Sapphire Radeon RX 5700 XT Pulse Review 59

Sapphire Radeon RX 5700 XT Pulse Review

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Value and Conclusion

  • The Sapphire RX 5700 XT Pulse is priced at US$409, a $10 premium over the reference design.
  • Heat and noise levels greatly improved over AMD reference design
  • Very reasonably priced
  • Overclocked out of the box
  • Very quiet in gaming (quiet BIOS)
  • Idle fan stop
  • Memory overclocking improved
  • Backplate included
  • Dual BIOS
  • Microsoft Xbox Game Pass for PC for three months included
  • PCI-Express 4.0
  • 7 nanometer production process
  • Support for DSC 1.2a enables 8K 60 Hz
  • TriXX Boost, FidelityFX, and Radeon Anti-Lag
  • Memory overclocking limited by adjustment range
  • Memory not overclocked
  • No hardware-accelerated raytracing
Sapphire's Radeon XT 5700 XT Pulse is the company's mid-level custom design for the Radeon RX 5700—the "Nitro" will be released at a later point in time. The Pulse comes with a redesigned PCB, a better cooler, and is overclocked out of the box. Thanks to the factory overclock, the card achieves a 1% performance improvement over the AMD reference design, 2% at 4K, which really isn't worth mentioning. At 1440p, AMD's Radeon VII flagship is only 7% faster than the Sapphire Pulse, and the RTX 2070 Super is 10% ahead. Compared to NVIDIA's GeForce RTX 2070, the Sapphire card delivers 3% higher FPS. NVIDIA's recently released RTX 2060 Super is 6% behind, and the difference to the RX 5700 is 13%. With these performance results, we can definitely recommend the RX 5700 XT for maximum details gaming at 1440p resolution, or high-refresh-rate gaming at 1080p.

Sapphire is introducing a new cooler design with this iteration of "Pulse". It is built around a 2.5-slot thick cooler with two fans. While the AMD reference design is plagued by high temperatures, the Sapphire RX 5700 XT Pulse does a huge deal better here. It runs at only 75°C during heavy gaming— 17°C lower than AMD's card. Even at these improved temperatures, noise levels are good. Using the stock BIOS, we measured 35 dBA in heavy gaming, which is a massive improvement over the 43 dBA emitted by the AMD reference blower cooler. While noise levels are still a little bit higher than NVIDIA's RTX Founders Editions, the differences are small enough to not be noticeable in day-to-day usage. Thanks to the dual-BIOS feature, the card can run even quieter. On the second BIOS with the designation "Quiet BIOS", noise levels go as low as 32 dBA, which rivals even custom designs for the GeForce RTX and delivers the peaceful noise levels gamers are looking for today. Every other manufacturer who offers a quiet BIOS simply reduces the fan speed, which of course increases temperatures accordingly. Sapphire went beyond that as their second BIOS reduces the voltages and clocks slightly, which means temperatures are actually 1°C better than with the stock BIOS, and performance is a little bit lower (2-3 %). This approach actually enhances the features set of the quiet BIOS because it gives people more options. Personally, I'd take the small performance hit any day to enjoy lower noise levels. Sapphire is enabling fan stop for both the default BIOS and quiet mode, which is a smart decision, too.

With 20 W more power draw than the AMD reference design, power consumption is barely increased, so you can stick to the PSU choices you had in mind for Navi. The improved cooler also keeps heat output in check, reducing noise and temperatures. With roughly 250 W, power draw is a bit higher than on competing NVIDIA cards, but the differences are not huge, so PSU choices aren't affected at all.

Overclocking our sample was slightly easier than on the AMD reference design. Especially memory overclocking worked correctly now. Perhaps that's because Sapphire uses Micron chips instead of Samsung like on the reference design. On NVIDIA, we see significantly better overclocking from Samsung than from Micron—here, it's reversed. Memory overclocking is held back by the slider-adjustment range in Wattman, which only goes up to 1900 MHz. We've encountered this obstacle in the past with AMD; let's hope they reconsider putting artificial OC limits into their driver. GPU overclocking yielded slightly lower clocks than on our AMD card, but at 14 MHz, the difference seems to be due to the silicon lottery. Unlike the ASUS RX 5700 XT STRIX OC we reviewed today as well, the performance gains from overclocking are tangible as we achieved a 3.6% real-life performance improvement.

On the topic of raytracing, I'm sure you've already made up your mind on whether it's something you're interested in or not, but I don't doubt for a second that NVIDIA, with their excellent developer relations, is pushing the technology very hard, and it looks like the adoption rate is improving. We're also hearing rumors that next-gen consoles will feature some sort of raytracing technology. I'd say, it's not a big deal for the near future, but could become relevant in the years to come, so if you're future-proofing for many years to come now, this could be a factor. My recommendation is not to worry about the future too much and look at what you need today to buy a new card when you need it, selling the old one to offset the cost.

Sapphire does have a unique feature for their new Navi graphics cards, which is called "TriXX Boost". It's a new capability of their TriXX overclocking software and lets you precisely set a custom resolution (in small steps) that's active system-wide. That new resolution can now be selected in your games, and nets you higher FPS with a small loss in image quality due to the lower rendering resolution. Paired with Radeon Image Sharpening, this can help improve performance, while not compromising on image quality too much.

According to Sapphire, the RX 5700 XT Pulse will retail for $409—that's only $10 more than the AMD reference design. At that price point, the Sapphire RX 5700 XT Pulse is really a no-brainer. That negligible price increase gives you a much better cooler with lower temperatures and noise levels at the same time. Idle-fan-stop and dual BIOS are included, too. If you are willing to spend more money, you could wait for Sapphire's Nitro+, which I would expect to have a bigger factory overclock, or look at the RTX 2070 Super, which starts at $500. Sapphire's pricing is a big statement towards NVIDIA's RTX 2060 Super pricing, which currently starts at $400, with custom designs going well above that. Looks like the battle in the $400–$500 segment is going to heat up, which is a good thing because it should result in lower prices for us.
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