Back in February, I wrote a story about how AMD and Nvidia had collectively launched the least-appealing high-end GPU refresh cycle in the history of the gaming industry. After the launch of AMD’s Navi 5700 and 5700 XT, and Nvidia’s rejoinder with the RTX 2060 Super and 2070 Super, it makes sense to revisit that conclusion. How much have things improved, just over half a year later?
They’ve actually improved a lot if you’re buying at the upper end of the market. Before we examine the specifics of the changes, let me clarify some terms. Historically, GPU price brackets look something like this:
Budget: $ 150 or less.
Midrange: $ 150 – $ 300
High-End: $ 300 – $ 500
Ultra-High: $ 500+.
When Nvidia introduced the RTX family, it significantly raised prices. Instead of the GTX 1070 around $ 370 and the GTX 1080 at $ 500 – $ 550, the RTX 2070 was a $ 500 GPU, the RTX 2080 cost $ 700, and the 2080 Ti effectively ran $ 1,100 – $ 1,200 ($ 1,000 technically, but nobody ever had them for this, as far as I can tell).
There are two basic ways for a publication like ours to handle this: Hold its own price banding, and fit the new cards into it, or modify our price bands and raise them to accommodate the manufacturer. If you take the latter approach, AMD’s Navi GPUs are now “midrange” cards, despite carrying price tags of $ 350 and $ 400. This is also how you wind up with articles referring to the iPhone XR as “entry-level,” or “budget” at $ 750 as if Apple hadn’t just killed the only pseudo-budget device it offered, the $ 350 iPhone SE.
Adjusting price bands to reflect what companies are selling isn’t wrong, so long as it tracks with what customers are buying. Nvidia’s upcoming Q2 numbers should provide more confirmation here, but available data suggested Turing sales badly lagged Pascal at launch and may not have recovered since. If Nvidia truly thought it had established ray tracing as a feature gamers were willing to pay for, it wouldn’t have cut pricing on its RTX 2060, 2070, and 2080 GPUs at all.
So far as ExtremeTech is concerned, at least for now, the Navi 5700 and 5700 XT are high-end cards, as are the RTX 2060, 2060 Super, 2070, and 2070 Super. The RTX 2080, 2080 Super, and 2080 Ti belong to their own, separate category of ultra-high-end devices.
Evaluating the Improvement
We recently measured long-term performance evolution in a variety of GPUs, but we can use that data set for a different purpose. Keep in mind that in the graph series below, the GeForce RTX 2080 (non-Super) offers roughly identical performance to the RTX 2070 Super (the 2070S is typically within 95 to 105 percent the performance of the RTX 2080).
Comparing RTX 2070S/2080 against GTX 1080, we see minimum frame rates are 1.18x higher at 1080p, 1.28x higher at 1440p, and 1.4x higher at 4K. Average frame rates across our entire suite of games are 1.3x higher at 1080p, 1.4x higher at 1440p, and 1.44x higher at 4K.
I don’t have the same level of data on the GTX 1070 to compare with the RTX 2060 Super, but we know that the 2060S improves performance by about 1.15x as well, that it performs nearly identically to the original RTX 2070, and that the GPU’s new $ 400 price point puts it closer to the original GTX 1070 than the OG 1080 price.
As for AMD, the 5700 and 5700 XT are effectively a replacement for the Vega 56 and Vega 64. The slideshow below contains the results from our RX 5700 and 5700 XT review. The Radeon RX 5700 matches Vega 64 in virtually every test, but costs $ 350 as opposed to $ 500. It draws 74 percent as much power as Vega 64 while outperforming the RTX 2060.
As upgrades for existing Vega 56 and Vega 64 owners, the best case is going to be between Vega 56 and RX 5700 XT. In this case, I’m estimating the gains of doing so, but I’m fairly sure they aren’t as large as the improvements between Pascal and Turing at Turing’s adjusted prices. Vega 56 was typically 1.08x – 1.12x slower than Vega 64, but the 5700 XT’s lead over Vega 64 varies significantly depending on the game. In a few cases, the two GPUs are tied.
AMD gamers with older cards or Nvidia gamers looking to switch sides are the more likely customers for RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT, and the performance these cards offer makes them a potentially attractive upgrade in these markets.
A Significant Improvement
AMD’s new launches have restored a better, more consumer-friendly balance to the upper end of the GPU market. The ultra-high-end market remains less friendly. The RTX 2080 Super offers the smallest performance improvement of all the “Super” cards and does not do a very good job of justifying its $ 200 price premium over the RTX 2070 Super. Both the Radeon VII and RTX 2080 Super are only justifiable if you’re actually gaming in 4K, and honestly, they aren’t all that compelling even in that situation.
AMD has said nothing about its plans for the midrange market yet, but the company must be working on cards to refresh this space as well. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we have far more power-efficient, higher-performing chips ready to take the place of the RX 570, 580, and 590.
As for whether Navi or Turing is a better upgrade path, that’s going to depend a bit on what you want: A bit more speed (relative to the competition), or features like ray tracing? Some users may not feel that even these gains are sufficient, which I understand. But we can at least say that there are gains in performance/dollar relative to the previous generation. Six months ago, it wasn’t possible to make that claim.