With AMD’s new Radeon RX 5500 series announced Monday, some of the company’s most advanced graphics technologies just got more affordable. Unfortunately you’ll have to buy a prebuilt PC to get it, at least at first.
It all goes back to AMD’s superb Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT GPUs, which dropped this summer and immediately became some of the best 1440p graphics cards you can buy because of their GeForce-toppling performance. That gaming prowess is build atop several future-looking features: The Radeon RX 5700 series were the first 7nm GPUs, the first graphics cards to support bleeding-edge PCIe 4.0 connections, and the first cards to feature AMD’s all-new RDNA graphics architecture, which delivers key power efficiency and gaming improvements.
There’s a catch with the Radeon RX 5500, though. In an unusual turn of events, AMD is releasing the GPU in laptops and desktops from PC makers first, rather than as discrete graphics cards that PC enthusiasts can buy. Systems carrying the Radeon RX 5500 GPUs will start to appear in October, AMD says.
AMD’s pitching the Radeon RX 5500 as “next level 1080p gaming” hardware. Both mobile and desktop versions are launching Monday, sporting an identical 22 compute units and 1,408 stream processors, as well as a 128-bit memory interface. There are key differences in clock speeds and memory capacity, though, as you can see in the chart below. The “up to” disclaimer for the desktop version’s memory capacity implies that there may be more than one graphics card available in the Radeon RX 5500 series, or it could be a single GPU offered with varying memory capacities.
The more powerful Radeon RX 5700 series revolves around a pair of GPUs. For comparison, the Radeon RX 5700 packs 36 CUs and 2,304 stream processors, while the more powerful RX 5700 XT is loaded with 40 CUs and 2,560 stream processors.
Company representatives also stressed that the Radeon RX 5500 gets all the same platform features as its pricier cousins, the Radeon RX 5700 series. These 1080p GPUs still pack PCIe 4.0 and GDDR6 memory, they’re still built on the new RDNA architecture, they still pack the next-gen Radeon Display and Media Engines, they support Radeon Image Sharpening, and so on. If it’s in the Radeon RX 5700, it’s in the Radeon RX 5500. Nvidia, on the other hand, removed its futuristic ray tracing technology in more affordable GeForce graphics cards, and didn’t include its latest “Turing” NVENC media encoder in the GTX 1650 even though it’s a Turing-based GPU.
AMD says you can expect up to 60+ frames per second in AAA games with the desktop version of the Radeon RX 5500, and over 90 fps in e-sports games. The company showed some slides comparing the Radeon RX 5500’s performance against the older Radeon RX 480 (not the currently available RX 580) and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1650. It’s a somewhat bizarre comparison, as the RX 480 launched at $200 to $240, while Nvidia’s GTX 1650 costs $150 for the desktop version. Showing the Radeon RX 5500’s performance against a Radeon RX 570 would’ve been a more level playing field if they’re including a GTX 1650, as those currently sell for $120 to $130.
On the other hand, AMD didn’t announce pricing information for the eventual discrete graphics card version of the Radeon RX 5500, so these broad comparisons give the company room to work with in case of an RTX-Super-esque Nvidia counter-attack. A Radeon RX 480-beating GPU at the GTX 1650’s price would be welcome indeed. The current Radeon RX 580 is just a higher-clocked, barely faster version of the RX 480.
Another thing to keep in mind while you view these AMD-supplied slides: The performance numbers for Borderlands 3, Gears 5, and Ghost Recon Breakpoint all come from a Ryzen 7 3600X system with in-game graphics set to the Medium preset, not High or Ultra. The esports games, however, achieved their fast frame rates with visuals set to either High or Ultra, depending on the game. Use that knowledge to set your expectations for these cards.
For the first time in recent memory (maybe ever?), AMD’s launching a mobile version of the Radeon RX 5500 at the same time as the desktop version. It’s running about 200Mhz lower than the desktop version and tops out at 4GB of memory, but it still packs enough firepower to put Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1650 to pasture, according to AMD:
Better yet, we should see it in action soon. AMD says mobile Radeon RX 5500 will debut in MSI’s Alpha 15 gaming laptop in mid-to-late October—any day now, practically. That’s an astonishingly fast turnaround for an AMD mobile GPU. Nvidia’s mobile GeForce graphics dominate in laptops, and notebook-ready Radeon GPUs haven’t seen much adoption. To have a Radeon RX 5500 in a gaming laptop so soon after launch is a huge win for AMD. Between this and Microsoft's embrace of Ryzen in its 15-inch Surface Laptop, things are looking busy for AMD on the mobile front after years of tumbleweeds.
MSI’s Alpha 15 gaming laptop will be a showcase for all of AMD’s mobile ambitions. Beyond the Radeon RX 5500, it’s also loaded with a Ryzen 7 3750H processor and a 144Hz FreeSync display. That’s a solid setup, though with what we know about the desktop version’s performance, you’ll likely need to drop graphics settings to come close to the monitor’s 144Hz maximum in AAA games.
The Radeon RX 5500 is part of AMD’s Raise the Game bundle, so if you pick up a desktop or laptop equipped with the new GPU, you’ll get a free copy of either Borderlands 3 or Ghost Recon Breakpoint as well as three free months of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass for PC.
Look for the MSI Alpha 15 to arrive in stores later this month. AMD says that desktops with the Radeon RX 5500 and discrete graphics cards from the usual AIB partners will launch sometime in the fourth quarter. Expect the desktop systems to appear first, given this launch’s unorthodox nature. AMD’s presentation included pictures of desktops from HP, Acer, and Lenovo as illustrations, though no formal product announcements were made outside of the Alpha 15 laptop.
When discrete graphics cards do appear, the Radeon RX 5500’s competitiveness will boil down to pricing. Nvidia’s $220 GeForce GTX 1660 currently reigns as our favorite 1080p gaming option, but the step-down $150 GTX 1650 can’t be recommended whatsoever over a faster, cheaper $130 Radeon RX 570. If AMD’s able to achieve Radeon RX 580-beating performance with all of RDNA’s cutting-edge features for around the $150 mark, it could have a big winner on its hands. Competition will be much fiercer the closer it inches toward the $200 mark.
Fingers crossed we hear more details soon. In the meantime, feel free to check out our guide to the best graphics cards for PC gaming to discover your best options for graphics cards you can actually buy today, no matter what budget you have or which monitor resolution you’re rocking.