AMD hosted its financial & analyst day today, revealing information on Vega, Threadripper, notebook deployments of its CPUs & GPUs, and data center products. Some timelines were loosely laid-out with initial benchmark previews, provided an outline for what to expect from AMD in the remainder of 2017.
Most of our time today will be spent detailing Vega, as it’s been the topic of most interest lately, with some preliminary information on the CPU products.
AMD’s RX 560 continues a trend of refreshing the Polaris line, but with a more notable change than the previous RX 580RX 570 refreshes: The RX 560 fully unlocks itself to 16 CUs, up from the previous 14 CUs of the RX 460. This change (in addition to voltage-frequency changes) instantly accounts for performance increases over the RX 460, theoretically making for a more exciting update than was had with the 580 & 570. That’s not to say that the predecessors of this 500 line were unworthy, but they certainly weren’t eye-catching for anyone who’d followed the 400-series launch.
Our review of the Sapphire RX 560 Pulse OC 4GB ($115) card is the first look at this new low-end line from AMD, updating the entry-level, sub-$120 market (in theory) with fresh competition. The incumbent would be the GTX 1050, which we previously thought a better buy than the RX 460. Today, we’re seeing how that’s changed in seven months.
To catch everyone up on the RX 500 refresh thus far, it’s mostly been a glorified BIOS update to the RX 580 and RX 570 cards, driving higher frequency, permitting higher voltage under OV, and trading more power for some performance. Nothing special, but enough to keep AMD in the game until its eventual Vega launch. We found the RX 580 to be a strong competitor to the GTX 1060, particularly at the price point, though noted that owners of RX 480 series cards shouldn’t bother considering an upgrade – because it’s not one. This 500 series is not meant for owners of the 400 series. Tune out until Vega, Volta, or high-end Pascal makes sense.
Sapphire’s RX 560 Pulse OC has one of the weakest cooling solutions we’ve seen of late, but – as we learn in our VRM+VRAM temperature testing – it’s sufficient for this type of card. A low-end GPU doesn’t draw much power, and so Sapphire skates by with its MagnaChip Semiconductor MDU1514 + MDU1517 3-phase power design.
As this content is relatively straight-forward, given the low price, let’s dive straight into testing.
Intel’s i3/i5/i7 and AMD’s R5/R7 CPUs are the big competitors in the PC gaming world, but they aren’t the only options out there: AMD released cheap but capable Athlon X4s in 2016, and in January of this year Intel released the 2C/4T Pentium G4560 ($70), a 14nm Kaby Lake processor for ~$64~$70. We didn’t fully review the older and (briefly) popular Pentium G3258, but it has showed up in Ask GN and individual benchmarks, so we were excited to do comprehensive testing on this modern iteration.
The G4560 lacks the feature that made the G3258 so popular: the ability to overclock. Buying a dirt-cheap dual-core processor and cranking the frequency up was enough for decent performance in limited-thread games, although the G3258 often suffers from extreme stuttering in more modern titles. The limitations lead us to believe that Intel doesn’t want to compete with its own more expensive 2C/4T unlocked i3 and locked i3-7100 ($120) & 7300 ($150).
We came away from our revisit of the once-king Sandy Bridge 2600K and 2500K CPUs impressed by the staying power of products that came out in Q1 2011, considering Intel’s unimpressive gains since that time.
At the time of Sandy Bridge’s release, AMD’s flagship CPUs were 45nm K10-based Phenom IIs, designed to compete in price/performance with the 45nm Lynnfield (Nehalem i5) quad cores. Later that year, AMD’s underwhelming Bulldozer architecture would launch and inevitably replace the Phenom line. Given that we’ve already looked at Intel’s 1Q11 offerings, we decided to revisit AMD’s Phenom II CPUs in 2017, including the Phenom II X6 1090T (Black Edition) and Phenom II X6 1055T. These benchmarks look at AMD Phenom II performance in gaming and production workloads for the modern era, including comparisons to the equal-aged Sandy Bridge CPUs, modern Ryzen 5 & 7 CPUs, and modern Intel CPUs.
AMD’s taken a page out of nVidia’s book, apparently, and nVidia probably took that page from Apple – or any number of other companies that elect to re-use product names. The new Radeon Pro Duo uses the same name as last year’s launch, but has updated the internals.
The RX 580, as we learned in the review process, isn’t all that different from its origins in the RX 480. The primary difference is in voltage and frequency afforded to the GPU proper, with other changes manifesting in maturation of the process over the past year of manufacturing. This means most optimizations are relegated to power (when idle – not under load) and frequency headroom. Gains on the new cards are not from anything fancy – just driving more power through under load.
Still, we were curious as to whether AMD’s drivers would permit cross-RX series multi-GPU. We decided to throw an MSI RX 580 Gaming X and MSI RX 480 Gaming X into a configuration to get things close, then see what’d happen.
The short of it is that this works. There is no explicit inhibitor built in to forbid users from running CrossFire with RX 400 and RX 500 series cards, as long as you’re doing 470/570 or 480/580. The GPU is the same, and frequency will just be matched to the slowest card, for the most part.
We think this will be a common use case, too. It makes sense: If you’re a current owner of an RX 480 and have been considering CrossFire (though we didn’t necessarily recommend it in previous content), the RX 580 will make the most sense for a secondary GPU. Well, primary, really – but you get the idea. The RX 400 series cards will see EOL and cease production in short order, if not already, which means that prices will stagnate and then skyrocket. That’s just what retailers do. Buying a 580, then, makes far more sense if dying for a CrossFire configuration, and you could even move the 580 to the top slot for best performance in single-GPU scenarios.
Our third and final interview featuring Scott Wasson, current AMD RTG team member and former EIC of Tech Report, has just gone live with information on GPU architecture. This video focuses more on a handful of reader and viewer questions, pooled largely from our Patreon backer discord, with the big item being “GPU IPC.” Patreon backer “Streetguru” submitted the question, asking why a ~1300~1400MHz RX 480 could perform comparably to an ~1800MHz GTX 1060 card. It’s a good question – it’s easy to say “architecture,” but to learn more about the why aspect, we turned to Wasson.
The main event starts at 1:04, with some follow-up questions scattered throughout Wasson’s explanation. We talk about pipeline stage length and its impact on performance, wider versus narrower machines with frequencies that match, and voltage “spent” on each stage.
We’ll leave this content piece primarily to video, as Wasson does a good job to convey the information quickly.
AMD’s Polaris refresh primarily features a BIOS overhaul, which assists in power management during idle or low-load workloads, but also ships with natively higher clocks and additional overvoltage headroom. Technically, an RX 400-series card could be flashed to its 500-series counterpart, though we haven’t begun investigation into that just yet. The reasoning, though, is because the change between the two series is so small; this is not meant to be an upgrade for existing 400-series users, but an option for buyers in the market for a completely new system.
We’ve already reviewed the RX 580 line by opening up with our MSI RX 580 Gaming X review, a $245 card that competes closely with the EVGA GTX 1060 SSC ($250) alternative from nVidia. Performance was on-point to provide back-and-forth trades depending on games, with power draw boosted over the 400 series when under load, or lowered when idle. This review of the Gigabyte RX 570 4GB Aorus card benchmarks performance versus the RX 470, 480, 580, and GTX 1050 Ti and 1060 cards. We're looking at power consumption, thermals, and FPS.
There’s no new architecture to speak of here. Our RX 480 initial review from last year covers all relevant aspects of architecture for the RX 500 series; if you’re behind on Polaris (or it’s been a while) and need a refresher on what’s happening at a silicon level, check our initial RX 480 review.
It’s been a few months since our last PC build--in fact, it was published well before Ryzen was released. For our first post-Ryzen build, we’ve pulled together some of the components we liked best in testing to make an affordable ultrawide gaming machine. As we did in January, we pulled parts out of inventory and actually assembled and tested this PC to back up our recommendations--we’ll try to continue doing this going forward.
This gaming PC build is priced at just over $1000 -- about $1200, depending on rebates -- and is made for UltraWide 3440x1440 gaming. Our goal is to take reasonably affordable parts and show that UltraWide 1440p gaming is feasible, even while retaining high settings, without buying the most expensive GPUs and CPUs on the market. We’re only using parts in this build that we actually have, so that partially dictates cost (yes, you might be able to do some things cheaper -- like the motherboard), but it also means that we’ve had time to build, validate, and use the system in a real environment. In these early days of Ryzen as a new uarch, that’s important. We’ve done the hard work of troubleshooting a functional build. All you’d have to do is assemble it, configure BIOS, and go.
As a note: This build is also readily capable of production workloads. CUDA acceleration on the GTX 1070 will work well for Premiere renders, and the CPU thread-count will assist in CPU acceleration (like for streaming).
AMD’s got a new strategy: Don’t give anyone time to blink between product launches. The company’s been firing off round after round of products for the past month, starting with Ryzen 7, then Ryzen 5, and now Polaris Refresh. The product cannon will eventually be reloaded with Vega, but that’s not for today.
The RX 500 series officially arrives to market today, primarily carried in on the backs of the RX 580 and RX 570 Polaris 10 GPUs. From an architectural perspective, there’s nothing new – if you know Polaris and the RX 400 series, you know the RX 500 series. This is not an exciting, bombastic launch that requires delving into some unexplored arch; in fact, our original RX 480 review heavily detailed Polaris architecture, and that’s all relevant information to today’s RX 580 launch. If you’re not up to speed on Polaris, our review from last year is a good place to start (though the numbers are now out of date, the information is still accurate).
Both the RX 580 and RX 570 will be available as of this article’s publication. The RX 580 we’re reviewing should be listed here once retailer embargo lifts, with our RX 570 model posting here. Our RX 570 review goes live tomorrow. We’re spacing them out to allow for better per-card depth, having just come off of a series of 1080 Ti reviews (Xtreme, Gaming X).
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