Sapphire Radeon RX 590 Nitro+ Special Edition 8 GB Review 68

Sapphire Radeon RX 590 Nitro+ Special Edition 8 GB Review

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Value and Conclusion

  • The Sapphire Radeon RX 590 Nitro+ Special Edition is expected to retail for $279.
  • Faster than the GTX 1060 6 GB
  • Plays everything at 1080p
  • Very quiet in gaming (with quiet BIOS)
  • Overclocked out of the box
  • Memory overclocked, too (default BIOS)
  • Fans stop in idle
  • Dual BIOS
  • Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2, and The Division 2 included ($100+ value)
  • Backplate included
  • Very high power consumption
  • High multi-monitor power consumption
  • Limited overclocking potential
  • Memory overclocking limited by Wattman limits
AMD's Radeon RX 590 comes at the right time to make a splash for X-mas business. The new card is based on the same Polaris architecture we saw two years ago on the RX 480, but uses a new 12 nanometer process at GlobalFoundries. Besides the production process, everything is identical on the RX 590. The number of shaders, ROPs, texture units, etc., is identical to what we saw with the Radeon RX 480. Software features are also unchanged, but at this time, there is no pressing need to address these. It seems AMD simply leveraged the new 12 nanometer process to reach higher clock speeds on their RX 590 with the minimum in time and money invested, which actually makes sense. The switch to the new 12 nm node lowers power draw, which conversely increases GPU-clock headroom. AMD cashed this headroom in to increase clock speeds by 15% over the RX 580.

The Sapphire Radeon RX 590 Nitro+ is significantly faster than the GTX 1060, by 11% when averaged over all our testing at 1080p. The performance improvement over RX 580 is 12%, which is better than expected. This means that NVIDIA's next-fastest SKU, the GTX 1070, is only 20% ahead, and RX Vega 56 (AMD's next fastest card) is 25% faster. The additional 10% in extra gaming performance over the RX 580 will come in handy when it comes to driving the latest titles at 1080p. Compared to what was needed two years ago, games do have (a bit) higher hardware requirements these days.

Power consumption of the RX 590 is comparable to the Radeon RX 580—so no improvements here. The Sapphire Nitro+ is a good bit more energy efficient than the XFX Fatboy we reviewed today, too. As for AMD's side, it looks like all the improvements from the 12 nanometer process went into reaching higher clocks instead of reducing power consumption. This is a reasonable approach since in this segment, performance is very important, and beating the GTX 1060 is a must to make the RX 590 a success. When looking at performance per watt, the RX 590 ends up as one of the worst cards in our test group. NVIDIA's GTX 1060 is 60%-80% more power efficient, and their RTX cards have more than twice the performance per watt. What's also a bit sad to see is that AMD still hasn't worked on reducing multi-monitor power consumption, an issue that has been around for many years.

Sapphire's dual-slot cooler works much better than the heatsink on the XFX RX 590 Fatboy. Temperatures reach only 75°C, which is quite good given the heat output of the RX 590 GPU. What's even more impressive is how quiet the fans are at the same time. The default BIOS achieved 31 dBA, which is already very quiet. It gets even better, though. Since the card has dual BIOS, Sapphire chose to make the second BIOS a "quiet" BIOS. This BIOS runs at an impressive 29 dBA, which is as quiet as the quietest GTX 1060 cards we tested—amazing. It's great to see that idle-fan-stop is included, too, so you can enjoy a noise-free graphics card when you're not gaming.

Priced at $279, the Sapphire RX 590 Nitro+ follows AMD's RX 590 MSRP and doesn't come with a price premium. I have to say that's very reasonable pricing, but rival NVIDIA has reacted preemptively and their prices for all cards below GTX 1080 Ti have been reduced by $10-$25. For example, the GTX 1060 6 GB was $260 and is now $230, and the GTX 1070 was $390 and is now down to $360. This puts a lot of pressure on AMD. Additional pressure comes from AMD's own RX 570 and RX 580, which are now priced at $150 and $200 respectively, while the RX Vega 56 can be had for $360. It looks like we're finally back to normal GPU prices from the horrors of the crypto-mining boom. At $280, the RX 590 is a good buy, but it could be priced cheaper—something like $250 would lure in a lot of potential buyers from the green camp because at that price point, the extra performance and lower price would make it easy to overlook the RX 590's higher power draw. With the RX 590, AMD is including three AAA games, including DMC 5 and Resident Evil 2, which is a straight $100+ value. Personally, I'd keep those games because they haven't been released yet and I'd like to check them out. If you're not all that interested, you could resell them to offset some of this card's cost.
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