Nvidia’s RTX graphics cards are everywhere you look, whether it’s in desktops or laptops. Ray tracing controversies aside, they’re powerful cards. But now, AMD has an answer.
The AMD Radeon VII is a true successor to the Vega 64 in more ways than one. It’s built on the second-generation, 7nm Vega architecture, and it’s the first high-end graphics card AMD has released since its Vega predecessor. There’s no question that it’s more powerful than that card, but how does it fair against its main competition? We pitted the AMD Radeon VII versus the Nvidia RTX 2080 to find out.
AMD’s Radeon VII might be a successor Vega architecture, but its design is quite different to its predecessor. The 7nm process makes the GPU itself smaller and facilitates a shrinking of the whole die from 495mm² on the Vega 64, to 331mm² with the Radeon VII. It’s fitted with four stacks of second-generation high bandwidth memory (HBM2) and runs at a much higher frequency than the first-generation Vega cards.
Nvidia’s RTX 2080 is built on Nvidia’s new Turing architecture and is paired with GDDR6 memory that runs at a higher speed than the 10-series Pascal graphics cards. Turing cards improve performance over their last-generation counterparts by increasing the number of CUDA cores and memory speed. Clock speeds remain much the same when running at stock, although automated 2000-series overclocking does aid performance.
Nvidia and AMD utilize different designs in their graphics cards manufacturing, so the specifications aren’t necessarily directly comparable, but here they are nonetheless:
|AMD Radeon VII||Nvidia RTX 2080|
|Transistor count||13.2 billion||13.6 billion|
|Processor cores||3,840 stream processors||2,944 CUDA cores|
|Memory||16GB HBM2||8GB GDDR6|
To see how these cards performed head to head, we fitted them to our gaming test bench that’s running an AMD Threadipper 1950X (in game mode) and 32GB of memory. In each case we ran the latest drivers that were available at the time, although do bear in mind that the Radeon VII drivers are technically still pre-release versions.
In 3DMark Fire Strike the results were impressive for both cards, but noticeably more so for the Radeon VII. AMD’s new card was expected to perform better against Nvidia’s GPUs at higher resolutions, but in the base Fire Strike test it not only beat out the RTX 2080, but performed comparatively well to the RTX 2080 Ti, a much more expensive GPU.
In gaming benchmarks we saw similar results at 1080P, with the Radeon VII delivering frame rates in Battlefield V at both medium and Ultra settings well above 100 FPS, beating out not only the RTX 2080 but the 2080 Ti as well. The always-taxing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided proved more challenging, but the Radeon VII still pulled ahead of the 2080 and 2080 Ti with an average FPS of 90 when on High, and 86 on Ultra settings.
At 1440p, the 2080 Ti takes its rightful place at the head of the pack, but Radeon VII takes an even greater lead over the 2080 and makes its predecessor, the Vega 64, look very much like the last-generation card it is.
When we increase resolutions to 4K, all of the cards struggle to maintain 60+ FPS in Battlefield V. Only the 2080 Ti manages it in Deus: Ex at Medium settings, but the Radeon VII remains out in front of the 2080 in all cases.
As powerful as Nvidia’s RTX graphics cards are, Nvidia spent much of the launch event talking about new features rather than performance. Ray tracing and deep learning super sampling (DLSS) made possible with on board RT and Tensor cores respectively, were big news. While in early 2019 they still aren’t supported by many games, the numbers are growing slowly and in some cases they can have a dramatic impact on games.
Although AMD does have functioning ray tracing in the form of Radeon Rays using the Vulkan API, that’s not a technology that is implemented in any games at this time, and AMD hasn’t made it viable with the Radeon VII. Nor is DLSS available, although AMD has suggested that its cards’ general compute units are capable of something similar. Furthermore, it may even implement it in the future using Microsoft’s open standard, DirectML.
Both cards support different frame syncing technologies out of the box. Nvidia’s RTX 2080 supports its bespoke G-Sync which is only available on compatible monitors. AMD’s Radeon VII supports FreeSync and FreeSync 2, which are only available on compatible monitors, although they do tend to be cheaper and more plentiful than their G-Sync counterparts.
Both cards support the full gamut of gaming APIs including DirectX11, DX12, OpenGL, and Vulkan.
Nvidia’s RTX 2080 also supports SLI via NVLink for multiple GPUs. AMD has said that it doesn’t plan to offer its traditional multi-GPU technology, Crossfire, with the Radeon VII. However, both Vulkan and DirectX12 have support for multiple graphics cards as an open standard known as MGPU, so it may be that if supported by games (like Strange Brigade), two Radeon VII cards could be run in tandem using that technology.
Compatibility & Price
Nvidia’s RTX 2080 launched with a Founders Edition priced at $800 but has since seen the release of more affordable third-party alternatives. Today those range in price from $700 to around $900 depending on the cooling options and aftermarket features. These can often be found with a free game or two.
The AMD Radeon VII launched with a price tag of $700 and is currently only available at that price point even with some third-party alternatives. It’s even available with three free games as part of AMD’s Raise the Game promotion which offers Resident Evil 2, The Division 2, and Devil May Cry 5 all included.
When it comes to compatibility, you’ll want a motherboard that supports PCIExpress 3.0 x16 to take full advantage of both cards. If your system has a PCIExpress 2.0 x16 or PCIExpress 3.0 x8 slot instead, both cards should still work, but you may see a small performance lapse because of bottlenecking.
Power requirements for these cards are reasonably steep, but the Nvidia GPU isn’t quite as demanding. It requires around 250 watts of power and cooling potential when in use, while the Radeon VII is rated at 300 watts. You likely want at least a 600-watt PSU if you’re running the RTX 2080 or a 700-watt for the Radeon VII.
AMD raises its game
It’s been a long time since AMD legitimately competed with Nvidia at the top end of the graphics card market. The Radeon VII isn’t quite strong enough to be a direct competitor for the likes of the RTX 2080 Ti, especially at higher resolutions, but it’s not far off that. At a $700 asking price it’s costed competitively enough with the RTX 2080 that Nvidia may need to raise its game in turn to stay ahead.
Our testing isn’t exhaustive, but it suggests that the Radeon VII will be a more capable card than the RTX 2080 in a number of games and at most resolutions and detail settings. It may be a little more power hungry, but the newly shrunk GPU and the massive amount of high-speed memory AMD’s new flagship card comes equipped with, make it one of the most exciting graphics cards available today and one well worth considering next time you’re looking to upgrade. Especially if you already own a FreeSync monitor or fancy taking advantage of AMD’s three-game bundle.