Apple has announced a new refresh for the MacBook Pro 16-inch, with claims that the new GPU option will provide up to a 75 percent performance improvement for end-users. Rumors suggest the GPU may be exclusive to Apple’s product lines, but the 5600M looks like a sizeable upgrade compared with anything AMD has shipped before.
With a $700 upgrade price, you’ll be paying through the nose for this GPU — starting price on the MacBook Pro 16-inch with a 5600M is going to be ~$3,200 for the base configuration.
One of the characteristics of low-power GPUs is that they tend to be wide and slow. Power consumption in GPUs and CPUs isn’t linear with respect to clock speed once voltage increases are required to achieve higher frequencies. With the 5600M, AMD has doubled down on this strategy. With 40 CUs, the 5600M matches the full-fat Radeon 5700XT in core count, but it runs at a fraction of the clock speed — 1035MHz boost clock, compared with 1905MHz for the 5700XT. Memory bandwidth, however, is nearly the same: 394GB/s for the 5600M, compared with 448GB/s for the 5700 XT. The chip uses a two-stack HBM2 solution for memory bandwidth, with two 1024-bit links in total.
Apple claims the GPU can offer up to a 75 percent performance improvement over previous cards, and looking at the specs, we can believe it — at least in some workloads. Navi was roughly 1.3x more efficient per clock than GCN, so shifting away from Vega / Polaris wins that as a major point immediately. Memory bandwidth has nearly doubled in several cases, so any GPU bandwidth-sensitive workloads are going to see a kick. The expansion to 8GB will allow the GPU to run workloads the 4GB 5500M couldn’t have touched.
We don’t know how effectively Apple’s earlier GPUs hold their clocks, so it’s impossible to calculate how much of an advantage the 5600M delivers. If Apple’s Radeon 5300M and 5500M GPUs in the 16-inch MacBook Pro spend most of their time near top-clock, the gains will be smaller. If they tended to pull down into the 1.2 – 1.3GHz range, the sheer width of the 5600M will give it a substantial performance boost.
Be aware, however, that the actual performance figures provided are below that 75 percent figure. The gains in Apple’s chosen benchmarks appear to mostly be in the 1.2x – 1.4x range, with both Fortnite and Total War: Three Kingdoms picking up ~1.3x.
Most impressive of all is the power consumption. AMD claims it can deliver this card — with 8GB of VRAM, 40 CUs, 160 texture units, and (presumably) 64 ROPs in just 50W of power — identical to the weaker, less-equipped 5300M and 5500M before it.
There are a few implications to AMD’s decision to build a Navi-class GPU this way. First, it means HBM2 is still delivering power improvements over GDDR6, at least above certain capacities. We knew that HBM2 had advantages over GDDR5 and GDDR5X, but GDDR6 is more power-efficient than either.
This, in turn, means that Navi is capable of using both types of RAM. This could have ramifications for AMD’s future CDNA GPUs (Compute Navi), or even some of its top-tier graphics cards. The assumption has been that AMD would equip Big Navi / RDNA2 with GDDR6, and I think that’s still the likely outcome, but this is the first time we’ve seen an RDNA GPU combined with HBM instead of GDDR6, and it means AMD is keeping its hand in that game.
As for the price and likely performance of the 5600M, here’s the way I see it: You don’t buy a MacBook Pro because you want a low-cost laptop with the highest possible performance-per-dollar. You don’t buy a high-end GPU from Apple if you care about pricing on the PC side at all, because Apple has always charged exorbitant upgrade prices.
The 5600M is going to be the highest-performing GPU option in a MacBook Pro, and that’s going to move at least some laptops from people who want performance in that form factor and with macOS instead of Windows. AMD says the new GPU option is for video editing, color grading, application development, and game creation. We probably won’t see this specific part come to Windows PCs, but we’d like to know what AMD’s plans for HBM2 and Navi look like in the future.
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