Hardware news headlines with AMD's delay of the 3950X and the 7nm shortage that TSMC is experiencing. The shortage, it seems, is one of those "good problems" to have -- TSMC's 7nm process is so popular that it's struggling to keep up with demand, and so the fab is working to increase wafer output. Separately, news talks issues with iCUE software causing impact to FPS, somewhat unsurprisingly, in coincidental timing with the 465X iCUE launch.
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We’ve reviewed an onslaught of cards from the RX 5700 series, including the RX 5700 and XT reference models, the Sapphire Pulse XT, MSI Evoke XT, and RX 5700 Red Dragon by PowerColor. Today, we’re looking at another non-XT model: The Sapphire RX 5700 Pulse is going head-to-head with the PowerColor RX 5700 Red Dragon, with the AMD Reference card tagging along to provide some much-needed perspective that, although there will only be one winner between these two AIB cards, both are a massive upgrade over AMD’s blower design.
As a reminder that’s hopefully unnecessary, the real difference from one board partner card to the next hinges upon thermals and acoustics, not necessarily gaming performance. There certainly can be a gaming performance impact, but this is typically limited to less than 2% change in performance from baseline for the RX 5700 series cards. AMD already maxed the silicon as much as it could and boosting isn’t as sensitive as NVIDIA cards; further still, the AMD RX 5700 non-XT model is artificially limited (without modifications, which are possible) to a SET frequency of 1850MHz (not necessarily GET). This, along with maxing the silicon, relegates most changes from cards to what we call “quality of life” features, like significantly reduced noise levels, PCB designs that might be more accommodating to one case or another, and reduced thermals. VBIOS power limitations are also at play, where VBIOS changes can allow cards to draw more power than reference, but won’t necessarily yield performance benefits as a result. Finally, another useful feature present on both the Sapphire and PowerColor models is dual VBIOS, which allows a backup if the user botches a flash.
We’re finally looking at a non-XT version of the RX 5700, and the first one we received is the PowerColor RX 5700 Red Dragon, which comes with dual-VBIOS to match its dual-axial cooler. The card is a proper 2-slot design with a more muted, less gamer-y aesthetic, but more importantly, it should serve as a competitive alternative to the reference model and its cursed blower fan. The RX 5700 Red Dragon is priced at $360, about $10 over MSRP for the 5700 reference card, and comes in about $50-$60 under the 5700 XT partner models that we’ve recommended so far. Today, we’re looking at thermals, acoustics, and some gaming performance for the Red Dragon.
As we dive into this, a few notes: Like the RX 5700 XT reviews we’ve posted (Sapphire Pulse, MSI Evoke, Gigabyte Gaming OC), this will focus most heavily on thermals and noise. Because it’s the first non-XT that we’re reviewing, we’ll also look briefly at gaming impact versus reference, alongside overclocking differences. For the most part, though, we already know where the silicon performs (and you can check our Pulse review for the most up-to-date full suite of data), and so we just need to see how the cooler changes things. That’ll primarily be in noise, noise-normalized thermals, ands tock thermals.
This hardware news episode mostly focuses on alleged Threadripper documentation that we received through a leak, including discussion of the sTRX4 and sWRX8 processors that are listed in said document. The "4" and "8" are indicative of memory channel count, though we don't fully know what name or release date AMD intends to give these CPUs. AMD's Threadripper 3000 series CPUs will be competing with Intel in HEDT, where Intel is presently focusing effort for its next major release cycle. Beyond the Threadripper discussion, we also talk about Intel and AMD bickering with each other like children (I'll turn this car around right now!), Der8auer's survey, USB4 spec, and the Steam Hardware Survey.
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Memory speed on Ryzen has always been a hot subject, with AMD’s 1000 and 2000 series CPUs responding favorably to fast memory while at the same time having difficulty getting past 3200MHz in Gen1. The new Ryzen 3000 chips officially support memory speeds up to 3200MHz and can reliably run kits up to 3600MHz, with extreme overclocks up to 5100MHz. For most people, this type of clock isn’t achievable, but frequencies in the range of 3200 to 4000MHz are done relatively easily, but then looser timings become a concern. Today, we’re benchmarking various memory kits at XMP settings, with Ryzen memory DRAM calculator, and with manual override overclocking. We’ll look at the trade-off of higher frequencies versus tighter timings to help establish the best memory solutions for Ryzen.
One of the biggest points to remember during all of this -- and any other memory testing published by other outlets -- is that motherboard matters almost more than the memory kit itself. Motherboards are responsible for most of the timings auto configured on memory kits, even when using XMP, as XMP can only store so much data per kit. The rest, including unsurfaced timings that the user never sees, are done during memory training by the motherboard. Motherboard manufacturers maintain a QVL (Qualified Vendor List) of kits tested and approved on each board, and we strongly encourage system builders to check these lists rather than just buying a random kit of memory. Motherboard makers will even tune timings for some kits, so there’s potentially a lot of performance lost by using mismatched boards and memory.
This week's hardware news has a litigation theme, including battles between GlobalFoundries and TSMC and AMD and the public. In the former, it's a fight over intellectual property and alleged infringements; in the latter, it's been resolved, and buyers of the Bulldozer CPUs affected can lay claim to $35 (unless a lot of people claim it, in which case it'll dilute further). Beyond that, we'll be talking RX 5700 stock, sales numbers, and Intel's banter with AMD.
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We’ve gotten into the habit of fixing video cards lately, a sad necessity in an era plagued with incomplete, penny-pinching designs that overlook the basics, like screw tension, coldplate levelness, and using thermal pads that are about 60% smaller than they should be. MSI’s RX 5700 XT Evoke OC (review here) is the newest in this growing list of cards that any user could fix, unfortunately, and it’s for reasons we illustrated best in our tear-down of the card. Our testing illustrated that its cooling capabilities are sub-par when compared to the Sapphire Pulse, and not only that, but that the memory temperatures are concerningly high when noise-normalized in our benchmarks. Today, we’re fixing that with properly sized thermal pads.
"Integer scaling" has been a buzz phrase for a few weeks now, with Intel first adding integer scaling support to its driver set, and now NVIDIA following. This week, we'll be talking more about what that even means (and where it's useful), news on AMD's RDNA whitepaper and CrossFire support, Intel's Comet Lake CPUs (and naming), and a few minor topics.
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Hardware news this past week has only partially slowed, with an uptick in security notices responsible for most of the coverage we've found interesting. Researchers at Eclypsium have identified vulnerabilities in more than 40 drivers from 20 different vendors, something we'll talk about in today's coverage. We also talk about Ryzen 3000 binning statistics posted by Silicon Lottery, the CPU binning company.
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Sapphire’s RX 5700 XT Pulse is the first of the non-reference 5700 XT cards we’ll be looking at. Following the RX 5700 XT Reference card review, where our primary complaints revolved around its design being excessively hot and loud, the 5700 XT Pulse bears promise to rectify those issues. Our review will focus almost entirely on thermals and noise, as the gaming performance is largely unchanged. Even in spite of that, though, reducing operating noise levels is a massive quality of life improvement from the reference design, and that’s more exciting than the gaming performance.
Sapphire’s RX 5700 XT Pulse should cost about $10 more than MSRP for the reference 5700 XT, which would put it at around $410 USD at launch. With that price, the reference card will have never made sense to buy, but that’s basically what we said in our launch review.
We’ll talk more about the components and build quality in our upcoming tear-down video of the card, but let’s just get straight into noise and thermals for today’s review.
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