Radeon RX Vega graphics cards represent AMD’s top-tier graphics solutions, successfully competing with the GeForce GTX 1080 and GeForce GTX 1070 Ti. With good performance potential, Vega have a very high power consumption and heat dissipation, which seriously increases the requirements for cooling and ventilation of the case. AMD partners can correct these shortcomings in their non-reference models by offering graphics cards with good thermal and noise characteristics. In this review, we will consider just such a card. This is an improved version of the Radeon RX Vega 56 with excellent cooling and no less good overclocking potential.
We will explore the cooling capabilities of Sapphire Nitro +, test the video card for overclocking and compare its performance with the Radeon RX Vega 64 and GeForce GTX 1070 Ti.
Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX Vega 56 8G
Sapphire produces several variants of the Radeon RX Vega 56. The top variant is the Nitro+ RX Vega 56 Limited Edition. The video adapter in question differs from the leader in the absence of backlighting of individual elements and slightly less factory overclocking.
Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX Vega 56 comes in a large box. In addition to the instructions and the software CD, the package includes a special bracket to support a massive video card.
The video card is very large. Its total length reaches 34 cm, and the cooling system occupies three slots.
Sapphire Nitro + covers a black plastic case with three fans. In a strict design, a certain continuity in style is maintained, there is a pseudo-perforation on the casing, like many other Sapphire.
Even with an external examination, one can note the impressive dimensions of the radiator, which is hidden under the plastic. It is also clearly seen that this radiator occupies almost all the free space.
The reverse side is covered with a metal plate. The surface has a small geometric pattern and the Sapphire Nitro logo. There are slots for large elements on the board.
Near the name of the series there is a plastic symbol, illuminated in working condition. Also in the corner you can see two eight-pin power connectors and a third empty space. The three-socket configuration is implemented in the Limited Edition and on the top-of-the-line Radeon RX Vega 64 models.
The Sapphire Nitro+ has illuminated elements, but the Limited Edition has even more.
For image output, there are four connectors on the rear panel: two DisplayPort and two HDMI.
The metal plate not only protects the board, but also acts as a heatsink. It removes heat from the many microcircuits soldered on the back of the board. Contact with the heatsink is made through the gray thermal pads.
The video card is protected from disassembly by seals on the screws, and in this case we could not completely dismantle the cooling. The presence of such protection is extremely useful here, since we initially have the most efficient air cooling system, and any analysis can break contact with thermal pads and worsen heat removal from some elements.
After removing the reinforcement plate, you can also remove the plastic casing with fans. Sapphire Nitro+ uses the Quick Connect fan mounting system, which allows you to remove them for cleaning or replacement with just one screw. This procedure is easily performed even in the assembled state. The fans themselves have wide blades, which should increase the airflow. The diameter of the extreme models is 100 mm (the impeller is about 96 mm), in the center there is a smaller 90 mm fan.
Next, we will use the official photos of Sapphire. The cooling design involves five thick heat pipes. The main radiator consists of two sections of plates.
The board is covered by a separate metal plate. This base has a copper pad to remove heat from the critical elements of the VRM, and two flat heat pipes are soldered onto it with their own small radiators.
The base of the GPU heatsink is a massive copper evaporation chamber with a special pad for the graphics chip. The evaporation chamber carries all the heat pipes and the plate section. The second section, riddled with tubes, hangs over the board.
We don’t have photos of the Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX Vega 56 PCB at our disposal. But for illustration, you can use photos from Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX Vega 64. The video cards use the PCB of an identical design, but our version, as a junior model, may have some simplifications.
The variant under consideration has one less power connector. Also, when comparing photos of the back surface of the PCB, one can note the absence of one controller in the VRM area, so the Radeon RX Vega 56 has two less power phases.
For the reference Radeon RX Vega 56, a core frequency of 1471 MHz is declared, which actually reflects some expected value in the load. In this case, the minimum value in the load should be 1156 MHz. The specifications of the Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX Vega 56 list the initial value of 1266 MHz and the Boost frequency of 1550 MHz. HBM2 memory operates at an effective frequency of 1600 MHz with a 2048-bit bus.
It is important to understand that the stated core frequencies are a relative value. The actual frequency is variable, it depends on how close the video card is to the power limit and temperature limit at a particular point in time. An important advantage of a video card with powerful cooling is to minimize the effect of temperature on the frequency. The video card will not reach peak temperatures, which will allow you to keep a higher Boost.
The hardest gaming test we had was a looped 15-minute Final Fantasy XV benchmark. In it, the GPU frequency varied in the range of 1460-1500 MHz. Peak core temperature 65 °C, HBM2 memory heated up to 67 °C. And these are excellent indicators for a hot Vega video card. They were obtained on an open bench at an indoor temperature of about 24 ° C, so the heating inside the case can be higher.
When tested in Subnautica, the core frequency was closer at 1430 MHz, but in Battlefield 1 the average frequencies were close to 1500 MHz.
With any game, the fan operation algorithm was such that at first they spun up to about 1500 rpm, and then stabilized at around 1150 rpm. Sapphire Nitro + RX Vega 56 turned out to be quieter and colder than ASUS ROG Strix RX Vega 56, and against the background of reference models, these are generally excellent indicators.
Overclocking is fine. The GPU managed to overclock by 6% with a slight decrease in voltage, the memory was accelerated to 935 MHz, i.e. by almost 17% relative to the initial value of 800 MHz.
According to the GPU, the possible maximum Boost reaches 1687 MHz. The effective memory frequency is 1870 MHz, almost like the Radeon RX Vega 64.
The real Boost frequency in heavy games was kept at 1640 MHz. In terms of overclocking, Sapphire Nitro+ overtook ASUS ROG Strix in all respects. Yes, and the frequencies under 1640 MHz themselves are quite high.
For better cooling, the fans have been accelerated. Through the Radeon Wattman settings, the minimum and maximum speeds are set. As a result, the average speed in games was about 1800 rpm. In terms of noise, this is quite tolerable, but speed jumps at the start of applications are very noticeable. It should also be noted that the work at the selected frequencies was not ideal, but in general we passed all the tests with almost no failures. Overclocking a Radeon Vega always comes with stability caveats, especially with reference models, which we don’t recommend overclocking at all. Here overclocking is applicable, that for long-term use it takes more time to select the optimal settings — for example, reduce the maximum frequencies in favor of a lower voltage.
The resolution of 2560×1440 was chosen for performance testing. This is the best mode for comparison with other video adapters. In some games at a resolution of 1920×1080, Vega accelerators do not reveal their full potential, and for 4K they are already rather weak.