Advanced Micro Devices (AMD -2.60%) has struggled in recent years to be competitive with rival NVIDIA (NVDA -2.72%) in the high-end graphics card market. The Fury X, launched in 2015, failed to disrupt NVIDIA's dominance. A pair of RX Vega graphics cards, launched in 2017, were able to match NVIDIA's comparable products in terms of performance. But the Vega cards were power-hungry and came more than year after those NVIDIA products debuted. Once again, NVIDIA's dominance remained intact.
AMD is trying again this year with its Radeon VII, a surprise entry into the high-end graphics card market. The Radeon VII is the first gaming graphics card to be built on a 7-nanometer process. The card is powered by AMD's Vega 20 GPU, which has so far been aimed at the data center market. AMD's Radeon Instinct server accelerators use the same GPU.
NVIDIA's ultra-high pricing and lackluster performance gains for its latest RTX 20 series of graphics cards opened a door for AMD. While the Radeon VII is the company's best effort in a long time, it doesn't look like it will be enough to make a huge dent in NVIDIA's high-end market share.
Still playing catch-up
Third-party reviews of the Radeon VII are now out, and Anandtech's take sums up the problem with this card. For pure gamers, Anandtech says, "[I]t's a little too difficult to suggest this card instead of NVIDIA's better performing GeForce RTX 2080."
Across Anandtech's benchmark suite, the Radeon VII loses to NVIDIA's RTX 2080 in terms of performance by 5%-6%. That doesn't sound like much, but the Radeon VII is priced at the same $699 price point as the RTX 2080. Add in the fact that NVIDIA's RTX cards feature bleeding-edge ray-tracing hardware, and NVIDIA is clearly offering the better value.
Power consumption is also a problem. AMD's older Vega graphics cards were power-hungry, and the Radeon VII continues that tradition. AMD has improved power efficiency a bit, but NVIDIA remains in a league of its own. In Anandtech's power usage tests, the Radeon VII system used about 10% more power under load than the RTX 2080 system.
Compared to the GTX 2080, the Radeon VII is slower, lacking in features, and uses more power. Its saving grace may be its 16 GB of second-generation high-bandwidth memory, which is double the 8 GB of memory included in the RTX 2080. That doesn't help with gaming performance in most cases, but it positions the Radeon VII as a card well-suited for professional applications like content creation that can make use of all that memory.
This doesn't change the story
Having a viable high-end graphics card available is certainly a good thing for AMD, but it's hard to see how the Radeon VII will work out any better than the Vega cards before it. NVIDIA's RTX 2080 beats it in every dimension relevant to gaming except price, where the two cards tie. And the RTX 2080 is more future-proof thanks to its ray-tracing hardware.
NVIDIA's lofty pricing for the RTX 20 series gave AMD an opportunity -- the Radeon VII may have not been viable at all had NVIDIA been more aggressive with pricing. But what AMD has brought to the table just isn't good enough.