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Radeon 7 vs RTX 2080: Which high-end GPU should you buy?

AMD's new top dog takes on Nvidia's second-best consumer GPU.

The Radeon 7 is AMD's first high-end graphics card for several years, making it an eagerly anticipated proposition - both for users looking to upgrade their systems and those that want competition between AMD and Nvidia to drive GPU prices down. While the card is the first to be built on a 7nm process, bringing both performance and efficiency advantages, its Vega architecture doesn't include any major feature additions. Instead, we are looking at a card that is significantly more powerful than the outgoing Vega 64, yet promises better thermal performance at similar levels of power draw.

AMD has pitched the Radeon 7 as a competitor to the second-place card in Nvidia's lineup, the RTX 2080, with both cards being available for around £600/$700. While the Nvidia card seems to have a feature advantage, including the ability to perform real-time ray tracing and boost frame-rates using deep learning, the extremely short list of games that actually support these new technologies means that traditional in-game performance may be the most important metric right now. That gives AMD the chance to take a meaningful and long overdue victory over Team Green, but the Radeon 7 still faces a stern challenge from an established rival.

Thinking about upgrading your gaming PC? Take a look at our recommendations for the best graphics cards on the market. Pairing your graphics card with one of the best gaming monitors is also important, so check out our latest picks!

To give you a better idea of whether the Radeon 7 or the RTX 2080 is the better buy, we'll break down exactly how these two graphics cards compare. The bulk of the article will examine how the Radeon 7 and RTX 2080 perform in traditional rasterised games, but we'll also consider what features you're giving up by going with an AMD or Nvidia graphics card. Pricing and availability are also key considerations, so we will include a brief section on this topic towards the end of the piece with the latest data and our overall recommendation. Let's quickly run through the features, then get to the game benchmarks.

Is the Radeon 7 live up to AMD's promises of being a legitimate RTX 2080 competitor?

Radeon 7 vs RTX 2080: feature comparison

While the Radeon 7 is a powerful new card that uses an advanced 7nm process, it still uses the Vega architecture that debuted with the Vega 56 and Vega 64 in mid 2017. While gaming performance has improved substantially - as we'll see in more detail later - the overall feature set hasn't changed. Most importantly, you'll get AMD's Wattman software for overclocking and support for FreeSync variable refresh rate monitors. The AMD Link mobile app, Eyefinity multi-display gaming and ReLive recording and streaming are also on the table.

While it isn't a feature per se, the Radeon card does also include substantially more video memory than its competitor - 16GB of HBM2 versus only 8GB of GDDR6. That may make a small difference to gaming performance, but it could be more important for creative workloads. Video editing programs like Premiere or Da Vinci Resolve can gobble up more than eight gigabytes of video memory when working on 4K footage, so having that extra headroom could be a big deal for content creators.

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As a member of Nvidia's new Turing family, the RTX 2080 does include new features on top of those provided by its GTX 10-series predecessors. The biggest is real-time ray tracing (RTX), a performance-sapping way to render light and shadows more realistically. Another big addition is deep learning super sampling (DLSS), which trades a little graphical fidelity for a significant performance boost. However, these technologies rely on developers actually integrating the features into their games, and for now the list of supported titles remains painfully short.

The RTX 20-series also adds new shading models that can also boost performance, plus more niche features like a single USB-C port for next-gen VR headsets, DisplayPort 1.4 for connecting 8K 60Hz displays with a single cable and a more capable NVEnc encoder for game streaming or recording. Nvidia also recently added support for Adaptive Sync variable refresh rate monitors, allowing GeForce GPU owners to use both FreeSync or G-Sync monitors.

We'll chalk this up as a narrow win for Nvidia for now, but the playing field should become more level with AMD's first truly next-generation card, codenamed Navi, which is rumoured to be released in the next year or two.

Radeon 7 vs RTX 2080: game benchmarks

While feature comparisons are interesting, the real meat of this comparison is in how these cards can handle the latest games at their most challenging settings. We have included ten recent games in our comparison at three resolutions - 1920 by 1080, 2560 by 1440 and 3840 by 2160 (aka 4K) - so no matter which monitor you have, you should get a good idea of what performance you should expect by buying either card. As well as our two stars, we've also included the GTX 1080 Ti and RTX 2070 to provide a bit more context to these results.

While we have included 1080p results for completeness, please note that we do not recommend using the Radeon 7 or other high-end cards for 1080p gaming. Even with a Core i7 8700K processor overclocked to 4.7GHz in our test bed, we ran into CPU bottlenecking which can mean run-to-run performance can vary more substantially than usual. This also suggests that older, less capable processors may see similar issues at 1440p too. Therefore, we strongly recommend using a a high-end Intel Core i7 or Ryzen 7 processor if you're targeting high frame-rates at 1080p or 1440p.

To give you a better idea of these cards' raw performance, you can also see a selection of their specifications in the table below. While AMD's Radeon 7 is a true reference card that operates at stock speeds, the Founders Edition RTX 2080 and RTX 2070 we're using do come factory overclocked and cost more than stock cards. That means these numbers are a good comparison of out-of-the-box performance, but the Radeon 7 will be more competitive against entry-level RTX 2080 and RTX 2070 cards than these benchmark results indicate.

Radeon 7 RTX 2080 FE RTX 2070 FE GTX 1080 Ti
Manufacturing process 7nm 12nm 12nm 16nm
GPU cores 3840 2944 2304 3584
Memory bandwidth 1024GB/s 448GB/s 448GB/s 484GB/s
Base clock 1400MHz 1515MHz 1410MHz 1481MHz
Boost clock 1800MHz 1800MHz 1710MHz 1582MHz
TDP 300W 225W 185W 250W
RRP $700/£700 $800/£750 $600/£550 $700/£700

Our testing results are shown using a unique Digital Foundry benchmarking system - as long as you're viewing the desktop version of this page, anyway. A YouTube video will show you the scene that we tested each card on, with live frame-rate and frame time data embedded below. The advantage of this added complexity is that you can use the controls to the right of the video to add or remove different cards and resolutions.

Below the real-time telemetry, you can find quick summaries for the entire run, including the handy lowest one per cent and lowest five per cent figures which give you an idea of each card's worst-case performance and overall stability. It's worth remembering that to see these different figures, you need to mouse over the image. You can also click the chart to toggle between absolute figures and percentages.

Without further ado, let's get into the benchmarks!

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

We begin with 2018 release Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which includes one of the most CPU-intensive built-in benchmarks in our suite alongside a nice jaunt around ancient Greece. The Radeon 7 begins in third place at 1080p, only leading over the RTX 2070. The GTX 1080 Ti proves the best performer of the cards in this comparison, nine per cent faster than the Radeon 7, while the RTX 2080 leads the Radeon 7 by a seven per cent margin. It's a similar story at 1440p and it's only at 4K that the Radeon 7 becomes competitive with a playable 39fps result. That's dead-level with the GTX 1080 Ti and 11 per cent faster than the RTX 2070. However, the RTX 2080 is still faster than the Radeon 7 by seven per cent here.

AC Odyssey: Ultra High, TAA

Assassin's Creed Unity

Our next title is an older yet still challenging game from the Assassin's Creed universe, the 2014 release Unity. The benchmark results show that AMD's latest card still struggles heavily with the depth of field effect in our test scene, with precipitous frame-rate drops each time it occurs. That drags the Radeon 7 back to fourth place, with the RTX 2080 boasting an 18 per cent lead at 1080p and 1440p. The Radeon 7 does improve slightly at 4K, as AMD's greater driver overhead becomes less of a problem, but the RTX 2080 retains a 15 per cent advantage.

AC Unity: Ultra High, FXAA

Battlefield 1

Our first win for the Radeon 7 over the RTX 2080 comes in a game that has traditionally been kinder to AMD hardware: Battlefield 1. In our run through the war-torn trenches of no man's land, the Radeon 7 manages 177fps at 1080 - more than enough to make use of a high-refresh rate 144Hz monitor and a few frames abreast of the RTX 2080. The AMD card's lead extends to six per cent over the RTX 2080 at 1440p and eight per cent at 4K, with the Radeon 7 delivering frame-rates of 142fps and 85fps at the two resolutions respectively. We haven't tested Battlefield V, but as a general rule of thumb you can expect roughly a 33 percent drop in frame-rates in the newer game on the same cards.

Battlefield 1: Ultra, TAA

Crysis 3

The Radeon 7's victory is sadly short-lived, with our tests in 2013's Crysis 3 showing the RTX 2080 leading the new AMD card by 12 per cent at 1080p, likely due to higher CPU utilisation by AMD's drivers compared to Nvidia's. However, as we step up the resolution, the Radeon 7 does get closer to the mark, with the RTX 2080's lead narrowing to eight per cent at 1440p and 4K. It's worth noting that the GTX 1080 Ti also performs well here, often beating out the RTX 2080 by a narrow margin.

Crysis 3: very high, SMAA T2X

Far Cry 5

Far Cry 5 is one of the newer games in our tests, offering a good blend of advanced graphical effects without tanking frame-rates as much as Ghost Recon Wildlands at its highest preset. Although the Radeon 7 dips lower than its Nvidia competition, it still manages a respectable third-place result at 1080p and 1440p, right behind the GTX 1080 Ti. The 133fps result at 1080p and 101fps average at 1440p mean that you can make good use of high refresh rate monitors with this card. However, the Radeon 7 gives its best showing at 4K where it effectively equals the RTX 2080 at 60fps.

Far Cry 5: Ultra, TAA

Far Cry Primal

Far Cry Primal was released in 2016, re-using the map from Far Cry 4 and switching to a novel pre-history setting - a trick Ubisoft would echo with Far Cry New 5 and Far Cry New Dawn two years later. Relative performance here is broadly similar to that of Far Cry 5, with the Radeon 7 a few steps behind the GTX 1080 Ti and RTX 2080 at 1080p and 1440p. At 4K, the Radeon 7 draws level to come up with an average just a hair below 60fps.

Far Cry Primal: Ultra, SMAA

Ghost Recon Wildlands

The most challenging test in our benchmark suite is Ghost Recon Wildlands, which comes with a ridiculous ultra preset that can take down even the fastest graphics cards on the market today. The RTX 2080 wins out against the Radeon 7 at every resolution here, with the AMD card getting closer and closer as the resolution is ramped up: it's a 13 per cent win for the RTX 2080 at 1080p, nine per cent at 1440p and just two per cent at 4K. The GTX 1080 Ti is in second place throughout the tests as well.

Ghost Recon Wildlands: Ultra, TAA

Rise of the Tomb Raider

While Rise of the Tomb Raider's benchmark isn't a great predictor of in-game frame-rates, it is still a useful test of relative graphics card performance. The Radeon 7 continues its not-so-winning ways here, coming ahead of the RTX 2070 but behind the RTX 2080 at each resolution tested. The RTX 2080 is eight per cent faster than the Radeon 7 at 1080p, narrowing to a six per cent lead at 1440p and three per cent at 4K. The RTX 2080 isn't even the greatest card in this test either, as the GTX 1080 Ti turns in a better performance at every occasion.

Rise of the Tomb Raider: Very High, SMAA

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a better simulacrum of actual game performance, and its tripartite benchmark is even longer than that of Rise of the Tomb Raider's. The game, released in 2018, also possesses a more modern architecture than its predecessor, giving new GPUs an advantage. That certainly applies to the Radeon 7, which outperforms the GTX 1080 Ti and comes close to the RTX 2080 at 1080p, with all three cards in the 120fps range. The Radeon 7 remains in second place behind the RTX 2080 at 1440p and 4K, again narrowing the gap to less than one frame per second at the highest resolution we tested.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider DX12: Highest, TAA

The Witcher 3

Our final title is a 2015 classic, The Witcher 3. The Radeon 7 is just a few percent points behind the RTX 2080 at each resolution, but at least is able to take second place convincingly over the GTX 1080 Ti. At 142fps at 1080p and 105fps at 1440p, high refresh rate monitors remain viable at these lower resolutions on the Radeon 7 - and its two closest competitors.

The Witcher 3: Ultra, POST-AA, No Hairworks

Radeon 7 vs RTX 2080: price and availability

The Radeon 7 is being offered a little below RRP at £600/$700, almost exactly the same as the RTX 2080. Both manufacturers have also created a free games promotion when you buy one of their cards from a participating retailer, with AMD offering The Division 2, Resident Evil 2 and Devil May Cry 5 and Nvidia tossing in Battlefield V, Anthem and Metro Exodus. With performance relatively similar in many titles, if you preferred one set of games over the other you might find it easy to make a choice from the promotions alone.

Another point is that while the Radeon 7 is only available in a reference design made by AMD and its partners, the RTX 2080 is available in a wide range of configurations: entry-level cards operating near stock frequencies at around $700/£600, Nvidia's overclocked Founders Edition cards at $800/£730 and custom designs with higher clocks, better thermal solutions and improved power delivery at around $850/£750 and above. It's not clear if we will see custom Radeon 7 designs in the future, but retail availability of Radeon 7 cards has been maintained well since the card launched this spring.

So which is the better GPU for the money? If you're willing to spend more to get a custom design with improved thermal performance and more overclocking headroom, you may be better served by the greater model variety of the RTX 2080. Likewise, the RTX 2080 offers some technologies like RTX and DLSS that aren't matched by AMD's latest offering.

Despite this, the Radeon 7 remains a competitive choice when it comes to traditional rasterised games, particularly against entry-level RTX 2080 models at 4K resolution. There's also the possibility of improved frame-rates as AMD's drivers continue to develop, something that we wouldn't expect from the relatively mature RTX 2080. As we mentioned in the features section, the higher VRAM count of the Radeon 7 could also make it a better choice for productivity workloads like editing high-definition video. While the Radeon 7 isn't the slam dunk AMD no doubt hoped for, this card could still make sense for gamers and content creators alike.

Want more on the Radeon 7? We encourage you to check out our written Radeon 7 review or our the Digital Foundry Radeon 7 review on YouTube for a more detailed investigation into AMD's latest and greatest.

Which GPUs are worth buying? We've made our picks for the best graphics cards available, updated with the latest graphics cards as they're released. As well as an overall performance champ, we name the best value graphics card and best cheap graphics card to guide your next upgrade.

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