So here we are, a week later, AMD’s VEGA powered Frontier Edition card has made it into consumer, prosumer and reviewers hands so we can now sit back and see how it stacks up compared to the competition.
AMD frontier edition is a £1000 card that is being sold as a titan competitor (although this is a slightly controversial topic). The card uses AMDs newest chip based on the VEGA architecture coupled with 16GBs of HBM2 memory. In fact all of the card’s specifications are pretty impressive.
So the card looks impressive both ascetically and on the tech sheet but how does it perform in the real world? Initial results weren’t promising with many users only testing gaming performance. One of the first to get an official review out was pcper that did a comprehensive test of gaming performance (some of these charts are linked below).
The FE edition card spent most of its time in the middle of the group performing somewhere between the Nvidia 1070 and 1080. It is at this point I want to stress this card is not the gaming version of the card and there has been evidence to point towards unfinished gaming drivers for this card. We will hopefully have more information on the 30th of July when the gaming version of this card is released.
So the benchmarks show this card isn’t for gamers, then who is it for? This has been a topic of many of the disputes I have seen on the internet already. We have to go and look at the professional benchmarks in order to get a better idea of who should be purchasing this card. Pcper ran a set of professional benchmarks that are shown below.
The results of professional benchmarks appear to give us a better idea of who the AMD frontier edition is aimed at. The frontier edition can be seen trading blows with the titan XP in professional workloads. What is very interesting, however, is that the card appears to trade blows with the quadro p4000 and p5000 (£900 and £1800 card respectively) even when the titan flounders such as in the SPECviewperf12 – snx-02 benchmark.
So who is the VEGA frontier edition card for? Well it appears to be for exactly who AMD said it was for, prosumers. This card is not going to run any new games maxed out at 4k, but it is going to run the games at 4k without a problem. Then when the user wishes to move over to professional application workloads they can expect some of the best bang for the buck performance on the market in a lot of cases (AMD allows switching between gaming and professional drivers on the fly, a feature exclusive to AMD’s frontier edition cards). The VEGA frontier edition appears to be a success as a prosumer card by performing, consistently, reasonably well in professional benchmarks and proving to be capable of gaming.
So what is next for VEGA? The gaming version of the card will release at the end of July. A lot believe the VEGA frontier edition card to be the best that AMD can do with this chip. That is a reasonable assumption seeing as it already gobbles up 300watts of power and costs a fortune however we should be skeptical that AMD doesn’t have anything up their hands. After all if VEGA couldn’t perform in games and, more importantly, they couldn’t sell it at good bang for buck there would be no point launching the card and instead would have ‘waited for Navi’.
There are many that believe the gaming drivers are not ready and frontier edition was pushed out to meet the Q2 timeline with pro drivers being focused on up until launch. More specifically many have speculated (with some evidence that tiled rasterization is not functioning correctly) that not all the VEGA features are currently turned on for gaming. This possibility could be huge seeing as the frontier edition card would likely see a large bump in performance as well. All will be revealed at SIGGRAPH on July 30th.
I finally wanted to add a bit about my perspective as a scientist. I have a workstation with 2 1080ti’s in it at my desk and until the programs I use are written for use with AMD cards that will never change. This card is impressive in its professional benchmark results, there is no doubt about that. AMD, however, have been left behind in the science world when it comes to GPGPU applications and it is all due to CUDA.
I will note I am a structural biologist/biophysicist and there are computational scientists out there that may be building from the ground up. They may be interested in making something that works with VEGA however the users all use Nvidia, so it has to work on both as well as CUDA works on Nvidia.
The only option I can see now for AMD is a driver that can translate CUDA into instructions that can be used by VEGA on the fly. I don’t know enough about it to know if it can be done, but AMD if you are reading this that is what we need and we need it on linux.