AMD RDNA 2 is the next-generation graphics architecture from the Radeon team, and it's set to arrive in RX 6000 series desktop graphics cards fit for our gaming PCs later this year. We don't have an exact date yet, but AMD has a live stream event planned for October 28, 2020 dedicated to its next-gen GPUs.
The RX 6000 series goes by many names too. The architecture is RDNA 2, sometimes referred to by AMD as Navi 2X. While the graphics cards themselves we now know will be branded under the RX 6000 series banner, albeit with the occasional Big Navi thrown in there in passing. All you need to know is to look out for the RX 6000 branding, and if these cards can topple Nvidia's RTX 30-series generation.
So what can you expect from the RX 6000 series graphics cards? Past performance would have us leaning towards performance per dollar. AMD Navi launched back in July 2019 with the Radeon RX 5700 XT and RX 5700, and since then we've had a smattering of more affordable GPUs from the red corner. Some of which we're big fans of, particularly in terms of value for money, with the 5700 and Radeon RX 5600 XT both making an appearance in our guide to the best graphics cards.
If you can't wait for Big Navi, these are the best graphics cards you can lay your hands on right now.
There's little doubt that AMD is competitive at the more affordable end of the spectrum then, but it still doesn't have anything that can really challenge Nvidia at the top. The top-end 5700 XT may be neck and neck with the RTX 2060 Super, and even trade the odd blow against the RTX 2070 in some games, but AMD has nothing that represents a real challenge to the likes of the RTX 2070 Super let alone the RTX 2080 Ti.
And Nvidia has since shifted the goalposts further with the RTX 3070, RTX 3080, and RTX 3090, available for $499, $699, and $1499 respectively. The latter may be more of a Titan than a GeForce—and the product of some clever marketing—but that one fact doesn't help AMD's cause much when it's got to go head-to-head in the gladiatorial benchmarking arena.
The general belief (or hope) is that AMD has had something up its sleeve for a while now, and that something has become known as 'Big Navi'. A high-end GPU that can take the fight to the very top of the Nvidia Ampere line-up and force the green team to take a knife to its eye watering price structure. Perhaps the potential of Big Navi is why Nvidia's Ampere pricing structure is fairly easy on the eyes—who could (or would) say.
Whether AMD will be able to compete with the RTX 30-series is the big question on everybody's lips. All we know regarding performance is from some rather sketchy leaks claiming something around RTX 2080 Ti performance—which would once again have AMD's high-end close to Nvidia's xx70 graphics card.
RDNA 2 is not only destined for our gaming PCs, however, and this may be a feather in the cap of the red team architecture. RDNA 2 is also going to power the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X, alongside AMD Ryzen CPU cores. That's one pervasive GPU architecture—of the big three console makers only Nintendo has so-far stuck with the green team.
With the entire mainstream gaming ecosystem available with up-to-date AMD silicon inside, there may be favourable conditions ahead for AMD's architecture. Maybe.
As ever the devil is in the detail, and here is everything we know right now about RDNA 2 as it relates to AMD's next-gen graphics cards.
At a glance...
AMD RDNA 2 release date
AMD has stated on more than one occasion that it is on track to release RDNA 2 GPUs before the end of 2020, and has since confirmed it plans to properly announce the RX 6000 series during a live stream on October 28, 2020, at 12:00pm ET.
AMD RDNA 2 GPU specs
RDNA 2 is being used in the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X, and a number of things can be gleaned from that, including that it offers support for real-time ray-tracing, Variable Rate Shading, Mesh Shaders, and be able to game at 4K.
AMD RDNA 2 performance
The Xbox Series X has promised double the performance of the Xbox One X at 12TFLOPs, making the GPU inside the forthcoming console loosely comparable with the RTX 2080 Super—although as ever TFLOPs do not always a great gaming GPU make.
AMD RDNA 2 pricing
Nothing is officially confirmed, and it all depends on how the performance matches up to Nvidia's offerings at the time of release. Rumours suggest AMD has already cut costs following Nvidia's Ampere announcement, which may signal comparative pricing where it is able to meet Nvidia in performance.
AMD will announce the RX 6000 series officially on October 28, 2020, during a live steam. This will run from 12pm ET. We'll be sure to host the event on PC Gamer closer to the time.
You'll want to tune in to AMD's social channels to stay up-to-date in the meantime, however, as the company's official Twitter account and staff have been blasting teasers all over the interwebs. That's how we know the final form of at least one RX 6000 graphics card: a triple-fan GPU that is best described as a Radeon version of the Turing 20-series shroud and cooler.
With an official announcement set for the end of October, our best guess for shipping hardware would be sometime in November. Later than that and AMD's pushing its luck for the Holiday period. It would also likely see some of those on the fence throwing their lot in with Nvidia.
Previous rumours had suggested an AMD Big Navi GPU release on October 7, although this appears to have missed the mark, or plans have changed. That would have put the announcement in between the reveal and launch of Nvidia's new cards, and given AMD the perfect opportunity to spoil Jen-Hsun's fun with some pricing shenanigans. But alas, it was not meant to be, and Nvidia will likely have a brief uninterrupted stint without any competition for Ampere.
And don't listen to the rumour mill's constant panicking that RDNA 2 isn't on track to launch this year. AMD has repeatedly reiterated that it is still on track to deliver RDNA 2 in late 2020, and it's never said otherwise.
"Development of our RDNA 2 GPUs continues to progress well. We are on track to launch our next-generation gaming GPUs later this year, with a 50% performance per watt increase compared to our current offerings."
One thing we still don't know though is whether a RDNA 2 GPU will launch before or after the next-gen consoles bearing the same tech, which are expected in November.
The headline grabbing features of RDNA 2 are that it will support ray tracing and be capable of gaming at 4K. It will also support variable rate shading and mesh shaders.
In order to understand what AMD has planned for RDNA 2, you have to go back to the RDNA architecture, because that represented a significant fundamental shift from the old-school GCN architecture that came before it. The architecture inside the 5700 XT et al. forms the foundation of how RDNA 2 will work, and while we expect some refinements and additions, given the naming scheme alone, we don't expect it to change too much.
The biggest change RDNA made over GCN was in terms of wavefronts, which essentially defines how the GPU work is actually executed. GCN's solution was 64 threads wide with four SIMD16 (Single Instruction, Multiple Data) execution units, RDNA meanwhile is 32 threads wide with a single SIMD32 execution unit. This may not seem like much of a difference, but this alignment of wavefront size to SIMD size was responsible for much of the efficiency improvements of the new architecture.
While a lot of what makes up RDNA 2 is an extension of RDNA, we also know that it will get some love when it comes to ray tracing hardware. AMD's CEO, Lisa Su, confirmed back at CES that "I’ve said in the past that ray tracing is important, and I still believe that, but if you look at where we are today it is still very early. You should expect that our discrete graphics as we go through 2020 will also have ray tracing."
Microsoft and Sony have since backed this up, with both of them stating that their next-generation consoles will support ray tracing. Just as Nvidia has paired ray-tracing hardware with a deep learning engine, the expectation is that there will have to be something similar in RDNA 2, as ray tracing needs some form of denoising AI in order to keep the image from looking, well, noisy.
We've had a few more hints at what an RDNA 2 PC graphics card may look like thanks to those upcoming consoles, with Microsoft announcing that the GPU in the Xbox Series X has 52 compute units (CUs), while the Playstation 5 has 36 CUs.
Both machines use custom silicon that also houses Zen 2 cores, and they both have tight thermals to contend with. That means we should potentially see more CUs on desktop cards, maybe up to twice that of the 5700 XT, which has 40 CUs. That would certainly demand a name such as Big Navi.
With a full 80 compute units, if RDNA 2 follows the core configuration of RDNA 1, then we should be looking at a monster GPU with 5,120 RDNA cores at its heart.
AMD will also have to allow for extra ray tracing silicon, which if Nvidia's RTX is anything to go by could take up a significant chunk of silicon, meaning 80 CUs in Navi 2x may be a bit hopeful, unless the die size increases significantly. Although there is potential talk of a lightweight implementation in the works.
AMD has been promising big things for RDNA 2 for a while now, specifically a 50% improvement in performance per watt over first gen RDNA. This is an amazing promise, especially when you consider that RDNA represented a 50% improvement per watt over GCN (which was the previous architecture). Part of the reason for RDNA's improvement was down to the drop to a 7nm process, but RDNA 2 is using the same manufacturing node, so it can't pull that efficiency trick again here.
We know that RDNA 2 is going to be used in the next-generation consoles. And while a high-end RDNA 2 graphics card is going to be a different beast to what we see in the Xbox Series X and Playstation 5, there's still a fair amount of information we can garner from those machines. We know for instance that both Microsoft and Sony are promising 4K gaming, and they've both gone on record promising hardware real-time ray tracing support as well. So such features feel like a given for any high-end Navi 2X graphics card.
Microsoft has also made a big thing about the raw performance of the graphics subsystem inside the Xbox Series X, quoting that the RDNA 2-powered GPU offers up 12TFLOPs of performance, which potentially has it outperforming Nvidia's GeForce RTX 2080 Super, and not far behind the RTX 2080 Ti.
A potentially more relevant reading of this figure is if you compare it to the performance of the 5700 XT, which boasted 9.75TFLOPs. This makes the Xbox Series X just over 20% faster than AMD's current fastest RDNA card for PCs. It's worth reiterating that both Microsoft and Sony are using custom silicon in their respective consoles, so you can't assume we'll see a RDNA 2 graphics card will line up in quite the same way, but it'd be weird if it didn't benefit from all the work it has already put in.
It's worth bearing in mind, however, that raw TFLOPs performance isn't necessarily a great indicator of relative gaming performance. After all, the ill-fated RX Vega 64 was capable of almost 13TFLOPs and definitely isn't going to outperform an RTX 2080 Ti in any game.
Some recent rumours, supposedly coming direct from AMD-briefed add-in board partners (AIBs), have suggested that the top AMD Sienna Cichlid (the codename for the high-end Big Navi chip) will perform around the same level as the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti. Though in some best case scenarios, in games optimised for AMD's GPUs, there could be as much as a 15% performance delta in favour of Big Navi.
It is suggested then that AMD is targeting the RTX 3080 from Nvidia's new Ampere generation in terms of gaming performance, and could well be aiming to undercut it on price. That's particularly interesting because it means that AMD's top RDNA 2 card won't be going head-to-head with Nvidia's highest-spec RTX 3090 card.
We could well be in the familiar position of AMD fighting it out on price, with Nvidia able to boast the absolute highest-performing graphics card of this generation. As ever though, these are anonymous rumours, with no way to confirm or deny them. The proof will, inevitably, be in the benchmark pudding.
Mmmm. Benchmark pudding.
We don't know much for certain on the pricing front at this stage, other than it's highly likely that Big Navi will be considerably more expensive than the 5700 XT. It's important to realize here that this isn't a generational replacement of the first generation of RDNA GPUs, which generally means that the pricing has to fall in line with what has gone before. This is a GPU that covers a section of the market that AMD doesn't currently address.
AMD has remained competitive with Nvidia with its more mainstream offerings, so it isn't outrageous to expect a similar trend at the high end. Even if AMD tries to undercut Nvidia's highest performance GPUs, that doesn't necessarily mean that the chips will be exactly affordable.
Remember, Nvidia's three announced Ampere cards cost $1,499, $699, and $499. If high-end performance is somewhere in between the RTX 3070 at $499 and RTX 3080 at $699, you can expect a price anywhere from $399 up to $699.
The impact that Nvidia's Ampere GPUs could have on Big Navi cannot be understated. Competition is everything in the graphics card market, and since Nvidia has beaten AMD to launch it will be able to set the pricing for the next generation of graphics cards. It's now up to AMD to try to offer more, for less.