We return again to our annual Awards Show series, where we recap a year’s worth of content to distill-down our opinions on the best-of-the-best hardware that we’ve tested. We also like to talk about some of the worst trends and biggest disappointments in these pieces, hopefully shaming some of the industry into doing better things next year. This episode focuses on the Best Gaming GPUs of 2019, with categories like Best Overall, Most Well-Rounded, Best Modding Support, Best Budget, and more. NVIDIA and AMD have flooded warehouse shelves with cards over the past 11 months, but it’s finally calming down and coming to a close. Time to recap the Best GPUs of 2019, with all links in the description below for each card.
We’ve already posted two of our end-of-year recaps, one for Best Cases of 2019, the other for Best CPUs of 2019, and now we’re back with Best GPUs. As a reminder for this content type, our focus is to help people building systems with a quick-reference recap for a year’s worth of testing. We’re not going to deep-dive with a data-centric approach, but rather quickly cover the stack in a quicker fashion. If you want deep-dive analytics or test data for any one of these devices, check our reviews throughout the year. Note also that, although we will talk about partner models a bit, the “Best X” coverage will focus on the GPU itself (made by AMD or NVIDIA). For our most recent partner recap, check out our “Best RX 5700 XT” coverage.
Other than the high heat felt by GDDR6 on MSI’s initial Evoke, our criticism over MSI’s poorly positioned and sized thermal pads also started some fires at the company. Shortly after our coverage, a few members of the MSI video card team flew out to us to discuss the issue, decisions that were made, and talk about the best way to fix it while remaining within the logistical confines of manufacturing. MSI had confirmed our testing, but also told us that it was working on solutions. Today, we’re revisiting the MSI Evoke to see if those promises have been met.
The original issue was that MSI used thermal pads which were only about 40% of the size of the top two memory modules, but also had poor mounting pressure and pads located far off-center. Further, the backplate was necessary to this test, as it acted like a thermal trap without any thermal interface between it and the PCB. The MSI Evoke ended up with the worst GDDR6 thermals out of all the partner 5700 XT cards we tested when noise-normalized and was among the worst even when auto. The 5700 XT reference was the only one worse.
One of the busiest weeks of the year is fast approaching: We'll soon be dealing with Threadripper 3 reviews and Intel i9-10980XE reviews, alongside the usual year-end content. In the interim, we've still got hardware news to cover, including this week's collection of industry and release topics for Intel, AMD, Crytek, Backblaze, and Corsair.
Show notes continue after the embedded video.
The most common component review request from our viewers over the past few months has been the RX 5700 XT Red Devil. Powercolor was never able to get stock to send us one, but we finally sniped one when it popped-up on Amazon. This will likely be the last 5700 XT we review, unless something major comes out – or a THICC III – so we’ll finally have a fairly full picture of how the entire stack aligns compared to the much-praised RX 5700 XT Red Devil from PowerColor. The Red Devil has easily been the most universally recommended in comment threads and for review, and so we’ll be benchmarking it for thermals, noise, and build quality in today’s review.
We bought the Powercolor RX 5700 XT Red Devil for about $440 on Amazon, which puts it into the most direct engagement with Sapphire’s Nitro+ or MSI’s Gaming X variants of the RX 5700 XT GPU. We’ll be looking at the PowerColor card for thermals, acoustics, power budget, and fan/frequency response.
News this week talks about a few product launches -- some not coming to the West -- and new tech demos for PCIe Generation 5 and CXL. We also cover Intel's ongoing battles with marketing, the Threadripper 3 rumors of incompatibility with X399, and advancements in reverse-engineering silicon products.
Show notes will continued after the embedded video, as always.
XFX’s highest-end RX 5700 XT might be called the THICC Ultra, but our review will look into whether it’s THICC in name only or if this meme-ified card can take cooling seriously. With all the plastic embellishments, the meme of a name, and the $450 price-point, this entire card’s existence seems mismatched and dichotomous. It’s got the professional look and high-end price-point, but the name of something you’d expect to find on AliExpress. As the most expensive 5700 XT we’ve bought or received yet, today we’ll tear into the XFX THICC for thermal performance, cooler quality, build quality, and positioning versus competition.
XFX has the RX 5700 XT THICC listed at $430 and $450, with our option being the more expensive of the two. By the listings, the only difference is the frequency, where the RX 5700 XT THICC II Ultra is clocked at an alleged 1730MHz to the THICC II non-Ultra’s 1605MHz base clock. If the cooler works well on the more expensive, higher-clocked model, it’ll work well on the lower-clocked one; that said, certain design failures can’t be overcome simply by lowering clocks, and we’ll be talking about that today.
Other than announcing our upcoming collaborative stream with overclocker Joe Stepongzi (Bearded Hardware), we're also talking Threadripper specification leaks, 6000MHz memory overclocking, RDNA 2 and Zen 3 roadmap information, and smaller items. For us, though, we're excited to announce that we're streaming some liquid nitrogen extreme overclocks with AMD parts this weekend. We haven't run both the 5700 XT and 3900X under liquid nitrogen at the same time, so we'll be doing that on Sunday (9/15) at 1PM Eastern Time (NYC time). On Saturday (9/14), we'll be streaming the efforts to overclock just the 3900X under liquid nitrogen. Joe Stepongzi, pro overclocker with a decade of experience in the 'sport,' will be joining us to help run the show.
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.
We’ve already reviewed the reference RX 5700 XT, the Sapphire Pulse model that we received as a frontrunner for board partners, and the MSI Evoke OC, which was overall poor value when compared to cheaper solutions on the market. Now, we’re looking at the Gigabyte Gaming OC card, the first triple-axial fan contender in our RX 5700 series benchmarks. It all comes down to thermals and noise with these, as gaming performance is functionally the same between each card when stock, and so we’ll focus-down on if Gigabyte can achieve competitive thermals at equivalent noise to the Sapphire and MSI cards. At $420 MSRP, the Gigabyte Gaming OC is priced around the Pulse and just below the Evoke.
For this testing, we’re focusing most heavily on thermals and noise. As a reminder, and we’ll say this in the conclusion as well, board partner cards ultimately come down to thermal and acoustic differences. There are a few that have extreme impact on XOC capabilities, like a KINGPIN or HOF card, but none of the 5700 XTs that we’ve yet looked at focus on that market. Gaming benchmarks become unimportant, as performance remains unchanged in nearly all partner designs. The one exception is the Evoke OC, which posted roughly a +2% performance advantage over baseline reference/Pulse performance, but otherwise, expect no meaningful or even measurable performance impact in gaming from these cards. The biggest gain is in massive quality of life improvements, such as reduced noise levels (in a noticeable way), reduced thermals, features like extra VBIOS on-board (the Pulse has this), or fitment advantages.
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