AMD either made a mistake launching Vega’s Frontier Edition first... or they had no choice

"This card isn't for you..."

The AMD Vega Frontier Edition is our first taste of AMD’s new GPU architecture and has been out for a few days now, which means those lucky enough to get hold of one  are starting to share the benchmarks… to much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It’s looking like it’s not going to be Vega, but what is the best graphics card around today? Allow us to delight and enlighten you.

If you were hoping for a high-end AMD GPU which could stand toe-to-silicon-toe with Nvidia’s mighty GTX 1080 Ti then it’s looking increasingly like you’re going to be disappointed when the RX Vega cards are released. At the moment, the Frontier Edition is trading blows with the lower-spec GTX 1080 instead.

PCPerspective have run a live benchmarking session, which you can see below, and that’s got their Frontier Edition card sitting between GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 performance levels.

While the Frontier Edition has been designed for content creators and developers it comes with a ‘gaming’ mode for said developers to test their games. That makes it representative of the final performance of the AMD RX Vega cards set to launch at the end of July, but isn’t really a 100% accurate portrayal of the sort of speeds we’ll see from them.

There is still hope for Vega then, folks.

Raja Koduri, AMD’s resident graphics hero, has gone on record stating the gaming-focused versions of Vega will run faster than the professional class Frontier Edition card. "Consumer RX will be much better optimized for all the top gaming titles,” he explains in a Reddit AMA, “and flavors of RX Vega will actually be faster than Frontier version!"

But are they going to be fast enough to eat up the ~30% delta between Nvidia’s GTX 1080 and GTX 1080 Ti? That’s a big ask, even if we’re talking about newly optimised drivers, with GPU and HBM2 silicon running at the ragged edge of peak performance.

AMD Radeon Vega Frontier Edition

Given the way AMD have approached this launch it seemed like they were supremely confident about the performance of Vega. I’d assumed that when performance numbers for the Frontier Edition were released it would make us all ravenous to get hold of the RX Vega cards, either driving up hype and demand for them or encouraging well-off, ‘gotta have it now’ gamers to pick up a Frontier Edition. Instead, we’ve got a lot of very worried AMD fans asking what went wrong with Vega.

I’m starting to get a horrible feeling of deja vu. 

Yep, this is all feeling very much like the launch of Ryzen, where all AMD had to do was manage the hype and explain that gaming performance wasn’t quite at the same level as Intel’s best chips. Instead, they encouraged 4K game benchmarks, which took their CPU out of the equation and just tested the graphics cards, therefore offering similar performance numbers between AMD and Intel processors. All that despite pre-release testers in Nvidia warning them Ryzen’s 1080p gaming performance wasn’t where they were expecting it to be.

Since we first saw Vega in AMD’s benchmarks we’ve seen professional applications putting it around the same level as a GTX 1080 Ti (and therefore a Titan X), but the gaming metrics we’ve seen have bounced between GTX 1070, GTX 1080, and GTX 1080 Ti levels of performance. But AMD have continually reinforced the higher expectations that the RX Vega cards have been designed to solve the 4K/60fps problem, and that most definitely seems to put them in the GTX 1080 Ti’s yard.

If the final RX Vega cards do end up only offering around the same level of gaming performance as the GTX 1080, then it would probably be better for AMD to come out now and say that’s where they’re targeting these cards, and also for them to take the unprecedented step of announcing pricing too. At the moment, the hype train is in danger of being derailed by the obviously unoptimised gaming performance of the Frontier Edition, and they need to be able to bang the price/performance drum to encourage people towards the RX Vega.

After all, if AMD can only offer the same gaming performance from their brand new cards as an Nvidia GPU launched well over a year ago, then it’s all got to be down to pricing. Which is going to be tough because the HBM2 technology they’re baking into Vega is mighty expensive...

But if the proper gaming Radeon RX Vega cards are capable of getting into a GPU slugfest with the GTX 1080 Ti, then I’ve got to say AMD have bummed the poodle on Vega’s launch.

It would’ve made more sense for AMD to bring out their first high-end graphics architecture in years looking its absolute best, with the highest performing gaming SKU they could manage forming the vanguard of the new GPU tech. Following up with the slower, more reliable professional card wouldn’t have been an issue as the developers the Frontier Edition is aimed at don’t spend so much time riding the gaming hype train.

AMD Vega die shot

There is also the possibility AMD didn’t have a lot of choice in terms of how they managed the release of Vega. The rumours are the architecture’s launch was put back because the performance wasn’t quite where they wanted it, and because Hynix were struggling with HBM2 yields. But because AMD had been so adamant about a release in the first half of 2017 they really needed to get some Vega silicon out of the door before the end of June.

Launching the professional-class card first now gives AMD the option to keep working on squeezing every last drop of performance out of both Vega’s driver set and the architecture itself, while very reasonably being able to say the pro card isn’t meant to deliver the full potential of Vega’s gaming performance. And that also means being able to tell the city, and their investors, their new GPU is absolutely on track and they’ve hit all the deadlines they said they would.

A cynic might also suggest releasing the expectedly expensive professional cards first also gives AMD a chance to scoop up a large chunk of Vega cash before having to take a hit on final pricing for the RX Vegas. But that would be very unkind.

Until we actually get hands-on with RX Vegas at the end of July, however, we’re not going to know what sort of level of gaming prowess they really have to offer. All we can hope for is that the lovely Terry Makedon, AMD’s Mr. Catalyst, and his graphics driver team are able to make up the current performance shortfall between the Frontier Edition and the GTX 1080 Ti.

That's where we want AMD and Nvidia to be battling it out at the high-end because we haven't seen proper competition at the very top of the GPU tech tree for a while. And it doesn't matter if you're an AMD fan or bleed Nvidia green, competition is good for everyone so we need AMD to make it work.

But it's going to be quite a challenge.

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Rock1m1 avatarDave James avatarMrAssault avatarTilltech avatarTroll_Slayer avatarA Flaming Pansy avatar+9
Troll_Slayer Avatar
10
4 Months ago

NEWS FLASH to all those declaring RX Vega DOA 30 days before is is actually released.

This Frontier card is a dual purpose card for developers to switch between developing and testing (gaming).

The gaming drivers are not optimized for Vega, tile based rasterization was not even being used during these benches (that's why it performed like a Fury-X in gaming) and even with all that it already at GTX 1080 levels.

So Author and everyone else claiming Vega to be a dissapointment, you are all WRONG. RX Vega is going to rock.

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Troll_Slayer Avatar
10
4 Months ago

tile base raster NOT used during benches, wake up people.

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Troll_Slayer Avatar
10
4 Months ago

still using Fiji drivers for benches ... all those claiming Vega DOA will have to eat crow

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yurimodin83 Avatar
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4 Months ago

or maybe RTG should get their shit together and quit blueballing everyone :/

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Troll_Slayer Avatar
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4 Months ago

do a little research into these gimped gaming benches before you embarrass yourself claiming these benches represent RX Vega performance. The represent RX Vega w/o tile based raster and optimized drivers, which means RX Vega will blow away GTX1080 Ti.

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Troll_Slayer Avatar
10
4 Months ago

ignorant article w/ ignorant comments. Inform yourself about these gimped benches before you eat crow declaring this represents some disappointing RX Vega potential; its the exact opposite,it shows how powerful RX Vega is going to be. Its not between 1070 and 1080, RX vega in one month will trounce GTX1080Ti.

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Troll_Slayer Avatar
10
4 Months ago

Tile based Rasterization was not used for PCper benches, get a clue people, you are all ignorantly declaring Vega = GTX1070 or 1080, wrong, you would know that RX Vega will crush GTX1080Ti, once you understand what went on here with these benches

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Dave James Avatar
459
4 Months ago

You're right, tile-based rasterisation wasn't functioning in the FE drivers PCPer used, and that's putting a lot of pressure on TBR to actually provide that extra performance.

Fingers crossed the driver team manage to get TBR functioning in the next month so RX Vega can launch with it and nail the >30% performance uplift it needs to perform how you expect.

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Karagra Avatar
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4 Months ago

This article from the start looks like it was made with hate toward AMD. On top of that I just read a Workstation GPU being compared to a Gaming GPU that doesn't even make sense. I mean article after article from the time the Frontier has been announced has said "AMD themselves have clarified that the card is not designed for gamers " Next we are going to see server CPU's being bashed for not being =/= with Desktop Cpus in gaming. This article is a waste of time.

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Dave James Avatar
459
4 Months ago

Except it's not really a workstation GPU is it? The FE is a pricey spin of the Vega GPU ostensibly for game/VR developers, it's even sporting a specific 'gaming mode'. The Radeon Pro WX 9100 sounds like it'll be the Vega workstation card, not the FE.

As to the hate, that is absolutely not true. I bare no animosity towards AMD, indeed I had previously praised their conduct around Vega. And, genuinely, the people I know at AMD are some of the nicest people around too - there's no hatred here.

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Karagra Avatar
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4 Months ago

You can say what you want but AMD themselves have stated it is not for gaming, just for devs to test games out. Big difference. I'll take the companys word all day long over a article that is claiming a card is something its not.

Straight from the AMD site

(Be the Pioneer in Game Development

The Radeon™ Vega Frontier Edition graphics card is designed to simplify and accelerate game creation by providing a single GPU that is optimized for every stage of this workflow, from asset production, to playtesting, to performance optimization.

When creating assets and working with game development tools, developers can take advantage of the professional application performance and rock-solid reliability of Radeon™ Pro Software to help ensure maximum stability and productivity when using tools like Autodesk® Maya®, Unity®, and Unreal® Engine.)

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Dave James Avatar
459
4 Months ago

I've never said the FE was designed specifically for gaming, but it isn't a straight workstation card either. It's using the exact same GPU core configuration and memory array as the top RX Vega gaming card will, even if it lacks the promised driver optimisations, therefore it is still an interesting representation of how the gaming Vega cards will eventually perform. Not 100% identical, as I say in the article, but a good preview of the architecture.

Also, in the little blurb you've quoted directly from AMD, they talk about using the FE for gaming performance optimisation. Wouldn't be much point recommending that usage case if the card wasn't in some way representative of final Vega gaming performance.

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Karagra Avatar
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Karagra replied to Dave James
4 Months ago

Your article is based on assumptions of your own in the end where you have very little backing proof. When the Rx Vega line comes out we will see

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Dave James Avatar
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Dave James replied to Dave James
4 Months ago

Actually my opinion is based on independent benchmarks of the FE, from reliable sources, that have appeared since its launch, and on what AMD have said on record about Vega and its gaming variants.

If the RX Vega line comes out and is well over 30% faster faster than the Frontier Edition then I'm still sticking to the whole point I'm making that releasing the much slower card first (when it was always going to be tested as a gaming yardstick for the RX Vegas) was a mistake.

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Karagra Avatar
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Karagra replied to Dave James
4 Months ago

I'm talking about the part where you believe this workstation GPU is for gaming or has any direct relation with real gaming while AMD themselves have said its not for gaming (Only for DEVS

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LoJ4X Avatar
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4 Months ago

a Nvidia quadro 6000 doing just as well in games as its gaming version while performing better in pro apps

https://youtu.be/LC_sx6A5Wko

AMD simply fails. Only a irrational fanboy would call facts as hate.

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Kheigen Avatar
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4 Months ago

I'm not trying to slam the author, but I can't help but think even after reading a comment elsewhere in the threads to the contrary, the author was already hating on AMD Rx Vega. This article made no sense to me and I use Nvidia GPU's. Could have been written with a lot more balance and honest objection. I didn't get that at all in this article.

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ShredSticks Avatar
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4 Months ago

Does no one consider the possibility that AMD have released a card for DEVs with VEGA architecture in order to minimise teething issues?

So instead of having a month or two of waiting for various driver improvements and optimisations much of this will achieved by launch...

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imwechs Avatar
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4 Months ago

Stupid-ass review and even stupider conclusions from a bunch of flatliners. The drivers for Vega FE are Fiji drivers. They did not release this edition with Vega level drivers. This card was not marketed or designed to be a gaming card its video bios is different than RX Vega its drivers are primitive. The review was an inane idea based on these facts. Poor research done by PC Perspective and totally misleading conclusions. RX Vega will have 25 to 30% better performance than Vega F,E. based on these facts and the faster gpu and memory clock speed. You owe everbody a retraction of the article and an apology for doing a hack job for Nvidia.

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Dave James Avatar
459
4 Months ago

Where is the evidence that the gaming variants will have 25-30% extra performance? That seems like a huge spike in performance just from software alone. As I say in the piece, I hope Makedon and his team are able to make up that shortfall, but it's a big ask.

As for owing everybody a retraction... the point of the article is that I believe AMD have made a mistake launching the FE first, most especially because it was always going to be benchmarked for its gaming performance and AMD would have known that would create a lot of concern about the final performance of the RX Vega cards. So why launch a $1,000 graphics card without drivers designed for it if it was going to cause such worries?

And if the RX Vega cards are the super-speedy GPUs you're hoping for why not launch those first as the halo products? Unless they had to get something Vega out, ready or not, to hit the H1 2017 deadline they set themselves.

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Rock1m1 Avatar
383
4 Months ago

Trading blows with 1070. I watched the PCper video live yesterday, have your facts straight. It performs well below 1080.

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Dave James Avatar
459
4 Months ago

PCPer's card performed between GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 levels, other benchmarks have had it running at around GTX 1080 levels.

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MrAssault Avatar
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4 Months ago

Who gives a shit where it performs. Why would you buy a non-gaming video card for $1000.

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Rock1m1 Avatar
383
4 Months ago

More skewed towards 1070 than 1080, not in the middle.

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MrAssault Avatar
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4 Months ago

I stopped reading after the first 3 paragraphs. Dumb article. This whole entire paragraph.

"While the Frontier Edition has been designed for content creators and developers it comes with a ‘gaming’ mode for said developers to test their games. That makes it representative of the final performance of the AMD RX Vega cards set to launch at the end of July, but isn’t really a 100% accurate portrayal of the sort of speeds we’ll see from them."

This one paragraph tries to spin it as a legit reason why FE can be compared to Vega cards, but then its not 100% a true comparison.... huh ?

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A Flaming Pansy Avatar
2
4 Months ago

The problem with not finishing the article is you miss the valid point that although the FE isn't a"gaming" card and the drivers aren't fully optimised, the FE sits between the 1070 and 1080. The 1080 Ti is roughly 30% faster than the 1080 and that is a huge gap to fill.

As someone who's owned pro / developer GPUs in the past (my work laptop has one now), I've never seen anywhere near that difference in frame rates between them and the gamer cards they're based off.

But you're right that this article isn't a 100% true comparison. It's just an educated guess based off of what we know and passed experience and this time it could definitely be different, the odds just aren't in it's favor.

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Tilltech Avatar
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4 Months ago

Even if it is much faster than Volta will be, I will still not even entertain the idea of obtaining it because Gsync is objectively better than Freesync.

Now way around that fact yet.

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Arbi Ki gand mein gerha Avatar
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it's not really better if you factor those $200 in Screen

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Karagra Avatar
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4 Months ago

Linustechtips did a review on G-Sync vs Freesync. The reviews came out pretty much dead even.

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Kheigen Avatar
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4 Months ago

Objectively, more like subjectively. You have to factor in ALL of the pluses and minuses of each. I guarantee, FreeSync has more options and is growing because it costs hardware partners nothing.

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(_*_) Avatar
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4 Months ago

It's actually not. Freesync 2 solves all the problems the original had so it is actually better than G-sync now. Has everything G-sync has and does without the added $200- $250 price tag.

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Dosi Avatar
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4 Months ago

yes it solves the problem what FS 1st gen had, but i don't even see any UWQHD monitor with 144mhz refresh rate and freesync...

Which isn't a big problem currently a single GPU setup can't run the newest fps games on 144fps on maxed settings even the 1080Ti in3440x1440.

what i'm saying is amd really needs to reach the performance with vega around 1080TI.

Ryzen CPUs were positive disappointment

I hope the Red team ramped up the GPUs otherwise, Volta just simply leave a 1 gen gpu gap between the current lineup

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