The AMD Radeon VII embargo for “unboxings” has lifted and, although we don’t participate in the marketing that is a content-filtered “unboxing,” a regular part of our box-opening process involves taking the product apart. For today, restrictions are placed on performance discussion and product review, but we are free to show the product and handle it physically. You’ll have to check back for the review, which should likely coincide with the release date of February 7.

This content is primarily video, as our tear-downs show the experience of taking the product apart (and discoveries as we go), but we’ll recap the main point of interest here. Text continues after the embedded video:

We’re resurrecting our AMD RX Vega 56 powerplay tables mod to challenge the RTX 2070, a card that competes in an entirely different price class. It’s a lightweight versus heavyweight boxing match, except the lightweight has a gun.

For our Vega 56 card, priced at between $370 and $400, depending on sales, we will be shoving an extra 200W+ of power into the core to attempt to match the RTX 2070’s stock performance. We strongly praised Vega 56 at launch for its easily modded nature, but the card has faced fierce competition from the 1070 Ti and 1070. It was also constantly out of stock or massively overpriced throughout the mining boom, which acted as a death knell for Vega throughout the mining months. With that now dying down and Vega becoming available for normal people again, pricing is competitive and compelling, and nVidia’s own recent fumbles have created an opening in the market.

We will be working with a PowerColor RX Vega 56 Red Dragon card, a 242% power target, and matching it versus an EVGA RTX 2070 Black. The price difference is about $370-$400 vs. $500-$550, depending on where you buy your parts. We are using registry entries to trick the Vega 56 card into a power limit that exceeds the stock maximum of +50%, allowing us to go to +242%. This was done with the help of Buildzoid last year.

One final note: We must warn that we aren’t sure of the long-term impact of running Vega 56 with this much power going through it. If you want to do this yourself, be advised that long-term damage is a possibility for which we cannot account.

If, to you, the word "unpredictable" sounds like a positive attribute for a graphics card, ASRock has something you may want. ASRock used words like “unpredictable” and “mysterious” for its new Phantom Gaming official trailer, two adjectives used to describe an upcoming series of AMD Radeon-equipped graphics cards. This is ASRock’s first time entering the graphics card space, where the company’s PCB designers will be faced with new challenges for AMD RX Vega GPUs (and future architectures).

The branding is for “Phantom” graphics cards, and the first-teased card appears to be using a somewhat standard dual-axial fan design with a traditional aluminum finstack and ~6mm heatpipes. Single 8-pin header is shown in the rendered teaser card, but as a render, we’re not sure what the actual product will look like.

AMD’s partner cards have been on hold for review for a while now. We first covered the Vega 64 Strix when we received it, which was around October 8th. The PowerColor card came in before Thanksgiving in the US, and immediately exhibited similar clock reporting and frequency bugginess with older driver revisions. AMD released driver version 17.11.4, though, which solved some of those problems – theoretically, anyway. There are still known issues with clock behavior in 17.11.4, but we wanted to test whether or not the drivers would play nice with the partner cards. For right now, our policy is this: (1) We will review the cards immediately upon consumer availability or pre-order, as that is when people will need to know if they’re any good; (2) we will review the cards when either the manufacturer declares them ready, or at a time when the cards appear to be functioning properly.

This benchmark is looking at the second option: We’re testing whether the ASUS Strix Vega 64 and PowerColor Red Devil 64 are ready for benchmarking, and looking at how they match versus the reference RX Vega 64. Theoretically, the cards should have slightly higher clocks, and therefore should perform better. Now, PowerColor has set clock targets at 1632MHz across the board, but “slightly higher clocks” doesn’t just mean clock target – it also means power budget, which board partners have control over. Either one of these, particularly in combination with superior cooling, should result in higher sustained boost clocks, which would result in higher framerates or scores.

Early reports surrounding Vega GPU packaging indicated minimally two different package processes, though later revealed a potential third. For the two primary forms of Vega GPU packaging, we’re looking at clear, obvious differences in assembly: The silicon (GPU + HBM) is either encased in an epoxy resin (“molded”) or is not encased at all (“resinless”). There is another type of resinless package that has been shown online, but we haven’t yet encountered this third type.

The initial concern indicated that packaging process could impact HBM2 contact to cooler coldplates – something for which, after working on this content, we later discovered new data – and we wanted to test that mounting pressure. Just last night, days after we finalized this content piece, we found another data point that deserves a separate article, so be sure to check back for the follow-up to this piece.

In the meantime, we’re using a chemically reactive contact paper to test various Vega GPUs and vapor chambers or coolers, then swapping coolers between those various GPUs to try and understand if and when differences emerge. Some brief thermal testing also helps us validate whether those differences, which would theoretically be spurred-on by packaging variance, are actually relevant to thermal performance. Today, we’re testing to see the mounting pressure and thermal impact from AMD’s various Vega 56 & 64 GPU packages, with a brief resurrection of the Frontier Edition.

Note: We used torque drivers for the assembly, so that process was controlled for.

AMD-exclusive partner XFX announced its competition to ASUS' still might-be-out-some-day-maybe Vega 64 Strix video card. At this point in time, partner cards still feel something like super cars: Nice to look at, probably won't own it.

But they're coming, so we're told, and the new target time seems to be "sometime in November." AMD partners have largely indicated supply issues of the Vega GPUs as the limiting factor of card presence on the market. The supply should build-up at some point, it's just a matter of if partners can secure a restock date to build confidence with retailers and distributors.

AMD’s newest driver pack should resolve player-reported issues of Destiny 2 crashes with AMD Vega hardware, including RX Vega 56 and RX Vega 64. The crash occurred during specific missions within Destiny 2, including the sixth mission (Exodus) and when nearing Nessus.

We received an email from AMD earlier notifying us of the new drivers, which can be found here.

AMD’s High-Bandwidth Cache Controller protocol is one of the keystones to the Vega architecture, marked by RTG lead Raja Koduri as a personal favorite feature of Vega, and highlighted in previous marketing materials as offering a potential 50% uplift in average FPS when in VRAM-constrained scenarios. With a few driver revisions now behind us, we’re revisiting our Vega 56 hybrid card to benchmark HBCC in A/B fashion, testing in memory-constrained scenarios to determine efficacy in real gaming workloads.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is launching this Friday, and Bethesda have now published the final minimum and recommended specs. Bethesda is touting some PC-focused features like uncapped framerates (as we saw in the Destiny 2 beta, this can also mean “capped above 144”), choice of aspect ratio (4:3, 16:9, 16:10, or 21:9 ultrawide), an FOV slider (70-120), and 4K support.

The New Colossus will use the Vulkan API, following in the footsteps of the notoriously well-optimized DOOM reboot. In our DOOM testing more than a year ago, AMD’s RX 480 benefitted strongly from using Vulkan rather than OpenGL, as did NVIDIA’s 1080 to a lesser degree. Vega is specifically mentioned in this release, and Bethesda claims that with Vulkan they’ve been able to “utilize the power of AMD's Vega graphics chips in ways that were not possible before.” We’ll be publishing GPU tests as soon as possible.

From Bethesda’s site:

Hardware news for the last week includes discussion on an inadvertent NZXT H700i case unveil (with “machine learning,” apparently), Ryzen/Vega APU, Vega partner card availability, and Coffee Lake availability.

Minor news items include the AMD AGESA update to support Raven Ridge & Pinnacle Ridge, Noctua’s Chromax fans, and some VR news – like Oculus dropping its prices – and the Pimax 8K VR configuration.

Find the video and show notes below:

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