Final words and conclusion
So, I think that PowerColor was able to retrieve the maximum out of the Vega 56 GPU, and while at it offered a solution in differentiation for most foreseeable scenarios. If you like silence, the Silent BIOS mode is there for you, if you want a bit more perf, the regular setup is fine but at the cost of some noise. If you like to go a bit more extreme, the OC mode might serve you well, but the card then forfeits in acoustics and power consumption big time. The biggest thing to factor in for the Red Devil has to be the cooler, oh it's big! 31cm in length and nearly three slots wide. Aesthetically it looks great though, I mean you cannot complain about the looks. It is a lot of graphics card alright.
The card is more or less only a notch slower than the 64 (air-cooled model) yet cheaper. Meanwhile, the 56 passes the GeForce GTX 1070 and really is not that far off the GeForce GTX 1080. That depends on a little per game and rendering API /DX11/DX12/Vulkan. I can see most AIB partner boards being clocked a notch (50 MHz) higher, gaining a bit in perf. Trivial, however, will remain to be the dynamic boost marker. As stated, the Vega 56 does perform nicely with 2017 games and does position itself in a very competitive performance bracket as it feels right on many levels. I mean the GeForce GTX 1070 Ti was released simply to block the Vega 64. We had pretty much no issues and combined with the new Adrenalin driver you now have a nice overlay and smartphone link to the graphics card as well.
The Vega GPU & performance
This bit is a little generalized for Vega as a product series. Vega 56 and 64 overall perform well. The end result of a chip that has 12.5 Billion transistors on the GPU (that's excluding HBM), is massive, a chip-sized 512 mm²; imagine that for a 14nm graphics processor. For the 56 part, AMD was able to manage power consumption much better compared to the 64. It is good to see we leave the era of 4 GB VRAM cards in the Quad HD spectrum, I feel 8 GB is the current sweet spot for modern age PC gaming, the way it's meant to be played (no pun intended). In its reference performance bracket, the card is a good choice for 1080p, 1440p and even 3840x2160 gaming. It's all early and a bit rushed to market, hence I think that Vega 64 has the potential to be a bit of a beast, but needs the right circumstances to really shine (cooler design). The Radeon RX Vega 56, in most scenarios (depending on the game / render intensity & resolution), will perform a notch faster or is close to the GeForce GTX 1070, with the usual and unusual exceptions here and there it will even close in on the competition, the GeForce GTX 1080. Typically in Ultra HD, you are bound to run out of graphics memory fairly fast, here's where that 8 GB kicks in nicely, so for 450 USD if you are not doing crazy stuff, Ultra HD gaming remains an appealing proposition. If for whatever reason you ever run out of that 8 GB graphics memory, fool around a bit with the HBCC options (if you have system memory to spare), and you can use your system memory as an extra memory pool/buffer. HBM2 does offer very low latency graphics memory with nice bandwidth. But hey, performance wise really there's not one game that won't run seriously well at WQHD and even Ultra HD and that remains a fact. Vega definitely can crunch and render them games.
Now, I mentioned this in the Vega 56 reference review as well, I appreciate Vega 56 better compared to the 64, and here's why; Vega 56 offers and is a better proposition at a 399 USD / Euro Marker. Now I will IMMEDIATELY make a side note here, that's the recommended price for the reference card. For reference and this PowerColor card current stock is LOW to NIL, and that drives up pricing artificially by distributors and retailer. But let's assume the market and availability stabilizes, well then the money just feels right for what you get. Right now, I have no idea what the pricing is going to do when the product becomes available in stores.
Cooling & Noise Levels
Despite a die-shrink at 14nm - Vega 10 is a big chip. Big chips produce heat when clocked high. A regular reference Vega is an air-based cooler product series, Vega 56 with the reference cooler sits at a 75 Degrees C domain. Obviously, PowerColor is doing a better job here. pretty much in all BIOS modes, 70 Degrees C is the grand equalizer. The noise levels at default BIOS mode remain a tiny bit moderate, you can hear some fan airflow clearly once housed in a PC. In silent mode, it just is not an issue. All modes, however, have an issue, once the card passes its passive state and go to active RPM, the fans spin up a bit loud for a few seconds, and then slowly drop back to normalized values. Overall dBA readings as are excellent in silent mode, okay in default BIOS mode and a bit noisy in OC mode. In a real-world situation where you leave the measurement metrics out of the equation and just listen with your ears, it is in line with a normal PC making above normal noises at default BIOS. But I certainly cannot quantify or qualify this air-cooled product as a 100% silent product. However that silent mode is pretty good, but at the cost of a lower clock frequency. So yeah, on the flip-side of that coin, at default mode it certainly isn't too loud. Hey, at least you have choices.
A reference Vega 56 card is rated as having a 210 Watt (TDP). We measure numbers in the 287 Watt range with gaming for the default mode. That number fluctuates a bit per game title and resolution of course. PowerColor is all over the power limiter, and that has an adverse effect on power consumption. We measured 245 Watts in Silent mode and a steep 287 Watts in the default BIOS mode. That is something you need to be willing to accept. PowerColor does this to be able to squeeze the extra 7% performance out of the card. So yes, that is above average wattage. The OC mode I just cannot recommend whatsoever in terms of noise and power consumption (330W) versus the little extra performance.
Tweaking is possible. However AMD locked the HBM2 clocks, that is a bummer as these products are memory bandwidth deprived. Overall you can gain another 4% in performance by raising the core clock frequency and yes, that power limiter. It can be raised another 50%. While that yields a close to 1600 MHz dynamic clock frequency, we also at that stage consumed ~350 Watts for just this one graphics card. And that I simply cannot and will not recommend for 2 maybe 3 extra FPS. Undervolting added little to no benefit for our GPU, an extra 32mV, however, was a little more stable. At default BIOS mode I think PowerColor has a pretty good balance in terms of the default tweak already, honestly, I'd leave it at that. The extra power consumption and noise are IMHO just not worth it.
PowerColor pushed the Vega10 design as far as it can go and did a properly nice job while doing so. Opening up the board revealed a nice build, a PCB with 12 power phases and a GPU covered with thermal paste, also on the HBM2 memory. The performance levels are spot on, a notch faster than reference. The big benefit is obviously achieved from that massive cooler as cooling performance is more than adequate at 70 Degrees C under load, the product overall is a bit audible at defaults but hey, you got choices man. You can choose between the three BIOS modes, personally, I'd leave it at defaults or silent mode, call it a day and don't look back my man. Vega 56 overall is a good workhorse and really, not far away from it's bigger brother really. And let's face it, the nice 8 GB graphics memory certainly is enough for today's games and ones in the future as that is a proper framebuffer. The advantages in-between GDDR5X and HBM2 I'll leave for what it is and needs to be. Connect your Vega 56 to a nice FreeSync monitor and you'll have a really nice gaming experience even with the highest resolutions. Now with the new Adrenalin drivers, you also benefit from added overlay and smartphone functionality, AMD did that nicely. I'll stick to my original statement, overall (if priced at a normal level) we could recommend the Radeon RX Vega 64, but I would recommend the Vega 56 over the 64. It just seems to make more sense. With quad HD gaming (2560x1440) I can recommend a Radeon RX Vega 56. It is a good performance level if priced right. The Radeon RX Vega 56 Red Devil edition is a big card, even for size alone. PowerColor is tackling Vega the right way, offering you different performance and acoustic levels. The one condition for a recommendation is pricing. Pricing on a normal price level should be at the 450 USD/EURO marker, it may not be much higher than that. Overall we think PowerColor did a pretty innovative job with a product offering proper aesthetics as well. With Vega, however, the AIB partners need to compromise, this is the reason for the three BIOS modes. The OC mode I simply cannot recommend to use, the noise and power levels spiral out of what I deem is acceptable. But luckily you have the option of a silent and default mode available to you. Realistically, PowerColor pushed this Vega 56 as far as the design can go. As far as AIB designed cards go, the Red Devil as such can be recommended, but only if you can spot it for the right price, and that might actually the biggest challenge as I just noticed a first price entry for this product in the EU at a massive 599 EURO.
- Unigine Heaven Stress test
- MSI AfterBurner
- 3DMark FireStrike + Time Spy (2016)
- Download AMD Radeon Adrenalin drivers
- Download GeForce drivers
- “You Know Nothing, Jon Snow”