RDNA Enters The Mainstream With The AMD Radeon RX 5500-series

👤by Michael Pabia Comments 📅07.10.2019 12:59:24

AMD's Polaris GPUs have been a fixture of the PC landscape for over three years, doing the heavy lifting for the red team in the mainstream market against strong competition. Offering excellent performance at 1080p even if they weren't quite as efficient as some would have liked, it proved to be the penultimate outing of the now venerable Graphics Core Next architectural family. Polaris' replacement launched in July, heralding new levels of 1440p performance from AMD in the mid-range, aggressively priced and broadly replacing Vega.

The Navi GPU architecture inside each Radeon RX 5700-series card is based on a brand-new GPU architectural family known as RDNA, which in turn introduces new features alongside power efficiency improvements garnered through the use of TSMC's 7nm process node. Just as the RX 5700-series broadly replace Vega, so now does a new Navi-based GPU supplant Polaris. Welcome to the Radeon RX 5500-series.

A New Mainstream Entrant

AMD's Radeon RX 5500-series is broadly speaking a mainstream entrant into a product stack that is slowly being updated to the latest architectures and feature sets. Rather than take on 1440p gaming, the RX 5500-series is aimed squarely at 1080p 60fps experiences in the latest triple-A titles and 90fps in competitive esports games. It achieves this by surpassing the RX 480 in two key metrics: performance and power efficiency. AMD is boasting of up to 1.6x perf/watt and 20% higher raw performance, but specifics will no-doubt be independently teased out by reviews in the near future.

But why the comparisons to the RX 480 rather than the RX 580? Well, that's not a mistake; the RX 5500-series is debuting in the OEM rather than DIY/discrete consumer market with desktop and laptop systems, where until recently the RX 480 was the baseline from which OEM manufacturers would seek an upgrade.

And yes, you did read that correctly: AMD is simultaneously announcing both the Radeon RX 5500 and RX 5500M mobile GPU for laptops, significantly bolstering their mobile GPU range alongside Ryzen 3000-series CPUs and APUs. In so doing their hope to build on the ubiquity of Radeon in gaming hardware worldwide, from Consoles through to new Samsung and Apple hardware which will incorporate graphics powered by the RDNA architecture.

With this launch, OEM manufacturers will be able to offer AMD-powered (CPU and GPU) gaming hardware for both 1080p and 1440p gaming out the box, rather than a mix of manufacturers. That's potentially a powerful brand presence.

Radeon RX 5500-series Details

At the heart of the Radeon RX 5500-series is the new Navi 14 GPU, configured with 22 Compute Units and 11 Workgroup Units. In common with other RDNA products, it's manufactured using TSMC's 7nm process and supports PCIe 4.0, although GPUs in this segment is unlikely to be bottlenecked by PCIe bandwidth.

Speaking of memory, the GPU is coupled to up to 8GB GDDR6 VRAM clocked at 14Gbps over a 128-bit bus. Eagle-eyed readers will clue into the need for the latest high-density RAM chips in order to support up to 8GB over a 128-bit bus, but the use of GDDR6 will mean little effective change in bandwidth over RX 480, the card it ostensibly replaces.

The discrete desktop card for OEMs has a Typical Board Power rating of 150W, which can be configured with either 6 or 8-pin PCIe power. Notebook configurations are a more frugal 85W typical TDP, which can be modified by OEMs depending on power and cooling restrictions.

Desktop cards are standard single-fan dual-slot models and have two DisplayPort and one HDMI output. Although physically installed with a 16-lane PCI-Express connector, the GPU is wired for x8 operation and backward compatible with PCIe 3.0.

Radeon RX 5500 (Desktop OEM)
Compute Units:- 22
Stream Processors:- 1408
Game Clock (MHz):- up to 1717
Boost Clock (MHz):- up to 1845
Memory:- up to 8GB GDDR6
Interface:- 128-bit
TFLOPS:- up to 5.2

Radeon RX 5500M GPU (For Mobile Systems)
Compute Units:- 22
Stream Processors:- 1408
Game Clock (MHz):- up to 1448
Boost Clock (MHz):- up to 1645
Memory:- 4GB GDDR6
Interface:- 128-bit
TFLOPS:- up to 4.6

Bye-bye Base Clocks

AMD has decided to ditch the Base Clock reference frequency in specification documentation following feedback that it wasn't particularly helpful for consumers. Instead, they have just published Game Clocks (the typical operating frequency under gaming loads) and Boost Clocks (the maximum boost frequency under optimal conditions). Game clocks are fine, but Boost Clocks are perhaps just as disingenuous as Base Clocks (if not more so).

Operating frequency, alongside VRAM configurations, are the chief differentiator in RX 5500/5500M desktop and mobile specifications. In terms of real-world performance, however, dynamic overclocking's dependency on cooling and power limitations are likely to have a huge impact.

More Features

All RDNA GPUs support AMD's latest features, most notably FreeSync, FidelityFX, and Radeon Anti-Lag. The up-take of FidelityFX in particular amongst developers has been excellent in the short time its been available, bringing with it sharper textures with virtually no impact on performance. And of course, FreeSync has been instrumental in making VESA's Adaptive-Sync a widely supported display standard that is now also encroaching into the TV/console space.

AMD Radeon's driver stack is also much improved from even a few years ago, with regular day-0 updates for the latest triple-A titles and features percolating downwards to prior generations where compatible. Recently, for instance, RX Vega-series GPUs were retrofitted to support FidelityFX, despite GCN's aging design.

MSI's Alpha 15 - The World's First Radeon RX5500M Laptop

One particular system launching today that is worthy of special attention: MSI's Alpha 15. It will be the world's first RX 5000 notebook, powered by Radeon 5500M GPU and Ryzen 7 3750H APU. The latter is a 4-core, 8-thread APU based on the Zen+ architecture with 10CU Vega Graphics, which should be an ideal match for a cutting-edge mainstream GPU.

In addition to having AMD technology throughout, it also features a 1080p 144Hz FreeSync panel, making it one of the most complete solutions on the market.

More OEM Systems

The AMD Radeon RX 5500 graphics cards are expected to be available in leading desktop gaming systems beginning in November 2019, including HPS OMEN Obelisk and Pavilion Gaming desktops, as well as Lenovo Legion T530 and IdeaCentre T540 Gaming PCs. The Radeon RX 5500 graphics cards are expected to be available in Acer Nitro 50 PCs beginning in December 2019.

AMDs Raise The Game Promotion

Systems powered by Radeon RX 5500-series GPUs are eligible for the recently refreshed AMD Raise The Game bundle. New purchases will qualify for a free copy of either Borderlands 3 or Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint, and systems fully powered by AMD components could also be eligible for either Borderlands 3 or The Outer Wilds. Details should be available through your chosen OEM.

Stay Tuned for Discrete Desktop Cards

AMD will have more to share regarding partner variants of the Radeon RX 5500 in the near future. This particular announcement is timed to coincide with OEM launches today and later this month. We have however teased out from AMD that there will be no reference models released through retail channels, and that the upcoming partner models should be available in Q4 rather than pushed into 2020. As far as stock levels go, AMD has stated that there are "no problems with availability", so hopefully scarcity will not serve to push prices to unsustainable levels.

Finally, there's one further intriguing aspect of this launch. Stock images of Navi 14 silicon show a 24CU GPU, but the RX 5500-series is configured with just 22; could this mean that an XT model is on its way? Only time will tell.

For more information on this and other members of AMD Radeon's RX 5000-series lineup visit AMD.com

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