For a while, AMD has taken the back seat as Nvidia firmly led the GPU market. Now that AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture is coming, many are wondering if this is finally the move that will challenge Nvidia and lead to an all-out price war where the consumers will end up being the true winners.
When AMD Navi launched back in July of 2019 with the Radeon RX 5700 XT and RX 5700 GPUs, there was genuine excitement in the air. AMD finally released something that was able to compete with Nvidia’s offering, albeit in the mid-range segment only. That enthusiasm wasn’t all about the new release – it was also about this mystic feeling that AMD was cooking up a storm to throw at Nvidia.
‘AMD Big Navi‘ is the name we used to describe this upcoming technology as well as ‘AMD Navi 2X‘, but AMD hasn’t directly referred to either as final titles.
Internally, AMD refers to it as the ‘Nvidia Killer‘ which can be a slippery slope in the tech industry. There are plenty of examples of companies branding their new releases as the ‘something killer’ and things working out marvelously, but a lot more where things backfired and it ended up being a disaster for the companies.
The key contributing factor to the AMD RDNA 2 hype is that it was announced that it’ll be the graphical architecture on the next-gen consoles – the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X. The tech demo below shows some of the things that this technology is capable of.
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One important question still remains: Will AMD RDNA 2 be released before or after the arrival of the next-generation gaming consoles? With heavy rumors surrounding the supposed original launch date, which was at Computex 2020 in June 2020, and with the current world situation possibly pushing back the releases of next-gen gaming consoles, it seems a bit more likely that we’ll get AMD RDNA 2 before the PS5 and the Xbox Series X.
This will go against the previous console generation jumps where the graphics chips first appeared on consoles before hitting the PC market.
After Computex 2020 got canceled, it put AMD in an interesting position for their reveal. Chances are that we are going to get an online reveal from AMD this year.
In late April, in a Q1 2020 AMD earnings call, CEO Lisa Su said, “Development of our RDNA 2 GPUs continues to progress well. We are on track to launch our next-generation gaming GPUs later this year, with a 50% performance per watt increase compared to our current offerings.”
So AMD is still trying to push for a release before the end of the year, most likely to capitalize on the holiday season.
During the Bank of America 2020 Securities Global Technology Conference, AMD’s CFO David Kumar confirmed that the RDNA 2 architecture will run through their entire stack, which certainly is good, but the most interesting piece of news that came out from that conference, is that desktop GPUs will hit the market before RDNA 2 makes its debut on consoles.
One thing that’s important to keep track of is that with so much unpredictability in the world right now, it’s also a possibility that we might get neither of those two scenarios. Or perhaps we’ll get one but not the other. It’s a developing situation worth paying attention to.
As mentioned before, when AMD came out with their Navi lineup in 2019, they competed with Nvidia to an extent, but never really challenged their top-of-the-line products like the RTX 2080 Ti. One of the main points of interest for AMD RDNA 2 is the probability that it’ll go for the throat and bring a proper GPU war.
So, while the price hasn’t really been announced, there’s plenty of speculation going on and quite a few educated guesses. One good point is that AMD traditionally provides more affordable price points than Nvidia, although, with a flagship tech like RDNA 2, one has to wonder if it is worth it to keep the price lower.
This way of undercutting Nvidia’s prices has been fruitful as Nvidia was forced to lower the prices on its Super cards at the last moment, so one might think that AMD will gamble on it again.
There’s another interesting theory that AMD has something special in store in the ray tracing department. If that’s the case, we might see AMD’s higher tier GPUs potentially get an upper hand over its Nvidia counterparts and thusly be pricier than what Nvidia has to offer. Seeing how well Nvidia’s RTX 2080 Ti sold at the baffling $1200 price point upon release, it’s likely that AMD will follow suit and make their top RDNA 2 cards be at around the same point.
Of course, if AMD will have a product that’s similar to what Nvidia will offer, we might see another undercut and a top-quality GPU below the $1000 mark.
Conversely, AMD’s RDNA 2 mid-range cards meant to compete with the likes of RTX 2060 and RTX 2070 are more likely to challenge Nvidia’s price points to further establish its spot in that mid-range segment.
Specifications And Features
The biggest talking points regarding AMD’s RDNA 2 architecture are that it will feature ray tracing, and also enable the much-desired 4K gaming experience. While this has been a stable feature for Nvidia’s RTX series since 2018, AMD has been notably murky with their response. Until now.
Another thing being talked up is the support for variable rate shading and mesh shaders, although that was sort of expected at this point.
RDNA 2 is the successor to RDNA, which in turn is the successor to GCN. What enabled RDNA to be such a step-up was the alignment of wavefront size to SIMD size, but also the improvement in the efficiency department.
Part of the reason for this improvement was the switch from 14nm process to 7nm which is something RDNA 2 can’t repeat as they’ll stick to the 7nm process.
AMD’s CEO, Lisa Su, really played up the remarkable promise of 50% performance per Watt improvement over RDNA, which itself boasted the same improvement over its predecessor, GCN. This might seem promising, but so far it feels a little too good to be true.
One area where AMD has the high ground is the rumored 80 computing units which firmly surpasses RTX 2080 Ti’s 68. However, the rumored 124 computing units for the RTX 3080 are certainly producing headaches over at AMD.
This number seems to be exclusive for PC models, as Sony and Microsoft have already announced 56 and 52 computing units for the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively. The number is still a decent increase from the 40 computing units in the 5700 XT, but a little eyebrow-raising if AMD intends to be competitive.
Where AMD needs to step up is their implementation of ray tracing. It needs to be picture-perfect, and it’s safe to assume that they’ll introduce a deep-learning engine like Nvidia has done with their ray tracing hardware. It’s simply a requirement to have good denoising AI to keep the performance smooth.
Microsoft has been talking about the Xbox Series X and has quoted that the RDNA 2-powered GPU offers up 12TFLOPS (terra-FLOPS) of performance is an improvement over the 5700 XT’s 9.75TFLOPS, but still lags behind RTX 2080 Ti’s 14.2TFLOPS. Of course, both Microsoft and Sony use their custom silicone so we can’t assume that RDNA 2 will be the same. Then again, TFLOPS performance isn’t always the most precise indicator of gaming performance.
It appears that AMD is following Nvidia’s lead and abandoning their blower-style coolers in favor of axial coolers. This means that the hot air won’t be blowing out of the case, but instead be vented inside which shouldn’t worry enthusiasts, but may require amateur PC builders to improve their in-case airflow techniques.
All indications point to RDNA 2 using GDDR6 memory across the board which remains in line with the competition.
As far as connectivity goes, none has been confirmed but it’s pretty much expected that RDNA 2 will feature HDMI 2.1 support, but there’s a discussion regarding DisplayPort 2.0. It was officially released in 2019, with predictions that it won’t hit the consumer market until late 2020 – around the same time the next generation of GPUs is coming out.
June 2020 Leak
There is a reason why this one isn’t grouped with other rumors and that is simply because many tech insiders have deemed it fake. Still, it’s important to discuss stuff like this as well.
The core of this leak takes three slides from an alleged AMD presentation about what appears to be their flagship 6900 XT card. We’ll look at each slide individually.
First up, we have the specs.
We see that that the 80 compute units number has remained consistent with other rumors, but 22.73 TFLOPs are vastly superior to the RTX 2080 Ti’s 13.45 TFLOPs. Still, with the rumors of Nvidia’s unnamed card having 33 TFLOPs, this falls short. It’s important to note that Nvidia’s card can easily be an enthusiast-class card and not intended for the consumer market altogether.
Next up is commendable 14GB of GDDR6 RAM which does outperform what Nvidia currently has to offer with their 2080 Ti having “only” 11GB.
Poised to best the best of Nvidia’s current-gen is the 18Gbps memory bandwidth, and from the RTX 3000 rumors, that speed is set to challenge the best of Nvidia’s next-generation GPUs as well.
The clock speeds continue in the same vein: Good enough to beat what Nvidia has to offer with its RTX 2000 series while remaining competitive with the RTX 3000 series.
Next up, we have the graph comparing the RX 6900 XT to the RTX 2080 Ti, touting the former as the “ultimate 4K gaming experience”.
This graph is pretty consistent with what the supposed specifications are pointing to: That RDNA 2 will be better than the best card from the RTX 2000 series. Where this graph can be called deceitful by some people, is its comparison to two-year-old tech, when it should instead be comparing the RX 6900 XT to the RTX 3000 series which will be released roughly around the same time.
Of course, AMD doesn’t have access to RTX 3000 series’ performance numbers, but it’s still not a good comparison to make. It would be better if AMD had just omitted the comparisons.
The last slide appears to point out that RDNA 2 cards will not get a big FPS drop-off when turning on real-time raytracing.
There have reported sightings of a card with a Navi 31 code and this brought everyone out to speculate.
Is it going to be the next generation after RDNA 2? That would mean that AMD plans on releasing a new GPU series next year, and possibly continuing that model for some time. This would put a big strain on Nvidia to retain its top status in the GPU world.
Since the leak comes from a screenshot of AMD’s macOS 11 “Big Sur”, it appears pretty legitimate, but shrouded in mystery.
Possible Models And How They’ll Compare
There are some important and admittedly worrying signs for AMD RDNA 2 models. One of the key features – ray tracing – appears to only be present on top-tier GPUs and maybe some mid-range ones.
The flagship appears to be in line for a Navi 21 title and is likely going be at least on par with the best of the best from Nvidia.
There is also talk regarding the name of the series being RX 6000, and while either is possible, it seems very plausible that AMD will look to move away from the RX XXXX naming convention due to the RX 5000 series being perceived as Nvidia’s mid-range competitors at best.
Barring some unforeseen technological advancements or AMD’s lunacy, this model will likely be at the ~$800-$1000 range. Then there’s the mid-tier GPU that’ll more likely aim to be less pricey than its Nvidia competition, but probably not by much.
The latest leaks have pretty much confirmed the existence of both Navi 22 and Navi 23, with the former likely being a mid-range card and the latter being a budget option.
Is AMD RDNA 2 Finally A Worthy Opponent For Nvidia?
This is what it all comes down to. The rumored Navi 21 model that’ll likely be the first one released under the RDNA 2 banner appears to outshine the RTX 2080 Ti. However, Nvidia seems to have a good response with its upcoming RTX 3000 series.
So while AMD will finally put out something competing, it does not seem that it will change anything about Nvidia’s dominant market cap.