AMD RX 590 Review - The Card We Don't Need
AMD’s CPU division has been on an impressive upswing as of late but their Radeon GPU side has been lagging. What was once the jewel in AMD’s crown effectively hit a solid wall with Vega. Vega was simply too expensive and sported an overly complicated memory interface. But there was some hope that a refined manufacturing process and lower HBM prices could make it a viable contender if a refresh was in the works. Unfortunately, that’s not about to happen.
This situation brings me to today which sees the launch of the AMD Radeon RX 590, a graphics card that’s designed solely with the Christmas shopping season in mind. Basically it’s a way to get the Radeon name back into the news cycle during a key time of the year when a competitor like NVIDIA has a massive (albeit heavily critiqued and pricey) new lineup.
In order to create the RX 590, AMD chose a formula we’ve been living with for more than two years: the Polaris architecture that’s based off a 4th gen GCN design. This architecture has more lives than disco and as you’ll see below the core’s baseline specifications have been around since the RX480 was launched in June of 2016. But what makes this particular iteration a slightly different beast is a move over to TSMC’s 12nm manufacturing process in an effort to gain some efficiency.
And let me tell you, that efficiency was needed since AMD seems hell-bet on pushing that Polaris architecture for all its worth. Whereas the RX 480 had the original spin running at a Boost rate of 1266MHz and the RX 580 pushed that incrementally further, the RX 590 trucks along at an impressive 1545MHz. Even the Base Clock has moved up substantially from 1120MHz back in 2016 to today’s 1469MHz.
While all of the other specifications for these cards have remained the same, the push towards a more competitive performance output causes the RX 590 to consume a pretty insane amount of power. AMD rates total board power at 225W which places it around what an RTX 2080 requires. From my back of napkin calculations, NVIDIA’s RTX 2080 can offer about three times better framerates as well. If that doesn’t give you some idea of how far AMD is behind their competition, I don’t know what does.
Speaking of competition, with a starting price of $279, the RX 590 is meant to duke it out with the GTX 1060 6GB. Given the fact the RX 580 was already doing just that, AMD’s newest card may end up becoming an interesting bridge product between the sub-$300 market and the GTX 1070. That RX 580 will remain around as well since the RX 590’s frequency increases should give it a 10-15% performance boost over its sibling.
The card AMD sent us is the dubiously-named XFX RX 590 Fatboy. It is actually a pretty good looking card that’s just over 10 ½” long but its portly width and 2.5 slot height hint at how much cooling capacity is required for the overclocked core. XFX also added a modest and completely unnecessary 45MHz “overclock” but that’s what it takes to create an “OC” SKU these days.
One of the talking points AMD seems to be fixated on is the RX 590’s appeal to gamers who are sporting a three to five year old system and want a GPU upgrade. I’m going to challenge that assumption. You see, the RX 590 requires so much power XFX had no choice but to add a 6+8 pin power connectors and its quite likely older systems simply won’t have either the necessary PSU connectors or capacity for such a hungry GPU. Sure, there will be plenty of compatible systems but don’t go buying one of these cards under the assumption it’ll be a simple drop-in upgrade.
While $280 is certainly an appealing price for a relatively high performance 8GB card, AMD is sweetening the pot even further with a game deal. If an RX 590 is bought from a participating retailer, you’ll receive vouchers for three free gaming: Devil May Cry 5, the Resident Evil 2 remake and The Division 2. All of those will be released in the next few months and none are playable immediately, that’s about $180 USD of free software. Naturally, this will only be an added value for those of you who actually want those games but it’s still nice to have.
There’s a reason for this free game offer as well: when taken at face value, the RX 580’s $280 price point isn’t all that competitive given the GPU market’s current state. Much like the challenged NVIDIA faced when launching their RTX cards, AMD’s board partners have been pricing their wares quite aggressively as of late. You can now find an RX 580 for as little as $210 USD and while that doesn’t include any free games it still makes the RX 590 look overpriced.
On paper at least the RX 590 looks like a Hail Mary play in an effort to drum up sales of AMD’s GPUs this holiday season. But let’s find out if this “new” graphics card has a chance against external and internal competition.
|Latest Reviews in Video Cards|