AMD is in the spotlight right now, mainly thanks to its range of Ryzen processors. They may not be thrashing Intel’s best at outright performance, but they certainly are on price. Now, after a fair wait, it has launched two Radeon RX Vega graphics cards which take the fight to Nvidia, whose consumer range tops out with the awesome GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. 

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When can I buy an RX Vega card?

Radeon RX Vega release date: 14 August 2017

You should be able to buy the new RX Vega 64 and RX Vega 56 from 14 August. 

As well as the two cards, there's also a liquid-cooled edition of the RX Vega 64. This is available only as part of the new Radeon Packs.

These are effectively bundles which give you a discount on the 34in Samsung CF791 curved ultrawide FreeSync monitor, and on select Ryzen 7 1800X processor and 370X motherboard combos, a total of $300 (approx £300) in combined hardware savings.

The snag is that you have to buy these components at the same time as your Radeon RX Vega: they're not discount vouchers you can use later.

Radeon RX Vega specs, price, release date

The bundles come with two games, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Prey. 

How much do the Radeon RX Vega cards cost?

There's no confirmed UK pricing yet - this will be announced nearer the on-sale date.

In the US, pricing is as follows:

  • US$399: Radeon RX Vega 56
  • US$499: Radeon RX Vega 64
  • US$499: Radeon Red Pack (Vega 56 + discount bundle)
  • US$599: Radeon Black Pack (Vega 64 + discount bundle)
  • US$699: Radeon Aqua Pack (Liquid-cooled Vega 64 + discount bundle)

What are the RX Vega’s specifications?

Let's start with the card most people will be considering, the air-cooled RX Vega 64

AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 reference card:

  • 14nm FinFET GPU
  • 64 NCUs
  • 4096 stream processors
  • 8GB HBM2
  • 2048-bit memory bus
  • 484GB/s bandwidth
  • Base clock: 1247MHz
  • Max clock: 1546MHz
  • PCIe Gen 3 x16
  • 295W TDP
  • 12.6 TFLOPs peak SP performance

Its clock speeds are quite a bit lower than the GTX 1080's (1607 / 1733MHz base and max.) so it'll be interesting to see how the new compute units and HBM2 memory compensate for that.

Radeon RX Vega specs, price, release date

AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 reference card:

  • 14nm FinFET GPU
  • 56 NCUs
  • 4096 stream processors
  • 8GB HBM2
  • 2048-bit memory bus
  • 410GB/s bandwidth
  • Base clock: 1156MHz
  • Max clock: 1471MHz
  • PCIe Gen 3 x16
  • 210W TDP
  • 10.5 TFLOPs peak SP performance

AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 liquid-cooled reference card:

  • 14nm FinFET GPU
  • 64 NCUs
  • 4096 stream processors
  • 8GB HBM2
  • 2048-bit memory bus
  • 484GB/s bandwidth
  • Base clock: 1406MHz
  • Max clock: 1677MHz
  • PCIe Gen 3 x16
  • 350W TDP
  • 13.7 TFLOPs peak SP performance

The liquid cooler is more efficient than the air cooler, so AMD is able to increase clock speeds for this flagship version of the card. It also points to overclocking potential for the air-cooled version.

Here’s a summary of the new features in RX Vega:

  • Next-generation Compute Unit (NCU)
  • New geometry engine is twice as fast
  • High-bandwidth cache controller (HBCC)
  • High-bandwidth Memory 2 (HBM2)
  • Primitive Shader
  • Draw Stream Binning Rasterizer
  • More power efficient

Let’s briefly explain those.

First, the NCU is – in essence – what Nvidia did with its new 10-series graphics cards last year. This is far more scalable than AMD’s previous GPUs and what it means is that, if there’s not much work to do, only a portion of the chip needs to be used. This saves power and generates less heat.

When there’s lots of work required, such as playing a game at high quality settings and high resolution, the full power of the chip can be used.

AMD Vega rumours - release date, price UK

The HBCC is part and parcel of this efficiency. The former will use the available memory more efficiently, and developers will be able to make full use of all memory to make games run faster. In one demo, HBCC was turned off and then on: results showed that average frame rates were increased by 50 percent, and minimum framerates by 100 percent.

The new programmable geometry pipeline is said to be 100 percent quicker, which means it can program twice as many polygons per clock cycle as the previous generation of Radeon cards. This is obviously another key improvement that should directly impact frame rates.

Two clever features called Primitive Shader and Draw Stream Binning Rasterizer save on unnecessary calculations by figuring out which pixels won’t be seen in a frame, and ensure those aren’t given processing time.

AMD Vega rumours - release date, price UK

Spied on an engineering sample of Vega were an eight-pin PCIe power connector and a six-pin. This backs up the lower power draw and better efficiency of Vega compared to the two eight-pin connectors required by the Radeon R9 Fury X.

HBM2 is arguably one of the most interesting new features. Most graphics cards, including Nvidia’s, use GDDR5 memory. This has the drawback of a relatively narrow bus, which is offset by high memory frequencies.

The bus width and memory clock speeds have been steadily increasing over the years, but the improvements aren’t really enough to avoid memory being a bottleneck.

AMD came up with HBM in 2015, but while this had a big bus width, modules were limited to 1GB, and just 4GB maximum. Now, HBM2 offers not only double the bandwidth but also modules up to 8GB in size.

Plus, rather than being limited to the memory on the graphics card, Vega will allow the PC’s main RAM and even fast SSDs to be used for storing data.

AMD Vega rumours - release date, price UK

Game developers

These features are great, but game developers need to optimise their games to work with the new technology. And this is why AMD has already done deals with Bethesda and other companies to make games which use AMD’s Vulkan API. Vulkan is an alternative to DirectX 12, but it’s early days for both APIs.

Bottom line

As with Ryzen, there’s plenty to get excited about when it comes to Vega. But until AMD officially announces UK prices and we can put the cards through our benchmarks, we won’t know how they will stack up against Nvidia’s offerings.

What is AMD Vega?

Vega is the name of the new Radeon graphics cards. The full name is AMD Radeon RX Vega and the cards are set to compete with Nvidia’s best.

In a similar way to what it did with Ryzen, AMD has made huge changes to the processor’s architecture and has already shown a few demos and figures which hint at big performance increases. See also: Best graphics cards

The Vega brand will apply to both consumer gaming cards as well as workstation cards. AMD recently launched the first of the latter type, the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition. 

How much does AMD Vega cost in the UK?

UK pricing for the consumer cards hasn't yet been revealed.

The air-cooled Frontier Edition (below) costs US$999 from Newegg (around £999), and it's $1500 (£1500) for the liquid-cooled version. These aren't gaming cards. Really, they're equivalent to Nvidia's Titan Xp and are aimed at game developers.

AMD Vega release date price specs

While you could buy a Titan Xp or Frontier Edition and put it in your home PC, it's overkill and you're better off buying the RX Vega 56 or 64 consumer card.

The current flagship Radeon RX 580 is surprisingly cheap, but it’s also way behind Nvidia’s best for performance.

RX Vega should address that, and we hope AMD can keep the prices down in the UK. A GTX 1080 Ti will set you back the best part of £700 ($700) which makes it the most expensive component in most PCs.

The Vega Frontier Edition has the following specs:

  • 14nm GFX9 GPU
  • 64 NCUs
  • 4096 stream processors
  • 16GB HBM2
  • 2048-bit memory bus
  • 480GB/s bandwidth
  • PCIe Gen 3 x16
  • 225W TDP