The surprise announcement of CES 2019 in core components? AMD with a first-to-market enthusiast video card based on 7nm process technology. It will roll out in a few weeks. We got a briefing and a few moments to handle the new hotness.
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Nvidia broke the wrapping on the GeForce RTX 2060 first, but the higher-end card came second. At AMD’s keynote at CES today, the biggest sop to gamers landed by Dr. Lisa Su, AMD’s president and chief executive officer, was the Radeon VII, a $699 video card that will hit the market on February 7. The first to employ 7nm fabrication process technology (which will ultimately roll down into the company’s Ryzen CPUs later this year), the Radeon VII should be considered an extension of the Radeon RX Vega 56 and RX Vega 64 lines that debuted in mid-2017—not the first of the company’s next-generation (but also 7nm) “Navi” cards that are expected to debut later this year.

With the “VII” in the name referring to both the 7nm manufacturing process and the fact that this card is essentially “Vega II,” it looks like a fusion of AMD present and future in one shell. Let’s take a look.

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  • Meet the AMD Radeon VII

    The triple-fan design of the Radeon VII is a good indication that this card will be a powerful, hard-running beastie. In our briefing, AMD noted that this card will be both a reference design (that is, a board sample that its card-making partners will mimic in their own branded cards) and will be sold direct from AMD for $699 as an end-user product. Card partners will be adhering closely to the design of this reference board at launch, as opposed to innovating on wild cooling variants. (Samples of the RTX 2060 we have seen at CES, in contrast, have been all over the map in terms of design, length, and look.)

    This card will be landing in an interesting spot in the market. Lying between the 1440p-gaming-ideal GeForce RTX 2070 cards at around $500 and below the 4K-capable RTX 2080 cards at around $800, the Radeon VII hits one into the gap between two of Nvidia’s high-end cards. Whether frame rates will turn this into a single or a triple, we’ll have to see in testing. Indeed, for AMD it’s the company’s only player in the all-out 4K space; the existing Radeon RX Vega 64, at $400 to $500, is meant to compete more with the $349 GeForce RTX 2060s that just decloaked this week and the existing GeForce RTX 2070s.

  • The Backplate

    The Radeon VII card has a highly unified look all around, with the silver aluminum shell that surrounds the front unified with the backplate. Some subtle cut-through slots allow for passive ventilation to the back of the PCB, and the rear of the GPU zone is exposed, as well. (AMD notes that the two-triangles Radeon logo on the backplate of this sample card we were able to handle actually won’t appear on the final product.)

    What will appear is more memory than on any mainstream consumer video card. The Radeon VII will be outfitted with 16GB of HBM2 (the same type used in the original Radeon RX Vega cards), allowing for up to 1TB per second of memory bandwidth. That’s a lot of video memory and ought to future-proof this card for coming games for some years to come.

  • Ryzen…No Wait, Rising Above

    One thing we noticed while handling it: The Radeon VII is a tall card, in that the body of the card extends up above the backplane mounting bracket by the better part of an inch. PC upgraders will want to factor this into a tight chassis upgrade.
  • A Peek at the Port Panel

    Three DisplayPort connectors and an HDMI 2.0 will grace the backplane. As is the norm among latest-generation cards, DVI has left the building.
  • The Power Connectors

    You’ll need twin eight-pin power connectors to get the Radeon VII powered up. From this angle, you can also see the thickness of the heat sinks that will cool this GPU.
  • Corner Logo

    The corner-mounted plastic-cube “R” returns in this card for some subtle Radeon branding that will be visible from all angles. As you can see with the card installed in a demo machine below, the “RADEON” on the spine lights up, along with the “R” cube in the trailing edge, along the lines of the original Radeon RX Vega 64 reference design.
  • The Radeon VII in Action

    AMD had the card running during our visit, but benchmarking and digging deeper into the performance was not in the…well, cards. All we’ve seen from a gaming perspective is Dr. Su’s demo of the upcoming Devil May Cry 5 title running at 4K “well above” 60 frames per second, and some bar charts showing Far Cry 5, Strange Brigade, and Battlefield V running at 60fps or better at 4K and max detail settings. (In Far Cry 5 and Battlefield V, it was running neck and neck with the RTX 2080, in AMD’s charts.) That would earmark this as a real 4K-play contender, along the lines of the $799 GeForce RTX 2080.

    We expect to have a Radeon VII sample in hand in the coming weeks and are looking forward to putting the VII to the test in advance of launch to see how it fares in comparison to the previous-gen Vega 64, the still in-market “Pascal” GeForce GTX 10-series cards, and the close-running Radeon RTX 2070 below and GeForce RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti above. Stay tuned.