AMD Radeon RX 5700 review: a potential GPU hero of the future, but outmuscled in a crowded market | PCGamesN

AMD Radeon RX 5700 review: a potential GPU hero of the future, but outmuscled in a crowded market

With four strong cards sitting in the $350 - $399 price bracket AMD's second-tier navi is sitting in third place

AMD Radeon RX 5700

It has become increasingly rare, but AMD and Nvidia are genuinely competitive again, and the launch of this Radeon RX 5700 and the AMD RX 5700 XT are proof of that. The red team has reacted strongly to Nvidia’s RTX Super card spoilers, which is great news for us PC gamers because it’s tangibly forcing the cost of GPUs down. Sure, it’s just baby steps right now, but graphics card pricing is now even changing before a new GPU has launched. Now, I know no one really likes an ‘I told you so,’ but I did

Both the AMD Navi-based GPUs have had major price drops in the face of Nvidia’s Super launch pre-empting the RX 5700-series July 7 release date. And the drop down to $399 for the XT card, which was almost the original price for this straight RX 5700 card, now means that the top Navi offering has almost completely taken down the RTX 2060 Super, and is giving the RTX 2070 Super some serious food for thought too.

It’s a head-to-head fight for gamers’ hearts and minds that’s resulting in more gaming performance for less cash and that can only be a good thing. But where does that leave the cut-down RX 5700 now it’s just $50 less than its stronger sibling?

Essentially the RX 5700’s focus hasn’t really shifted. Previously, at $379, it was staring down Nvidia’s RTX 2060 and offering higher gaming performance for a little extra cash. That was a little bit of a sticking point for the new Navi card when its pricing was first revealed at E3, with people questioning why it had been priced above the Nvidia GPU when many had expected AMD to really go after the GeForce jugular.

But now it’s shipping for the same price as that lowest rung of the RTX ladder, and fairly significantly undercutting the new RTX 2060 Super, arguably the value of the RX 5700 has gone up. And once we get an overclocking-friendly release driver post-launch even the RX 5700 XT could be in its sights for some light Radeon fratricide.

AMD RX 5700 specs

AMD Radeon RX 5700 specs

The classic AMD rule-of-two means there is always a master and an apprentice for a given GPU. Shout out to my fellow Star Wars nerds out there. And so the 7nm Navi 10 chip at the heart of the RX 5700 is largely the same as the one running the XT edition. It’s got the same 10.3bn transistors inside its 251mm2 die, and the same impressive, gaming-focused RDNA architecture behind it.

Check out our Navi RDNA deep-dive if you want a more detailed break-down of the architectural changes behind the new silicon, but suffice to say AMD has made a break from the old compute-focused GCN chip design and created one that is more geared toward throughput and gaming workloads. A smart choice given where else the Navi GPUs are set to be used next year…

AMD Radeon RX 5700

Radeon RX 5700 XT 50th Anniversary Ed. Radeon RX 5700 XT Radeon RX 5700
GPU AMD Navi 10 AMD Navi 10 AMD Navi 10
Lithography 7nm FinFET 7nm FinFET 7nm FinFET
Compute units 40 40 36
RDNA Cores 2,560 2,560 2,304
Memory 8GB GDDR6 8GB GDDR6 8GB GDDR6
Memory bandwidth 448GB/s 448GB/s 448GB/s
Boost clock 1,980MHz 1,905MHz 1,725MHz
Game clock 1,830MHz 1,755MHz 1,625MHz
Base clock 1,680MHz 1,605MHz 1,465MHz
Transistors 10.3bn 10.3bn 10.3bn
Die size 251mm2 251mm2 251mm2
TDP 225W 225W 180W
Price $449 | £429 $399 | £380 $349 | £340

AMD has obviously cut back the GPU going into the RX 5700 compared with the XT. There are four fewer compute units in the cheaper card’s layout, which actually only equates to a pair of the newly designated ‘work group processors.’ In terms of the stream processors inside those CUs that means you’re getting 256 fewer ‘cores,’ for want of a better term.

But that’s about it in sheer silicon terms. You get the same 64 render output units (ROPs) in the chip layout, the same 8GB of GDDR6 memory, running at the same 14Gbps, and the same 256-bit aggregated memory bus looking after it.

Where AMD has really hobbled the RX 5700 is in the clock speed. Remember, the RDNA architecture is about throughput, about delivering high performance without a specific focus on parallelism. That’s why the 64 compute units of the RX Vega 64 can be comfortably bested in gaming terms by just the 36 CUs used inside the RX 5700. And so simply cutting CUs from the full GPU spec isn’t going to make a massive difference to the overall gaming performance of the chip.

Cutting the frequency, however, just might. And the RX 5700 is running its GPU significantly slower than the RX 5700 XT.

In terms of the rated speeds AMD is using a new term – Game clock. This is arguably a bit of a cake-and-eat-it situation for the red team, where it still gets to shout about its rarely seen peak engine clock speed while also referencing the real-world performance you’re actually likely to see.

The RX 5700 has a Game clock of 1,625MHz and the RX 5700 XT has a Game clock of 1,755MHz. That 130MHz difference doesn’t seem too great, but in our testing we were seeing the XT actually top even its peak engine clock of 1,905MHz, sometimes hitting 1,943MHz, while the RX 5700 barely got above its rated Game clock speed at a peak of 1,677MHz. That potential 266MHz difference is quite a wide gap and could go a long way to explaining the frame rate delta between the two Navi siblings.

AMD Radeon RX 5700

AMD Radeon RX 5700 benchmarks

PCGamesN test rig: Intel Core i7 8700K, MSI Z390 Gaming Edge AC, 16GB Corsair Dominator DDR4 @3,200MHz, 1TB Seagate Firecuda, Corsair H100i RGB, Philips BDM3275

AMD Radeon RX 5700

AMD Radeon RX 5700 performance

If we take the RX 5700’s main target first – the OG RTX 2060, a card that’s still being kept around despite Nvidia’s Super launch – it’s in trouble. If you just look at the 3DMark and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey performance you’d be forgiven for thinking that these two identically priced cards where on par, but look further and the delta becomes between 10 – 15% in favour of the new AMD GPU. And that’s true whether you’re looking at the 1080p or 1400p levels.

the RTX 2060 Super is only 5% quicker at the widest margin between the two cards

The relative performance to the more-expensive RTX 2060 Super is also interesting. At 1440p the Nvidia card does sometimes have some room to breathe, again in the 3DMark and Assassin’s Creed benchmarks, but elsewhere it’s far closer – to the point where the frame rate delta practically disappears.

It’s even more stark at 1080p where the RTX 2060 Super is only 5% quicker at the widest margin between the two cards. Throw in a little overclocking magic and I’m convinced you could get RTX 2060 Super performance out of the RX 5700… though the same could also be said for the Nvidia card in relation to pulling away from the second-tier Navi again and catching up to the Radeon RX 5700 XT.

But that’s how the gaming gap between the standard 5700 and the XT card can be bridged. It’s wider than it is to the RTX Super card, where the XT is up to 18% faster in F1 2019, but when there’s an overclocking-friendly release driver that could well be pretty drastically reduced.

AMD Radeon RX 5700 and RX Vega 64

The historical performance targets, however, really highlight the advances AMD has made with the Navi RDNA architecture. This $349 card comfortably tops the old $499 RX Vega 64 in terms of gaming frame rates, and in terms of power and thermals too. At peak, the RX 5700 runs with 26% lower power demands and does so 10°C cooler.

That’s evidently not just a result of the switch to the 7nm lithography either, because if you look at the RX 5700 XT, to get to its GPU performance the Navi chip at the XT’s heart runs at the same thermal levels as the Vega silicon and with almost the same power draw too.

Those thermal and power levels also highlight how much better Nvidia’s 12nm Turing efficiency still is. The RTX 2060 Super may only be a little faster than the RX 5700, but it runs 11°C cooler and only sucks down another 14W in terms of peak GPU power. All that despite being a 12nm design on a chip that’s a full 70% larger than the 7nm Navi silicon.

Nvidia has now confirmed it’s going to be shifting to Samsung’s 7nm EUV node – probably next year – for its next generation architecture and that means the green team’s GPUs are only going to get more efficient. And, depending on how deep the EUV integration goes and how much of a discount Nvidia gets for being a 7nm launch partner for Samsung, its manufacturing costs could be pretty low too.

AMD Radeon RX 5700

AMD Radeon RX 5700 verdict

This is a tough one to call. The pre-launch price cut for the RX 5700 hasn’t had anywhere near as dramatic an impact as the one which the RX 5700 XT has enjoyed, yet it’s still a good card. You could say all of that is evidence of AMD’s worries about the competing Nvidia Super cards, though I suspect it’s more about showing a lack of proper planning regarding how team GeForce might respond to Navi.

Whatever the truth of the matter, where the XT card has shifted its focus from the RTX 2070 to the RTX 2060 Super, the RX 5700 remains locked on the RTX 2060 in terms of both price and performance. And on both those counts it has the edge over the green team’s card; it might even get up near the XT’s performance with some judicious overclocking. Which also might put it directly on par with the similarly priced RTX 2060 Super too.

Though therein lies a potential problem. It’s $50 cheaper than either the $399 RX 5700 XT or RTX 2060 Super cards and yet could get within touching distance of the performance of both given the expected headroom it holds. That’s not such an issue for Nvidia as the Turing GPU also has its own headroom with which to maintain a lead… while the XT, I suspect, does not.

AMD Radeon RX 5700

There’s also the ray traced elephant in the room. Nvidia has total dominion over the next-gen pretties, while AMD has admitted that’s not coming to its PC GPUs until the next roll of the Navi dice. You may scoff at the feature now, but Nvidia and Microsoft are committed to ray tracing on the PC, and Microsoft and Sony are committed to it for their respective next-gen consoles. And just look at the E3 game announcements; whatever your feelings about ray traced effects it’s happening, and more and more games and developers will start to sport this extra level of visual fidelity.

Nvidia will say its cards are looking to the future, while AMD’s are stuck in the past

But AMD’s cards can’t join in on this visual feast. It will point to the GPU demands of turning on the feature, and point to its cards being focused on pure gaming performance without frame rate dropping extras. But you could say the same for any number of graphical technologies in their nascent stages, hell, even higher resolutions too. Why move from 720p to 1080p if it cuts my performance? Why use anti-aliasing? Nvidia will say its cards are looking to the future, while AMD’s are stuck in the past.

Where you see yourself in that particular argument will dictate whether you just want a graphics card that can cope with the rasterised gaming demands of today or whether you want to join in on the ray tracing party.

But whichever of those you choose the RX 5700 remains a difficult card to recommend outright, especially with four different GPUs competing for the suddenly crowded $350-$399 segment. The RX 5700 XT is the quicker straight rasterising GPU of the lot, while the RTX 2060 Super is only a little slower, but brings its ray tracing and AI-powered guns to the gaming shootout. The RX 5700 is only a little slower again, but has a $50 saving and some overclocking potential.

Though I don’t think that’s quite enough for it to really worry the two cards above it considering most gamers will never even get close to overclocking their expensive GPUs.

The RX 5700 might then become one for the AMD purists with its OC potential, and may one day become a serious value proposition with further price cuts down the road. But today it’s really just a good card that’s being outmuscled in a now very crowded marketplace.

AMD Radeon RX 5700

AMD's second-tier Navi may eventually end up as a price/perf overclocking hero, but right now it's too close to the RX 5700 XT, which is itself fighting it out with the RTX 2060 Super. If you want straight performance you go for the XT, and if you want some next-gen visuals then the RTX 2060 Super is worth a look. I'm not sure where that really leaves the RX 5700 right now.

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