Conclusion

At the beginning of July, on July 7th, 2019 AMD launched the Radeon RX 5700 and Radeon RX 5700 XT video cards.  We performed a full evaluation of both video cards at launch, covering gaming performance and video card comparisons to the competition.  Our conclusion was very positive, combined with the price drop AMD initiated when launching the video cards, the performance aligned very well with the new prices. 

Both video cards provide a good alternative for gaming performance at the $349 price point for the Radeon RX 5700 and $399 price point for the Radeon RX 5700 XT.  The only question we had remaining from our initial review was how much more performance we could push out the video cards with some overclocking?  We didn’t really know how much headroom there was, until now.

In today’s review, we have taken both AMD reference video cards and overclocked both of them.  We wanted to find out how much headroom the GPUs had in terms of clock speed, and how voltage affected the GPUs.  We wanted to know what temperatures would result, and how good the reference cooler design really was when pushing the GPUs to the limits. 

With all the data we have collected today we have a baseline now that we compare new custom add-in-board partner video cards with.  When we review custom video cards, we can compare their overclocking behavior with the reference video cards and see how much better they are.  This will help us make comparisons in future reviews as we look back at this review as a baseline.

Overclocking Radeon RX 5700 Series

We opted to use MSI Afterburner for overclocking as it is an industry-standard at this point.  It is simpler, easier to use, less buggy, and more stable than AMD WattMan.  It allowed us to easily overclock both video cards and adjust voltage as well.  We had no trouble attempting to overclock both video cards.  Both video card also had some limitations that are currently imposed on the reference designs by AMD.

The two main limitations is a Clock Speed and Memory Clock Speed limit.  On the AMD Radeon RX 5700, the limit is 1850MHz versus the default 1750MHz.  You cannot go above 1850MHz.  The other limit is the memory clock speed at 930MHz versus the default 875MHz.  On the AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT the Clock Speed limit is 2150MHz versus the default 2069MHz.  The memory clock speed limit is set at 950MHz versus 875MHz default. 

The memory limit didn’t really limit us on either video card though as we could never achieve above 910MHz memory frequency on either one.  We were also not held back on the Radeon RX 5700 XT with the Core Clock speed as we could not achieve the maximum value anyway.  With that card, there was plenty of headroom in the limitations. The Radeon RX 5700 was the only video card we felt we were being held back on at the 1850MHz.  It might have been able to be overclocked higher had we had the option.

The Radeon RX 5700 only had a Power Limit of +20 though, and that does hold us back by not allowing us to raise the voltage high without hitting the TDP or board power limit.  The Radeon RX 5700 XT at +50 Power Limit gave us a little headroom to play with the voltage, slightly.  Ultimately this card also hit a board power limit wall, but not as fast as the Radeon RX 5700 did.

Radeon RX 5700 Overclocking

When it came to overclocking the Radeon RX 5700, we found it best to just leave voltage alone.  Neither overvolting or undervolting helped us in any appreciative way.  We simply raised the Power Limit and set the Core Clock to the limitation.  This gave us generally a 100MHz Clock Speed boost, or about 6% higher clock speed.  The memory also could not be overclocked much at just 14,560MHz versus 14,000MHz. 

Overall, this video card was not impressive with its highest stable overclock and performance advantage.  Generally speaking, you will see between 4-5% performance gain, with a loud fan.  The reference Radeon RX 5700 is not the video card for overclocking enthusiasts.  Here’s hoping custom video cards from manufacturers will fix that problem.

Radeon RX 5700 XT Overclocking

With the Radeon RX 5700 XT we had a bit better luck.  We could not max out the limitations on the clock speed sliders, therefore we had plenty of headroom with what we had to work with.  We raised the Power Limit and the Core Clock speed to an average of 2040MHz which was more consistent than the default clock speed and we achieved the same small memory overclock of the Radeon RX 5700, which wasn’t impressive.  With a slight voltage increase, we managed to maintain about 10MHz more on performance than without.  However, the power and temperature readings went through the roof.

There is one thing certain, the blower cooling on the Radeon RX 5700 XT is completely inadequate for overclocking.  We will have to look forward hopefully to custom add-in-board partner video card to fix that problem.  Maybe it’s time for AMD to drop the blower-style fan and go for an axial design like NVIDIA? 

Overall performance gains were a bit better on this video card, up to 10% in some cases.  Yet, other games had smaller differences at 6%.  It is just going to depend on your game.  The problem is, however, to achieve even this small difference we had to push the video card to the fringes of what it can handle.  It’s hot, it’s power-hungry, and it’s at a noise level that no one would accept.  All of that, and it just hits a 10% performance advantage when overclocked.  It’s asking a lot just to get a little.  Maybe custom cooled cards will be better. 

Final Points

So far, in regards to reference style AMD Radeon RX 5700 series video cards, overclocking is not a game-changer.  In fact, it doesn’t really get you a lot, yet it demands a whole lot.  The Radeon RX 5700 isn’t as bad, it runs cooler, and doesn’t eat up as much power.  However, it also doesn’t overclock very far and has the least amount of potential right now.  It also requires you to run the fan at a very loud noise level. 

The Radeon RX 5700 XT seems like the video card with the most potential.  However, it is going to require a much better cooling heatsink/fan unit on it to be able to push it to those level and be able to live with the noise level.  Ultimately even at +50 Power Limit, we are still being held back on-board power, and boy does that climb through the roof when overvolting. 

We will have to see what add-in-board video card manufacturers can come up with for pushing the Radeon RX 5700 XT further.  There’s some potential there, but that potential is going to also ramp up the cost trying to push it beyond a 10% game performance increase.  We look forward to testing custom video cards in the future.

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