Review: AMD Radeon RX 480 review

Review: AMD Radeon RX 480 review

Review: AMD Radeon RX 480 review

Introduction and specification

AMD’s new Radeon RX 480 graphics card pivots around one goal: bringing high-end gaming and the virtual reality experience to a wider selection of PC enthusiasts and gamers.

And with over 40 VR headsets slowly making their way to market – including the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift – we’re pretty convinced this card and others like it will play a huge factor in the graphical arms race that’s about to ensue.

After all, virtual reality will only become a success if games developers and publishers feel confident funding titles that can sell to a wide audience, one that needs to be far greater than VR currently has.

Virtually capable

Does the RX 480 make that more likely to happen? Well, yes. For now, it’s easily over the minimum spec for virtual reality. It performs well at 2,560 x 1440 pixel-resolution and astronomically at 1,920 x 1080, and we may see its pricing fall should Nvidia release its rumored GTX 1060 card.

Nvidia manufactures its new Pascal-based GTX 1070 and 1080 cards on a16nm FinFET process, whereas AMD’s first sub-22nm offering uses 14nm. That’s right – AMD’s first offering to the sub-22nm Gods is this, the Radeon 480 8GB edition.

Coming in at a neat £215 (or US$240 – around AUS$323), this sweet little number is a cushy £60 (around $81, or AUS$108) less than the mighty, now value-oriented GTX 980. We’re bringing that up for one reason: this reference card, with a slight tweak in the overclock settings, outperforms it.


All the good stuff

So, how do its specs measure up? Well, AMD’s Radeon RX 480 comes packed with 2,304 stream processors (think the equivalent of Nvidia’s CUDA cores), 36 compute units, 8GB of GDDR5 on a 256-bit bus enabling a minimum of 224 GB/s of bandwidth and a maximum boost clock registering up at 1,266 MHz; before you overclock, of course.

All in all it enables around 5.8 TFLOPS of performance, placing the card exactly where we’d expect it. AMD is also selling a 4GB variant of the card at £180 (or $199 – around AUS$325).

Performance, cooling and overclocking

So, how does the RX 480 perform? At 1080p it dominated our testing suite, with both Far Cry Primal and The Division averaging 60 fps and 58 fps respectively. Total War: Attila, one of our more aggressively unoptimized titles, achieved an average frame rate of 30 fps.

Rise of the Tomb Raider and Ashes of the Singularity (the latter running using DX12), achieved 34 fps and 36 fps respectively. That doesn’t sound like the 60 fps dream frame rates that we all strive for as PC gamers and enthusiasts; however it’s important to bear in mind that we purposely ramp up every setting possible, including the more GPU aggressive forms of anti aliasing, and HD texture packs. Comparing this to a reference GeForce GTX 970, we saw the RX 480 out class it in every title by 10-15% on average, with a notable improvement at 1080p.

At 1440p, the tables turn even more, partly in thanks to the RX 480’s 8GB of VRAM and partly due to the overall design of the asynchronous computing processor at its heart.

Frame rates remained steady, even with our high-definition texture packs installed, with Far Cry Primal and The Division still well up into the 40s. The most impressive feat however was our Ashes of the Singularity benchmark, where the RX 480 achieved a stunning 30 fps average – only 6 fps fewer than at 1080p.

Chip render

Cool customer

As far as keeping that 14nm GPU cool goes, the RX 480 holds its own with an innovatively redesigned blower style shroud that pulls in air from both sides of the card. This is particularly interesting because the card features a smaller PCB than we’ve come to expect from the likes of a mid-range graphics cards such as this.

The single six-pin power combined with a TDP of 150W also hints at a far simpler PCB design. Yet even with that single six pin, we still managed an admirable 8.5% overclock on the core clock, and added an additional 190 MHz on the memory.

Left to its own devices, the RX 480’s stock fan is quiet and keeps the card running at a reasonable 73 degrees under load. It amps up to around 82 degrees celsius once you ramp the overclocks up – well within acceptable parameters – and if we’re honest it’s a little conservative too. That’s no doubt in response to all those internet commenters claiming they no longer need heaters after the launch of the R9 200-series GPUs way back in 2011.

Overclocking mode on

Rather interestingly, the biggest change that came with the launch of Polaris 10 actually stems from AMD’s Radeon Crimson software package. I’m speaking particularly here of a fantastically in-depth overclocking utility going by the name of WattMan.

Currently it’s the only way you can overclock these GPUs as voltage controls and power limits are strictly locked outside of the BETA software, at least for now. Although it’s likely we’ll see Sapphire, MSI and other Add-in-Board (AIB) partners update their packages accordingly.


So, what’s so special about this new tool? Well, aside from opening up voltage control, it gives you access to a variety of other settings and allows you to overclock the core clock. There’s your typical easy mode, where you can increase the core clock by a certain percentage (alas no MHz increases here, but percentages instead).

Or, you can take it one step further and change the frequency curve at each DPM state, alongside with how much voltage you apply at each state to the GPU. This allows far more control over how your card performs.

During my testing, to get the most out of this card, I set the voltage across the board up to 1150 mv at each DPM state. I also enabled a GPU offset of 8%, increased the memory offset by 190 MHz and unlocked the power limiter all the way up to 50%. I saw a final clock of 1,366 MHz. In 3DMark’s Firestrike test, this increased our score from 10,542 all the way up to 11,775, a full 400 points higher than a reference GTX 980.

That’s bad for a card that (at time of writing) costs a chunk less. But one thing to bear in mind is that the RX 480 I tested comprises of a single six-pin power. Aftermarket partners will no doubt add additional power to the card and improve the power phases, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility to expect higher overclocks once higher end boards become available.


If 14nm and 16nm FinFET have shown us anything, it’s that this generation of GPUs from both AMD and Nvidia provide an exceptional leap in graphical grunt compared to the last series. The Radeon RX 480 certainly hasn’t disappointed, providing gaming bang for your buck.

We liked

When it comes to price to performance here, the Radeon RX 480 is astronomical. On top of that this card runs smooth and quiet and decimates at 1080p. With aftermarket cards coming featuring more intuitive power designs, we’ll be highly surprised if we don’t see 3DMark Firestrike figures well into the 12,000s during benchmarks.

We disliked

Honestly, it’s quite hard to pick flaws here. Our biggest gripe would be the potential for movement in the RX 480’s price. Although the tech market is in particular flux right now, we’d be surprised if this card didn’t drop in price should Nvidia’s GTX 1060 race out of the traps soon. While useful, WattMon is a little rough around the edges at this moment in time.

Final verdict

AMD, the kings of value, have returned with a killer card. The Radeon RX 480 holds 60 fps at 1080p with ease, and is a comfortable and fun experience at 1440p. Couple this with a 120 fps FreeSync monitor, and you’ll be well on the way to an absolutely fluid gaming experience. There’s lots to like here for anybody who isn’t looking to game in resolutions higher than 1440p.

Source: Tech Radar


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