The precursor to the issues that come
It used to be that tech companies released products and dropped prices if a competing product was announced or followed up with something better to decimate what was trying to compete with it. Recently some shenanigans have been afoot as the marketing and management of launches seemed to take strange and sometimes amusing tactics to get a “one-up,” so to speak on the competition.
Congratulations, you Jebaited yourself
some of this started with what became tech media news as AMD’s CVP & GM of RTG, Scott Herkelman tweeted “Jebaited” about the launch of the RX 5700 series. This was his way of confirming that AMD had allegedly released incorrect or higher prices for the RX 5700 stack to throw Nvidia off of the scent and get them to drop prices on their stack, along with releasing a SUPER series of GPUs to fill gaps where the RX 5700 series may fall.
— Scott Herkelman (@sherkelman) July 4, 2019
This was gobbled up by tech press all over the globe as everyone loves to read about drama. The issue that many did not see coming was that tactics like this while not unheard of can come back to bite you, as it only takes to be hit once by something like this before the competition will react accordingly. This move was wide lauded as a brilliant move by those observing. Still, I always felt like it was a very slippery slope and would eventually cause us to reach an event horizon of sorts, which will be very hard to escape once we have allowed this to go too long.
The 5500 XT, which was a low-mid mainstream part which released without too much fuss but was not the target for most gamers. A large number of the gamers targeted for the 5600 XT are those still running GTX 1060’s for the past several years.
Enter the 1060 replacement, the RX 5600 XT
When I first received my 5600 XT, it was in a brown inner package, which usually comes with an outer box sleeve with the graphics and spec/feature details that you would see on the store shelf.
This is not unheard of, as sometimes the cards are early samples depending on timing, and the boxes may not be finished. This did strike me as strange since the card was received approximately seven days before the embargo. Therefore knowing how the market works, retail boxes should be available in this circumstance.
However, the card was sent to me directly from AMD, which means they likely pretested them to ensure everything was ok, and therefore these samples could have been earlier and hence no box. I know it seems like a lot of talk about packaging, but it helps form the optic for the experience as a whole, so bear with me here.
News of a new VBios starts to make the news
Reports of a VBios update propagated among several tech news outlets, and boasted a significant performance gain, giving AMD a fighting shot or at least a better price/performance positioning. This, of course, progressed to me pestering AMD (via their media communications entity) with the request for a VBios update so that I could test the GPU as it was intended to be for the end-users who would be using them.
The media contact replied they were “Checking on it,” and this was on 1/17/2020, so keep that in mind as the card launches approximately 72 hours, and I don’t even have a VBios in my hand. Fast forward to 1/20/2020 at 5 PM eastern time (16 hours before the embargo/launch) I get an email from the media contact. This is to ensure I understand that the RX 5600 XT is not meant to replace the RX 5700 as they serve different audiences with no acknowledgment of the VBios or lack thereof. Luckily for me in the interim, I had tested with the VBios I had so I could at least have the review up with the performance I could achieve with the RX 5600 XT as it stood.
Launch Day 1/21/2020
The next day (Launch day), I get an email at 5:57 AM (3hr before launch) saying that “XFX has a new VBios posted” and provides a link.
I excitedly head to the link to download the VBios, and when downloaded, it is only a VBios file (56XT6150.W8). I contact AMD’s media entity directly as at this point; I want to get the card flashed so I can follow up on my review with the actual performance expected for end-users. I explain that there are no instructions on the page, and there is only a VBios file, which will be a net negative overall experience for end-users who buy an XFX card and try to flash it.
I wait about an hour or so and try the download again and find that now a ZIP file is downloaded (Yay! that was quick…. right?) I proceed to decompress the ZIP file to find everything I would expect in a needed BIOS flash. There is the flash tool, the VBios file (56XT6150.W8), a Batch file to execute the flash, and a text file that essentially tells you to ensure the BIOS switch is in the position you want to flash before starting the flash. I try to run the flash, and there is a quick flicker of a command prompt window as it appears and disappears in less than a second, the telltale sign that it’s not working. I continued trying to flash the card via several test benches in everything from administrator mode to even safe mode to try and sort the issue.
Now, out of pure desperation, I reach out to an internal AMD contact and am finally able to get a proper flash tool for the GPU. I flash the GPU, and everything seems on the up and up as the clocks are much higher, but still, this feeling of existential dread has entered me from this whole ordeal. I have formed a Stockholm syndrome of sorts at this point as I have been trapped in this review cluster, for much longer than I thought possible. Now, I have started to question everything about this launch and the viability of a consumer needing to flash their brand new card they just purchased.
The logical conclusion would be that everything went swimmingly after this point, right? WRONG!
Post-launch day 1/22/2020
I have completed most of my testing, and I head to the XFX page to see if the publicly available VBios have been fixed so I can mention it in my follow up coverage of the higher performance. The page now looks much better, but when I download the VBios to check it and I immediately observe yet another ZIP, but this time the VBios revision is different (56XT6150.W8A), and at this point, I have had enough, and I want off this roller coaster of hell. So once again, I reach out to my direct internal contact for assistance as I’m admittedly at my wit’s end. I tried my best to keep my composure, but I imagine I was a bit more irritable and insufferable at this point during the conversations going forward on this topic.
Later that day, I get the official email introducing the XFX rep who was working with this GPU launch, and I explained my issues via text the best way I could while trying to grasp the last strand of sanity my body possessed. The XFX response was a bit of understanding, along with an explanation as to what happened, which I will talk about now.
XFX apparently made a mistake when releasing the BIOS, first by posting it with no directions or a tool to flash, then by releasing one which simply didn’t work. XFX’s final result was to include the same GUI flash tool that I received from AMD to get the VBios flashed. The W8A VBios was never even meant to be released as it was an R&D VBios and was not expected to see the light of day outside XFX, and apparently the best way to accomplish that was to post it on the public webpage for the GPU. So, with that, I have a special BIOS for the card which should not exist (yay, I guess).
Ok, I read all of that, but who cares?
Now, most of you reading who have never worked as a technical journalist may see this as just a “first world problem,” but the reason this is such a big deal is that with the involvement of major players with skin in the game of this launch, they collaboratively had to work rather diligently to try to resolve this issue and this is for someone who has flashed countless motherboard, GPU and other firmware over the past decades. Now Imagine a regular gamer excited to have their new GPU, and they see that they need to flash their VBios, what’s the chance they have access to the people I have who can help resolve this quickly.
This all adds up to one hell of a struggle to get the card up to the speed which consumers will see from all of the reviews and performance representations out there. This leads to what this means for the long run of products in the future in the tech space.
This was a special occasion, right? why do we care it won’t likely happen again
Oh, how trusting you are, there is a word for this called precedent, and it references a previous event as an acceptable or amicable outcome to a situation. The reason this story concerns me and should definitely raise your eyebrows is that this has the potential if swept under the rug to become a more frequent thing, and therefore needs to be adequately admonished by media and the community to ensure that all parties involved understand that as consumers we will not stand for or support this kind of headache to get a product that matches the performance claims and results posted by independent reviews.