With the RX Vega, AMD hopes to once again compete in the high-end GPU space; targets the Nvidia GTX 1080

For the past decade or so, AMD has never had the design efficiency to compete with either Intel or Nvidia

AMD has been spending the last few years getting its act together. We’ve seen glimmers of brilliance from the company, but various factors, including a cash crunch, have ensured that AMD’s best has never been good enough. Has that changed?

AMD's RX Vega lineup

AMD's RX Vega lineup

Whatever AMD’s excuse, rivals Intel and Nvidia have held onto a massive share of the market. With the AMD Ryzen CPU platform, AMD suddenly made a comeback. Taking advantage of Intel’s complacency in the CPU space, AMD effectively pulled the rug clean out from under Intel. With AMD’s long-awaited graphics card refresh, the Vega, AMD intends to do the same with Nvidia.

The Intel-AMD battle was dominated by Intel for almost a decade, but in the GPU (graphics processing unit) space, the battle between Nvidia and AMD has been more close-fought. Nvidia has maintained a consistent and definite edge over AMD, but AMD’s cards have had a place in the market.

Brute force vs efficiency

For the past decade or so, AMD has never had the design efficiency to compete with either Intel or Nvidia. AMD’s solution has been that of using brute force to catch up to competition. In the case of Ryzen, it’s double the cores, in the case of Nvidia, it’s been raw clock speed and bandwidth. It’s a Dodge Viper vs Nissan GTR argument. One is an 10-cylinder, 645 HP brute and the other is a 6-cylinder 565 HP marvel of engineering. The latter will get you around a track much faster than the former, however.

In the case of Ryzen vs Skylake, AMD managed to double the number of cores on offer, offering an 8-core chip for less than Intel’s quad-core, hyper-threaded chips. AMD’s CPU architecture is well behind Intel’s, but doubling the cores is still more beneficial in a great many applications.

AMD RX Vega 64, 56 vs Nvidia 1080, 1080 Ti

The graph above shows the performance per watt of the RX Vega.

In the case of RX Vega, AMD’s flagship GPU architecture, it certainly seems like AMD has gone for the same brute force approach. The introduction of High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM), a move to a 14 nm manufacturing process have helped, but the bulk of the performance can still be attributed to the high power requirements. To put it another way, a 300 W Nvidia card will outperform Vega.

The RX Vega lineup is two cards for now. One is the Vega 64 and the other is the Vega 56. The 64 and 56 indicate the number of compute units on these cards. The secret sauce in these cards is, primarily, HBM, which dramatically increases the bandwidth and reduces the memory latency when compared to the GDDR5X memory used previously and on Nvidia cards. This technology has allowed AMD to boost memory bandwidth to a whopping 484 GB/s.

As ArsTechnica points out, the Vega is the first “reasonably-priced, consumer-grade GPU to boast of this technology.”

The specifications of AMD’s RX Vega cards are in the table below. Please note that some of these specifications haven’t been confirmed and will be listed when they are.

Vega 10 Compute Units 64 64 64 56 NA
Stream Processors / CUDA Cores 4,096 4,096 4,096 3,584 2,560
Texture Units 256 256 256 224 160
ROP 64 64 64 64 64
Base Clock (MHz)  NA 1,406 1,247 1,156 1,607
Boost Clock (MHz) 1,600 1,677 1,546 1,471 1,733
Memory Bus 2,048-bit 2,048-bit 2,048-bit 2,048-bit 256-bit
Memory Clock (GHz) 1.89 1.89 1.89 1.89 1.2
Memory Bandwidth (GB/s) 484 484 484 410 320
Memory Size 8 GB HBM2 8 GB HBM 8 GB HBM 8 GB HBM 8 GB GDDR5X
Performance (TFLOPS) NA 13.7 12.7 10.5 8.9
Power consumption (W) 295 345 295 210 180
Launch Price $1,000 $699 bundle $499 $399 $599

AMD apparently told Anandtech that Vega is going to take on the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080. Given that the 1080 consumes about 60 percent of the power of the Vega 64 and that AMD claims 1.5 times the compute performance vs the 1080, this is an odd choice of target. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti would be more appropriate a target.

AMD is claiming a number crunching ability of 13.7 TFLOPS for the Vega 64 and 10.5 for the Vega 56. The GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1080 Ti manage 8.9 TFLOPS and 11.3 TFLOPS respectively.

However, the Vega 64’s board power is 295 W, that of the Vega 56 is 210 W. The 1080 and 1080 Ti consume about 180 W and 250 W respectively. Bear in mind that AMD thinks that the Vega 64 is competing with the 1080 and that the Vega 56 is competing with the Nvidia 1070 (150 W). Even AMD doesn’t think that they can topple the 1080 Ti yet. The high power consumption also means that AMD is still not truly worthy in the laptop space.

Nvidia’s Pascal series graphics cards were announced over a year ago.

The devices will be available from August 2017, but India prices and launch dates are yet to be confirmed. Full details on pricing and availability are available here.

It’s nice to see AMD finally taking on Nvidia in the high-end GPU space. There’s finally some decent competition.

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