Variations of “HBM2 is expensive” have floated the web since well before Vega’s launch – since Fiji, really, with the first wave of HBM – without many concrete numbers on that expression. AMD isn’t just using HBM2 because it’s “shiny” and sounds good in marketing, but because Vega architecture is bandwidth starved to a point of HBM being necessary. That’s an expensive necessity, unfortunately, and chews away at margins, but AMD really had no choice in the matter. The company’s standalone MSRP structure for Vega 56 positions it competitively with the GTX 1070, carrying comparable performance, memory capacity, and target retail price, assuming things calm down for the entire GPU market at some point. Given HBM2’s higher cost and Vega 56’s bigger die, that leaves little room for AMD to profit when compared to GDDR5 solutions. That’s what we’re exploring today, alongside why AMD had to use HBM2.
There are reasons that AMD went with HBM2, of course – we’ll talk about those later in the content. A lot of folks have asked why AMD can’t “just” use GDDR5 with Vega instead of HBM2, thinking that you just swap modules, but there are complications that make this impossible without a redesign of the memory controller. Vega is also bandwidth-starved to a point of complication, which we’ll walk through momentarily.
Let’s start with prices, then talk architectural requirements.
Before Vega buried Threadripper, we noted interest in conducting a simple A/B comparison between Noctua’s new TR4-sized coldplate (the full-coverage plate) and their older LGA115X-sized coldplate. Clearly, the LGA115X cooler isn’t meant to be used with Threadripper – but it offered a unique opportunity, as the two units are largely the same aside from coldplate coverage. This grants an easy means to run an A/B comparison; although we can’t draw conclusions to all coldplates and coolers, we can at least see what Noctua’s efforts did for them on the Threadripper front.
Noctua’s NH-U14S cooler possesses the same heatpipe count and arrangement, the same (or remarkably similar) fin stack, and the same fan – though we controlled for that by using the same fan for each unit. The only difference is the coldplate, as far as we can tell, and so we’re able to more easily measure performance deltas resultant primarily from the coldplate coverage change. Noctua’s LGA115X version, clearly not for TR4, wouldn’t cover the entire die area of even one module under the HIS. The smaller plate maximally covers about 30% of the die area, just eyeballing it, and doesn’t make direct contact to the rest. This is less coverage than the Asetek CLCs, which at least make contact with the entire TR4 die area, if not the entire IHS. Noctua modified their unit to equip a full-coverage plate as a response, including the unique mounting hardware that TR4 needs.
The LGA115X NH-U14S doesn’t natively mount to Threadripper motherboards. We modded the NH-U14S TR4 cooler’s mounting hardware with a couple of holes, aligning those with the LGA115X holes, then routed screws and nuts through those. A rubber bumper was placed between the mounting hardware and the base of the cooler, used to help ensure even and adequate mounting pressure. We show a short clip of the modding process in our above video.
Vega’s partnership with the Samsung CF791, prior to the card even launching, was met with unrelenting criticism of the monitor’s placement in bundles. Consumer reports on the monitor mention flickering with Ultimate Engine as far back as January, now leveraged as a counter to the CF791’s inclusion in AMD’s bundle. All these consumer reports and complaints largely hinged on Polaris or Fiji products, not Vega (which didn’t exist yet), so we thought it’d be worth a revisit with the bundled card. Besides, if it’s the bundle of the CF791 with Vega that caused the resurgence in flickering concerns, it seems that we should test the CF791 with Vega. That’s the most relevant comparison.
And so we did: Using Vega 56, Vega: FE, and an RX 580 Gaming X (Polaris refresh), we tested Samsung’s CF791 34” UltraWide display, running through permutations of FreeSync. Some such permutations include “Standard Engine” (OSD), “Ultimate Engine” (OSD), and simple on/off toggles (drivers + OSD).
Following questions regarding the alleged expiry of MDF and rebates pertaining to Vega’s launch, AMD responded to GN’s inquiries about pricing allegations with a form statement. We attempted to engage in further conversation, but received replies of limited usefulness as the discussion fell into the inevitable “I’m not allowed to discuss this” territory.
Regardless, if you’ve seen the story, AMD’s official statement on Vega price increases is as follows:
As exciting as it is to see “+242% power offset” in overclocking tools, it’s equally deflating to see that offset only partly work. It does, though, and so we’ve minimally managed to increase our overclocking headroom from the stock +50% offset. The liquid cooler helps, considering we attached a 360mm radiator, two Corsair 120mm maglev fans, a Noctua NF-F12 fan, and a fourth fan for VRM cooling. Individual heatsinks were also added to hotter VRM components, leaving two sets unsinked, but cooled heavily with direct airflow.
This mod is our coolest-running hybrid mod yet, with large thanks to the 360mm radiator. There’s reason for that, too – we’re now able to push peak power of about 370-380W through the card, up from our previous limitation of ~308W. We were gunning for 400W, but it’s just not happening right now. We’re still working on BIOS mods and powerplay table mods.
Following the initial rumors stemming from an Overclockers.co.uk post about Vega price soon changing, multiple AIB partners reached out to GamersNexus – and vice versa – to discuss the truth of the content. The post by Gibbo of Overclockers suggested that launch rebates and MDF would be expiring from AMD for Vega, which would drive pricing upward as retailers scramble to make a profit on the new GPU. Launch pricing of Vega 64 was supposed to be $500, but quickly shot to $600 USD in the wake of immediate inventory selling out. This is also why the packs exist – it enables AMD to “lower” the pricing of Vega by making return on other components.
In speaking with different sources from different companies that work with AMD, GamersNexus learned that “Gibbo is right” regarding the AMD rebate expiry and subsequent price jump. AMD purportedly provided the top retailers and etailers with a $499 price on Vega 64, coupling sale of the card with a rebate to reduce spend by retailers, and therefore use leverage to force the lower price. The $100 rebate from AMD is already expiring, hence the price jump by retailers who need return. Rebates were included as a means to encourage retailers to try to sell at the lower $499 price. With those expiring, leverage is gone and retailers/etailers return to their own price structure, as margins are exceptionally low on this product.
Tearing open the RX Vega 56 card revealed more of what we expected: A Vega Frontier Edition card, which is the same as Vega 64, which is the same as Vega 56. It seems as if AMD took the same PCB & VRM run and increased volume to apply to all these cards, thereby ensuring MOQ is met and theoretically lowering cost for all devices combined. That said, the price also increases in unnecessary ways for the likes of Vega 56, which has one of the most overkill VRMs a card of its ilk possibly could -- especially given the native current and power constraints enforced by BIOS. That said, we're working on power tables mods to bypass these constraints, despite the alleged Secure Boot compliance by AMD.
We posted a tear-down of the card earlier today, though it is much the same as the Vega: Frontier Edition -- and by "much the same," we mean "exactly the same." Though, to be fair, V56 does lack the TR6 & TR5 screws of FE.
Here's the tear-down:
“Indecision” isn’t something we’ve ever titled a review, or felt in general about hardware. The thing is, though, that Vega is launching in the midst of a market which behaves completely unpredictably. We review products as a value proposition, looking at performance to dollars and coming to some sort of unwavering conclusion. Turns out, that’s sort of hard to do when the price is “who knows” and availability is uncertain. Mining does all this, of course; AMD’s launching a card in the middle of boosted demand, and so prices won’t stick for long. The question is whether the inevitable price hike will match or exceed the price of competing cards. NVidia's GTX 1070 should be selling below $400 (a few months ago, it did), the GTX 1080 should be ~$500, and the RX Vega 56 should be $400.
Conclusiveness would be easier with at least one unchanging value.
Visiting AMD during the Threadripper announcement event gave us access to a live LN2-overclocking demonstration, where one of the early Threadripper CPUs hit 5.2GHz on LN2 and scored north of 4000 points in Cinebench. Overclocking was performed on two systems, one using an internal engineering sample motherboard and the other using an early ASRock board. LN2 pots will be made available by Der8auer and KINGPIN, though the LN2 pots used by AMD were custom-made for the task, given that the socket is completely new.
The launch of Threadripper marks a move closer to AMD’s starting point for the Zen architecture. Contrary to popular belief, AMD did not start its plans with desktop Ryzen and then glue modules together until Epyc was created; no, instead, the company started with an MCM CPU more similar to Epyc, then worked its way down to Ryzen desktop CPUs. Threadripper is the fruition of this MCM design on the HEDT side, and benefits from months of maturation for both the platform and AMD’s support teams. Ryzen was rushed in its weeks leading to launch, which showed in both communication clarity and platform support in the early days. Finally, as things smoothed-over and AMD resolved many of its communication and platform issues, Threadripper became advantaged in its receipt of these improvements.
“Everything we learned with AM4 went into Threadripper,” one of AMD’s representatives told us, and that became clear as we continued to work on the platform. During the test process for Threadripper, work felt considerably more streamlined and remarkably free of the validation issues that had once plagued Ryzen. The fact that we were able to instantly boot to 3200MHz (and 3600MHz) memory gave hope that Threadripper would, in fact, be the benefactor of Ryzen’s learning pains.
Threadripper will ship in three immediate SKUs:
Respectively, these units are targeted at price-points of $1000, $800, and $550, making them direct competitors to Intel’s new Skylake-X family of CPUs. The i9-7900X would be the flagship – for now, anyway – that’s being more heavily challenged by AMD’s Threadripper HEDT CPUs. Today's review looks at the AMD Threadripper 1950X and 1920X CPUs in livestreaming benchmarks, Blender, Premiere, power consumption, temperatures, gaming, and more.
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