Radeon RX 5700/ RX 5700 XT: the Digital Foundry verdict

Good products - but are they good enough for the price?

It's a shame that the Navi story has been disrupted by the pricing shenanigans, because what the products lack in forward-looking innovation, they make up for with solid performance. By tweaking its pricing, AMD's new graphics cards make a lot more sense in the post-Super world. The RX 5700 was always pitched against RTX 2060, and with price parity, users have a choice: they can opt for a product that delivers improved performance and an extra two gigabytes of memory, or they can instead bank on the Turing architectures next-gen features such as hardware accelerated ray tracing. It's an unenviable choice when we know that ray tracing features will be a part of the new consoles, but the here and now benefits with the RX 5700 are clear.

The RX 5700 XT is also now well positioned at $399, with Nvidia's release of the RTX 2060 Super actually doing AMD a small favour here. The XT was always pitched at the RTX 2070, and the Super is slightly less powerful than that. It doesn't impact the gameplay experience so much, but it adds a point or two to AMD's performance differentials, making it seem a little more attractive. However, similar to Vega 56 vs Vega 64, not much separates 5700 vs XT on average. Some games deliver the extra power that makes the extra $50 worthwhile, while others do not.

The focus on RX 5700 vs Nvidia Super does draw attention away from some of Navi's more impressive feats, however, and I feel AMD's engineers do deserve some kudos. Much has been made in the past of the GCN architecture's limit of 64 compute units or 4096 shaders. Whether this limitation still applies to Navi or not remains to be seen, but apples to apples comparisons with prior products are clearly not relevant any more. The 12.7TF Vega 64 delivers the full complement of compute units and more memory bandwidth, but it is beaten in performance terms by the 7.5TF RX 5700 and the 9.0TF RX 5700 XT. Impressive stuff.

There are obvious implications for the next-gen consoles then, based on the same architecture: Navi can't be compared to the current-gen machines based on its CU count or teraflop rating. AMD has moved on and with RDNA we're in a world where even 36 compute units can best the 64 of Vega - and that's before we factor in all of the GCN enhancements made leading up to Vega. Remember that the PS4 and Xbox One are based on the original Southern Islands designs that kicked off AMD's GCN era.

Everything you need to know about the AMD RX 5700 Navi cards, including those all-important performance figures.

Returning to the products themselves, the performance numbers speak for themselves and the pricing is now fine - but there is the sense that this architecture has a lot more to offer. There are certain 'sweet spots' in the gaming library where AMD architecture massive outperforms its more general performance level. RX 5700 XT is pitched as a 2060 Super/2070 competitor and yet in limited titles it can mix it up with the more capable 2070 Super. It's a shame that more games can't perform like that but again, there are positive implications for Navi's rollout in the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

But in the here and now, whether the RX 5700 series can truly challenge Nvidia remains to be seen. The pricing adjustment was sorely needed, but AMD needed to come out of the gate at E3 with something much more ambitious. Even the cut we have is not really disruptive and that's surprising bearing in mind that the firm knows how to challenge the status quo effectively after its experiences in the CPU market. Ryzen has demonstrated that to truly challenge an incumbent, a radical strategy is required, and as solid as they are, the Navi products do not provide that.

And similar to Radeon 7, the price of getting AMD competitive with Nvidia's upper mid-tier products is daunting. The RX 5700 offers a performance bump over RTX 2060 and consumes a little more energy - so Team Red is basically competitive on efficiency, but it has required a jump in process technology here to get the job done, similar to prior GPU generations. Nvidia is using what amounts to a refined 16nm production technology and hasn't needed to drop down to 7nm. On top of that, AMD's problems in challenging at the top-end in performance terms haven't gone away either - the firm has no price-appropriate answer to RTX 2070 Super, while the RTX 2080 Ti remains king of the hill.

So there are positives and negatives to the Navi products: if you're not interested in DXR features and you're willing to bet that ray tracing won't be an important part of the gaming generation to come, you can't argue that the RX 5700 is anything other than a very nice deal - it's obviously faster than the RTX 2060 and those two extra gigs of GDDR6 may have limited real world use in 1080p and 1440p gaming, but they do help with future-proofing and certainly sweeten the deal. The RX 5700 XT isn't quite as attractive competitively, but certainly takes the fight to the RTX 2070 and delivers good results. The lack of Ryzen-style disruption remains a bit of a shame, but the value here is solid enough.

AMD Radeon 5700/ Radeon RX 5700 XT Analysis

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About the author

Will Judd

Will Judd

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2.

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