AMD Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT review: Blazing new trails

AMD's latest graphics cards contain numerous cutting-edge technologies, and an all-new "RDNA" architecture that fixes previous Radeon drawbacks.

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Radeon Software improvements

AMD gave Radeon Software a huge overhaul in December, but it’s adding some new features for the Radeon RX 5700 series release. Radeon Software Adrenalin 2019 Edition version 19.7.1 (phew!) will go live Sunday alongside the new hardware. While time constraints prevented us from giving these fresh goodies a test drive ahead of this review, they’re worth highlighting.

Radeon Anti-Lag

Radeon Anti-Lag was created to make esports gamers more competitive by, well, reducing input lag when you click your mouse. In GPU-bound scenarios (like esports), AMD says the CPU registers clicks at least one frame ahead of the GPU, and the GPU then renders the response on-screen, resulting in a delay of at least two frames, or 33.3 milliseconds at 60 fps. “Radeon Anti-Lag dynamically improves the pacing of the CPU work, allowing the CPU work to overlap a significant portion of the GPU work, so the CPU doesn’t get too far ahead of the GPU.” That can bring the delay back down to a single frame, or 16.7 milliseconds at 60 fps, the company says.

radeon anti lag AMD

Radeon Anti-Lag click-to-response improvements, measured by AMD.

Not everyone can even feel a single frame’s worth of improvement to input lag. But in the frantic, fast-paced world of competitive esports, every second matters, especially in higher-skilled play.

You can try out Radeon Anti-Lag by enabling it for specific games in the Radeon Settings app’s Gaming tab. You can also turn it on in-game using the Radeon Overlay. It works with all DirectX 11 games with any Radeon GPU, but the Radeon RX 5700 and 5700 XT can enable it for DX9 games, too. Don’t enable it universally; AMD’s reviewers guide warns that due to the way it works, it has “a minor impact” on gaming frame rates. It’s worth using in esports games where you can feel the difference in responsiveness, but it isn’t recommended for other genres.

Radeon Image Sharpening

radeon image sharpening AMD

You know the Sharpening filter in Nvidia’s Ansel tool? Yeah, Radeon Image Sharpening is nothing like that. While Ansel applies a sharpening filter to the entire in-game image, Radeon Image Sharpening uses algorithms to intelligently sharpen only the areas that need it, reducing the blurriness that can pop up when you activate various anti-aliasing methods or run games at a lower resolution than your display’s maximum. Better yet, it does so with next to no performance impact, AMD says.

Here’s how AMD’s reviewers guide describes Radeon Image Sharpening:

“Because RIS is based on an algorithm that modulates the degree of sharpening depending on contrast, it clarifies interior object details while leaving high-contrast edges largely untouched. RIS sidesteps harsh artifacts like “ringing” or halos that commonly affect other sharpening methods. Meanwhile, it avoids damaging smooth gradients on high-contrast edges. As a result, RIS can be combined with virtually any anti-aliasing technique used in a game, and the results will look great.

“When paired with Radeon GPU scaling, RIS allows gamers to configure their games to run at lower resolutions to optimize performance while still enjoying crisp, detailed full-screen visuals.”

radeon image sharpening performance impact AMD

Sounds nifty! And talking to Scott Herkelman on The Full Nerd, it sounds like Radeon Image Sharpening could be a cornerstone of AMD’s future ray tracing ambitions.

For now, though, it works only with DirectX9, DirectX12, and Vulkan games on the Radeon RX 5700 GPUs. Yes, DX11 support appears to be missing for now, and RIS can’t process HDR visuals, either. To activate it, open the Radeon Settings app and enable Radeon Image Sharpening in the Display tab. AMD also recommends activating the GPU Scaling option in the Display tab if you’re using RIS to compensate for using a lower resolution than your display’s maximum.

Tweaks and tuning

While Radeon Image Sharpening and Radeon Anti-Lag steal the spotlight, AMD also added helpful tweaks to existing tools in Radeon Software Adrenalin 2019 Edition 19.7.1. We’ll quickly recap the most notable.

Radeon Chill was already impressive, intelligently ramping down frame rates during static scenes to use less power—sometimes significantly so—without making it feel like your game’s running slower. And now it’s even better. The latest Radeon Software update alters Chill so that it “automatically sets its frame rate targets based on the refresh capability of the connected display.” Previously, Chill targeted 72-fps and 144-fps thresholds on every display. Now, the display-aware feature will change that to 30 fps and 60 fps on 60Hz monitors “to better match the rate of in-game animation to the display’s update rate.”

radeon chill perf AMD

The lower target thresholds can also reduce power demands even further. AMD’s briefing materials claim that Chill can now deliver up to 2.5X more power savings than before, and like I said, it was already really great. I’m looking forward to testing this out with a 60Hz display.

The new software adds a Settings Snapshot option that lets you create, save, and load custom profiles. Radeon Wattman receives some extra polish, too, with a new power meter and a summary of changes after you run one of its auto-overclocking or -undervolting tools. Now, you’ll be notified of your new minimum and maximum clock speeds after the auto-tuning finishes.

Finally, if you have a gaming PC in your living room, a new Automatic Low Latency Mode feature lets your Radeon GPU force your TV into gaming mode with no effort on your end (assuming your TV offers a lower latency gaming mode, natch).

Now that the stage is set, let’s get to the games!

Next page: Our test system, gaming benchmarks begin

At a Glance
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