AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 review: A good 4K graphics card that’s just too expensive right now

AMD RX Vega 56

As the great graphics card mining crisis rumbles on, picking a time to upgrade your PC has become a minefield of inflated prices and overblown mark-ups – and nowhere has this been felt more keenly than AMD’s new Radeon RX Vega 56 card and its big brother, the Radeon RX Vega 64.

Whereas the RX Vega 64 targets the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 (our current best graphics card for 4K gaming), the RX Vega 56 takes aim at the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070. That is, an excellent graphics card for 2560×1440 resolutions with ambitions of pushing into the 4K arena with a couple of compromises. And yet their respective prices couldn’t be more different, with the cheapest GTX 1070 currently costing around £500 / $665, while the poor old RX Vega 56 will set you back at least £750 / $750. The easily-parsable Asus Radeon RX Vega 56 ROG Strix OC Gaming version I’ve got here demands even more, too, with prices at time of writing sitting lamentably out of reach around the £840 / $900 mark.

This immediately puts the RX Vega 56 on the back foot, regardless of which make you go for, but assuming everything starts settling down at some point in the future (and good gravy I hope they do), I’m going to ignore prices for the moment and just focus on whether it’s just a good graphics card. Capice? Capice. Let’s get to it.

So what makes the Asus so fine and dandy and worth that big old premium over lesser Vega 56 cards? Well, much like the ROG Strix OC version of the RX Vega 64 we tested not that long ago, the ROG Strix OC Vega 56 comes with 8GB of High Bandwidth Memory 2 (HBM2), which uses stacked memory to make everything faster and more efficient, and a trio of IP5X dust protected fans. This means it should theoretically last longer and be less likely to get clogged up with blankets of gunge in a couple of years time.

AMD RX Vega 56 side

As its name implies, it also has overclocked cores, giving its base clock speed a small bump from 1156MHz up to 1297MHz and its boost clock speed a nudge from 1471MHz up to 1573MHz. You get Asus’ fancy RGB tech, Aura Sync, as well so you can colour-code your card to match your compatible Asus motherboard, mouse and keyboard, and you also get a decent selection of ports, including two HDMI 2.0 outputs (handy if you’re a VR cybergoggles owner), two DisplayPort 1.4 outputs and one DVI-D output.

The Asus continued to impress when it came to playing some actual games, too. First up in the testing arena was fancy dress simulator Hitman, and goodness what a convincing performance. Agent 47 positively glided through the Parisian fashion crowds at 1080p and 1440p on Ultra quality settings, with the frame rate regularly hitting an average of at least 80fps at both resolutions in its built-in benchmark tool. 4K wasn’t much trouble for it on Ultra either, with an impressive average of around 51fps.

Doom, likewise, didn’t put a foot wrong, with the RX Vega 56 handling all three resolutions on Ultra without breaking a sweat. I didn’t have the benefit of a benchmark tool, but the Vega 56 was almost certainly hitting at least 60fps across the board when I ran through the first big firefight at the UAC, with nary a dip even at 4K.

AMD RX Vega 56 rear

Wolfenstein II proved equally amenable at 4K on its highest Mein Leben setting, rarely dipping much below 60fps even in heavy firefights. The rest of the time, you can easily expect frame rates somewhere between 75-80fps at 4K, and even higher at lower resolutions.

The RX Vega 56 started to feel the pressure when I turned my attention to Rise of the Tomb Raider, however, especially when I threw its power-hungry super-sampling anti-aliasing (SSAA) into the mix. You can just about get away with everything set to max (Very High, SSAA x4) at 1920×1080, with an overall average of around 52fps in its built-in benchmark, but I had to drop the quality and SSAA down to High and x2 to get similar results at 2560×1440.

As for 4K, you’re looking at a crawling average of 20fps with everything on max, but I still managed a perfectly playable average of 48fps on High with the lowest possible anti-aliasing setting (FXAA). Here, I saw regular highs of at least 60fps in each of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s three benchmark scenes, so it’s still possible to get a decent experience at 4K without having to make too many compromises.

AMD RX Vega 56 ports

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the ever-challenging Total War: Warhammer II. Again, you’ll be absolutely fine at 1920×1080 on Ultra, but the frame rate dipped to around 50fps when I moved up to Ultra at 2560×1440, with lows of roughly 40fps when zoomed in within an inch of a Lizardman’s spear. At 4K, you’re really looking at settling for Low to get decent speeds, as even Medium didn’t rise much above 35fps in battle and 40fps when flying round the campaign map.

Assassin’s Creed Origins was also a challenge for the RX Vega 56, as even running the game at max settings at 1920×1080 only returned a ‘medium’ performance rating in the game’s benchmark. That’s still an average of 54fps, mind, but I had to drop the quality down to High at 2560×1440 to get similar speeds. At 4K, High was deemed ‘unstable’, returning a slightly stuttering average of around 30fps, and it was only when I put everything right down on Low that I started to see the frame rate pick back up to around 45fps.

Fortunately, most of my other test games fell into the same camp as Rise of the Tomb Raider – lovely and smooth at 1080p and 1440p with 60fps frame rates, and only a little bit of dialing back when ratcheting it up to 4K. In Middle-earth: Shadow of War, for instance, you can just about get away with High at 4K, which saw an average of around 47fps (Ultra maxed out around 35fps), but you only gain an extra five frames or so by dropping down to Medium.

AMD RX Vega 56 power

The Witcher III was much the same, performing brilliantly at 1080p and 1440p on Ultra, but feeling much happier on Medium when I bumped the resolution up to 4K. Here, I saw an average of around 50fps, dipping to 45fps during particularly busy town scenes. High will still get you around 40fps at 4K, but panning the camera round with my mouse was a jerky, nauseating mess, regardless of whether I had motion blurred turned on or off. Medium, on the other hand, was noticeably smoother, and significantly kinder on my eyes and stomach.

Overall, Asus’ Radeon RX Vega 56 was more or less slap bang in the middle of our benchmark results for the GTX 1070 and its big brother, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti, beating the latter in some instances like Shadow of War, Doom and Wolfenstein, but falling back down in line with the GTX 1070 on everything else. Often there were only a few frames between each card, but sometimes that was enough to tip the GTX 1070 Ti over into a higher quality setting while the RX Vega 56 had to settle for something lower. Assassin’s Creed Origins was the most obvious example here, as the RX Vega 56 only managed 45fps on Low at 4K, while the GTX 1070Ti churned out 47fps on Medium.

As such, the GTX 1070Ti is still probably your best bet if you’re after something that’s 4K capable and don’t have the cash to get Nvidia’s GTX 1080. As an almost flawless 1440p card, however, it really comes down to which one you can buy for the least amount of money. Right now, that definitely isn’t the RX Vega 56 in the UK, as even the GTX 1070 Ti can be found for £600 as opposed to the Vega 56’s £750 minimum asking price. In the US, the cheapest GTX 1070 Ti I could find was this $765 Asus model, which is $15 more than the cheapest RX Vega 56 currently on offer from Sapphire.

Then again, it’s hard to tell when or how prices will eventually settle down in the future. Really, you shouldn’t be buying a new graphics card right now full stop, unless of course you’ve got a spare garage of cash knocking about. All things considered, though, I suspect the GTX 1070 Ti will probably be the better value card in the long run. It’s still very much a wait-and-see situation at the moment, but however much they all end up costing, the RX Vega 56 puts in an admirable performance, both at 1440p and at 4K.


  1. ScottTFrazer says:

    I bought my GTX 1080 card for $700 in June of 2016. At the time I was lamenting the fact that it would probably be outclassed in 6 months and drop to half the price.

    Used cards identical to the one I bought are currently going for $800+ on Amazon and eBay.

    This is not how PC hardware is supposed to go.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    One thing I’m unclear on; have AMD/Nvidia raised their prices in response to demand, are is the MSRP the exact same as it’s always been and the all the profit is pocketed by retailers?

    • ScottTFrazer says:

      Secondary market, mainly. I bought a “Founder’s edition” so they don’t sell that one anymore, but the range they do sell is from $589 to $689, so officially the price has dropped a bit. But they are never in stock at the manufacturer

    • Moraven says:

      Well AMD had launch price of $399 for the Vega 56, which AMD quickly announced as ‘early adopter’ pricing. You could only find it for $499 at launch. It included 2 games (Prey and Wolfenstein II).

      Now they still sell at $700-$800. And these are cards from manufacturing partners, not AMD. Likely Asus, Sapphire, etc set the price from MSRP $499 cards to $799 now.

      • guidom says:

        I was incredibly lucky to get my reference Vega 56 at 389 pounds. I think the prices jumped over 400 quite soon after, and now they are just ridiculous.

  3. Jenuall says:

    This is just insane. I bought my GTX 970 for a little over £200 nearly 4 years ago.

    How can it be right that its successor, which is not exactly a new card anymore, is selling for over twice the price?!

    At this rate I don’t know when I’m ever going to upgrade, it’s just not cost effective at all.

    • Splyce says:

      Console gaming is quickly looking like the only alternative if these prices keep up. I have a worn out 950, which is a garbage card as is, but I’m a broke ass grad student. More than $200-300 on a card is an imposition, these prices are insane. I had my eye on a 1060 6gb as a real treat, now I’d rather just get a PS4 and know I won’t be in for what could be years, and years of this.

      If I’ve learned anything about pricing in my life, it’s that as long as people keep buying, the price won’t return to what they were before. Even if crypto goes bust, nobody is going to want those used cards, and a slight decrease in price will be all that’s needed to get thirsty gamers to shell out. From $400 to $800, going to $650 will seem like a bargain…

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        Theoretically as the demand goes up, the supply should rise too, but that’s going to take a while because a new chip fabrication plant is a massively expensive investment that takes years to build.
        I suspect the card manufacturers will be wary of increasing supply, in case the demand drops back to normal if/when the crypto-mining market crashes.

      • ludde says:

        I too had been looking at a 1060 6GB. Now I’m considering getting a Switch or PS4 Pro for the same price instead.

        And I’ve been more or less exclusively a PC gamer since the 90’s.

        • Halk says:

          You can just play Zelda with PC emulator and dont buy this “gaming console” rofl

          • sk0sH says:

            That’s exactly what I would do.

            Buy a USB controller for PC, and just play on an emulator. I used to play all my old games this way after I sold my consoles when I was in middle school. This was my “transitioning” to being a PC gamer, when I got hooked on counter-strike.

            Well, I think I might transition back to being a console gamer. Heck, Microsoft, Sony, sure, maybe even Nintendo, have a huge opportunity to capitalize on this, and make consoles that allow someone to run an operating system on them, plug a keyboard, mouse, and monitor to, without having to mod them.

            I’m fairly certain the PS4 can do this. I don’t know about the xbox or whatever….but this is the future I am envisioning. Not the one I want, I’d rather just have reasonably priced graphics cards…but yeah, there are plenty of console games you can play on your pc! :)

    • sk0sH says:

      gtx970 owner here as well. Pretty sure I got mine around the same time period.

      I remember spending about $300 on it, tops. Definitely worth it, but I wouldn’t have spent any more. I didn’t see the need for a 980, plus the 980 was about $200 more….which, I mean, you could get two graphics cards for that much money!

      Now…with cards costing $800-$1000, I think the pc gaming market (which is a huge market, but not compared to crypto where they buy thousands of these for one location), is likely to return to consoles.

      What I don’t understand is why don’t all those crypto miners buy those specialty mining rigs that are supposedly a lot better? At least, they used to be…and they didn’t have an nvidia or amd gpu in them

  4. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    Also, it’s an AMD card, so will be supported for less time than Nvidia and needs to be priced accordingly..

    • Sakkura says:

      AMD extracts more performance over time with driver updates, unlike Nvidia. So it’s arguably the other way around.

      Whether the card will run out of driver updates after 7 years or 10 years is a lot less important, you’d want to move on before that anyway.

    • Asurmen says:

      Yeah, no. They get supported throughout their usable life.

  5. pistachio says:

    This is out of control. I just ordered a full pc without the graphics card and case for this price. All in the lower high-end range just like this card. A graphics card should not be half the budget of a decent gaming pc.

  6. johnnyboy101 says:

    While I can’t speak for those on the other side of the pond, for those stateside, there are opportunities to get GTX 1070/1080 Founders Edition cards for MSRP ($429/$589 + tax). I helped a friend get a 1070 a month ago, and I myself sold my 18 month old 1070 for $600 on Ebay a few weeks ago and took that and bought a new 1080. Just installed it yesterday in fact.

  7. KastaRules says:

    Curse these supply and demand laws !!!

  8. Ejia says:

    Prices are absurd. There are brand new GTX 1080s (and in some cases 1080tis!) going for less than what a Vega 56 costs.

  9. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    Cryptocurrencies have given so many great things to the world haven’t they? Using the entire energy output of a small nation to process 3 transactions per second, ludicrously high prices for even middling GPU hardware, and practical ransomware. Truly this is the future we deserve.

  10. Nurion says:

    Yeah, keep the prices that high and see the shrinkage of PC gaming in the next 5 years. Ffs the graphic cards alone now cost as much as all 3 big consoles in the market.

  11. PopeRatzo says:

    I’m testing GeForce Now and if the finished product is as good as the beta (and reasonably priced) it might make upgrading video cards a thing of the past for me. I’m playing games (including Assassins Creed Origins) at their highest settings on an old i5-750 and a 2gig GeForce 960. It could mean me buying a lot more PC games.

  12. kael13 says:

    There’s no way I’d buy a GPU in the current market. Resellers must be off their collective rockers. I’ll be sticking with my 980Ti for which I forked over 600-odd quid at release, and that was bad enough.. A 1080Ti is £900+! I’m astounded there are so many miners thinking that is worthwhile investment. ROI would be years, surely.

    What is also odd – BTC crashed quite substantially in January, yet we haven’t seen that make a lick of difference to the GPU markets.

  13. sk0sH says:

    Riddle me this—

    Why are graphics cards carrying a price of usually double, sometimes triple the cost of a CPU? You know, the piece of hardware that makes a computer tick?

    I remember buying top-of-the-line graphics cards for like, $350. Back then, the CPU’s were the pieces of hardware that cost $600-$1000.

    I think the crypto market screwed up the pricing costs of gpu’s. Hopefully this isn’t going to be a permanent price change…because many gamers are going to just keep lowering their settings and overclocking their existing cards, in my opinion.

    There is a very small subset of PC gamers that go for the beast cards, every single time. It used to be a huge subset of us. Now…it seems more rare. I hardly know anyone with intense setups. I think I have met one person across the entire internets who is on my steam friends that has SLI 1080Tis. Another buddy of mine has a very well-paying job, I think he makes over $100k/year, and he reluctantly spent about $900 on a 1080ti.

    I used to love AMD cards because they were seemingly less expensive than nVIDIA. Now both companies are charging a lot.

    I feel like I’ll be using my gtx970 for a loooooong time to come lol.

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