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AMD RX 5700 vs. Nvidia RTX 2060 Super review: the competition is heating up – The Verge


The $399 GPU competition is on

AMD has been trying to put a dent in Nvidia’s gaming GPU dominance for years. So far, its attempts — like the Radeon VII and its new 7nm process, which are designed to compete with Nvidia’s RTX 2080 — have fallen a little flat. Now, AMD is setting its sights on Nvidia’s midrange cards with its Radeon RX 5700 ($349) and RX 5700 XT ($399). They’re both built on AMD’s new RDNA architecture, and the big promise is that it can provide up to 1.25x performance per clock and 1.5x performance per watt compared to the Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture that powered its previous Polaris and Vega GPUs.

Price, performance, and power usage are key at the $300 to $400 price points, and AMD is trying to find a delicate balance of all three with the RX 5700 series. Not to be outdone, Nvidia has also launched its upgraded midrange RTX cards: the RTX 2060 Super ($399) and RTX 2070 Super ($499). These cards offer modest speed bumps over the existing RTX cards they are replacing at the same price points. They were also enough to force AMD’s hand to cut the price of the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT graphics cards just two days before their release last month.

That price cut was hugely important because if the Radeon RX 5700 XT had debuted at its original $449 price instead of $399, then Nvidia’s $499 RTX 2070 Super would have been easily worth the $50 upgrade. As it stands, AMD’s aggressive pricing makes the choices at the midrange a lot more difficult, especially as the RX 5700 and 5700 XT are now going head-to-head with Nvidia on performance.

I’ve been testing Nvidia and AMD’s latest midrange cards over the past couple of weeks, with the intention of finding a clear winner for 1440p gaming. While AMD has failed to match Nvidia in terms of performance at the high end, competition at the midrange couldn’t be closer. The graphics card wars are finally heating up.

AMD’s new cards are both based on the company’s 7nm process, RDNA architecture, and use 8GB of GDDR6 graphics memory. AMD might be using a new architecture here, but the company isn’t pushing any real new hardware advantages to using RDNA just yet. There’s no support for ray tracing or promises of AI-powered anti-aliasing. AMD is focusing on raw performance instead of eye candy.

AMD’s big architecture changes do mean that the company has higher bandwidth memory and improvements to its compute units. We’ve seen AMD use 7nm for the Radeon VII, but this card was based on the previous GCN architecture. AMD claims that RDNA cards will have 50 percent better performance than previous GCN cards, which could mean we’ll see some interesting developments in the high-end of the market soon.

That 8GB of VRAM is the same amount found on both the RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070 Super. Nvidia has done very little in terms of hardware to its upgraded RTX Super cards, but there are now more raw CUDA cores and higher clock speeds. Both the RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070 Super look physically the same as their predecessors, though, which means they’re very well-built and look great.

AMD and Nvidia midrange GPUs (2019) specs

Specs GeForce RTX 2060 Super GeForce RTX 2070 Super Radeon RX 5700 Radeon RX 5700 XT
Specs GeForce RTX 2060 Super GeForce RTX 2070 Super Radeon RX 5700 Radeon RX 5700 XT
Core clock 1470MHz 1605MHz 1465MHz 1605MHz
Boost clock 1650MHz 1770MHz 1725MHz 1905MHz
SP compute 7.2 TLFOPS 9.1 TFLOPS 7.9 TFLOPS 9.7 TFLOPs
Memory bandwidth 448GBps 448GBps 448GBps 448GBps
Architecture Turing 12nm TSMC Turing 12nm TSMC RDNA 7nm TSMC RDNA 7nm TSMC
TDP 175W 215W 185W 225W
Price $399 $499 $349 $399

While Nvidia moved to a new dual-fan setup for its Founders Edition RTX cards last year, AMD has stuck to its blower-style on its reference cards. This feels like an obvious mistake because the RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT both run hotter and are way louder than Nvidia’s RTX competition as a result. Blowers have benefits for space-constrained cases, but for everyone else, a dual- or triple-fan system will be far more efficient. On the 5700 XT, there’s also a dent in the casing, which is designed to improve airflow, but it just ends up looking strange rather than providing an obvious improvement to how the card performs.

Both of AMD’s new cards also support PCIe 4.0, but you’ll need a new motherboard and AMD’s third-generation Ryzen CPUs to see the benefit from that right now. While PCIe 4.0 doubles the bandwidth of PCIe 3.0, this isn’t really required at current resolutions and refresh rates, and it will become far more important in the future when resolutions push beyond 4K. In a card designed for 1440p monitors, it’s nice to have for future-proofing, but it’s totally unnecessary. Fortunately, it is backwards compatible with PCIe 3.0, so you can still use the 5700 cards with existing motherboards and CPUs.

I’m genuinely impressed by how well both of these new AMD cards perform in 1440p gaming. In Far Cry 5, frame rates regularly exceeded 90 fps on max settings, and the 5700 XT outperformed Nvidia’s RTX 2060 Super and came close to the higher-priced 2070 Super in most of my tests. However, I did find that frame rates between the AMD and Nvidia cards can vary a lot depending on the game.

Destiny 2 performed a lot better on both the 2060 Super and 2070 Super than AMD’s 5700 series in terms of raw frame rates, but Division 2 seems to be better optimized for AMD’s cards. I ran both at maxed-out settings, and all of the cards handled well. Likewise, the Fire Strike Extreme benchmark performed far better on both the 5700 XT and 5700 than Nvidia’s cards. Time Spy ran better on Nvidia’s cards.

AMD vs. Nvidia midrange 2019 benchmarks

Benchmark GeForce RTX 2060S GeForce RTX 2070S Radeon RX 5700 XT Radeon RX 5700
Benchmark GeForce RTX 2060S GeForce RTX 2070S Radeon RX 5700 XT Radeon RX 5700
Time Spy 8,171 9,053 8030 7413
Fire Strike Extreme 9,782 10,784 10974 10016
Far Cry 5 87fps 96fps 94fps 87fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider 50fps 59fps 50fps 45fps
Division 2 60fps 74fps 62fps 56fps

I tested all games with a 27-inch Asus ROG Swift PG279Q monitor (G-Sync disabled) at 1440p resolution and max settings. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, a recent DirectX 12 title, performed similarly on both the $399 5700 XT and the $399 RTX 2060 Super.

I was most surprised with the RTX 2070 Super performance, bringing it very close to what the standard RTX 2080 can offer. If you’re looking at spending $699 on the new RTX 2080 Super, then I would definitely look at the 2070 Super, which has most of the performance of an RTX 2080 for $200 less. I briefly tested the 2080 Super, too, and the performance gains over the regular RTX 2080 weren’t as significant as the 2060 Super and 2070 Super.

All four cards seem ideal for 1440p gaming, even at max settings in modern games. You can obviously adjust the settings down to improve frame rates for a 144MHz monitor setup or get usable frame rates with all the eye candy enabled.

As with all games and tests, I’d expect both AMD and Nvidia’s cards to perform better over time once titles are optimized and drivers are tweaked and improved. Even without that, the performance gap in the midrange has definitely shrunk, thanks to AMD’s new cards, though.

This surprisingly close performance at the same $399 price point makes the decision between AMD or Nvidia a lot more difficult. That choice will probably come down to whether you value less heat, less power consumption, and a lot less noise from your PC.

During my testing, both of AMD’s cards regularly exceeded 80C, while Nvidia’s cards hovered around 73C under load. AMD is using a different way to measure temperature than Nvidia, which does result in higher reported temps. But even with that considered, the AMD card made the overall temperature inside my PC higher than either Nvidia card. Temperature aside, the difference in the cooling between the 2060 Super and the 5700 XT is night and day. AMD’s cards are noticeably louder than Nvidia’s equivalents, and if you value a silent PC, then I can’t recommend AMD’s cards here. Nvidia’s cooling means the 2060 Super and 2070 Super stay at similar noise levels (in terms of what you notice) whether your PC is idle or pushing out a demanding AAA title at 1440p.

AMD’s RX 5700 XT and 5700 blower spins up almost immediately into a game, and it’s distracting unless you’re using headphones. AMD’s cards also draw a lot more power than Nvidia’s new Super line. The RTX 2060 Super has a TDP of 175 watts, whereas AMD’s similarly priced 5700 XT draws up to 225 watts. The RX 5700 comes in lower at 185 watts, while the $499 RTX 2070 Super has a TDP of 215 watts.

I’m hoping that third-party RX 5700 XT and 5700 cards will deal with the noise and heat situation a lot better than AMD’s reference blower, as they usually come with multiple fans. I’d recommend waiting on those if you’re impressed by the performance gains but not by the heat and noise produced or if you’re interested in overclocking these cards.

Another consideration will be the features that Nvidia offers with its cards compared to AMD’s latest. AMD has clearly optimized for raw performance here, but Nvidia offers similar performance plus extra features like real-time ray tracing on top. The promise of cinematic effects in games is still early days, but Nvidia is investing a lot of time and money into getting game developers to take ray tracing seriously. This has been bolstered, thanks to the fact that Sony’s next-generation PlayStation and Microsoft’s Project Scarlett Xbox console will both support ray tracing.

That should mean more game developers start focusing on ray tracing, as both next-gen consoles will support it. We haven’t seen enough games with ray tracing to really make it worth it just yet, but the promise is there, and without support for ray tracing, it does mean AMD’s Radeon 5700 and 5700 XT aren’t exactly future-proof. You also miss out on Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super-Sampling (DLSS) that leverages the company’s supercomputer farms to scan games before they are released (or even afterwards) and work out the most efficient way to render graphics.

AMD does offer Radeon Image Sharpening to upscale games without big frame rate penalties and Radeon Anti-Lag to improve competitive games, but neither comes close to the impact real-time ray tracing has on a gaming experience. I’ve found Battlefield V is one of the good examples of ray tracing effects, thanks to the reflections on objects and guns, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses ray tracing in a number of shadowy scenes.

The choice between AMD and Nvidia for $399 or below has suddenly become a lot more complicated. AMD’s price cut was brilliantly timed to react to Nvidia’s Super cards, and the performance promises match up. If you’re looking at spending $400 on a new graphics card, then you now have two great choices (or a $499 RTX 2070 Super option if you’re willing to spend a little more to get even better performance).

If, like me, you value a cool and quiet PC, then the obvious choice is still Nvidia right now. AMD has certainly closed the performance gap in the midrange, thanks to some impressive price points, but it still has a long way to go with its reference cards to compete on heat, power consumption, and noise.

AMD has laid some important and exciting groundwork with the move to 7nm and the RDNA architecture. We’re unlikely to see Nvidia move to 7nm this year, so AMD’s new architecture is the big new challenger for graphics cards in 2019. It’s a challenge that AMD has pulled off on the performance side in the midrange. Now, it has to look beyond the sub-$400 price points and get a lot more competitive at the higher end of the market to make things truly interesting.

Photography by Tom Warren / The Verge

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