AMD Announces Radeon RX 5500 Series: 1080p Gaming for Desktop & Mobile, Coming This Quarter – AnandTech


Coming off of an incredibly busy summer for AMD that saw some of its most important product launches in recent history across both CPUs and GPUs, AMD is gearing up to finish out the year on a high note as well. This morning the company is announcing the next series in its Radeon RX 5000 family of video cards, the Radeon RX 5500 series. Based on the same RDNA architecture as AMD’s flagship RX 5700 parts, the new RX 5500 series is being built around a new, smaller Navi GPU that will allow AMD to bring their latest Radeon technologies down to more affordable, mainstream video cards, as well as laptops for the first time.

AMD’s announcement follows the usual GPU product cascade that we see in every generation. After launching their pathfinder GPU for a new generation – in this case the Navi 10 GPU and associated Radeon RX 5700 series video cards – AMD is now getting ready to fill in the rest of their GPU/video card product stack with new products to cover the rest of their desired range. AMD so far hasn’t told us how many GPUs to expect in the Navi family, but a normal AMD GPU stack is 3-4 GPUs.

As is often the case, AMD is going straight down the stack. Following this summer’s launch of the Radeon RX 5700 series – and the fanfare that has followed it – AMD is now turning their attention to the market below that. With even the Radeon RX 5700 (vanilla) card starting at $349, there is ample room below the RX 5700 series for AMD to offer cheaper cards for a more mainstream audience, and this is exactly what AMD is setting out to do. The new Radeon RX 5500 series parts will be focusing on 1080p gaming, bringing AMD’s RDNA architecture and features down to that popular, high volume segment of the gaming market.

With all of that said, however – and before we get to the specs and other technical matters – today’s announcement needs to be put in context, as today is not a retail video card launch. In fact, AMD isn’t even announcing exactly when retail cards will show up, beyond a vague Q4. Instead, today’s announcement is essentially about the OEM side of AMD’s product stack. With the holiday buying season already ramping up, AMD’s OEM partners need to announce their holiday system lineups now, and so AMD is announcing almost everything about the Radeon RX 5500 series now rather than having the OEMs steal AMD’s thunder.

To be sure, AMD is giving us plenty of details, including information on the new GPU, clockspeeds, TDPs, and more. But the specifications here are for OEM products, not retail products, and AMD is framing them accordingly. Generally speaking, OEM and retail products don’t differ too much in this product segment – so don’t be surprised if you see a retail Radeon RX 5500 (vanilla) card farther down the line with specifications identical to (If not a bit better than) the OEM card – but context is important, especially as OEMs sometimes underclock things.

Meanwhile, not to be overshadowed, today’s announcement also covers a new mobile part, the Radeon RX 5500M. We’ll get to that part a bit later, but it bears mentioning earlier on because it’s part of a greater shift in product naming for AMD. In short, after spending the last generation with just a single family of products for both desktop and mobile, discrete mobile SKUs are back. The Radeon RX 5500M is the first of these products, and while it is based on the same GPU as the desktop RX 5500 series, it has its own clockspeed, performance, and TDP specifications. None of this really changes how OEMs will be building out their laptops, but if nothing else, it will hopefully make it clearer how their laptops’ GPUs are configured and will perform.

AMD Radeon RX Series Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon RX 5500 Series (OEM) AMD Radeon RX 5700 AMD Radeon RX 480 AMD Radeon RX 560
CUs 22
(1408 SPs)
(2304 SPs)
(2304 SPs)
(1024 SPs)
Texture Units 88 144 144 64
ROPs 32? 64 32 16
Base Clock ? 1465MHz 1120MHz 1175MHz
Game Clock <=1717MHz 1625MHz N/A N/A
Boost Clock <=1845MHz 1725MHz 1266MHz 1275MHz
Throughput (FP32) <=5.2 TFLOPs 7.95 TFLOPs 5.1 TFLOPs 2.6 TFLOPs
Memory Clock 14 Gbps GDDR6 14 Gbps GDDR6 8 Gbps GDDR5 7 Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 128-bit 256-bit 256-bit 128-bit
Transistor Count 6.4B 10.3B 5.7B 3B
Typical Board Power 150W 180W 150W 80W
Manufacturing Process TSMC 7nm TSMC 7nm GloFo 14nm GloFo 14nm
Architecture RDNA (1) RDNA (1) GCN 4 GCN 4
GPU Navi 14 Navi 10 Polaris 10 Polaris 11
Launch Date Q4 2019 07/07/2019 06/29/2016 05/2017
Launch Price TBD $349 $239 $99

Starting off with the desktop OEM cards then, we have what AMD is calling the Radeon RX 5500 Series. Based on the new Navi 14 GPU, these cards are aimed at the 1080p market, and in terms of specifications, are largely scaled-down versions of AMD’s Navi 10 cards, the Radeon RX 5700 series.

In terms of CUs, all of these cards will ship with 22 CUs, 14 fewer CUs (-39%) than the next card in AMD’s stack, the Radeon RX 5700. However while the CU counts are down, the clockspeeds will be up slightly, with the RX 5500 Series carrying a maximum game clock of 1717MHz, 92MHz (6%) higher than the RX 5700. Similarly, the maximum boost clock is higher as well, to 1845MHz. With that said, since we are talking about OEM cards, the usual disclaimer applies: these are “up to” frequencies, and OEMs may dial down the clockspeeds for power and other reasons. Officially there are no minimum clockspeeds for OEM configurations, so it remains to be seen what OEMs decide to do.

In terms of overall GPU performance then, at full clockspeeds the RX 5500 Series will have a peak compute/shader throughput of 5.2 TFLOPs. This is 35% below the peak rate of the RX 5700, and is fairly typical for the kind of jump we see between card tiers.

Meanwhile on the memory side of matters, the RX 5500 Series gets a narrower memory bus as well. Coming off of the RX 5700 series and its 256-bit bus, AMD’s mainstream cards will instead come with a 128-bit memory bus. However, that is the only change for memory; AMD will be using GDDR6 for these cards as well. So while the effective drop in memory bandwidth relative to the RX 5700 is significant – going from 448GB/sec to 224GB/sec – it will be the first time that GDDR6 has shown up in a mainstream video card. As a result, the RX 5500 Series will still have access to a good deal of memory bandwidth, and in this respect should punch above its weight compared to earlier 128-bit bus cards. As for total memory capacity, the cards will support up to 8GB of VRAM, however this is another “up to” specification and OEMs may decide ship some systems with 4GB configurations as well.

Finally, while it’s not listed in AMD’s official tables, the company has told me that the TGP for these cards will be 150W. This surprised me a bit, and I’m curious to see if AMD is just being conservative here for OEMs, or if real-world power consumption really will be that high. To put things in perspective here, the Radeon 5700 (vanilla) is a 180W card, so a 150W TGP is only around 17% lower than the next card up in AMD’s stack, for a performance difference I expect to be greater than that. Or, looking at last-generation cards, this would give the RX 5500 series a TGP comparable to the Radeon RX 480 & 570. If these TGPs are accurate, then this may be another case of AMD favoring absolute performance over performance efficiency for their mainstream parts, which was also the case with the high-end Radeon RX 500 series cards in the previous generation.

In terms of performance expectations then, AMD is only offering a few numbers so far. The company says that the new RX 5500 Series cards still deliver an even better efficiency improvement than their RX 5700 series cards, with a 1.6x improvement in performance-per-watt over AMD’s last-generation cards. Comparing the new card to the RX 480, AMD is touting a 30% drop in power consumption coupled with a 12% increase in absolute performance. Do note however that AMD’s figures are literally labeled “GPU”, which implies that we are looking at just GPU figures rather than whole card figures.

Elsewhere, AMD is posting gaming figures in recent games at 1080p Medium, with gains over the RX 480 in the 15-20% range.

Even a 12% increase in absolute performance over the RX 480 would mean that the RX 5500 Series cards will perform very similarly to the higher-end parts from AMD’s Radeon RX 500 series. The black sheep of that family, the RX 590, delivered about 15% better performance than the RX 480, so if AMD’s figures are accurate, then the RX 5500 Series will land in between the RX 580 and RX 590, coming in just short of the latter. Which if AMD can deliver that kind of performance at 150W, would be a significant improvement over the power-hungry RX 590.

Otherwise, the rest of AMD’s performance estimates are against NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1650, which of course AMD handily wins. However without pricing information, I’m not reading too much into those figures, as the GTX 1650 is a $149 card, and I’d be surprised to see AMD go quite that low when they’re promoting a 30-35% performance advantage.

Navi 14: Navi, But Smaller

Now that we’ve seen the specs for the desktop OEM cards, let’s take a quick look at the Navi 14 GPU itself. Destined to power AMD’s RX 5500 desktop and mobile parts, Navi 14 is a very typical slimmed-down version of AMD’s leading-edge technology.

In terms of die size and transistor counts, AMD has dropped about 3.9B transistors from Navi 10, which comes to 38% fewer transistors overall. This translates into a die size of 158mm2, an almost perfectly matched 37% smaller than Navi 10. Compared to AMD’s previous generations of parts comparisons are a bit rocky since performance targets and die sizes have gone up overall, but this works out to a transistor count about 12% higher than Polaris 10/20/30, in just 70% of the space. Polaris 11 (used in RX 460/560) might be a more apt comparison here, in which case AMD has increased their transistor count by 113% while only increasing the die size by 28%.

These improvements come thanks to TMSC’s 7nm process, of course. The heart of AMD’s entire next-generation product stack across CPUs and GPUs for 2019, AMD is once again using this process for their latest Navi GPU. This remains a critical edge for AMD on a competitive basis, as NVIDIA is still using TSMC 12nm – a 16nm-derrived process – for their GPUs. This gives AMD the ability to lay down smaller transistors operating at lower power levels, with the trade-off being that 7nm is a younger, more expensive process. And, if reports are to be believed, one that TSMC’s customers are jockeying to secure wafer starts due to very high demand.

  Navi 14 Navi 10 Polaris 10 Polaris 11
CUs 24? 40 36 16
Texture Units 96? 160 144 64
ROPs 32? 64 32 16
Memory Interface GDDR6 GDDR6 GDDR5 GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 128-bit 256-bit 256-bit 128-bit
Die Size 158mm2 251mm2 221mm2 123mm2
Transistor Count 6.4B 10.3B 5.7B 3B
Manufacturing Process TSMC 7nm TSMC 7nm GloFo 14nm GloFo 14nm
Architecture RDNA (1) RDNA (1) GCN 4 GCN 4

Drilling down, according to AMD the RX 5500 Series of cards are not using a fully-enabled Navi 14 GPU. The company isn’t clarifying just what a fully-enabled GPU is, but RX 5500 and its 22 CUs isn’t it. Given what we know about die sizes, AMD couldn’t have fused off too many units here, so it’s a fair assumption that a full Navi 14 GPU will come with 24 or 26 CUs. Assuming in turn that the RX 5500 Series comes to the retail desktop as a multi-card product stack, and that the OEM RX 5500 Series becomes an RX 5500 (vanilla), then using a cut-down part here means AMD can use a fully-enabled part for a Radeon RX 5500 XT, should the need arise.

Otherwise, Navi 14 is a full-fat Navi GPU in terms of architecture and features. AMD has confirmed that it’s the full RDNA (1) architecture, which means that it includes support for PCIe 4.0 as well as AMD’s new display processing (Radeon Display Engine) and video processing (Radeon Media Engine) blocks. The display block, in turn, is being cut down ever so slightly from 6 pipelines to 5 – meaning that Navi 14 can support up to 5 monitor streams – but is otherwise identical in terms of support for DisplayPort 1.4, Display Stream Compression, etc. Meanwhile the video processing block remains entirely unchanged from Navi 10 and should offer the same encode and decode performance as AMD’s higher-end cards. So, if AMD really does price the Radeon RX 5500 series against NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1650, expect to see AMD wield this against NVIDIA on a regular basis, since the GTX 1650 (TU117) came with an older, less advanced video block from Volta.

Shifting gears, let’s talk about the other half of today’s Radeon announcement, the Radeon RX 5500M. Cut from the same cloth as the OEM desktop RX 5500 Series cards, AMD is also going to be using the Navi 14 GPU for mobile products as well. And as a result, I expect this to be a more aggressive mainstream product than in years past from AMD.

As a quick refresher, AMD’s success in the mobile market over the last decade have been uneven at best. AMD’s share of mobile discrete GPUs is notably lower than their share of desktop discrete GPUs, particularly for higher-end solutions that can handle 1080p gaming with few-to-no compromises. It hasn’t been for a lack of effort on AMD’s part – the company went so far as to make a low z-height version of Polaris 11 specifically for laptops – but this hasn’t translated to much success on AMD’s part. Outside of Apple’s laptops, where AMD has an exclusive contract, you’ve likely seen few (if any) gaming laptops with a mobile RX 460/560, and no one beside Apple even used AMD’s Vega 12 (“Vega Mobile”) GPU.

AMD isn’t promising to move the moon and the stars with their latest mobile wares, but the Radeon RX 5500M should be a good step forward for the company. AMD’s energy efficiency is in a much better place right now thanks to TSMC’s 7nm process, and while they still have to overcome the sheer inertia of NVIDIA, a solid offering can turn heads. Helping matters is that Navi 14 is clearly built big enough to do well at 1080p gaming, whereas the Polaris 11 GPUs powering the RX 460/560 were always just a bit too underpowered to do that task without compromises.

With any luck, AMD’s messaging changes will help here as well. As I mentioned earlier, AMD has brought back discrete mobile SKUs; this is a Radeon RX 5500M, not a Radeon RX 5500 put in to a laptop. The difference is somewhat academic since all laptop parts have their clockspeeds adjusted to meet the power/thermal limits of a laptop’s design – so it doesn’t change how OEMs go about configuring their systems – but in most respects it’s clearer messaging. A laptop RX 5500M isn’t going to perform like a desktop RX 5500, and this naming helps that distinction.

AMD Radeon RX Series Mobile Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon RX 5500M AMD Radeon Vega Pro 20 AMD Radeon RX 560X AMD Radeon RX 460
CUs 22 20 14/16 14
Texture Units 88 80 64 56
ROPs 32? 32 16 16
Game Clock 1448MHz N/A N/A N/A
Boost Clock 1645MHz 1300MHz 1275MHz 1200MHz
Throughput (FP32) 4.6 TFLOPs 3.3 TFLOPs 2.6 TFLOPs 2.2 TFLOPs
Memory Clock ? Gbps GDDR6 1.5 Gbps HBM2 7 Gbps GDDR5 7 Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 128-bit 1024-bit 128-bit 128-bit
Typical Board Power 85W ? ? ?
Architecture RDNA (1) Vega
(GCN 5)
GPU Navi 14 Vega 12 Polaris 11 Polaris 11
Launch Date Q4 2019 10/2018 04/2018 08/2016

At any rate, looking at the RX 5500M, what we find is very much the mobile counterpart to the desktop RX 5500 Series. AMD has kept the same number of CUs (22), but has scaled back the clockspeeds to better fit the TDP needs of a laptop. I won’t rattle off the speeds and feeds here since it’s so close to the desktop parts we just covered, but the 1448MHz game clock is quite promising if practical consumer laptops can sustain that clockspeed.

All told, AMD is claiming that RX 5500M will hit 4.6 TFLOPs, which would be 88% of the performance of its desktop counterpart. And, given that AMD’s performance claims for the desktop part put it at RX 580/590 levels of performance, then ideally this would put the mobile part around desktop RX 570 levels. I say “ideally” because in practice mobile GPUs tend to be clocked lower still (either in configuration or throttling) to match the cooling capabilities of their host system, but even scaled back a little more, this would be a promising level of performance.

Meanwhile, the RX 5500M parts are also retaining the use of GDDR6. I’m still waiting on confirmation from AMD on the memory clockspeed – if it’s 14Gbps or 12Gbps – but even if AMD picks power consumption and takes the latter, this still puts the RX 5500M at 192GB/sec (or better) of memory bandwidth. This will be AMD’s first mobile part with GDDR6, so it’s a big deal there.

Curiously, however, RX 5500M configurations won’t ship with 8GB of memory. Officially, AMD’s specifications only call for 4GB of memory, so the mobile implementation won’t be available with as much memory as its desktop counterpart. Asking AMD about this, it sounds like this is cost-driven, which is something we’ve been seeing since GDDR6 first came available – it’s fast, but it also carries a price premium over GDDR5. In this case, AMD has told me that OEMs consider 4GB the sweet spot in performance versus price, especially as the OEMs look to make their machines attractive to as wide a market as possible. Also helping matters is that 4GB of GDDR6 has somewhat lower power requirements than 8GB. Ultimately, this means that RX 5500M is arguably going to be a bit undersized for AAA games when it comes to memory capacity – necessitating dialing the textures back a level – while AMD’s bread & butter of eSports games are far more forgiving.

Finally, we have TDPs. Being a mobile part, the Radeon RX 5500M will ship with a lower TDP than its desktop counterparts, and in fact it’s much lower. According to AMD the TDP for the top configuration is just 85W, only a bit more than half of the desktop cards’ TDP. This puts the RX 5500M right in the sweet spot for mid-to-high-end gaming laptops, as this is generally where we see GPU TDPs for those machines fall. I fully expect that RX 5500M is getting the best Navi 14 bins here in terms of leakage/power, and the lower clockspeeds help carry the part the rest of the way.

And 85W won’t be the only option for OEMs. AMD has also told me that the RX 5500M is the first time that AMD is offering variable TDPs for OEMs, allowing for OEMs to pick from several TDPs to meet their needs. AMD hasn’t given me an exact range here, but for the market they’re going after I wouldn’t be surprised to see options at 60W, if not lower. Lower TDP options will of course translate to lower performance to match, while allowing OEMs to get RX 5500M into thinner and lighter laptops (think MacBook Pros). Truthfully, I’m not sure how much of a game changer this is for OEMs, since they have shown to be capable of dialing things in on their own, but having official options at least simplifies the process and gives the OEMs a greater degree of support.

OEM Partners & Availability

As today’s announcement is all about AMD getting ahead of OEM announcements, the company and its many partners are also going to be announcing a slew of systems that will either be shipping with the RX 5500 Series or will offer it as an option. The list is too numerous to go through here, but for desktops it includes the usual suspects, from Dell to HP to Acer.

Officially, AMD’s guidance is for RX 5500 Series cards to start showing up in retail systems this quarter (Q4). But digging into their full press release, both HP and Lenovo are slated to begin shipping RX 5500-equipped systems in November, with Acer following that up in December. So we should be seeing RX 5500 desktop cards in some form or another next month.

Meanwhile, on the mobile side of matters, AMD’s lead partner for the RX 5500M will be MSI. A longtime AMD ally, MSI is announcing an all-AMD notebook: the MSI Alpha 15. The company’s latest gaming laptop is a true showcase for AMD technologies, incorporating AMD CPUs, GPUs, and even Freesync capabilities.

For a GPU, the MSI Alpha 15 will of course ship with the new RX 5500M. Meanwhile the CPU is AMD’s Ryzen 7 3750H, AMD’s highest-performing 35 Watt APU. The 35W Ryzen APUs have shown up in a number of systems, however it’s rare (if not refreshing) to see one paired with a faster AMD GPU like the RX 5500M. Finally, the laptop also incorporates FreeSync support, via a 1080p IPS panel that can go up to 144Hz. Finally, the Alpha 15 will likely be the first RX 5500 hardware of any kind to ship – according to AMD, MSI is expected to launch the laptop later this month.

Otherwise, AMD isn’t announcing any other RX 5500M laptops at this time. Given the importance of the MSI deal, I’m not too surprised to see AMD saving the press for their closest partner and their all-AMD machine, but I am curious to see where things go from here. Given the company’s history here, they do have a bit of an uphill climb to get the RX 5500M into more laptops, and thankfully for AMD, this part seems to be better prepared than past mobile SKUs to do just that.

Retail Cards: Coming in Q4

While today’s announcement is focused on OEM systems – an unusual inversion from the usual retail-first style of launches – AMD is also taking a moment to talk about what their plans are for RX 5500 Series retail cards. In short, the company will be releasing retail cards as well, and those will be coming this quarter.

At this point AMD isn’t releasing the full details of the retail lineup – if nothing else, they need to have something to save to announce when they actually start shipping those cards – but the retail cards will clearly be similar to what’s being announced today for OEMs. Given that we know that the OEM cards announced today aren’t using a fully-enabled Navi 14 GPU, it’s a safe bet that either in piecemeal or in whole, AMD will eventually end up with multiple RX 5500 Series cards for retail. The OEM RX 5500M is as good a baseline as anything for a vanilla retail RX 5500, leaving a fully-enabled chip for a potential XT variant.

Otherwise, since we do know so much about the hardware, the biggest question mark at this point will be pricing. AMD has to balance chip yields and GDDR6 costs against factors such as competitive pressure, so while AMD is favoring GTX 1650 comparisons, I’m not expecting the RX 5500 Series to be priced similarly to the $149 card. AMD could yet surprise us all, but as AMD won’t want to leave too big of a gap between the RX 5700 series and RX 5500 series, we’re likely looking at cards priced closer to the RX 570/580.

What we won’t be seeing at any point, however, are reference cards. AMD is telling us up-front that the retail RX 5500 Series launch will not have any reference cards (ala the RX 5700 series), and instead will start day-one with customized designs from the board partners. We may yet see everyone start off with semi-custom designs to bootstrap the process – a reference PCB with a custom cooler – but AMD won’t have a retail reference card. Which is not to say that AMD doesn’t have an internal reference card, as they’ve included what looks to be it in a few shots in their press deck, but that card won’t go to retail. I would not be at all surprised to see OEMs using it, however.

AMD Raise The Game Bundle

Finally, along with the holiday shopping season and parallel to the launch of the Radeon RX 5500 Series, AMD has also launched a new game bundle. Dubbed the Raise The Game Bundle, this covers AMD’s Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5500 series cards, as well as the RX 570/580/590.

For their latest bundle, AMD is giving Radeon video card buyers a choice between two games, both of which AMD is sponsoring and has worked with the developers on. The options for the bundle are Borderlands 3, alongside Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, the two of which have launched in the past couple of weeks. This bundle is set to run through the end of the year.

AMD Radeon Game Bundles
Hardware Bundle
Radeon RX 5700 Series
Radeon RX 5500 Series
Raise The Game (One Game):
Borderlands 3 or Ghost Recon Breakpoint
and Xbox Game Pass for PC (3 Months)
Radeon RX 570/580/590
Radeon VII
Radeon Vega
Radeon RX 560
Xbox Game Pass for PC (3 Months)

AMD’s Xbox Game Pass bundle is also still ongoing, and as part of the Raise The Game bundle has been extended to cover the Radeon RX 5500 series as well. So along with the free game, recent Radeon cards will come with a 3 month trial subscription for that offer as well.

Overall, it’s not unusual to see newly launched video cards bundled with games, but it is uncommon. Typically this is a sign that a manufacturer expects the market segment to be highly competitive – and thus, looking for a value-add edge over the competition – so this is a good indicator that AMD expects things to be busy in the mainstream video card market and OEM system builds for the rest of the year.

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