AMD’s latest flagship is the Radeon RX 480. It is part of their new Polaris line-up of GPUs and AMD hopes that these cards will completely revolutionise the graphics card industry.
How do they plan to do that? With disruptive pricing, they say.
AMD’s been stuck on the 28nm manufacturing process since around 2011. With Polaris, they finally switched to a 14nm FinFET process that vastly improves power efficiency, resulting in greater performance per watt.
Compared to previous AMD cards, the RX 480 series is vastly superior, offers an incredible performance bump at a drastic reduction in price. Unfortunately for AMD, this comparison is only valid against previous AMD cards.
A detailed analysis of Polaris is beyond the scope of this review, but if you’re curious, you can read more here.
While AMD’s been struggling to revamp their architecture, Nvidia has been casually stomping over them in every department, from price to features to performance figures.
|AMD Radeon RX480||AMD Radeon RX470||AMD Radeon RX460|
|Memory Bus Width||256||256-bit||128-bit|
|Transistor Count||5.7 Billion||5.7 Billion||3 Billion|
|Typical Board Power||150W||120W||<75W|
|Architecture||GCN 4||GCN 4||GCN 4|
|GPU||Polaris 10||Polaris 10||Polaris 11|
Does Polaris do anything to change AMD’s fate on the graphics front? A little bit, but AMD is yet to hit that price-performance sweet spot.
This review is only going to answer one question: Is it worth it?
Design and build: 7/10
The AMD RX 480 is a cuboid with a fan. There’s nothing special externally and the design is, well, functional.
The rear of the card features three DisplayPort 1.3/1.4 outputs and one HDMI 2.0 output. The card supports HBR and HDR so as far as resolution and image quality are concerned, the RX480 has you covered.
Cooling is provided by a very simple heatsink design that uses a single radial fan for cooling. As you’ll see later on, the design is surprisingly effective, given AMD’s history.
Power is delivered via a single 6-pin power connector, which is sufficient for the 150W rating of the card.
Features and accessories: 7/10
The card fully supports HBR (High Bit Rate) and HDR (High Dynamic Range), which should be evident from the DP1.3 and DP1.4 support that we mentioned earlier. Both these technologies will serve to enhance visual fidelity.
AMD’s FreeSync technology is supported across all ports as well. The real ace up AMD’s sleeve however, is asynchronous compute (AC). In layman’s terms, AC allows for out-of-order computational tasks on a GPU, thereby more efficiently using available resources. These computational tasks can include physics and AI calculations.
The benefits of this are best seen in DirectX 12 and Vulkan and as you’ll see from the results in the Doom benchmark below, Vulkan gives AMD a huge boost in performance compared to regular rendering processes.
Nvidia uses a technique of “pre-emption,” where one workload is stopped to make way for a higher priority, time-critical task. AMD’s method gives higher priority to such tasks and gives them access to more resources, but doesn’t stop the other graphics processes entirely.
Coming to the accessories, we really have nothing to report on that front. We received a stock card directly from AMD for testing, which is not a retail bundle and did not include any accessories.
AMD has positioned the RX 480 as a card that offers a VR experience on a budget. Given our testing, it doesn’t look like AMD hit that target.
For VR, both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require a minimum 90fps at a 2K resolution. By itself, the AMD RX 480 struggles to deliver an average of 90fps at half that resolution (FHD). Given limited stock of the 480, we couldn’t get our hands on a second card to verify crossfire performance.
What is interesting is that AMD’s 480 delivers about 50 percent of the performance of Nvidia’s monster, the 1080, at about a third of the cost. From that perspective, the 480 offers amazing value.
The real power of the Polaris architecture is evident in the benchmark. When compared to OpenGL 4.5, we saw a performance bump of over 30 percent across the board with the RX 480.
We haven’t listed the performance figures of the other cards in our test here because those cards were tested on an earlier build of Doom that lacked the Vulkan update. We’ll update the story with figures once we test those cards.
The thermals were also very much under control. AMD has certainly come a long way since their toasty HD48XX days. The RX 480 rarely crossed the 70 degrees C mark even under full load and idle temperatures hovered between 32 and 40 degrees C. This is at an ambient temperature of 26 degrees C.
Overall, the RX 480 does seem to offer great value if you’re gaming at FHD. The card consistently delivered over 40fps in all our tests at FHD resolutions and maximum settings, only dipping down to the low 30s in Ashes of the Singularity.
Our test rig is as follows:
- Intel i7 4770K (no OC)
- 8GB DDR3 RAM G.Skill RipJaws
- AsRock Z87M Extreme
- BenQ XL2730Z (2K)
- CoolerMaster Silent Pro 800W Gold PSU
- Windows 10 Enterprise Edition
All benchmarks are run at 1920x1080 (FHD) and 2160x1440 (2K) at maximum possible settings unless otherwise stated. Each result is the average of 3 runs.
Despite a strong showing from AMD, I’m still not sure if I can recommend the AMD RX 480. The card is good but Nvidia’s 1060 is better and retails for about the same price.
Officially, the 4GB variant of the RX 480 retails for Rs 20,990 and the 8GB variant for Rs 22,990. Actual amarket prices hover around the Rs 26,000 mark for the 8GB variant, however.
The problem here is that Nvidia’s 1060 offers about 15 percent more performance than the 480 at the exact same price point. Some are offering the 1060 for as little as Rs 23,000 (6GB RAM) and Rs 19,000 (3GB RAM).
Faced with such competition, it’s hard to recommend the 480 to anyone. Making this worse is AMD’s pricing policy in India, where they’re selling a $200 card (around Rs 13,500) for Rs 26,000. That’s almost double the price. Nvidia is also not innocent in this regard, but at least their mark-up isn’t as ludicrous (it’s “only” 60 percent on the 1080, for example).
The only advantage the 480 has over Nvidia’s 1060 is that the 480 supports up to 4-way crossfire while the 1060 doesn’t support even 2-way SLI.
Is it worth it? Unless you’re going for a multi-GPU setup, the answer is a no.
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