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.
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.
Today’s review looks extensively at the thermals and noise of MSI’s RX 5700 XT Evoke OC card. It’s named “OC” because it has a higher stock clock than average – and higher than some other partner models, too – although the actual overclocking performance for all these cards is limited primarily by silicon quality and memory controller quality. We’ll be most heavily comparing the 5700 XT Evoke to the Sapphire 5700 XT Pulse, which performed excellently and got our recommendation in the review. The Evoke OC should cost around $430, although price isn’t final at time of writing, and that’d put it about $10-$20 ahead of Sapphire’s pricing, or $30 over AMD’s reference card. We’ll go deep with thermal and noise analysis today, alongside some gaming analysis, to see if MSI’s Evoke OC is worth the extra money.
Gaming performance is of minimal interest in this type of review. We’ve already established the 5700 XT’s performance in our initial review (and it didn’t change much in our Sapphire Pulse 5700 XT review), and so the point of interest is thermals and acoustic. Gaming performance hardly changes past what the base silicon can do, and overclocking performance is more luck-of-the-draw than PCB influence, and so we’ll only present a few gaming charts here to establish the average delta between the Evoke and Pulse or Reference models. The MSI RX 5700 XT Evoke OC should be available here whenever it’s actually listed, but partners have been slow to post cards on retailers.
We know that Sapphire’s Pulse is supposed to be $410, although current listings have it on pre-order at $420. We also know that the MSI card should be around $430, but they haven’t finalized that pricing. We’ll review based off of the information we (think) we have.
MSI’s really trying to make black-and-gold a thing for components this year. The company used to be a frontrunner for blue-and-black, then the black-and-red era of Z97 onward, and then the black-and-RGB era, and has now started making black-and-gold everything. That trend began with motherboards, like the Ace, but is continuing to video cards. Aside from that, the rest of this will come down to cooler quality. We’ll do a separate tear-down video on our YouTube channel, but let’s dive into thermal data.
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.
Hardware news this week is largely focused on new product launches, or rumors thereof, with additional coverage of Intel's plans to launch 10nm Ice Lake CPUs in some capacity (for real, this time) by end of year. The XFX RX 5700 XT "THICC" was leaked -- yes, that's a real name -- and it's accompanied by other partner model cards coming out in the next week.
Show notes continue after the embedded video.
Although we're at the end of the hardest testing cycle we've ever had, with many nights spent sleeping in the office (if sleeping at all), we're not even close to the end of it. There'll be follow-up and additional product testing throughout the next week, and that's all because of the joint launches of NVIDIA Super and AMD Navi GPUs, mixed in most importantly with AMD Ryzen 3000-series CPUs. New architectures take the longest to test, predictably, as everything we know has to be rebenchmarked to establish new behaviors in the processors. Anyway, with all of that, there's still news to cover. Show notes are after the embed.
Silicon quality and the so-called silicon lottery are often discussed in the industry, but it’s rare for anyone to have enough sample size to actually demonstrate what those phrases mean in practice. We asked Gigabyte to loan us as many of a single model of video card as they could so that we could demonstrate the frequency variance card-to-card at stock, the variations in overclocking headroom, and actual gaming performance differences from one card to the next. This helps to more definitively strike at the question of how much silicon quality can impact a GPU’s performance, particularly when stock, and also looks at memory overclocking and range of FPS in gaming benchmarks with a highly controlled bench and a ton of test passes per device. Finally, we can see the theory of how much one reviewer’s GPU might vary from another’s when running initial review testing.
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