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Which is the Best AMD Graphics Card for Gaming?
April 18, 2019
Researching and shopping for components can often be a trying experience. There is an abundance of information, for instance, about graphics cards. But most of it is not particularly well organized or curated for the types of succinct, yet informative details that gamers need.
With this article, we’ll attempt to make the decision-making processes go a bit smoother by pointing out some of the technologies in AMD graphics cards, as well as features and specifications about the graphics cards themselves. You’ll be well on your way to finding the best AMD graphics cards for gaming if you read on.
What is a GPU?
The graphics processing unit (GPU) is also called the graphics card or video card. And it is arguably the most important component of a gaming system. The GPU speeds through math calculations so that the central processing unit (CPU) can go to work on other important activities. The GPU is responsible for speeding the process of creating and rendering images, animations, and video.
GPU cores are the instructions that let software programs perform specific functions and process data. Unlike CPU processors, which have single and multiple cores that are used for sequential processing, the GPU is the leader in multi-tasking. It comprises hundreds or thousands of smaller cores, which simultaneously handle thousands of threads (or instructions).
One of the leaders in graphic card design, AMD creates parallel, multi-core GPU processors called stream processors. Stream processors perform numerical calculations in fractions of seconds, handling all of the data flowing through the GPU, and offering speed and power.
They are equivalent to NVIDIA CUDA cores in functionality, although they differ significantly in architecture. AMD stream processors are smaller than CUDA cores and perform at lower frequencies.
AMD graphics cards are based on two major architectures: Vega and Polaris.
AMD developed the Graphics Core Next (GCN) 5th generation architecture, which is nicknamed “Vega.” Graphics cards created on Vega comprise AMD's high-end graphics cards. Vega is manufactured on the 14nm (nanometer) Fin Field-effect transistor (FinFET) technology.
Devices using this technology are both denser and faster than traditional CMOS technology for integrated circuits. Vega features increased clock speeds and instructions per clock, as well as support for HBM2 memory. HBM2 enables higher memory capacities using less than half the footprint of GDDR5 memory.
Polaris is a graphics architecture from AMD that has increased levels of performance over previous generations, providing smooth virtual reality (VR) experiences and seamless support for next-gen gaming monitors and CPU-free game streaming or recording.
The Polaris architecture offers low latency with powerful compute capabilities. It combines the latest 14nm FinFET process and AMD's advanced power and clocking technologies for a cool, quiet gaming experience.
Choosing graphics cards for 1080p gaming
Even if you’re not a diehard gamer, you’ve likely heard the term “1080p gaming.” It refers to monitors displaying Full High Definition (FHD) resolution or 1920 by 1080 pixels (which is where the 1080p comes from). This type of monitor remains the sweet spot for PC gaming. And that’s because these monitors are pretty affordable, plentiful, and still very functional.
Many of the latest low-end graphics cards - and most of the mid-range cards - are able to run smoothly on 1080p monitors. So while you may want to play games at the highest resolution, you may or may not need to upgrade your monitor depending on the type of graphics card you have.
It’s important to pair your graphics card with your monitor. For instance, if you do have a 4K monitor (also referred to as an Ultra High Definition [UHD] with more than 8 million pixels), then you would need to ensure that your graphics card is similarly high end. You’ll want one with lots of cores and large amounts of fast memory.
And vice versa if you’re starting with a high-end graphics card. Even monitors with resolutions at 1440 pixels and above - including Quad HD (QHD) and Wide Quad HD (WQHD) - often require a high-end card (and at the very least a midrange one) to match those specs.
Be sure to read the recommended graphics cards specifications for games so you’ll be armed with the right information before buying a new card or monitor.
The amount of graphics RAM or video memory that your graphics card carries affects both the resolution at which you can play smoothly and the details of the scene and settings. Not having enough memory can throttle the GPU, hindering its ability to perform well.
When more data is needed for managing and rendering all the pixels that are involved in displaying details in a specific game or for playing at a particular resolution, then more memory is also required.
For this reason, high-end video cards tend to carry more on-card memory. For the most part, 4GB of memory on the graphics card should be fine for gaming at 1080p and below. But once you enter the realm of 4K, you’ll need at least 6GB and preferably 8GB or more.
Memory bandwidth is another important specification. It corresponds to how fast data can move into and out of the graphics card. Monitors with higher resolutions and games with advanced visual effects need more memory bandwidth to run at reasonable frame rates (see below).
Lacking memory bandwidth can sometimes bottleneck the graphics card. So, in general, more memory bandwidth is better than less. Be sure to only compare these amounts within the same manufacturer’s card or even the same GPU family, however, as NVIDIA and AMD use different architectures and therefore have different memory bandwidth requirements.
The frame rate of a monitor is expressed in frames per second (fps), and it refers to the frequency that consecutive images appear on the screen. In gaming, graphics cards are the technology behind driving the frame rates on monitors. More powerful graphics cards help produce smoother, faster frame rates at higher resolutions.
For instance, VR requires higher frame rates than conventional 1080p gaming, and anything below 90 fps can negatively affect the gaming experience. However, a frame rate of 60 fps is often an optimal amount for most games, especially those at 1080p resolutions.
Engine clock speed
The base clock speed refers to the speed at which the graphics core works. It’s technically the number of times that the silicon oscillates per second. It’s used to calculate the rendering capability of the graphics card. The boost clock speed is how fast the graphics card can accelerate temporarily while under load and as specific conditions allow.
1. AMD Radeon VII Graphics Card
The AMD Radeon VII is AMD's elite, highest-performing, and most advanced graphics card to date. Built on the Vega 20 architecture, it’s the world’s first 7nm gaming GPU. It has a large amount of stream processors (3,840) and a peak single precision compute performance of 13.8 TFLOPs (teraflops or trillion floating point operations per second).
With a base clock at 1,400 MHz and boost speeds of 1,750 MHz, 16GB of HBM2 memory, and a giant 1TB/s of memory bandwidth, it’s got supreme amounts of memory and speed to power through some of the most challenging graphics rendering requirements of triple-A (AAA) games.
According to AMD benchmarks, the Radeon VII excels in real-time 3D and compute applications and gaming. It’s also apparently 29% faster in gaming and 39% faster in demanding content-creation scenarios compared to its predecessor: the Radeon RX Vega 64.
While it’s comparable in capabilities to the NVIDIA RTX 2080 running 4K resolution, it may not be as fast running at both 1080p and 1440p resolutions. But, like the RTX 2080, it’s packed with the specs to future-proof it for the inevitable 4K revolution in gaming.
It’s priced in the relatively reasonable $700 price range (for the elite card category, that is).
AMD Radeon RX Vega series: RX VEGA 64, RX VEGA 56 graphics cards
The AMD Radeon RX Vega series include the RX Vega 64 and the RX Vega 56; both are based on the AMD Vega architecture.
2. AMD Radeon RX VEGA 64
The AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 is one of AMD’s high-end graphics cards, boasting powerful specs that include a whopping 4,096 stream processors, 8GB of HBM2 memory, 484 GB/s memory bandwidth, and 12.7 TFLOPs.
It has a pretty fast base clock speed of 1,247 MHz and a boost speed of 1,546 MHz. Although it doesn’t perform as fast as its successor in terms of both content-creation capabilities or gaming, it’s a solid 1080p gaming performer along with higher resolutions such as 1440p (both QHD and WQHD) and even 4K in certain gaming applications.
It’s been compared to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 in terms of capabilities, and it’s also priced similarly in the $450 to $500 range.
3. AMD Radeon RX VEGA 56
The Radeon RX Vega 56 is the third card in the Vega series, with 56 compute units rather than 64. It has a significantly large number of stream processors (3,584) and base/boost speeds of 1,156 MHz and 1,471 MHz. While it has the same memory as the RX Vega 64 (that is, 8GB of HBM2), it has less memory bandwidth at 410 GB/s and 10.5 TFLOPs. It retails for approximately $400.
AMD Radeon RX 500 series: AMD Radeon RX 590, 580, 570, and 560
The AMD Radeon RX 500 series graphics cards are built on the Polaris architecture. They consist of the AMD Radeon RX 590, 580, 570, and 560.
4. AMD Radeon RX 590
The AMD Radeon RX 590 is considered to be a mid- to high-range card that’s ideal for 1080p gaming, and is pretty decent for 1440p gaming as well. It offers high-performance features including 2,304 stream processors, base and boost speeds 1,469 MHz and 1,545 MHz, respectively; 7.1 TFLOPs; and 8GB of GDDR5 memory with 256 GB/s memory bandwidth. The AMD Radeon RX 590 is priced in the affordable $250 to $300 range.
5. AMD Radeon RX 580
Like the RX 590, the AMD Radeon RX 580 is a solid choice for 1080p gaming at high settings and 1440p at medium- to low-range settings, as well as having VR suitability. And like the RX 590, it has 2,304 stream processors, 8GB of GDDR5 memory, and 256 GB/s memory bandwidth.
The similarities end there, however, as the AMD Radeon RX 580 offers base/boost clock speeds of 1,257 MHz/1,340 MHz with 6.17 TFLOPs. For those reasons, it’s considered a solidly mid-range card that’s available in the $225 price range.
6. AMD Radeon RX 570
The AMD Radeon RX 570 is also a midrange Polaris-architected card that’s perfect for 1080p gaming and even better for High Definition (HD) 720p gaming. While it doesn’t quite have the oomph that the RX 580 has, it does have an adequate 5.1 TFLOPs and 2,048 stream processors.
In addition, it features 4GB of GDDR5 memory, 224 GB/s memory bandwidth, base/boost clock speeds of 1,244 MHz/1,168 MHz. And if you’re looking to save some money while enjoying decent 1080p gaming for many older games, the RX 570 is also decently priced at under $200.
7. AMD Radeon RX 560
The AMD Radeon RX 560 is a lower-end card with 7 Gbps memory speed, 4GB of GDDR5 memory, and a memory bandwidth of 112 GB/s. It’s comparable to the RX 570 in terms of base/boost speeds of 1,175 MHz/1,275 MHz, but it only has half the amount of stream processors (1,024) and maximum performance levels out at 2.6 TFLOPs.
Like the RX 570, it’s in the ideal range for 720p gaming and works for 1080p gaming on lower settings (and thus less graphics details). And for approximately $110, you can’t go wrong with the price on the RX 560.
AMD Radeon RX 400 series: AMD Radeon RX 480, 470, and 460
The AMD Radeon RX 400 series graphics cards are also built on the efficient Polaris architecture. They include the AMD Radeon RX 480, 470, and 460.
8. AMD Radeon RX 480
When the AMD Radeon RX 480 launched in mid-2016, it was AMD’s first VR-capable GPU. Even though there are now more powerful cards out there, it’s still considered a decent mid-range graphics card with admirable performance features at a cost-effective price point.
The RX 480 works well for 1080p and 1440p gaming with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, 224 GB/s memory bandwidth, base/boost clock speeds of 1,120 MHz/1,266 MHz, and 5.8 TFLOPs. And it has 2,304 stream processors - the same amount as two of the cards from the higher-tiered AMD Radeon RX 500 series. Its price is approximately $250.
9. AMD Radeon RX 470
The AMD Radeon RX 470 is a mid- to low-range graphics card that is a robust performer for 1080p computing. Like the RX 480, it’s got 4GB of GDDR5 memory and a memory bandwidth that’s only slightly less at 211 GB/s.
Base/boost speeds run lower at 926 MHz/1,206 MHz as does maximum performance of up to 4.9 TFLOPs and 2,048 stream processors. The RX 470 is priced competitively in the $200 range.
10. AMD Radeon RX 460
A graphics card that AMD touts as ideal for 1080p e-sports games and low-end AAA gaming, the AMD Radeon RX 460 has 2GB of GDDR5 memory and 112 GB/s of memory bandwidth. The RX 460 has decent base/boost speeds of 1,090 MHz/ 1,200 MHz, up to 2.2 TFLOPs, and 896 stream processors. It also won’t break the budget in the $125 price range.
About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.