AMD Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT review: Blazing new trails Credit: Brad ChacosIDGIDG
Business Management

AMD Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT review: Blazing new trails

The Radeon RX 5700 and Radeon RX 5700 XT graphics cards represent a fresh start and a bright future for AMD, brimming with technologies that have never been seen in GPUs before.

The Radeon RX 5700 series are the first mainstream GPUs built using the bleeding-edge 7nm manufacturing process (hence their July 7 launch). They’re the first graphics cards packing the ultra-fast PCIe 4.0 interface. They’re the first graphics cards crafted with AMD’s all-new “RDNA” architecture, which delivers a massive power efficiency boost that Radeon’s been needing for years. They’re packing fresh display technologies to enable 4K, 144Hz monitors without the need for messy chroma subsampling. They’ve upgraded to GDDR6 memory. Heck, AMD even managed to tame their blower-style cooler design, learning from the mistakes of the frankly unpleasant-to-be-around Vega 64.

Nvidia tried to spoil their launch with the surprise release of the excellent GeForce RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070 Super, but some aggressive pre-launch price cuts by AMD foiled that plan. The $350 Radeon RX 5700 and $400 Radeon RX 5700 XT are great graphics cards, full stop. 

Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT: Specs and features

Warning: With so much new technology baked into the Radeon RX 5700 series, this is going to be a long review. We’re going to kick it off by talking about what’s fresh under the hood. Feel free to use the table of contents at left to hop between sections if you’d like. Got it? Good. On to the cool stuff.

Let’s kick things off by examining the hardware, before delving into some new software features later. Here’s an AMD-supplied list of technological specifications for the Radeon RX 5700 and Radeon RX 5700 XT, alongside the same stats for the Radeon RX Vega GPUs they’re replacing in AMD’s product stack. (Radeon boss Scott Herkelman confirmed that Vega will be disappearing in The Full Nerd interview embedded above.)

radeon navi vs vega specs AMD

While that table provides a helpful overview, note that you cannot simply compare the number of compute units and stream processors between the Vega GPUs and the “Navi” GPUs in the Radeon RX 5700 series. Compared to AMD’s long-lasting GCN architecture (which Vega is based on), the new RDNA architecture introduces several radical changes to the underlying GPU design, unleashing significant hardware-level overhauls to everything from the cache to the graphics engine to the compute units themselves. These new graphics cards perform tasks differently from their predecessors at a fundamental level.

radeon arch history AMD

We’re not going to get into the weeds of redesigned cache hierarchies and SIMD Wave cycles here. If you want an insightful yet understandable explanation of the major RDNA architecture changes and have 23 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching the Gamers Nexus interview with technology analyst David Kanter embedded below. It’s great.

AMD says that between the RDNA tweaks and the shift to the 7nm manufacturing process, its new cards are much more powerful and power-efficient than before—claims that bear fruit in our testing. (Spoiler alert: Navi is even more power-efficient than Nvidia’s Turing architecture, a monumental reversal of the norm with GCN.)

The company’s architecture deep-dive for reporters touted some impressive numbers for Navi: 25 percent more performance per clock versus Vega, and a whopping 50-percent performance increase overall at the same power levels. Impressive. Those performance-per-clock improvements also make the TFLOPS comparisons in the chart above misleading, as these Navi GPUs do more with each teraflop.

Speaking of clocks, the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT hit much, much higher clock speeds than AMD’s previous cards, surpassing Vega’s best by hundreds of megahertz. No matter how you measure it, that’s a good thing. AMD also introduced new clock speed terminology to more clearly express estimated performance levels.

rdna power efficiency AMD

The company’s providing three clock speeds for Navi GPUs: Base and boost are what you’d expect, defining the upper and lower limits. But AMD’s also listing a “game clock,” that represents “the minimum expected GPU clock when running gaming applications.” It warns that those speeds aren’t guaranteed or even set in the VBIOS, but is instead simply “a guide used to set expectations with gamers.” Nvidia handles its listed Boost clocks in the same manner, so if you want to compare GeForce cards against the Radeon RX 5700’s speeds, look there.

Note that it says “minimum expected GPU clock,” and that they were obtained using AMD’s blower-style reference cards. In the Full Nerd interview at the top of this article, Radeon boss Scott Herkelman acknowledged that overclocked, custom-cooled models by AMD partners could very well push gaming speeds closer to the Boost clock rating, as you’d expect.

gddr6 AMD

The Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT also change the underlying memory configuration. The Radeon VII and Vega GPUs utilized second-generation high-bandwidth memory stacks, continuing the HBM push that AMD spearheaded with the Fury X in 2015. AMD switched to traditional GDDR6 memory for these new cards, matching Nvidia’s current GeForce lineup.

For Nvidia, the switch from GDDR5 to GDDR6 provided enormous throughput benefit thanks to GDDR6’s much faster speeds. It’s more of a lateral move performance-wise for AMD, because HBM2’s 2,048-bit wide memory interface allowed for excellent memory bandwidth speeds. The Navi cards we’re reviewing today hit 448GB/second of memory bandwidth thanks to their 8GB capacity and 256-bit bus.

“We are not ruling out HBM2 in our roadmap,” Herkelman told me in our Full Nerd interview. “We will continue to support that in markets that make sense.” For these Radeon RX 5700 cards in particular, GDDR6 lets AMD “hit better price points [and] still get great performance” while being more widely adopted than HBM2, whose pricing he called “volatile.” The power-hungry Vega cards needed HBM2’s energy efficiency, but AMD says GDDR6 offers 60-percent-improved performance per watt versus GDDR5.

pcie 4 davinci resolve AMD

Faster, more efficient clocks and faster, more efficient memory both provide tangible benefits to PC gamers. One of the flagship features of the Radeon RX 5700 series, PCIe 4.0 support, doesn’t—at least in normal gaming scenarios. Modern graphics cards simply don’t saturate the PCIe 3.0 x16 interface typically used in most gaming PCs. I’d wondered whether the move to PCIe 4.0 could benefit performance in CrossFire setups, because those need to tap into a narrower x8 connection. Herkelman said any benefits would be “corner case, game-dependent, and situational.” He said he wouldn’t recommend people buy into PCIe 4.0 just for potential improvements to multi-GPU gaming. 

Update: The Radeon RX 5700 series only supports DX12 and Vulkan’s explicit multi-GPU, not CrossFire for DX9, DX10, or DX11, per TechPowerUp. Virtually no game developers support explicit multi-GPU in shipping games at this time.

But there are advantages to having the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700XT ride the bleeding-edge PCIe 4.0 interface. Herkelman says a large percentage of gaming GPU buyers also run content creation tasks, which makes sense with Twitch and YouTube engulfing the world. “There is much more of a benefit in creative workloads today for that new standard,” Herkelman told PCWorld.

I wasn’t able to validate the claim, as I don’t have a PCIe 4.0-compatible system. To tap into the Radeon RX 5700 series’ PCIe 4.0 capabilities, you’ll need to buy a Ryzen 3000 series processor and an X570 motherboard, both of which are also launching Sunday. AMD’s hardware barrage marks the debut of PCIe 4.0 in PCs, while Nvidia and Intel’s hardware still uses PCIe 3.0. If you don’t have a Ryzen 3000 CPU, fear not, as PCIe 4.0 hardware is backward-compatible with PCIe 3.0. The Radeon RX 5700 GPUs will work in any PC.

blower design AMD

Both the Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT return to blower-style cooler designs, even as Nvidia’s Founders Edition cards shift to dual-axial fans. Herkelman says it was a conscious decision: Blower-style coolers expel hot air out of the rear of your system, while dual-axial fans dump it back into your rig, requiring your PC to have adequate air flow from case fans. Sticking to a blower-style design eliminates potential user error from the cooling equation and provides a more universal baseline experience.

The decision makes sense on paper, but anyone who suffered through a reference Vega 64 roaring hot fire next to them might be cringing right now. It was unpleasant. The new cooler isn’t. Herkelman claims AMD invested a lot of time and effort into improving the Radeon RX 5700 series reference coolers, and those tweaks manifest in practice. These coolers still aren’t quiet, but neither have they crossed the line in being noisy or distracting. While the reference Navi GPUs run at higher temperatures than Nvidia’s rival Founders Edition models, the heat doesn’t affect performance or usability. (More on that in the benchmarking sections.)

dsc00582 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Radeon RX 5700 XT

dsc00591 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Radeon RX 5700

AMD’s new GPUs feature different shroud designs. The Radeon RX 5700 looks like a sturdier, cleaner upgrade to the stark red-on-black design ethos introduced with AMD’s Radeon RX 400-series, while the Radeon RX 5700 XT changes things up with a series of closely spaced lines that run the length of the black shroud, and a red band that intersects with the illuminated Radeon logo on the side of the card. It also packs an intriguing wave-like deformation on the edge of the card. It’ll probably prove divisive, but I don’t mind it. Both cards require 6-pin and 8-pin power connectors, with the Radeon RX 5700 demanding 185 watts of total board power and the Radeon RX 5700 XT needing 225W.

The Radeon RX 5700 XT ships with a backplate; the Radeon RX 5700 does not. The RX 5700 XT includes additional venting at the rear edge of the card, while the cheaper Navi GPU gets a solid back edge.

dsc00587 Brad Chacos/IDG

The cards ship with an HDMI 2.0b port and a trio of DisplayPort 1.4 connections. The DisplayPorts support Display Stream Compression 1.2a, which lets the GPU power fearsome monitors over a single cord, maxing out at 4K/240Hz, 4K HDR at 120Hz, and 8K HDR at 60Hz. More significantly, Display Stream Compression lets you run those high-speed 4K HDR monitors without leaning on chroma subsampling, which can affect the readability of fine text in some scenarios. Asus teased the “world’s first Display Stream Compression monitor” at AMD’s E3 event. With 4K, 144Hz speeds and HDR 1000 support, it appears poised to challenge Nvidia’s vaunted G-Sync Ultimate (previously G-Sync HDR) monitors, like the superb Acer Predator X27.

radeon media engine AMD

Finally, the Radeon RX 5700 series introduces a new version of the Radeon Media Engine, with better hardware accelerated support for VP9 decoding, and both encoding and decoding with H.264 or H.265.

You’ll notice two glaring omissions from this rundown of upgrades: support for ray tracing and variable rate pixel shading, both of which were introduced in Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 20-series, and both of which were embraced (agnostically) by Windows 10’s DirectX 12. You can hear Herkelman explain why AMD made the decision to omit dedicated ray tracing hardware from the Radeon RX 5700 series at the 39:20 mark in the video interview near the top of this article. Quick tl;dr: AMD will enable ray tracing when there are more games available that support it, and when the performance hit becomes less drastic. “Don’t get me wrong: It is definitely the future,” he says. “But it needs to be done right.”

That’s it for the hardware side of things. But AMD’s latest graphics cards pack some new software tricks, too.

Next page: Radeon Software improvements

Radeon Software improvements

AMD gave Radeon Software a huge overhaul in December, but it’s adding some new features for the Radeon RX 5700 series release. Radeon Software Adrenalin 2019 Edition version 19.7.1 (phew!) will go live Sunday alongside the new hardware. While time constraints prevented us from giving these fresh goodies a test drive ahead of this review, they’re worth highlighting.

Radeon Anti-Lag

Radeon Anti-Lag was created to make esports gamers more competitive by, well, reducing input lag when you click your mouse. In GPU-bound scenarios (like esports), AMD says the CPU registers clicks at least one frame ahead of the GPU, and the GPU then renders the response on-screen, resulting in a delay of at least two frames, or 33.3 milliseconds at 60 fps. “Radeon Anti-Lag dynamically improves the pacing of the CPU work, allowing the CPU work to overlap a significant portion of the GPU work, so the CPU doesn’t get too far ahead of the GPU.” That can bring the delay back down to a single frame, or 16.7 milliseconds at 60 fps, the company says.

radeon anti lag AMD

Radeon Anti-Lag click-to-response improvements, measured by AMD.

Not everyone can even feel a single frame’s worth of improvement to input lag. But in the frantic, fast-paced world of competitive esports, every second matters, especially in higher-skilled play.

You can try out Radeon Anti-Lag by enabling it for specific games in the Radeon Settings app’s Gaming tab. You can also turn it on in-game using the Radeon Overlay. It works with all DirectX 11 games with any Radeon GPU, but the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT can enable it for DX9 games, too. Don’t enable it universally; AMD’s reviewers guide warns that due to the way it works, it has “a minor impact” on gaming frame rates. It’s worth using in esports games where you can feel the difference in responsiveness, but it isn’t recommended for other genres.

Radeon Image Sharpening

radeon image sharpening AMD

You know the Sharpening filter in Nvidia’s Ansel tool? Yeah, Radeon Image Sharpening is nothing like that. While Ansel applies a sharpening filter to the entire in-game image, Radeon Image Sharpening uses algorithms to intelligently sharpen only the areas that need it, reducing the blurriness that can pop up when you activate various anti-aliasing methods or run games at a lower resolution than your display’s maximum. Better yet, it does so with next to no performance impact, AMD says.

Here’s how AMD’s reviewers guide describes Radeon Image Sharpening:

“Because RIS is based on an algorithm that modulates the degree of sharpening depending on contrast, it clarifies interior object details while leaving high-contrast edges largely untouched. RIS sidesteps harsh artifacts like “ringing” or halos that commonly affect other sharpening methods. Meanwhile, it avoids damaging smooth gradients on high-contrast edges. As a result, RIS can be combined with virtually any anti-aliasing technique used in a game, and the results will look great.

“When paired with Radeon GPU scaling, RIS allows gamers to configure their games to run at lower resolutions to optimize performance while still enjoying crisp, detailed full-screen visuals.”

radeon image sharpening performance impact AMD

Sounds nifty! And talking to Scott Herkelman on The Full Nerd, it sounds like Radeon Image Sharpening could be a cornerstone of AMD’s future ray tracing ambitions.

For now, though, it works only with DirectX9, DirectX12, and Vulkan games on the Radeon RX 5700 GPUs. Yes, DX11 support appears to be missing for now, and RIS can’t process HDR visuals, either. To activate it, open the Radeon Settings app and enable Radeon Image Sharpening in the Display tab. AMD also recommends activating the GPU Scaling option in the Display tab if you’re using RIS to compensate for using a lower resolution than your display’s maximum.

Tweaks and tuning

While Radeon Image Sharpening and Radeon Anti-Lag steal the spotlight, AMD also added helpful tweaks to existing tools in Radeon Software Adrenalin 2019 Edition 19.7.1. We’ll quickly recap the most notable.

Radeon Chill was already impressive, intelligently ramping down frame rates during static scenes to use less power—sometimes significantly so—without making it feel like your game’s running slower. And now it’s even better. The latest Radeon Software update alters Chill so that it “automatically sets its frame rate targets based on the refresh capability of the connected display.” Previously, Chill targeted 72-fps and 144-fps thresholds on every display. Now, the display-aware feature will change that to 30 fps and 60 fps on 60Hz monitors “to better match the rate of in-game animation to the display’s update rate.”

radeon chill perf AMD

The lower target thresholds can also reduce power demands even further. AMD’s briefing materials claim that Chill can now deliver up to 2.5X more power savings than before, and like I said, it was already really great. I’m looking forward to testing this out with a 60Hz display.

The new software adds a Settings Snapshot option that lets you create, save, and load custom profiles. Radeon Wattman receives some extra polish, too, with a new power meter and a summary of changes after you run one of its auto-overclocking or -undervolting tools. Now, you’ll be notified of your new minimum and maximum clock speeds after the auto-tuning finishes.

Finally, if you have a gaming PC in your living room, a new Automatic Low Latency Mode feature lets your Radeon GPU force your TV into gaming mode with no effort on your end (assuming your TV offers a lower latency gaming mode, natch).

Now that the stage is set, let’s get to the games!

Next page: Our test system, gaming benchmarks begin

Our test system

Our dedicated graphics card test system is packed with some of the fastest complementary components available to put any potential performance bottlenecks squarely on the GPU. Most of the hardware was provided by the manufacturers, but we purchased the cooler and storage ourselves.

  • Intel Core i7-8700K processor ($350 on Amazon)
  • EVGA CLC 240 closed-loop liquid cooler ($120 on Amazon)
  • Asus Maximus X Hero motherboard ($395 on Amazon)
  • 64GB HyperX Predator RGB DDR4/2933 ($420 on Amazon)
  • EVGA 1200W SuperNova P2 power supply ($230 on Amazon)
  • Corsair Crystal 570X RGB case, with front and top panels removed and an extra rear fan installed for improved airflow ($130 on Amazon)
  • 2x 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SSDs ($78 each on Amazon)

We’re comparing the $350 Radeon RX 5700 and $400 Radeon RX 5700 XT against Nvidia’s new $399 GeForce RTX 2060 Super and $499 RTX 2070 Super Founders Edition cards, of course. We’ve also included results from the Founders Edition models of Nvidia’s original RTX 20-series lineup: The $350 RTX 2060, $600 RTX 2070, $800 RTX 2080, and $1,200 RTX 2080 Ti. Note that aside from the RTX 2060, all other non-Super Founders Edition cards come overclocked and more expensive than reference models for each respective GPU. We also tested AMD’s comparable Radeon options: the $700 Radeon VII, $500 Vega 64, and $400 Vega 56.

All prices cited are launch MSRP. You can often find these cards cheaper on the streets these days.

Each game is tested using its in-game benchmark at the highest possible graphics presets, with VSync, frame rate caps, and all GPU vendor-specific technologies—like AMD TressFX, Nvidia GameWorks options, and FreeSync/G-Sync—disabled, and temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) enabled to push these high-end cards to their limits. If anything differs from that, we’ll mention it. We run each benchmark at least three times and list the average result for each test.

We’ve added a couple of new games to our testing suite (Division 2, Far Cry: New Dawn) and removed a handful of others (Rainbow Six Siege, Far Cry 5, Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, Middle-earth: Shadow of War). We’re hoping to add Metro Exodus to the mix in future reviews but were unable to do so for this one due to severe time constraints.

Gaming performance benchmarks

Division 2

Let’s start with the latest games. The Division 2 is one of the best looter-shooters ever created, and the luscious visuals generated by Ubisoft’s Snowdrop engine make it even easier to get lost in post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. The built-in benchmark cycles through four “zones” to test an array of environments, and we test with the DirectX 12 renderer enabled. It provides better performance across the board than the DX11 renderer, but requires Windows 10.

d2 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Radeon RX 5700 trounces the original GeForce RTX 2060, while the Radeon RX 5700 XT surpasses the equally priced RTX 2060 Super and equals the original RTX 2070 in performance. The GeForce RTX 2070 Super is the fastest new card of the lot, but it costs significantly more than AMD’s Navi duo after their pre-launch price drops. 

Far Cry: New Dawn

Another Ubisoft title, Far Cry: New Dawn drags Far Cry 5’s wonderful gameplay into a post-apocalyptic future of its own, though this vision is a lot more bombastic—and pink—than The Division 2’s bleak setting. The game runs on the latest version of the long-running Dunia engine, and it’s slightly more strenuous than Far Cry 5’s built-in benchmark.

fcnd Brad Chacos/IDG

The Radeon RX 5700 wallops the RTX 2060 Founders Edition for the same price, while the Radeon RX 5700 XT delivers performance on par with its competitor. (Note: There was an error transcribing the results into Excel here. The 1080p performance for the Radeon RX 5700 series were swapped around; the Radeon RX 5700 should read 94fps, and the Radeon RX XT 98fps.)

Next page: Gaming benchmarks continue

Strange Brigade

Strange Brigade ($50 on Humble) is a cooperative third-person shooter where a team of adventurers blasts through hordes of mythological enemies. It’s a technological showcase, built around the next-gen Vulkan and DirectX 12 technologies and infused with features like HDR support and the ability to toggle asynchronous compute on and off. It uses Rebellion’s custom Azure engine. We test the DX12 renderer with async compute off.

strange brigade Brad Chacos/IDG

Strange Brigade tends to perform very well on AMD hardware, and the Radeon RX 5700 series beats down the similarly priced RTX 2060 and 2060 Super. If AMD stuck to its original pricing, it wouldn’t have beaten the 2060 and 2070 Super duo. Cutting the price was a smart move. 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow of the Tomb Raider ($60 on Humble) concludes the reboot trilogy, and it’s utterly gorgeous. Square Enix optimized this game for DX12, and recommends DX11 only if you’re using older hardware or Windows 7, so we test with that. Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses an enhanced version of the Foundation engine that also powered Rise of the Tomb Raider.

sotr Brad Chacos/IDG

Now here’s an interesting result. Shadow of the Tomb Raider usually favors Nvidia architectures, but AMD’s RDNA has apparently closed the gap. The Radeon RX 5700 is neck-and-neck with the RTX 2060 Super here! And the Radeon RX 5700 XT is well ahead of it.

Ghost Recon Wildlands

Move over, Crysis. If you crank all the graphics options up to 11, like we do for these tests, Ghost Recon Wildlands ($50 on Humble) and its AnvilNext 2.0 engine absolutely melt GPUs, even with a sequel due later this year. It’s by far the most strenuous game in our suite, even with newer stunners like Division 2 in the mix. 

grw Brad Chacos/IDG

Ghost Recon Wildlands also prefers Nvidia’s GPU architecture in general—or at least it used to. The overhauled RDNA architecture definitely shook something up, leveling the playing field in games that preferred GeForce GPUs in prior generations. The Radeon RX 5700 duo manages to draw effectively even with both Super cards here—as well as the far pricier $700 Radeon VII.

F1 2018

The latest in a long line of successful games, F1 2018 ($60 on Humble) is a gem to test, supplying a wide array of both graphical and benchmarking options—making it a much more reliable (and fun) option that the Forza series. It’s built on the fourth version of Codemasters’ buttery-smooth Ego game engine. We test two laps on the Australia course, with clear skies.

f1 Brad Chacos/IDG

Nvidia’s RTX Super GPUs blow well past the Radeon RX 5700 family here, especially at the more popular 1440p and 1080p resolutions. But again, AMD’s price cut changes the tune, with the $350 Radeon RX 5700 surpassing the $350 RTX 2060 in performance, and the $400 Radeon RX 5700 XT blowing well past the $400 RTX 2060 Super at 1080p and 1440p resolutions.

GTA V

We’re going to wrap things up with a game that isn’t really a visual barn-burner, but still tops the Steam charts day in and day out. We test Grand Theft Auto V ($30 on Humble) with all options turned to Very High, all Advanced Graphics options except extended shadows enabled, and FXAA. GTA V runs on the RAGE engine and has received substantial updates since its initial launch.

gtav Brad Chacos/IDG

Third time’s a trend. GTA V has performed better on GeForce hardware ever since it launched years and years ago, but now, the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT draw even with Nvidia’s pricier RTX Super options. The vastly more expensive Radeon VII is still a loser here.

Next page: Power, thermals, and noise

Power draw, thermals, and noise

We also tested the Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT using 3DMark’s highly respected Fire Strike synthetic benchmark. Fire Strike runs at 1080p, Fire Strike Extreme runs at 1440p, and Fire Strike Ultra runs at 4K resolution. All render the same scene, but with more intense graphical effects as you move up the scale, so that Extreme and Ultra flavors stress GPUs even more. We record the graphics score to eliminate variance from the CPU.

3dm Brad Chacos/IDG

The Radeon RX 5700 GPUs achieve higher scores than the RTX Super duo, even though Nvidia’s cards achieved better results in most real-world gaming tests.

We test thermals by leaving HWInfo’s sensor monitoring tool open during the F1 2018 five-lap power draw test, noting the highest maximum temperature at the end. AMD’s new GPUs weren’t recognized by HWInfo yet, so we used the company’s Wattman monitoring tool to measure temperatures in the Radeon RX 5700 series.

temp Brad Chacos/IDG

The blower-style cooler can’t keep temperatures as low as Nvidia’s dual-axial design, but it still gets the job done. Most importantly, and unlike the Vega 64 reference design, the Radeon RX 5700 GPUs aren’t unpleasant to be around. They’re a big improvement.

We test power draw by looping the F1 2018 benchmark for about 20 minutes after we’ve benchmarked everything else, and noting the highest reading on our Watts Up Pro meter. The initial part of the race, where all competing cars are onscreen simultaneously, tends to be the most demanding portion. 

power Brad Chacos/IDG

Holy. Crap. Now this is unexpected! Ever since Nvidia revealed its Maxwell GPU architecture with the GeForce GTX 750 and 750 Ti all the way back in 2014, GeForce cards have absolutely pummeled their Radeon rivals. With AMD’s new RDNA graphics architecture and the leap to the 7nm process, the domination is over.

Pay attention to the Radeon RX 5700 versus the original non-Super RTX 2060, and the Radeon RX 5700 XT against the original RTX 2070. The Radeon GPUs were faster than those Nvidia GPUs in our gaming benchmarks, but the Radeon RX 5700 uses significantly less power than the RTX 2060, while the RX 5700 XT draws even with the RTX 2070.

The days of laughing at Radeon power efficiency (or lack thereof) are over. This is very encouraging for AMD’s future GPU development...though it remains to be seen what Nvidia’s architects are capable of when Team Green shifts to 7nm at some point in the future. 

Next page: Should you buy the Radeon RX 5700 series?

Should you buy the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT?

A week ago, the answer would have been a clear yes. The Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT deliver more than enough oomph to topple the original GeForce RTX 2060 and 2070. A few days ago, the answer would have been more nuanced, since the Radeon tandem but can’t quite match the firepower of the new RTX Super graphics cards. But in the wake of AMD’s pre-launch price cuts, clarity returns.

Yes. Yes, you should buy these graphics cards. 

radeon rx 5700 xt high level AMD

The Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT are excellent, delivering noticeably better performance than the GeForce RTX 2060 and RTX 2060 Super they’re price-matched with. The Radeon RX 5700 XT even manages to trade blows with the GeForce RTX 2070 Super in some games despite costing $100 less. AMD just served up a delectable 1440p gaming duo.

These Navi GPUs would also excel at high refresh rate 1080p gaming, and with the Radeon RX 5700 XT you can dabble with 4K gaming in some games if you don’t mind dialing some visual settings back from Ultra. If you’re into content creation too, poke around for reviews that reveal how much of a difference the Radeon RX 5700’s PCIe 4.0 connection makes in your workloads of choice. 

The Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT are the first mainstream 7nm GPUs; the first PCIe 4.0 GPUs; and the first GPUs with DisplayPort Display Stream Compression for next-gen monitors. And as the first 7nm GPUs built using AMD’s new RDNA graphics architecture, the Radeon RX 5700 series managed to surpass Nvidia’s vaunted power efficiency and draw even with GeForce in games that previously favored Nvidia. That’s a big freakin’ deal. AMD even managed to fix its atrocious reference cooler!

The Radeon team have a lot to be proud of here. We can’t wait to see what AMD does with RDNA next. 

The one trick the new Radeon GPUs don’t perform? Real-time ray tracing, which currently requires dedicated hardware to achieve acceptable gaming frame rates. Only Nvidia’s RTX GPUs offer that. But while ray tracing is gaining traction, it’s still in its infancy, with the cutting-edge lighting features only available in a handful of playable games at the moment. Given that; the Radeon RX 5700 offering a far superior memory configuration to the 6GB RTX 2060; and both AMD GPUs outpunching their RTX 2060 counterparts by significant margins, it’s hard to recommend the GeForce offerings over AMD’s 7nm tandem. 

dsc00594 Brad Chacos/IDG

If you can’t resist the siren song of real-time ray tracing, though, the GeForce RTX 2060 Super would be the better option. The $500 GeForce RTX 2070 Super packs ray tracing capabilities and sometimes beats the Radeon RX 5700 XT’s performance by a lot—but sometimes they’re neck-and-neck, too. The RTX 2070 Super costs $100 more. 

The Radeon RX 5700 and Radeon RX 5700 XT are truly great graphics cards that point to a bright future for AMD. The surprise RTX Super reveal almost spoiled things, but aggressive pre-launch price cuts by AMD countered Nvidia’s maneuvering. The Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT can’t beat the RTX 2060 Super and 2070 Super, respectively, but AMD’s duo trounces the RTX 2060 and 2060 Super they now compete directly against. Both cards earn high marks, and we’re awarding the Radeon RX 5700 an Editors’ Choice award.

It’s sure been a whirlwind few weeks for high-end graphics cards, but now that the dust has finally settled, gamers are getting markedly higher frame rates for their dollars. Yay competition!

Editor’s note: For two hours after initial publication, both Radeon RX 5700 graphics cards were scored 0.5-stars higher than intended. We apologize for the error.

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