AMD Navi RX 5000: Everything you need to know

After releasing its high-end Radeon VII in February 2019, AMD turned its (and our) attention to the midrange market with its 7nm Navi graphics cards, now officially named the RX 5000 series. Navi plays to AMD’s strength: Making high-end graphical power more affordable than ever.

Set to form the core of Sony’s next-generation PlayStation console, Navi is already off to a strong start, but as we learn more about this next-generation graphics card line, excitement is building for what could be a seminal GPU range for AMD.

When these cards do arrive, they could be hotly competitive with Nvidia’s entry-level RTX and GTX 16-series graphics cards, forming the battle lines of the red vs. green graphical wars in 2019 and beyond.

Pricing and availability

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G & Ryzen 3 2200G Review fan
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Following repeated rumors throughout 2019 that Navi would see a summer 2019 launch date, AMD CEO Lisa Su revealed at Computex 2019 in May that the newly named RX 5000 series of Navi graphics cards would be released on July 7 to celebrate the 7nm architecture it’s based upon. We haven’t seen the entire lineup of new cards yet, with AMD demoing only the RX 5700 at Computex, but we are promised much more information at the upcoming E3 show in June.

A source quoted by Red Gaming Tech suggested that AMD’s desire to push Navi out the door to combat Nvidia’s 16 series could result in low stock at launch — a similar thing happened with the Radeon VII. We will have to wait until closer to launch to see how accurate that claim is.

AMD hasn’t revealed much in the way of pricing for the RX 5000 series yet, but days out from the reveal at Computex 2019, rumored leaks from Sapphire painted two Navi cards as being set to debut in the midrange of AMD’s product stack. The “Navi XT” will reportedly cost $500 and compete with the Nvidia RTX 2070. That sounds like the RX 5700 that we saw at Computex. A cutdown version known as the “Navi Pro” would sit ahead of the RTX 2060 and have a price tag of $400, we’re told.

Earlier rumors suggested we might see cards priced between $130 and $250. At that price, Navi would take on Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Ti and its last-generation GTX 1060, undercutting the new RTX 2060 by more than $100. Considering the performance potential of the debuted RX 5700, we would expect it to cost much more than that. Lower-end parts may be far more affordable, however.

We will likely have to wait until 2020 to see AMD release a Radeon VII successor with a high-end Navi card that can compete with the likes of the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti.

Architecture and performance

amd navi rumors price release date rx50700
AMD CEO Lisa Su with an RX 5000 GPU core.

Even though Computex only saw AMD officially unveil one graphics card, the RX 5700, AMD CEO Lisa Su did tell us quite a lot about its potential capabilities and that of the rest of the Navi range of graphics cards. Along with being based on a 7nm process, we learned that it moves beyond AMD’s aging Graphics Core Next architecture to Radeon DNA, or RDNA. That, we’re told, will form the basis for AMD graphics cards for the next 10 years.

RDNA is said to offer major architectural improvements over GCN and the Vega chips that came before. It features an entirely new “compute unit design,” we’re told, for improved efficiency and instructions per clock (IPC). It also features a multi-level cache hierarchy, which reduces latency and allows for greater bandwidth and a reduction in power draw. There have also been optimizations that help boost clock speed.

All of this means that the Navi RX 5000 series, based on the new RDNA, has improvements in IPC by up to 1.25 times. That equates to a 1.5 times improvement in performance per watt over equivalent GCN GPUs.

AMD then showed some gaming demos which give a rough idea of what a next-generation AMD GPU can do. The RX 5700 was shown delivering comparable performance to an Nvidia RTX 2070, or even as much as 10% faster. That would make it around 25-30% quicker than an AMD Vega 64 and only a few percentage points less capable than a Radeon VII.

It’s important to note that AMD did pick Strange Brigade for its demonstration, which is a game in which AMD hardware typically performs well thanks to its use of the Vulkan API. We’ll need to see a wider range of benchmarks before we can truly judge the performance of the new card, and the others within the RX 5000 range.

Allegedly leaked information about a then titled,  “RX 3080,” appeared shortly after the Sapphire source information, claiming to detail the physical specifications of the card. As WCCFTech reports, the alleged leak suggested that the Navi chip in the 3080 had 40 compute units spread across eight shader engines, each with 64 stream processors. It’s not clear from this information how it might impact render output units (ROPs) but WCCFTech speculates that the potential is there for up to 128. That would be unprecedented for AMD, however, with all of its cards previously limited to a maximum of 64 ROPs.

The eight shader engines would be big news if true, as it would suggest AMD managed to overcome a limiting factor of just four shader units per die, something that has held back Graphics Core Next-based AMD GPUs. Considering the RX 5000 series uses RDNA and not GCN, that could be one of the major performance enhancements of this new generation of graphics cards.

Without that limitation, we could see Navi GPUs with a number of stream processors in excess of its previous maximum of 4,096, which could unlock intriguing performance potential for the new generation.

Earlier rumors suggested that Navi cards would have up to 8GB of GDDR6.

In April 2019, Sony’s lead PlayStation architect, Mark Cerny confirmed that the next-generation PlayStation console would use a custom Navi graphics core alongside an AMD Ryzen 3000 CPU based on its Zen 2 architecture. It’s not yet clear whether this will be a custom APU design, or if it will feature a dedicated Navi graphics card. The PS4 and PS4 Pro used an APU design, but considering AMD’s claims of Navi scalability, perhaps it will be separate to allow for future expansion with console iterations.

Variable rate shading

Monitor resolutions have increased dramatically in recent years, with 4K displays becoming far more commonplace and even a hint of 8K screens beyond that. That’s meant a much greater overhead for modern graphics cards, and for even the most powerful ones, running high-resolution and all the bells and whistles is too much to handle. This is where technologies like variable rate shading (VRS) could come in.

Similar to foveated rendering, VRS is the practice of rendering portions of a screen at a higher fidelity than others. In theory, you could base this on where the gamer is looking (leveraging eye tracking) or just focus on the center of the screen. This is a much more efficient way to render frames that doesn’t impact visual quality as far as the user can tell.

Although AMD hasn’t confirmed VRS support with Navi, a patent filed by AMD in August 2017 and published late February 2019, discussed VRS implementation with graphics hardware. Considering the timing of the patents’ original filing and approval, integration with RX 5000 GPUs would make a lot of sense.

With the Navi graphical architecture set to power the next generation of Sony console, it could be that VRS ends up helping that system improve the visuals of games beyond what consoles are typically capable of. It could also help maintain performance for years after the system’s launch.

Ray tracing?

Ray tracing ultra — Screenshot 5
Ray tracing ultra

AMD originally stated that it wouldn’t be supporting ray tracing, which has been a hallmark of Nvidia’s RTX series, at least not until the technology can be implemented on all of its graphics cards. “Utilization of ray tracing games will not proceed unless we can offer ray tracing in all product ranges from low end to high end,” AMD’s senior VP of engineering at the Radeon Technologies Group told 4Gamer in an interview.

That statement was brought into question following the revelation that the next-generation PlayStation would run on a custom AMD Navi graphics chip and would support ray tracing. That suggests Navi has the graphical horsepower to support ray tracing in games, but the question remains of how it will be implemented.

The first Navi ray tracing rumors suggested that it would be an exclusive feature of the high-end Navi 20, which isn’t expected to release until 2020. A PlayStation 5 would be unlikely to use such a high-end and expensive graphics chip, so this could suggest that Navi 10 would support ray tracing, too. That would back up AMD’s claims that it would want to make ray tracing widely available when it implemented it in Radeon graphics cards.

It could be that AMD implements ray tracing with its Navi 20 GPU on PCs and with the custom Navi chip in consoles, both in 2020. That would leave the 2019 release of Navi 10 as an introduction to the platform, but not one with ray tracing support.

At CES 2019, Su did state that AMD was “deep in development” on ray tracing technology. AMD even announced that the Radeon VII will support a DLSS-like up-scaling technology. It’s not clear yet whether Navi will be able to leverage something similar to alleviate some of the performance concerns surrounding ray tracing.

Updated on May 24, 2019: Updated with RX 5000 news from Computex.

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