s unlikely that the GPU architecture will come with dedicated ray tracing cores, and adding support for the feature could result in a performance hit. For gamers looking at ray tracing, AMD’s recent comments lead many to believe that the capability won’t be implemented until Navi 20 or even on AMD’s next-gen graphics architecture, which was previously codenamed Kuma and is now rumored to be known as Arcturus.

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