AMD’s next-gen Navi GPUs have been a known quantity for a number of years now, but the number of concrete facts about them, such as their specs, release date and price, are still few and far between. With so much of the recent conversation around what’s next for gaming graphics cards being dominated by the will-they-won’t-they circus of Nvidia’s Turing cards, it’s easy to forget that Navi’s still in the running.
Still, despite numerous missed shows and AMD’s own silence on the subject, the shroud of mystery surrounding Navi is starting to become ever-so-slightly clearer with each passing month. There’s still a lot we don’t know about what AMD have up their sleeve, but to help you separate probably likely facts from clearly made-up fiction, I’ve put everything we know so far into one handy guide. Here’s everything we know so far about AMD’s next-gen Navi cards.
AMD Navi: what is it?
Navi is the current codename for AMD’s next generation of graphics cards. Set to replace AMD’s current Vega cards, such as the AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 and Vega 64, Navi will feature a brand-new architecture and what’s currently being called ‘Next Gen Memory’. Imaginative, I know.
Whether that’s GDDR6 memory, the next iteration of HBM2 (High Bandwidth Memory 2) that’s currently in AMD’s Vega cards or something else entirely, nobody knows. What we do know, however, is that the Navi name has been appearing on AMD roadmaps as far back as 2016. The only problem is that it keeps getting delayed.
AMD Navi release date: why the heck are they taking so long?
At one point, Navi was supposed to arrive by the end of this year – that is, 2018. But then the current 14nm version of Vega got pushed back, which in turn bumped back the 7nm version of Vega that was meant to come next. As a result, Navi was shunted back yet again, and for a while, we had no idea when it would ever see the light of day.
It now would appear these delays were due to the fact that AMD’s Navi GPUs will likely form the basis of Sony’s next console box, the PlayStation 5, according to a recent exclusive report from WCCFTech. With the PS5 supposedly arriving in 2020, AMD obviously needed to make sure Navi was going to be ready in time in order to meet Sony’s deadlines, and apparently diverted two thirds of its graphics team to the project to ensure its timely completion. As a result, this left just a third of their engineers to sort out the launch of their Vega cards.
WCCFTech also asserts that Vega was made primarily with Apple in mind (most likely for their new 5K iMac Pros), who also had their own roadmaps in mind. If true, it’s no wonder Vega had such a slow and ponderous start.
For gamers after the best graphics card possible, it’s all been a bit frustrating. As much as the move probably saved AMD’s bacon in terms of providing a more reliable, not to mention more lucrative source of income while they re-positioned their CPU side of the business with the successful launch of their Ryzen processors (AMD’s custom GPUs for the PS4 and Xbox One each accounted for 10% of the company’s overall revenue last year), it does mean AMD’s gaming chops over in consumer PC land have suffered as a result.
Indeed, as powerful as the Vega 56 and Vega 64 are, they’re still not quite the respective equals of Nvidia’s GTX 1080 and GTX 1080Ti – especially when they’re so much more expensive and harder to come by. And judging by the rest of WCCFTech’s findings, the wait for a proper GTX 1080Ti killer is only going to get worse.
According to WCCFTech, there are at least three different Navi GPUs set for release. Navi 10, which will utilise a 7nm manufacturing process, will likely be the first Navi graphics card to make it out the gate, and is set to arrive in either the second half of 2019 or early 2020.
Something called Navi 14 will then follow this “soon after”, but Navi 20, AMD’s first high-end Navi GPU based on the 7nm process, probably won’t arrive until later in 2020, and may even be as late as 2021. And even then there’s no telling whether it will stand up to Nvidia’s next-gen Turing cards or end up as just another dud lost in Nvidia’s shadow. For the time being, it looks like PC gamers’ frustration is set to continue.
AMD Navi specs / price: is it going to be worth the wait?
It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as another report, this time from Fudzilla, suggests that while the Navi arriving in 2019 (which we can assume from WCCFTech’s information is the so-called Navi 10) may not be a ‘true’ high-end card in the same vein as the Vega 64 / GTX 1080Ti, it will at least offer comparable performance to many of today’s top-end GPUs – specifically the GTX 1080.
I realise that might not sound particularly comforting for a card that’s still over a year away, but the key piece of the puzzle we’re missing right now is price. If the Navi 10 can deliver GTX 1080 levels power at a fraction of its current cost (around £500 / $530), then things are going to get a lot more interesting, especially if the Navi 10 is indeed going to be the successor to AMD’s current RX 580 card like Fudzilla propose, which at time of writing goes for something around the £260 / $280 mark.
Admittedly, Fudzilla doesn’t actually cite any sources, anonymous or otherwise, for this information, so the idea of it being a half-price GTX 1080 could all be a load of gubbins.
But in some ways, it does make a lot of sense. After all, it isn’t the GTX 1080 that’s the most popular graphics card used on Steam right now. It’s the GTX 1060 – a mid-range card that’s the neck-and-neck rival of the RX 580. It’s also astronomically expensive to produce high-end GPUs so early in a new manufacturing process, so it’s not entirely surprising that the Navi 20 might end up taking another year before it joins its Navi 10 and 14 siblings.
Indeed, as AMD have previously said themselves, Navi graphics cards will use a 7nm manufacturing process, which is probably about as cutting-edge as you can possibly get these days and a heck of an improvement over their current 14nm Vega cards. To give you an idea about what that means in practice, AMD said at their Computex conference earlier this year that their 7nm Vega GPUs would be twice as energy efficient, offer twice the memory density, and deliver a performance increase that’s x1.35 better than what we’re seeing now – and that’s just with their current Vega tech. Throw Navi’s new micro-architecture into the mix and we could theoretically see even greater gains in performance and power efficiency.
Navi should also be able to take advantage of ray-tracing – the shiny new animation technique that makes light and shadow look so impossibly realistic that you’d swear blind you couldn’t possibly be looking at a real life video game. The 7nm Vega chip with 32GB of HBM2 memory AMD showed off at Computex certainly can, so there’s no reason why Navi shouldn’t be able to as well.
Unfortunately, the rest of Navi’s inner specs remain very much a mystery. We’ll no doubt learn more about Navi’s potential performance boost when AMD’s 7nm Vega cards arrive properly later this year, even if they’re not actually getting turned into proper consumer gaming cards, but for now, the wait continues. I’ll bring you more as we get it.