AMD's ambitious "Vega" graphics architecture finally completes its long and winding journey into the hands of gamers and enthusiasts, as the Radeon RX Vega series. The architecture made its debut with the "prosumer" segment Radeon Pro Vega Frontier Edition earlier this year, followed by the professional-segment Radeon Pro WX9100 and Radeon Instinct MI25 GPU-compute accelerator for machine-intelligence applications.
Vega's journey into the consumer segment looks longer than it actually is because AMD hasn't launched a high-end GPU in over two years, since its mid-2015 launch of the Radeon R9 Fury series. Its much-hyped "Polaris" architecture could only power products as fast as the upper-mainstream Radeon RX 480 when it came out in mid-2016, competing with NVIDIA's mid-range GP106 silicon powering the GTX 1060 series, leaving no real competitor to the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070. Consumers at the time were hoping for a grand Vega launch by Holiday 2016, but were made to wait another two quarters. The competition wasn't idle all that while. NVIDIA topped its GTX 1080 launch with faster GTX 1080 Ti and TITAN Xp SKUs based on bigger implementations of its "Pascal" GPU architecture; and even refreshed its GTX 1080 and GTX 1060 SKUs with faster memory.
AMD has dropped all of its Vega IP into one silicon codenamed "Vega 10," and all Vega-series products launched so far, including the Radeon RX Vega cards we review today, are based on it. The company is launching two consumer-segment SKUs based on this chip, the Radeon RX Vega 64, which features all 64 of the next-gen compute units physically present on the chip, and the RX Vega 56, which features 56 of them (covered in our second review today). The RX Vega 64 is further being launched in three variants, the standard RX Vega 64 (reference), which we're reviewing today, and two halo SKUs, the RX Vega 64 Limited Edition, featuring a fancy metal cooler shroud and back-plate, and the RX Vega 64 Liquid Cooled featuring a factory-fitted AIO liquid cooler and higher clock speeds.
"Vega 10" is a multi-chip module, much like "Fiji," which powered the R9 Fury series. AMD is referring to its memory as "High Bandwidth Cache," with the operative term being "cache" as opposed to "memory." This is because of sweeping changes the company brought about in the way the GPU addresses video memory.
The RX Vega 64 features all 4,096 stream processors physically present on the chip, which may look like the same count as that of the R9 Fury X, but one has to keep in mind that these stream processors are two generations ahead and are bolstered by a reworked rendering pipeline, higher clock speeds, an improved front-end, and the investments AMD made in improving the memory management; not to mention twice the memory capacity. This, AMD feels, is sufficient to build a high-end GPU that can take on several of NVIDIA's SKUs around the $500 mark.
We put the RX Vega 64 through our vast and modern test bench and have it compete against key NVIDIA SKUs, such as the GTX 1070, GTX 1080, and GTX 1080 Ti; at resolutions as high as 4K Ultra HD. AMD WattMan now includes two additional profiles called "Power Save" and "Turbo", besides the default "Balanced" profile. Also included is a dual BIOS feature with the second BIOS driving the card at lower power levels. These changes prompted us to run the card through our entire testing suite in six different scenarios. If this SKU can tame 4K, it will be the first AMD GPU to do so. According to AMD, you will be able to purchase a Radeon RX Vega 64 with the black reference cooler for $499. The Limited Edition card, which features a different fan shroud but identical performance, is available for $599, though only in a Radeon pack with two games and, optionally, a Ryzen CPU+mobo combo at reduced pricing. AMD's top-end liquid-cooled model is priced at a staggering $699, also in bundle form only, with two games and a Ryzen CPU+mobo+monitor combo (the monitor offer is not available in some regions, including Europe).