AMD’s highly anticipated Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT graphics cards launched on Sunday. Built using an industry-leading 7nm manufacturing process and AMD’s all-new RDNA graphics architecture, the reference versions of these GPUs surpass Nvidia’s identically priced GeForce RTX 2060 and RTX 2060 Super in raw performance, and their energy efficiency hint at even greater things to come when add-in board partners like Sapphire, XFX, and Asus put their own overclocked, custom-cooled spin on things. But you’ll need to put up with AMD’s blower-style cooler if you want to get your hands on the Radeon RX 5700 sooner than later, as customized designs won’t roll out for at least a month.
Radeon general manager and CVP Scott Herkelman was the bearer of bad news on the r/amd subreddit. “Hey all, custom AIB designs will be hitting the market mid-August,” Herkelman wrote. Well, there you go. (AMD representatives confirmed to PCWorld that this is indeed Herkelman’s account.)
This would be a short post if that were all Herkelman said, but he also spent a few words touching on AMD’s decision to launch with a blower-style design on these graphics cards. While the Radeon RX 5700 series sports much more palatable coolers than past reference designs, they run hotter than their lesser-powered GeForce Founders Edition rivals, as Nvidia has moved on to dual-axial fans for its in-house graphics cards. Hotter temperatures can also limit sustained clock speeds under load, potentially lowering performance.
“The Radeon group historically has had a bad reputation of producing product launch charts that didn’t match up to real world performance,” Herkelman wrote. “Love it or hate it the blower allowed us to guarantee performance in every system to match our launch charts. Not everyone cools their PC as good as a reviewer and definitely not as good as some of the pictures you guys have shared. It was my goal to clean all of this up so that you can trust our performance you hear from us on stage.”
Herkelman acknowledged that he’s heard requests to also “offer dual/tri-axial options at launch for the enthusiasts.” In response, he simply said, “I like this idea.” The Radeon chief went into much greater detail about AMD’s decision to stick with blower-style reference coolers in an interview on PCWorld’s The Full Nerd podcast. Jump to the 45-minute mark in the video embedded below to hear his explanation:
By contrast, the new GeForce RTX 2060 and 2070 Super cards released today launched with a full complement of partner cards available. There’s a key difference between Nvidia and AMD’s situations though.
AMD’s Radeon RX 5700 series makes the leap to the 7nm process node, advancing from the 14nm process that prior-gen Radeon Vega and RX 500-series GPUs were built on. Custom cards rarely ship alongside reference models on release day when making the jump to a new node. It takes time for board partners to engineer fresh designs to new tolerances.
The GeForce RTX Super graphics cards use the same underlying 12nm GPUs as the original RTX 20-series options (which themselves were a modified version of the 16nm GPUs in the GTX 10-series), so Nvidia’s partners can reuse existing custom cooler designs much more easily.