AMD Radeon RX 480 review

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PROS
  • Excellent 1080p performance
  • Decent 1440p performance
  • Cheapest VR-ready GPU
CONS
  • Slightly noisy under load
  • Not that much faster than a GTX 970
KEY FEATURES
  • GCN 4 “Polaris” architecture
  • 8GB GDDR5 memory
  • 2,304 stream processors
  • 1,120MHz base clock speed
  • 4GB models available for £180/$270
  • Manufacturer: AMD

WHAT IS THE AMD RADEON RX 480?

AMD surprised everyone when it announced the Radeon RX 480 at Computex at the beginning of June. With an Nvidia-busting price and performance to match, it looked as if AMD had managed to serve up a proper game changer.

As the benchmarks have begun to roll in the hype has faded somewhat, but what we’re left with is a competent card at a low price point. Is it enough to beat Nvidia’s offerings?

SPECS AND TECHNOLOGY EXPLAINED

AMD has moved from its GCN (Graphics Core Next) 3 architecture to GCN 4, codenamed Polaris. It’s a fairly big shift in terms of the chip’s physical design. Gone is the 28-nanometer process used in the previous generation, to be replaced by a 14nm process. This allows for a greater number of transistors on any given piece of silicon, but without resulting in an increase in power consumption and heat.

The 14nm process is more dense than the 16nm process of Nvidia’s Pascal architecture, used in the GTX 1070 and 1080, but since AMD hasn’t yet launched a GPU to rival either of these cards, direct comparisons on the effectiveness of this denser arrangement remains to be seen.

Still, it means AMD has been able to pack a huge amount of power into a GPU that will suit many smaller budgets.

It’s important to temper your expectations, though. This is firmly a mid-range graphics card, so any fancy new technologies are unlikely to be found here. Instead, specs-wise, the RX 480 is merely solid; not extraordinary. There are 36 compute units and 2,304 stream processors running at a base clock speed of 1,120MHz and a boost speed of 1,266MHz.

All this without a huge power draw; the RX 480 is rated at just 150W.

It’s capable of up to 5.8TFLOPs (trillion floating-point operations per second), which puts it very much ahead of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, its closest rival at this price. However, TFLOPs figures don’t reveal the whole story and, as you’ll see from the benchmarks, a greater number of TFLOPs doesn’t equal superior performance.

AMD Radeon RX 480

The RX 480 is supported by GDDR5 memory, with some cards including 4GB and others getting 8GB. 4GB models cost £185/$277, while 8GB units will be £215/$323. The differences don’t end here: 4GB units will have memory capable of 7Gbps (gigabits per second) speeds, while 8GB will have up to 8Gbps.

Third-party manufacturers might choose a different GDDR5 specification in order to save money, but AMD guarantees that no card will ship with a throughput that’s less than 7Gbps. It’s perhaps a little confusing, but isn’t a cause of worry; pricing and specs sheets will make it fairly clear what you’re buying.

We were supplied with an 8GB, 8Gbps card, and as a result can’t comment on the performance of the lower-specification models with any firm numbers.

The RX 480 also features asynchronous computing, meaning developers can assign tasks to the GPU with differing levels of priority, but have them all undertaken at the same time. This results in less stutter in games running in the latest DirectX 12 framework.

AMD Radeon RX 480

DESIGN AND PORTS

There isn’t anything particularly notable about the RX 480’s design, but it’s a cut above the cheapest graphics cards around. There’s matte-black plastic around the sides and a dotted plastic finish along the bottom of the cooler. There’s no fancy backplate, but I wouldn’t expect that from a card at this price.

The cooling system consists of a single fan, which spins up to a decent whirr when under load. You’ll probably want a fairly well-insulated case to keep noise at bay, but it’s far from the loudest I’ve heard.

The RX 480 gets its juice from a single six-pin PCI Express power connector. There are three DisplayPorts and an HDMI port at the rear. The DisplayPorts are of the 1.4 specification, meaning that they’re ready for HDR gaming when titles and monitors begin to support the standard.

PERFORMANCE –- BENCHMARK RESULTS

I tested the Radeon RX 480 in our in-house test rig. It represents a fairly typical gaming PC and consists of the following components:

  • Motherboard: Asus Z170-Deluxe
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-6600K (not overclocked)
  • RAM: Corsair Vengeance 2,666MHz, 16GB DDR4
  • Cooler: Corsair H60 liquid cooler
  • PSU: Corsair CX750M
  • SSD: Samsung 850 EVO
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit

For this review, I’ll be comparing the RX 480 with the other GPUs we’ve tested recently. It’s the first AMD card to undergo tests in this way, so will be able to make comparisons only to recent Nvidia cards right now.

Dirt Rally

Dirt Rally is the easiest game in our suite of gaming benchmarks, and offers an insight into what gamers with relatively simple demands can expect. TrustedReviews’ benchmarks dictate that we run the test at the Ultra preset. The RX 480 didn’t break a sweat at 1080p or 1440p, and provided easily playable frame rates at both resolutions. It was between 5% and 8% slower than the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 at these resolutions.

Thanks to its larger 8GB frame cache, the RX 480 was actually a little quicker than the GTX 970 at 4K resolution, but the point is somewhat moot since neither card is really suitable for 4K gaming.

AMD Radeon RX 480

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a challenging title with numerous particle and explosion effects as well as high-resolution textures. Its benchmark is short but intense, and provides a decent idea of how the game will run under normal conditions. The benchmark is run at the game’s highest preset.

The RX 480 came remarkably close to overhauling the GTX 970 in this benchmark, managing an excellent 83.6fps at 1080p and a very playable 57.2fps at 1440p. This put it around 2% slower than the GTX 970 in both cases.

AMD Radeon RX 480

Hitman

Hitman is a tough game on both CPU and GPU, with lots of NPCs milling around and some very pretty lighting effects. The game is one of AMD’s showpiece titles, so it isn’t surprising that the RX 480 was well clear of the GTX 970, posting a score of 69.7fps at Full HD and 54.3fps at 1440p, putting it 20% and 22% ahead.

AMD Radeon RX 480

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider’s benchmark includes plenty of lighting and particle effects and is a decent representation of real gameplay.

At Full HD, the RX 480 managed a smooth 63.5fps, dropping to a still very playable 44.2fps at 1440p. At Full HD it was 6% faster than the GTX 970 and a full 20% faster at 1440p, which is a great result.

AMD Radeon RX 480

Ashes of the Singularity

We haven’t tested any other GPUs in this massive strategy game, but AMD’s marketing is very clear about the impact of async compute, so I felt compelled to try it out. I also ran the same test with the non-async compute-compatible GTX 970 to see what difference it would make. Not a huge amount, it turns out. The RX 480 managed 56.6fps while the GTX 970 managed an average of 56.6.

This doesn’t tell the complete story, however; async compute should assist with minor stutters, too, but I didn’t see any difference when running the benchmark. Still, this is one area where the RX 480 may hold an advantage in the future and is worth bearing in mind.

3D Mark: Fire Strike Ultra

Fire Strike Ultra is a synthetic benchmark that doesn’t represent any game in particular, but is an extremely challenging test that normally sets aside any anomalous results from other games. The RX 480 was bottom of the pile when it came to performance here with a score of 2,638, although not by a huge amount, which rather neatly summarises the RX 480’s overall performance.

AMD Radeon RX 480

OVERCLOCKING, CROSSFIREX AND VR

The RX 480 supports AMD’s new WattMan tool, which allows for a very customisable overclocking experience. However, I wasn’t able to sustain a well-behaved overclock during my time with the RX 480. I plan to revisit this following the launch of the card and its official Crimson drivers. I’ll also be conducting a full assessment of the RX 480’s VR performance once the drivers become available.

The same applies to CrossFireX. When it announced the GPU, AMD claimed that two RX 480s in CrossFireX could beat a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 under certain conditions. Without the drivers to test it, I can’t vouch for this claim, and I’d urge those thinking of doubling up on RX 480s to wait for post-launch CrossFireX benchmarking results before shelling out £400/$600 or more.

SHOULD I BUY THE AMD RADEON RX 480?

With excellent Full HD performance and decent 1440p frame rates as well, the RX 480 is an attractive proposition.

It’s stonking value right now: at £215/$323 (RRP) for the 8GB version, you can’t buy another graphics card with this much memory for less money. The 4GB version is also impressively cheap at £180/$270; but since I haven’t tested it, I can’t vouch for its performance. There is an argument that if you’re not going to be messing around with VR and don’t have a 1440p monitor, the 4GB model will be a better buy. When I get a 4GB RX 480 in for review, I’ll report back.

But the question here is “should I buy?”, and I think you should. The usual caveats of “wait until you see what Nvidia has to offer” apply, but I’m not convinced the company will be able to get down to the sub-£200/$300 mark with its rumoured-to-be-coming-soon GTX 1060. The GTX 1060 will probably be more powerful, but it’s unlikely to be quite so cheap. Or, if it is that cheap, I’m pretty certain that is won’t have 8GB of GDDR5 memory.

Also worth bearing in mind is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970. While it comes equipped with only 4GB (3.5GB with allocation issues taken into account), you might start seeing the card at prices near or below that of the RX 480. If you have a G-Sync monitor or tend to play games that work better with Nvidia cards, it’s a reasonable alternative. I’d still recommend getting the latest and greatest in the form of an RX 480, though.

If you have a 1440p monitor and have extra money to spend, the GTX 1070 is a better bet, but if you’re on a tight budget the RX 480 is more than capable, especially if you’re not fussed about having every single graphics setting maxed out.

VERDICT

The Radeon RX 480 is the card to buy for Full HD gaming right now.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/L2lS97)

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