AMD first mentioned the Vega GPU architecture over a year ago, even before the launch of its Polaris graphics cards. It was slated for an early 2017 release, but due to mysterious circumstances was pushed back and back, theoretically coming to market in late June with a Titan X-style Frontier Edition — a prosumer Vega GPU-based graphics card starting at $999.
Now, it’s mid-August, and AMD has finally released the gaming-oriented RX Vega 64, with its smaller brother Vega 56 coming on the 28th of August. But how do they compare to the current competition, the GTX 1070 and 1080? Let’s find out.
Since its first mention, Vega was known to incorporate HBM2, the second generation of the SK Hynix and AMD co-developed high-bandwidth memory. HBM is based on stacking chips instead of spreading them across the PCB. This reduces latency between the memory and GPU, requires less PCB space, and increases the bandwidth available to the GPU. AMD introduced the world to HBM memory with its Fury series of graphics cards that launched to a lukewarm reception, as HBM seemed to increase the price of the cards, but not their gaming performance.
A lot of conflicting information has been circulating the web about the pricing of RX Vega graphics cards. AMD has been touting a $499 MSRP for the flagship Vega 64 and a $399 MSRP for Vega 56, but as Gibbo from Overclockers.uk says, the prices AMD talked about are “introductory”, meaning they may go up by $100 in a few days after the initial launch. No official statement from AMD has yet been released, but as GamersNexus pointed out in their article, that may in fact be true. Newegg, Amazon and European retail prices also show a similar pattern, though that can be attributed to retailers simply overcharging as this is the launch of a new long-awaited technology.
This would mean that in reality, Vega 64 will be selling for a minimum of $599 and Vega 56 for $499. That puts these cards against the much more powerful GTX 1080 Ti and GTX 1080 respectively. Due to a lack of official statement, in this article I will be comparing the Vega 56 to both the GTX 1070 and GTX 1080.
So let’s get right down to business. Vega 56 is a cut-down version of the Vega 64, with 56 NCUs (next-generation compute units) instead of 64. It also sports lower base and boost clockspeeds and a hard-locked 300W power limit for the whole board.
The first thing every Vega graphics card owner should do is manually increase the power limit to +50% in either WattMan, MSI Afterburner, EVGA Precision or any other overclocking utility. This allows the card to draw more power, thus stabilizing the max clockspeed. However, as GamersNexus points out in their review, the total board power of RX Vega 56 is set to 300W, so the card will not draw more than that. BIOS modding is not easy on RX Vega cards, but it is possible to modify the max power limit via the registry. Buildzoid talks about this in his long ramble here.
The general consensus seems that RX Vega 56 is a great GTX 1070 competitor in terms of performance, but only if it costs in the $400 range. If V56 is $500 or more, then it directly competes with the GTX 1080, to which it inevitably loses. Even taking Freesync monitors into account, it would be hard to recommend RX Vega 56 at $500+ versus a GTX 1080. But even if Vega 56 can be bought for MSRP, the high power draw may be a turn off for some people.
At stock, the RX Vega 56 draws 210 W (180 W through the cables and 30 W through the PCIe slot). It draws 300 W with a +50% power limit and 240 W undervolted. An overclocked GTX 1070 will draw 40 W less than a stock RX Vega 56 — around 170 W. Lower power consumption means a smaller electricity bill, and no need for a beefier aftermarket cooler. Aftermarket cards from ASUS, MSI, Sapphire and others will solve the temperature problem, but the power draw cannot be fixed without a significant hit to performance.
With all the pricing problems that face RX Vega cards, it is hard to say right now with which NVIDIA counterpart RX Vega 56 should really be competing. In a perfect world, it’s the GTX 1070, but for the next few months it will most likely be the GTX 1080. If you can find this AMD card for $399, then after some tinkering it will most definitely be faster than a GTX 1070, but also hotter and consuming more power.
If you plan to use a FreeSync monitor, then the question is settled: Get the RX Vega 56 over the GTX 1070. Until NVIDIA releases a driver that will allow support for the VESA standard of adaptive sync, AMD cards are the only ones that will work with Freesync monitors. G-Sync monitor owners are locked into Nvidia cards, but luckily for them they can get a quality aftermarket GTX 1080 for around $520. GTX 1070 are still heavily overpriced, with decent cards starting at around $450.
If power consumption is of no concern to you, then an RX Vega 56 is a perfect pairing with a FreeSync monitor. If you don’t care about adaptive sync and want a card right now, then a GTX 1070 will do its job just as well, while saving you money on your power bill.