AMD Radeon RX 480 Launch

Posted on 05 Jul 2016 by
Nail Garejev

AMD has announced their first 14 nm based Graphics card a month ago. While Nvidia have started the new gaming GPU generation with their big guns (not the biggest, however), AMD aimed for the popular range around $200 with Radeon RX 480. It is time to see how well Red Team’s newest card performs in the real world.

RX 480 is based on Polaris 10 GPU, manufactured using Global Foundries’ 14 nm process. Polaris 10 contains 5.7 billion transistors, 2304 stream processors (cores) in 36 CUs (compute units), which is slightly less than R9 390 (40 CUs). Running at 1120 MHz base clock with boost up to 1266 MHz, RX 480 can reach up to 5.8 TFLOPS FP32 performance, slightly above R9 390X. AMD provides reference configurations with 4 GB and 8 GB GDDR5 VRAM with 256-bit bus. Reference 4 GB configuration uses 7 GT/s memory (224 GB/s bandwidth, $199), while reference 8 GB card uses faster 8 GT/s memory (256 GB/s bandwidth, $239). While the memory bandwidth is well below R9 290 (384 GB/s), the improved colour compression reduces the gap.

RX 480 is advertised as 150 W TDP card and only has a single 6-pin power connector. While it is enough to provide 150 W to the card, only 4 GB reference version manages to stay below that limit. RX 480 8 GB attempts to draw over 160 W under load, which may cause trouble with the motherboard. AMD has already promised to fix the issue in the drivers, that will likely result in lower performance to reduce power consumption. It is recommended to get RX 480 variants with either 8-pin connector or two 6-pin connectors which can safely provide adequate power to the card.

In terms of real world performance, RX 480 seems to hit its intended target. Overall, it is similar in performance to R9 390 and GTX 970, which means that it is also good enough for the current VR hardware requirements.  Depending on the game, it may fall behind or outperform those cards. As expected from the new generation after die-shirk, RX 480 clearly outperforms the older cards from the same price range (R9 280X and GTX 960). In terms of power efficiency, RX 480 is better than last generation AMD cards, but is close to Nvidia’s 28 nm Maxwell (GTX 9xx) and behind Pascal, as GTX 1070 provides much higher performance with similar power draw. Part of this difference may be due to the difference between Global Foundries and TSMC, so it is too early to call AMD’s latest architecture inefficient yet.

There are also some new media and output features. With Polaris, AMD finally has support for the latest DisplayPort 1.3/1.4 and HDMI 2.0b outputs. DP 1.3 allows uncompressed 4K at 120 Hz, while HDMI 2.0 allows 60 Hz output to 4K TVs. RX 480 can output for 10-bit displays with high dynamic range and should be able to output 12-bit colour as well. For video, there is hardware support for 4K 60 FPS HEVC (h.265) decoding and encoding. There is also hardware support for VP9 codec, but it is not yet exposed via drivers.

Overall, AMD Radeon RX 480 is a decent card for its price. While not breaking any expectations, it offers decent performance at a more affordable price. I personally recommend 8 GB version as a more future proof option, as modern games tend to use a lot of VRAM. Getting a card with improved power delivery is also recommended to avoid power related issues. At the moment AMD’s and Nvidia’s new GPUs are in the different price and performance categories, thus not directly competing. Things will become much more interesting when Nvidia releases cheaper RX 10xx cards and AMD releases higher performance RX 4xx cards.

Review round-up:

Tech Report

Tom’s Hardware

PC Perspective


AnandTech Preview

Comments (2)

Posts: 5
Nail Garejev
Posted 05 Jul 2016, 18:29
Depends on the game. In many games RX 480 and R9 390 go head to head. In worst case scenarios RX 480 may fall 20% behind. In best cases - pull 15% ahead.

Posts: 348
L Coulsen
Posted 05 Jul 2016, 16:46
How similar to the R9 390?