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Appeared on: Wednesday, June 29, 2016
AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB review

1. Polaris Is here - meet the AMD Radeon RX 480

AMD’s first graphics card based on the new Polaris GPU architecture is the Radeon GTX 480.

Aimed for the mainstream, the new card offers radically improved power efficiency and performance. AMD has already teased us with information about the new card back at Computex 2016,, but now it's time to take a look at the final, retail hardware.

The RX 480 is based in AMD’s Polaris 10 GPU - the larger of the two GPUs already announced by AMD. The total transistor count is 5.7 billion, which takes up 232mm2 on GlobalFoundries' 14nm FinFET process.

The RX 480 ships with all 36 CUs (2304 SPs) enabled. Each CU has 64 stream processors and 4 texture units. The card is also equipped with 32 ROPs, paired with 2MB of L2 cache.

AMD has stuck with a 256-bit GDDR5 memory bus and offers either 4GB or 8GB of VRAM. The reference 4GB RX 480 meets the RX 480 minimum specifications, whereas the reference 8GB card is de facto overclocked relative to those same specifications.

In terms of memory speeds, 7Gbps GDDR5 is the minimum speed for both RX 480 capacities.

  AMD Radeon RX 480 (8GB) AMD Radeon RX 480 (4GB)
Stream Processors 2304
(36 CUs)
(36 CUs)
Texture Units 144 144
ROPs 32 32
Base Clock 1120MHz 1120MHz
Boost Clock 1266MHz 1266MHz
Memory Clock 7-8 Gbps GDDR5 7Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit
Transistor Count 5.7B 5.7B
Typical Board Power 150W 150W
Manufacturing Process GloFo 14nm FinFET GloFo 14nm FinFET
Architecture GCN 4 GCN 4
GPU Polaris 10 Polaris 10
Launch Price $239 $199

One of the major goals of Polaris was power efficiency. RX 480’s official Typical Board Power (TBP) is 150W, over 20% lower than the last-generation R9 380, and 45% lower than the otherwise performance-comparable R9 390. Consequently the card only requires a single 6-pin PCIe power connector for external power.

The reference RX 480 is a double-wide, blower-style card measuring 9.5-inches long.

Connectivity options include 3 DisplayPorts and an HDMI port; AMD has done away with the DVI port for their reference design. Both port types support their latest respective standards. For DisplayPort this means support for the 1.3 and 1.4 standards, adding the newest, fastest HBR3 signaling mode, along with full HDR support. Meanwhile for the HDMI support, HDMI 2.0b is supported, offering 4Kp60 support with HDR.

AMD’s partners have started shipping AMD’s reference design in 4GB and 8GB capacities.

With two different capacities there are two different prices for the RX 480. The entry level 4GB card will be launching at the previously unveiled price of $199. Meanwhile the 8GB card will launch at $239, a $40 price premium for the extra 4GB of memory and the higher memory frequency.

The Radeon RX 480 series is launching into the mainstream market and at least for now, it has no competition. Nvidia's GTX 1070 is starting at $399 , so any competition there is for AMD is composed of last-generation 28nm cards, particularly the GTX 970 and GTX 960. But Nvidia is expected to soon release the GTX 1060 GPU in order to compete with the new Radeon RX 480.

We tested the AMD Radeon RX 480 (8GB) 1080 using the following PC setup:

CPU Core i7-6700K
Motherboard ASUS Z170-A
Memory DDR4-2133 8GB × 2 (15-15-15-35,1.20V)
Storage 256GB SSD
Graphics driver Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.6.2/ GeForce 368.39
OS Windows 10 Pro 64bit

2. 3DMark benchmarks

The AMD Radeon RX 480 (4GB) has taken the lead in all of the 3DMark tests -- from the Skydrive to the demanding FireStrike Ultra at 4K.

Overall, the RX 480's performance was about 35% and 10% higher than the Radeon's R9 380X and Nvidia's GTX 970, respectively. This performance lead was smaller in the Sky Diver benchmark.






3. Ashes of the Singularity, Witcher 3

Below you see the results for the Ashes of the Singularity DirectX 12 title. The benchmark was run at full HD resolution, and we summarize the average FPS for the tests:

The Radeon RX 480 missed the first spot only in the standard DX11 tests, staying approximately 2FPS behind the Nvidia GTX 970. You can also see that the DX12 API has helped the RX 480 provide a higher FPs compared to the DX11, under the "crazy" settings.

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt benchmark again gave the top score to Radeon RX 480. The card has a 15% performance lead over the GeForce GTX 970, and about 30-40% compared to the Radeon R9 380X. The result is almost consistent to what we previously saw in the Graphics Score of 3DMark.


4. Final Fantasy XIV, MHF benchmark

Moving on to the more demanding Final Fantasy XIV, the RX 480 gave a lower score than the GTX 970 in the DX9 1920x 1080 benchmark. Both cards delivered the same performance in DX11 full HD tests.

The RX 480 takes back the lead in the 2560 x1440 and 4K tests.


In the MHF benchmark, the RX 480 was about 5% slower than the GTX 970 in the full HD tests. AMD's new card will catch up in the 2,560 x 1,440 test and finally takes a 65 lead over the GTX 970 at 4K.

5. Dark Souls III, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Power consumption

The Dark Souls III game's maximum frame rate is fixed to 60 fps. For this reason, all the cards on the chart below come side-by-side in the 1080p resolution. But it was interesting to see than the Radeon RX 480 had the same performance with the GTX 970 in all the resolutions:

The very demanding Assassin's Creed syndicate title always requires high GPU resources in order to be playable.The> Radeon RX 480 recorded the highest FPS in all settings and the 4K resolution. However, in the resolutions of 2,560 x 1,440 and 1920 x1080, the RX 480 and the GTX 970 delivered the same FPS.

Power consumption

We measured the power consumption of the system during the benchmarks with each GPU. Both idle and maximum power figures we recorded.

Idle power consumption of the radeon RX 480 at 41W, this number has the highest numerical value among the three products were compared.

During almost all the benchmarks, the maximum power consumption of the RX 480 was 190W~210W - fairly close to the consumption of the the GeForce GTX 970.Despite being rated as a 150 watt card, AMD’s graphics card much more power under load. AMD says a software-based fix is incoming:

"As you know, we continuously tune our GPUs in order to maximize their performance within their given power envelopes and the speed of the memory interface, which in this case is an unprecedented 8Gbps for GDDR5. Recently, we identified select scenarios where the tuning of some RX 480 boards was not optimal. Fortunately, we can adjust the GPU’s tuning via software in order to resolve this issue. We are already testing a driver that implements a fix, and we will provide an update to the community on our progress on Tuesday (July 5, 2016)."

However, if the software fix involves reducing the power draw for the RX 480, that’ll most likely lower performance in the reference editions of the card as well, especially since Polaris’ performance is closely tied to the card’s power limit.

In any case, compared to the Radeon R9 380X, which consumed approximately 200 ~ 230W during the various benchmarks, the RX 480 offers greater power to performance ratio, provided that it offers an overall 30% higher score/performance.

6. DirectX12, 1440p gaming benchmarks

Below you see more benchmarks in the 1440p resolution as well as some DX 12 benchmarks. The cards we compare are the Radeon RX 480, the R9 380X, the GeForce 970 Strix and the GeForce GTX 960 4GB OC. Enjoy:


7. Final thoughts

AMD's Polaris architecture is shaping up and the AMD RX 480 benefits from the transition from the 28nm generation to the GlobalFoundries 14nm FinFET process. Polaris’s power efficiency has been significantly increased, along with the overall performance/resource efficiency as well.

The mainstream RX 480 offers a 40-60% performance gains compared to the previous generation cards, such as the Nvidia GTX 960 or the Radeon R9 380X.

The RX 480 will give you some extra power compared to the popular GTX 970, and is similarly ahead of AMD’s own Radeon R9 390. Do not expect AMD's new $190 card to enter the performance territory of the GTX 1070, which is almost 50% faster, but also costs more than 65% more.

In terms of power consumption, the AMD card is efficient enough, offering Hawaii-like performance at around half of the power. However, compared to the GTX 970, the power consumption is not as low as we would expect, at least in specific game benchmarks.

AMD and its partners are offering two different memory capacities of the RX 480 - with 4GB and 8GB onboard. The larger version will cost you some $40 more, but we believe the extra expense is worthy, since a 8GB RX 480 will be a more future-proof choice for you, espacially if you’re planning to play at 1440p or to use the RX 480 for VR.

AMD’s RX480 is here to shake up the mainstream market, and redefines what’s possible at affordable price points. n the other hand, there are no doubts that Nvidia has a GeForce GTX 1060 brewing, so stay tuned.

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