After releasing its high-end Radeon VII in February 2019, AMD turned its (and our) attention to the midrange market with its 7nm Navi graphics cards, now officially named the RX 5000 series. Navi plays to AMD’s strength: Making high-end graphical power more affordable than ever.
AMD initially debuted the Navi-based Radeon RX 5000 series at Computex, and the first model in the family is the Radeon RX 5700, a GPU that delivers favorable performance compared to Nvidia’s competing RTX 2070 graphics, according to AMD’s claims. Soon after announcing the RX 5700, AMD added two new models to the GPU family at E3, unveiling a more premium Radeon RX 5700 XT model as well as a supercharged Radeon RX 5700 XT 50th Anniversary Edition.
Whereas Nvidia is playing up the strength of ray tracing on its RTX and GTX 16-series graphics cards, all three models of AMD’s RX 5000 series promise to push beyond 1080p gaming, making it more affordable for gamers to get 1440p performance at an affordable price.
Pricing and availability
AMD’s Radeon RX 5700 processors will be available for purchase starting July 7, a date chosen to celebrate the 7nm architecture for which these chips are based upon. At E3, CEO Lisa Su revealed that the Radeon RX 5700 will be priced at $379, giving it a premium of $30 over the $349 Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060. The higher end XT model will be priced at $449, making it more affordable than the $499 GeForce RTX 2070. The top-of-the-line Radeon RX 5700 XT 50th Anniversary Edition will cost an additional $50 more.
A source quoted by Red Gaming Tech suggested that AMD’s desire to push Navi out the door to combat Nvidia’s 16 series could result in low stock at launch — a similar thing happened with the Radeon VII. We will have to wait until July to see how accurate those early inventory claims are.
In addition to the GPUs, AMD revealed during its E3 keynote that there will be a bundle on launch day that will give gamers early access to Gears 5, a Microsoft title that won’t officially launch until September. As an incentive, however, gamers who purchase the Radeon bundle will be able to start playing this game in July.
AMD only compared the RX 5000 series graphics against Nvidia’s midrange graphics, so we’ll likely have to wait until 2020 to see AMD release a Radeon VII successor with a high-end Navi card that can compete with the likes of the Nvidia’s flagship RTX 2080 Ti.
Architecture and performance
All three graphics cards in the Radeon RX 5700 family are based on AMD’s 7nm process, and we learned that the new architecture moves beyond AMD’s aging Graphics Core Next architecture to Radeon DNA, or RDNA. That, we’re told, will form the basis for AMD graphics cards for the next 10 years.
RDNA is said to offer major architectural improvements over GCN and the Vega chips that came before. It features an entirely new “compute unit design” for improved efficiency and instructions per clock (IPC). It also features a multilevel cache hierarchy, which reduces latency and allows for greater bandwidth and a reduction in power draw. There have also been optimizations that help boost clock speed.
All of this means that the Navi RX 5000 series, based on the new RDNA, has improvements in IPC by up to 1.25 times. That equates to a 1.5 times improvement in performance per watt over equivalent GCN GPUs.
At Computex, AMD’s demo showed that the RX 5700 performed by as much as 10% better than the competing RTX 2070. That would make it around 25-30% quicker than an AMD Vega 64 and only a few percentage points less capable than a Radeon VII.
AMD showed a limited demo of the Radeon RX 5700 on the title Strange Brigade, a game in which AMD hardware typically performs well thanks to its use of the Vulkan API, at Computex. The company followed up at E3, releasing benchmarks to show how the RX 5700 performs when compared to its Nvidia counterparts on 10 of the most popular game titles. On Battlefield V, for example, the RX 5000 performed approximately 21% better, according to AMD’s numbers, delivering 117 FPS on the game’s Ultra settings in 1440p compared with just 102 FPS on the RTX 2070.
Additionally, AMD’s benchmark results show similar or better performance for its new GPUs on titles such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Far Cry New Dawn, Metro Exodus, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Civilization VI, The Division 2, The Witcher, and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
This strong performance can be attributed to the up to 10.3 billion transistors that are packed on the chip. With 36 compute units on the standard RX 5700, this GPU delivers up to 7.95 teraflops of performance. The XT model goes even further, delivering nearly two more teraflops of performance with 40 compute units, and both models take advantage of speedy 8GB GDDR6 memory. The standard RX 5700 has a clock speed of 1.465GHx that can go as high as 1.725GHz, while the XT model starts at 1.605GHz and goes up to 1.905GHz with boost. These chips’ RDNA architecture delivers a 25% performance-per-clock improvement compared to the older Graphics Core Next design.
AMD’s E3 presentation was primarily centered around the Radeon family’s clock speeds, and the company did not detail other aspects of the chip’s design. An earlier leak for an “RX 3080” processor suggested that the chip could come with 40 compute units spread across eight shader engines, each with 64 stream processors, though it’s unclear how this information might affect render output units (ROPs). WCCFTech speculated that there is potential for up to 128 ROPs. That would be unprecedented for AMD, however, with all of its cards previously limited to a maximum of 64 ROPs.
The eight shader engines would be big news, as it would suggest AMD managed to overcome a limiting factor of just four shader units per die, something that has held back Graphics Core Next-based AMD GPUs. Considering the RX 5000 series uses RDNA and not GCN, that could be one of the major performance enhancements of this new generation of graphics cards.
Without that limitation, we could see Navi GPUs with a number of stream processors in excess of its previous maximum of 4,096, which could unlock intriguing performance potential for the new generation.
AMD’s Navi architecture won’t be limited to just PC gamers — the company announced that custom variants of its RDNA-based graphics will also be headed to consoles made by Sony and Microsoft. In April 2019, Sony’s lead PlayStation architect, Mark Cerny confirmed that the next-generation PlayStation console would use a custom Navi graphics core alongside an AMD Ryzen 3000 CPU based on its Zen 2 architecture. During an interview, Cerny stated that the new PlayStation will support 8K graphics with ray tracing capabilities along with 3D audio.
It’s not yet clear whether this will be a custom APU design, or if it will feature a dedicated Navi graphics card. The PS4 and PS4 Pro used an APU design, but considering AMD’s claims of Navi scalability, perhaps it will be separate to allow for future expansion with console iterations.
Microsoft announced at E3 that its next-generation Xbox console, which goes by its Project Scarlett code name, will utilize a custom AMD solution based on the 7nm Zen 2 processor and Navi graphics. The chipset has been co-designed and co-engineered by the two companies to bring 8K graphics and ray-tracing into the living room. Like the PC-based Radeon RX 5700, Microsoft confirmed that its custom solution will also use fast GDDR6 memory, and this chip will be capable of supporting up to 120 FPS games with variable refresh rates. Like Sony’s rumored PlayStation 5, Project Scarlett isn’t expected to launch until 2020.
Alluring graphics without compromise
Despite the strong performance of the RX 5700 graphics, some features found on rival architectures are noticeably absent from the Navi architecture, like variable rate shading, or VRS, and foveated rendering. Instead of supporting these features on RX 5700, AMD is boasting its own sharpening tool called Radeon Image Sharpening, which helps upscales an image to make it look sharper.
With Radeon Image Sharpening enabled, the software will increase the sharpness and details in a game in an effort to boost image quality. Taking a jab at Nvidia, AMD claimed that it’s not launching a feature to hurt a game’s performance and do trickery to boost the resolution that ends up only to make scenes appear blurry. Instead. according to AMD, Radeon Image Sharpening won’t affect the performance of your game, so you won’t suffer from stutters or reductions in frame rates.
In a demo at E3, AMD showed that when Radeon mage Sharpening was enabled on Battlefield V at 1440p resolution, the game appeared like 4K thanks to the sharpening, and it ran at 90 FPS.
Radeon Image Sharpening works by examining high contrast areas of a scene, pulling out highlights from dark shadows without affecting any anti-aliasing softening in the image’s brighter areas. The result of this sharpening makes 1080p images look closer to 1440p, and the feature’s ability to upscale an image is competitive with deep learning supersampling, or DLSS, on Nvidia’s chips. Radeon Image Sharpening is currently available for DirectX 9, DirectX 12, and Vulkan, with DirectX 11 support missing right now.
AMD is pushing for more realism when it comes to gaming, and it wants to bring cinematic rendering quality to gaming. With the RX 5700 GPU, AMD also announced the Radeon Media Engine, which supports 4K encode and decode, as well as precinct HDR (PHDR) support.
Game developers also have access to AMD’s FidelityFX APIs, which adds more details and increased sharpness to low contrast areas in a game. The feature works in a similar way to Radeon Image Sharpening, but gives developers more control. Whereas Radeon Image Sharpening can be enabled with just a switch as an all or nothing solution, FidelityFX must be implemented within the game.
The feature was demonstrated at E3 on Borderlands 3, showing more details to the honeycomb pattern in the license plate on a car.
Another feature that is supported on the RX 5700 is Radeon Anti-Lag, which is designed for eSports. This feature helps reduce the input lag that gamers experience when they click a mouse and the action not showing up immediately on the display.
Known more formally as motion-to-photon latency, this lag is typically 4 frames — or about 60 milliseconds from the time you press a button to when the action is registered onscreen — on a game played at 60 fps. When the Anti-Lag feature is enabled, the lag is reduced to about 44 milliseconds on the RX 5700 XT. Latency is reduced by 31% across popular eSports titles, according to AMD, and by as much as 35% on Fortnite.
No ray tracing for now
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,” David Wang, AMD’s senior vice president of engineering at the Radeon Technologies Group, told 4Gamer in an interview.
At this point, it’s unclear when hardware-accelerated ray tracing will arrive, and AMD is instead claiming that it’s focusing its efforts on features that developers want, like better image quality through tools like FidelityFX. Though AMD is publicly not announcing its support for ray tracing, we do know that the company’s custom Navi cards for the next-generation Box and PlayStation consoles due in 2020 will support this feature.
At CES 2019, CEO Lisa Su did state that AMD was “deep in development” on ray tracing technology. Given the performance hit on games that support this Nvidia-exclusive feature so far, AMD is likely waiting until it can make ray tracing less taxing on the GPU. AMD could also be waiting for more games to support ray tracing before making this feature available on its GPU.
50th Anniversary Radeon Edition
In addition to announcing the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT graphics, AMD also announced a beefed up 50th Anniversary Edition of its new GPU at the tail end of its E3 keynote. The Radeon RX 5700 XT Anniversary Edition will be available exclusively on AMD’s website with at a price of $499. This special edition GPU features 40 compute units, with CEO Lisa Su describing this particular variant as “the best of the best.”
The 50th Anniversary Edition is clocked at 1.68GHz, but can go as high as 1.98GHz with boost. Like the other 5700 series graphics, this model also features 8GB of GDDR6 memory, giving it 10.14 teraflops of performance.
Updated on June 10, 2019: Added the announcement of new features, benchmarks, and comparisons from AMD’s E3 keynote.