AMD Radeon VII review

AMD's cutting-edge return to high-end graphics

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Our Verdict

While the Radeon VII doesn’t feature any new fangled ray tracing or AI technology, AMD’s focus on power and vast amounts of video memory make it one of the best graphics cards for gaming.

For

  • Keeps pace with Nvidia RTX 2080
  • Useful extra VRAM
  • Runs cooler than Nvidia RTX

Against

  • Troubling DirectX 12 performance
  • No Crossfire support
  • Power hungry

The entire computer hardware scene has been waiting with bated breath for AMD’s return to high-end desktop graphics, and it’s finally here as the first 7-nanometer (nm) GPU. 

Thankfully, the wait has been worth it, as the AMD Radeon VII beats the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 in a few ways to become one of the  best graphics cards to come to market 

With a whopping 16GB of video memory (VRAM) and a high boost clock of 1,800MHz, the Radeon VII is an extremely powerful graphics card indeed – albeit with a few early teething problems with DirectX 12 incompatibilities.

AMD Radeon VII review

Pricing and availability

The AMD Radeon VII launches at a starting price of $699 (about £550, AU$980). That’s quite a bit more expensive than AMD’s previous flagship GPU, the Radeon Vega 64, which originally launched at a $499 or £549 (about AU$630) price back in August 2017. Yes, it has really been that long since AMD has announced a new high-end GPU.

That said, AMD considers the Radeon VII’s direct competitor to be the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080, which costs between as little as $699 (£649, AU$1,119) or up to $799 (£749, AU$1,299) with the Founders Edition.

One silver lining to the Radeon VII’s high price is the card will come bundled with free vouchers for Devil May Cry V, Resident Evil 2 and The Division 2 – all three games, not just your choice of one.

Although there have been reports that the Radeon VII releasing in limited supplies, AMD assured gamers that there will be enough Radeon VII GPUs to meet demand. Beyond reference cards, we’ve started to see partners gearing up to release their own versions the GPU. ASRock was among the brands to post its Phantom Gaming X model of the Radeon VII on its site, with a February 7 release date. 

From what we can tell, the Radeon VII has been readily available around the world since its release day, but we’ll be sure to update this bit if anything changes.

Specifications and features

The Radeon VII will be the first graphics card to be built on AMD’s – or anyone’s, really – 7nm architecture. Comparatively, the Nvidia’s Turing architecture just managed to hit 12nm. According to AMD, its new 7nm process allows this GPU to increase performance by 25% overall over last year’s model without having to draw any more power.

This GPU also touts twice as much video memory as the previous model with a whopping 16GB of HBM2 VRAM. The only other graphics card to feature more video memory than that is the $2,499 (£2,399, AU$3,999) Nvidia Titan RTX.

That might sound like an absurd amount of VRAM, but high-res games already often require more than 8GB of memory. All of that HBM2 memory is also going to appeal to creative and professional users who use applications like Adobe Lightroom and Sony Vegas.

The Radeon VII also features 3,840 of AMD’s Graphics Core Next (GCN) cores and a maximum boost clock of 1,800MHz – about 300MHz faster than the Vega 64 – matching the factory overclock Nvidia applies to the Founders Edition version of the GeForce RTX 2080.

AMD Radeon VII review

Although the Radeon VII doesn’t feature any dedicated ray tracing cores, AMD has told and shown us that it will be able to handle ray tracing production work even better than Nvidia’s RTX 20-series cards. AMD also plans to support DirectML as an alternative to Nvidia’s Tensor Core and AI-driven DLSS anti-aliasing technology.

Sadly, the Radeon VII will only ever feature a PCIe 3.0 connector despite the fact that Ryzen 3rd Generation processors will support PCIe 4.0 technology, which will double the throughput of connected devices. (For the time being, PCIe 4.0 technology will be first used in conjunction with SSDs to unlock even faster data transfer speeds.)

We’re also a bit disappointed that the Radeon VII won’t support CrossFire, AMD’s technology for tethering multiple graphics cards together, but we can hardly blame the company for not including it. We imagine it would be a bear to get 32GB or more of video memory to work together nicely.

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Tech system specs

CPU: 3.7Ghz Intel Core i7-8700K (hexa-core, 12MB cache, up to 4.7GHz)
RAM: 32GB Vengeance LED DDR4 (3,200MHz)
Motherboard: Asus ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming
Power Supply: Corsair RM850x
Storage: 512GB Samsung 960 Pro M.2 SSD (NVMe PCIe 3.0 x4)
Cooling: Thermaltake Floe Riing 360 TT Premium Edition
Case: Corsair Crystal Series 570X RGB
Operating system: Windows 10

Performance

As we hoped, the Radeon VII is an impressive graphics card that beats the Nvidia RTX 2080 – though, only in some areas without outright destroying its competitor. It runs neck-and-neck with its green-tinted rival on the Fire Strike (Ultra) DirectX 11-based benchmarks but falters on the DirectX 12-based TimeSpy (Extreme) scores.

For these reasons, the Radeon VII didn’t wow us with amazing frame rates in our gaming benchmarks, which we all run in DirectX 12 mode. We hope AMD will improve capability with the DirectX 12 with upcoming driver updates, as it’s the latest suite of tools used by most game developers.

Despite these hangups, the Radeon VII represents a major generational leap over the Radeon Vega 64. Across our synthetic testing, we saw dramatically higher scores while games ran five to 15 frames per second (fps) faster. Still, these improvements weren’t nearly as stark as the jump from the Nvidia GTX 1080 to the RTX 2080.

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 Outside of our benchmark testing, we are amazed by how useful the Radeon VII’s 16GB of video memory is with modern gaming. Despite what you might think, plenty of games running at high-res and Ultra settings already use well more than 8GB of memory.

The Radeon VII ran Battlefield V at 4K resolution and Ultra quality settings using up to 14GB of VRAM, but ran like a charm with frame rates well above 60 fps. Resident Evil 2 was even more of a hog, chewing through 21GB of video memory – pulling 16GB from the Radeon VII and 5GB of system memory – when maxed out at 4K and even then, the card managed to run the game at an impressive 45-60 fps.

AMD Radeon VII review

Final verdict

The Radeon VII isn’t the graphics card that puts AMD back on top, but it’s powerful enough to put Nvidia on notice. 

Although it doesn’t feature any new fangled RT or AI cores, this graphics card packs a ton of video memory that’s actually necessary for modern, high-end games and useful for creative applications.

If you’re not interested in the ray tracing future Nvidia is trying to sell, and want a powerful graphics card on the same level as an RTX 2080, the Radeon VII could be the graphics card for you.

Image Credit: TechRadar