The AMD Radeon VII is the company’s flagship high-end graphics card for gaming and content creation. Consumers placed a lot of hope on the success of this graphics card to finally give Nvidia some competition in the high-end desktop GPU market.
The launch however didn’t go quite as what we’d hoped for. The Radeon VII is a great performing card, but it has underwhelmed in many ways. We highlight the 8 ways the AMD Radeon VII has disappointed in its launch from the eyes of consumers and reviewers.
AMD Radeon VII Launch: What Went Wrong?
1. Launch Window and Availability
The launch window of the AMD Radeon VII came at an awkward time. The mid of February meant that consumers who had already vowed to make a new high-end gaming and/or content creation PC during the holiday season had already gone out and bought one of the RTX cards by Nvidia.
Those who waited around only did so to desperately get something new. The launch window was awkward because there is little PC building that goes on at this time of the year. Furthermore, AMD further exacerbated it by ensuring the AMD Radeon VII released in limited supply. AMD’s intentions with this card also seemed experimental, and while it may help them gauge the market situation and general consumer demand better for their Navi architecture, it hasn’t helped anyone who is eager to buy a graphics card in the first or second quarter of 2019.
2. Press Drivers
The press drivers of the AMD Radeon VII were, simply put, a complete mess. Although the press drivers don’t necessarily indicate the actual state of the consumer retail drivers, they still lay a bad marketing foundation, as press drivers are what reviewers use to review the product.
For the Radeon VII, bad drivers meant reviewers had to face a multitude of issues. From random in-game crashes to artifacts to incorrect frequencies of the graphics card showing in the settings, the launch was a complete mess because of the drivers, making it hard for many reviewers not to mention this egregious flaw.
Another major flaw associated with the drivers of the Radeon VII was the complete inability to manually overclock it. Manual overclocking was simply broken, and reviewers could not determine the overclocking ability of this card.
AMD had worked hard over the past few months to shed itself of the bad rep it had regarding driver updates and driver quality for its graphics cards. Unfortunately, the press driver of the Radeon VII seems to have brought back that haunting label back. The one conclusion we can certainly make from all this is AMD’s release of the Radeon VII was hasty, and it should’ve been pushed back at least a month or two.
3. Memory Usage Statement
AMD integrated the Radeon VII with a whopping 16GB of HBM2 memory. One thing that not every user knows that HBM2 memory is far more expensive than GDDR5 or GDDR6 memory. Yes, it’s a more advanced technology and utilizes graphic memory far better than contemporary GDDR6, but the difference isn’t as greatly pronounced as many would think.
Furthermore, the amount of memory integrated into the Radeon VII is itself is what adds to the cost. AMD claimed in their conference and official press releases that this high memory was because modern videogames are growing towards a trend of using much higher memory.
While that’s certainly true, AMD’s numbers weren’t entirely accurate. The staggering memory usage numbers they showed for many of the videogames aren’t a true depiction of how much graphic memory that game actually uses at a given resolution, but of how much memory it asks for availability.
There’s a distinct difference between the two functions. For example, Black Ops 3 could ask for the entire 16GB of available memory on the Radeon VII, but in reality, it will only use around 7/8GB. It’s extremely difficult to accurately determine the exact amount of memory truly used for high-resolution textures in such cases. The best way to determine is qualitatively in-game, looking at texture quality and resolution as well as how quickly they appear.
Simply put, AMD could’ve easily shaved off a few hundred bucks at the least by either using conventional GDDR6 memory or a less amount of HBM2. The HBM2 memory itself allegedly makes up half the cost of the entire card, which gives us an idea of just how unnecessarily expensive it is.
4. Board Partners
AMD for whatever reason decided not to give its board partners like Gigabyte, ASUS, MSI, Sapphire, and others the liberty to design their own cooling solutions and PCBs for the Radeon VII. While you can certainly buy the Radeon VII from these aforementioned board partners, they will all come at the same clock speeds, same cooling solution, and the same size.
This might not be a bad thing on paper – consistency across the board (pun intended) allows for more consistent pricing regardless of which brand decides to slap its name on the box. However, it’s a double-edged sword as well All the problems associated with the cooling design of the Radeon VII persist across all manufacturers.
While it’s true that companies like ASUS and MSI at times go over the top with their cooling solutions and overclocking to charge a premium fee several hundred dollars about the GPU’s MSRP, others like Sapphire have consistently aided AMD with intelligent cooling designs and overclocking to make cards that otherwise run hot far more reliable.
That’s not to say that the Radeon VII cooling solution is outright poor in its thermal performance (more on that later), it’s just that it confines what this card is capable of to the reference design and nothing more, and that leaves no liberty for experienced and knowledgeable board partners like Sapphire and ASUS to make the necessary adjustments to provide it in a more reliable or appealing format.
5. Target Audience and Competition
AMD’s intention with the launch of the Radeon VII was to give more options for consumers looking to invest in high-end graphics cards. This is what every consumer has actually wanted, given the ridiculous price hike of high-end GPUs thanks to Nvidia’s monopoly in this part of the market.
AMD also promised that the Radeon VII would double as a high-end content creation graphics card for advanced tasks such as 4K video editing, rendering, and simulations.
The truth is that it manages to achieve all that, but the pricing and performance put it in an awkward position. It’s sandwiched right between the Nvidia RTX 2070 and the Nvidia RTX 2080. That’s not a bad thing on paper, but the Radeon VII cannot compete with the RTX 2080 in most videogames and even in content creation tasks. The RTX 2080 blows it out of the water.
Secondly, the pricing is just $100 less than the RTX 2080, but some Nvidia board partners are offering the RTX 2080 around the $700-750 mark. Moreover, the limited availability of the Radeon VII has hiked its prices to an unreasonable $800 in some parts of the world. It’s hard to imagine anyone would go for the Radeon VII for this very purpose unless they’re in need of the excess memory and generally support Team Red.
And we come back to pricing once again. Pricing deserves a topic of itself because it not only determines the audience the graphics card will cater to but also the overall impact on the market. Everyone wanted AMD to release a high-end GPU that would force Nvidia to push down the prices. This would give more options to consumers in the high-end market at more competitive prices.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. AMD Radeon VII announced the price at an MSRP of $700. Even with this price, there was hope that the Radeon VII would comfortably beat the Nvidia RTX 2080 in most videogames and for GPU intensive content creation and rendering. The Radeon VII clearly falls behind the RTX 2080 in performance in both categories of use. This makes it unappealing to consumers and puts zero pressure on Nvidia to reduce the prices of their high-end graphics cards.
Make no mistake, the Radeon VII is a powerful graphics card. It is unequivocally a high-end graphics card that will offer excellent performance in videogames, rendering, and content creation.
However, given its pricing and the current price hike due to the dearth in availability, this card offers poorer price to performance ratio than the RTX 2080. While it blows the RTX 2080 out of the water in synthetic benchmark tests, real world performances in both DX12 and DX11 videogames is far behind the Nvidia RTX 2080.
We personally don’t care for ray-tracing as there isn’t enough content available that takes advantage of it effectively. However, even ignoring ray-tracing technology, the Radeon VII falls behind in price to performance ratio and general performance to its direct competitor. A powerful card it may be, but it’s largely redundant as consumers can opt for the more powerful RTX 2080 at a similar or even lower price.
8. Temperatures and Noise
AMD has taken a different approach in its temperature measurements with the Radeon VII. AMD has integrated more temperature sensors in this GPU, but instead of relying on temperature measurements based on the “edge” sensors, it adjusts the boost clock speeds and fan speeds based on the junction temperature.
The junction temperature is essentially the hottest spot of the GPU. This is often much higher than the edge temperature. For this reason, the Radeon VII often has vast fluctuations in its boost clock speeds. While this method is smarter to deal with on paper, it puts the fan speeds at a much higher RPM than normal. And that directly translates into noise issues.
On average, you’ll experience the fan speed of the Radeon VII hit around the 2900 RPM mark. How does this translate into noise levels? Well, the Radeon VII generates 50 decibels of noise. That is very loud. Yes, this card is noisy. Comparatively, the reference RTX 2080 has an average fan speed of 1800 RPM, which translates to a noise level of around 39-40 decibels. A difference of ten decibels is significant.
This problem could’ve been addressed had AMD let board partners design their own cooling solutions. However, as we’ve already pointed out, this isn’t the case.
So there you have it. We wanted the AMD Radeon VII to be a massive success for all the right reasons. Nvidia seriously needs more competition and the prices of high-end graphics cards need to decrease for more accessibility to the average consumers. Unfortunately, AMD’s launch of the Radeon VII is both rushed and underwhelming.
At the moment, it seems consumers have no choice but to purchase Nvidia RTX graphics cards if they want a reliable high-end GPU. Hopefully, Navi has something better in store for us.