MSI RX 480 Gaming X 8 GB Review 120

MSI RX 480 Gaming X 8 GB Review

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Value and Conclusion

  • MSI told us pricing of their RX 480 Gaming X to be $259-$269, so we used $265 throughout this review.
  • Quiet
  • Overclocked out of the box
  • Low temperatures
  • Fans stop in idle
  • 8 GB VRAM
  • Backplate included
  • HDMI 2.0b, DisplayPort 1.4
  • Adjustable RGB LEDs
  • DVI port included
  • Power efficiency reduced significantly
  • Memory not overclocked
MSI's Radeon RX 480 Gaming X is the first Radeon RX 480 that manages to impress. Out of the box, the card is overclocked to a frequency of 1303 MHz, which is not a lot higher than the AMD reference of 1266 MHz, but throttling is reduced, which effectively increases clocks by 50 MHz when looking at the average clock in gaming states. As a result, the card is 4% faster than the RX 480 reference and 6-7% slower than the GeForce GTX 980, GTX 1060, and Radeon R9 Fury, which all have roughly the same performance at 1080p. It would have been nice had MSI also overclocked the memory, since the memory chips can certainly take it, as our manual testing shows.

Nearly all board partners have thus far either struggled to properly configure their fans or come up with a cooling solution that successfully manages to deal with the heat output of AMD's RX 480 GPU. MSI's RX 480 Gaming X, however, acts like most other MSI Gaming cards; unpack it, install it into your case, install the drivers, and you're done. No matter which game you throw at the card now, its noise levels are a quiet 31 dBA, which is still noticeable, but better than what most people expected custom RX 480 cards to deliver after the recent reality check. MSI also included the idle-fan-off feature we love so much since it provides a perfect noise-free experience during desktop work, Internet browsing, and even light gaming. Now, when you hear of such good noise levels, the first question you should ask is how good the temperatures are, and they are good as well, hitting around 73°C at most, which is a good balance between temperature and noise. Personally, I wouldn't have minded something like 75°C for slightly less noise to have the card compete with such super-quiet GTX 1060 custom designs as the MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X, which runs at only 28 dBA - truly whisper quiet. MSI has also included a metal backplate with their card, which improves the overall look and feel of the card and protects it against damage during handling.

Despite good thermal and acoustic performance, power consumption is the MSI RX 480 Gaming's weak point. In typical gaming, the card draws around 200W, which is a lot higher than the 150W AMD promised, and the 163W it delivered. It seems as though MSI traded a lot of power for increased performance, which results in a loss of 15% in overall power efficiency, bringing the card back to R9 Fury efficiency levels. Given how well the rest of the card performs, this is a non-issue in my opinion. Such an increase in power results in equally increased heat output, which means more work for the cooler. But since the MSI RX 480 has good temperatures and noise, there is no problem there. MSI has also upgraded the power input configuration to a single 8-pin, which seems to be an obligatory move for all custom RX 480 designs. It's also good to see that they upped the board power limit to make full use of that configuration to 225 W.

MSI has quoted us a price between $259 and $269, so we used $265 for our performance-per-dollar charts. Given the reference design retails at $239, this $25 increase is not unreasonable if you consider how much better the MSI RX 480 Gaming X performs in every single test in this review. In my opinion, this is thus far the only RX 480 that looks like it can compete with the GTX 1060 and its custom designs.
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