Usually, the biggest announcements at CES are over with by the end of the first day, but during its second-day keynote AMD CEO Lisa Su announced a new GPU, the AMD Radeon VII. According to Su, it is the very first 7nm graphics card available to consumers.
While Nvidia is leaning on the eye candy of ray tracing, AMD is banking on the hype of a GPU with a smaller die process. The last generation Vega GPU was based on a 14nm process. This is half that size. A smaller die almost always means an increase in performance—usually while maintaing the same power efficiency or improving.
AMD is bragging about its die, because, notably, the die sizes have been in the news a lot lately with Intel promising a 10nm CPU (and repeatedly failing to deliver) and Apple crowing about it’s 7nm processor for what felt like half o the iPhone XS keynote. Nvidia’s latest GPUs, the RTX 2-series, is based on a 12nm process. So theoretically the AMD GPU could be faster in games (provided you can do without the ray tracing), but GPU performance is also heavily informed by the software it operates with, and AMD’s software has frequently lagged behind Nvidia’s. Which is why Su took time to talk up AMD’s investment in better software. She also mentioned the kind of memory the AMD Radeon VII to presumably better mark it apart from Nvidia. The Radeon VII will come with 16GB of second-generation high-bandwidth memory (HBM2) with a claimed bandwidth of 1TB. Nvidia’s 2080 8GB of GDDR6 memory with a bandwidth of approximately 448GB per second and the previous generation AMD GPU, the RX Vega 64 had 8GB of HBM2 with a bandwidth of 483.8GB a second. That’s half the memory at half the potential speed.
What does that all actually mean?
It means, according to Su, better performance at the same power draw as the previous top of the line Vega GPU (she made no mention of the 2080). She cited about 25 percent improved performance on average. Su claimed that the Radeon VII saw 35 percent better performance in Battlefield V at 4K and the highest settings, and 25 percent improvement in Fortnite. She claimed the performance extends to non-gaming applications as well, with approximately 30-percent improved performance in apps like Photoshop and Blender, and a whopping 62-percent improved performance across other OpenCL apps.
Notably absent from the Radeon VII announcement is any mention of ray tracing, the slick feature Nvidia is touting in its GPUs. But Radeon VII will cost $700 when it’s available February 7. That’s at least $300 less than Nvidia’s top GPU, though twice the price of Nvidia’s cheapest ray tracing card, the just announced RTX 2060. Can it possibly be worth it? We’ll know more when we try our own Radeon VII card for a review in the coming weeks.
This post has been updated with additional information and context throughout.