AMD Radeon RX 480 8 GB Review 450

AMD Radeon RX 480 8 GB Review

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The Radeon RX 400 series will be AMD's most important generation of discrete graphics products because it could set the direction in which it wants to take its consumer graphics IP. The company already makes graphics processing solutions for the biggest game consoles and will do so even with the next-generation. It is the first graphics card family launched by AMD after massive company restructuring in which various graphics-related divisions have been consolidated into the new Radeon Technologies Group (RTG) headed by Raja Koduri.

Today, AMD released the Radeon RX 480 to the market, which we will cover in this review. This is the company's first graphics card based on its new "Polaris" GPU architecture, and its first chip built on the 14 nanometer FinFET process. It is also the first AMD GPU made at GlobalFoundries, which is a deviation from the year-long relationship with TSMC. The new process will be the key driver of big performance-per-watt gains over the previous architecture, enabling AMD to up transistor-counts per market-segment, creating faster chips.

Normally, one would expect AMD to launch a new GPU architecture with a door-kicking enthusiast-tier product (eg: the R9 290X for GCN 1.1), or at least a performance-segment one (eg: R9 285 for GCN 1.2), but the Radeon RX 480 is neither. It targets a price-performance sweet spot, starting at just $199 for the 4 GB variant and $239 for the 8 GB variant, which we're testing today. AMD claims this product to offer performance rivaling performance-segment products from the previous generation, such as the bestselling GeForce GTX 970. It does so at $199 with a TDP rated of just 150W and power being drawn from just a 6-pin PCIe power connector.

Launching a new architecture with a product in this segment is a gamble. It brings new-generation technology to the biggest slice of the market, something rival NVIDIA hasn't done yet, launching its "Pascal" architecture with the $379-449 GTX 1070 and the $599-699 GTX 1080. For as little as $199, consumers are being given "newness" such as 14 nm, the latest display outputs, advanced energy-efficiency, and so on. AMD must obviously be backing such aggressive pricing with good-enough inventories to cater to the great mass of buyers. On the other hand, this same mass of buyers will be curious, sweeping through reviews to figure out whether it's fast enough for their needs, or whether it would be wise to save up for a faster product.

"Polaris" really is just a fancy word for 4th generation Graphics CoreNext (GCN) architecture. The silicon driving the RX 480, which is based on "Polaris," is codenamed "Ellesmere and is externally referred to by AMD as "Polaris 10." The way the GPU or even its number-crunching machinery are structured isn't significantly different from the GCN 1.2 based "Tonga" silicon driving the R9 285. This isn't as big a design change as VLIW to GCN (between the HD 6000 series and the HD 7000 series). That being said, there do seem to be some genuine component-specific improvements we'll discuss on the next page.

In this review, we're taking a close look at the AMD reference design of the Radeon RX 480. The dual-slot card comes with a single-fan-blower cooler in the traditional AMD style and just a 6-pin power input. Pricing has been set at $239 for the 8 GB version we are reviewing today, and there soon will also be a 4 GB version for $199, though its memory clocks will be lower.

Radeon RX 480 Market Segment Analysis
R9 380X
GTX 780
R9 290
R9 390
GTX 970
RX 480
R9 290X
R9 390X
GTX 780 Ti
GTX 980
Radeon R9
Shader Units20482304256025601664230428162816288020483584
Graphics ProcessorTongaGK110HawaiiHawaiiGM204EllesmereHawaiiHawaiiGK110GM204Fiji
Memory Size4 GB3 GB4 GB8 GB4 GB8 GB4 GB8 GB3 GB4 GB4 GB
Memory Bus Width256 bit384 bit512 bit512 bit256 bit256 bit512 bit512 bit384 bit256 bit4096 bit
Core Clock970 MHz863 MHz+947 MHz1000 MHz1051 MHz+1120 - 1266 MHz1000 MHz1050 MHz876 MHz+1126 MHz+1000 MHz
Memory Clock1425 MHz1502 MHz1250 MHz1500 MHz1750 MHz2000 MHz1250 MHz1500 MHz1750 MHz1750 MHz500 MHz
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