I’ve got good news and bad news about AMD’s new graphics cards — the just-announced Navi-based Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT.
If you’re an AMD fan hoping that this will be the moment in history when the company finally pulls ahead of Nvidia with a high-end video card — like it may be doing against Intel with desktop CPUs — this isn’t that moment. Despite its new Navi architecture, which offers 1.25x the performance per clock and 1.5x performance per watt, these aren’t even as high-end as AMD’s existing (and complicated) 13.8 TFLOP Radeon VII GPU. At up to 9.75 TFLOPs and 7.95 TFLOPs of raw computing power respectively, and with 8GB of GDDR6 memory instead of 16GB of HBM2, the 5700-series isn’t a world-beater.
But these two new blower-style graphics cards may be doing something more important: taking on Nvidia where it actually counts in the parts more PC gamers tend to buy. AMD says they’re designed to destroy the upper-mid-range Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 and RTX 2060. You’ll pay $450 for the Radeon 5700 XT, compared to the $500 for Nvidia’s 2070, while the Radeon 5700 costs $380, a bit more than the $350 that Nvidia’s 2060 retails for today.
Depending on the game, they could be a significant boost or merely neck and neck in performance, though the 5700 seems to stack up better against Nvidia than the 5700 XT. Here are some slides from AMD’s keynote about where the company sees them, namely as the GPUs you’d buy for 1440p gaming, and an upgrade from the Vega 56.
But AMD isn’t just pitching the 5700 XT and 5700 cards as the entirety of its new graphics play — it’s also rolling out some intriguing features in its graphics drivers that could improve your game.
This is Radeon Image Sharpening, and it uses a contrast-detect algorithm from the father of FXAA that can make an upscaled game look closer to native 4K resolution without the framerate penalty, and without some of the awkward softening of Nvidia’s rival DLSS tech:
AMD says Radeon Image Sharpening (RIS) comes with only the tiniest framerate penalty —as low as half a percent — and works on thousands of games with no need for developers to support it. I was impressed with an in-person demo at the company’s event on the outskirts of the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles this weekend.
Technically, other graphics cards and graphics card makers could use the technique too, and AMD is working with some to integrate it directly into games: the generic version is called Contrast Adaptive Sharpening. That’s good, because AMD’s on-card implementation weirdly doesn’t work with DirectX 11 titles, only DX9, 10, 12 and Vulkan on Windows 10, and is exclusive to the RX 5700 series for now.
Then there’s Radeon Anti-Lag, where AMD says it can drastically reduce the amount of time it takes for a game to react to your button press in situations where your game is overpowering your graphics card, theoretically giving you an advantage in competitive games. When your CPU is waiting for your GPU to draw two frames before it reacts to your click, it can selectively cut out most of one of those frames.
I couldn’t tell much of a difference when I swapped back and forth between two systems in AMD’s demo, but my reflexes aren’t what they used to be. Anti-Lag actually works on GCN-based graphics cards and newer on Windows 7 and Windows 10, but only in DX9 and DX11 for now.
One place where you might argue Nvidia’s cards are ahead is in their support for ray tracing, even if developer adoption of ray tracing has been a little lacking so far. On that front, AMD says we may actually have to wait for its next-gen RDNA graphics chips for hardware accelerated ray tracing, and even then the company says it’ll be enabling “select lighting effects.” For now, we’re looking at shader-based ray tracing like Nvidia rolled out for its older graphics cards that don’t have dedicated ray tracing hardware.
AMD says that full scene ray tracing may only be something that cloud gaming platforms like Stadia deliver, but that seems a little weird given that both the next-gen Xbox and next-gen PlayStation are promising hardware accelerated ray-tracing using their AMD Navi-based GPUs as soon as 2020. And it also strongly suggests that today’s Radeon 5700 and 5700 XT aren’t the same Navi that will appear in next-gen consoles, but rather a stopgap.
AMD’s new cards are coming July 7th, in addition to a $500 Radeon RX 5700 XT 50th Anniversary Edition with a deep black chassis and higher clocks that let it cross the 10TFLOP mark.
Update, 8:20 PM ET: With many, many more details and early impressions from AMD’s Los Angeles showcase.