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AMD Radeon RX 480 review: A budget card with not-so-budget performance

By Koh Wanzi - 2 Jul 2016

Performance Benchmarks

Test Setup

The detailed specifications of our current graphics card testbed system is as follows:-

  • Intel Core i7-5960X
  • ASUS X99-Pro (Intel X99 chipset) motherboard
  • 2 x 4GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2133 (Auto timings: CAS 15-15-15-36)
  • Samsung SSD 840 Pro 256GB SATA 6Gbps solid state drive (OS + benchmark + games)
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps hard drive (general storage)
  • Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
  • Intel INF 10.1.1.14

AMD supplied us with the Crimson Edition 16.6.2 drivers, so that’s what we used for our performance benchmarks. When it came to selecting comparison cards, we went with the Radeon R9 390X and Fury from AMD, and the GeForce GTX 970, 980 and 1080 from NVIDIA. The AMD cards were chosen because the RX 480 appears poised to sit below the R9 390X in terms of performance, and we wanted to see how the top Polaris card compared with the upper-end of AMD’s previous generation air-cooled cards. On NVIDIA’s end, we went with the GeForce GTX 970 and 980 as the RX 480’s performance falls between the two quite often. And because AMD says that two of the Radeon RX 480s in CrossFire can beat a single GeForce GTX 1080, we’ve included that card as well to give a better idea of whether that claim holds water.
The full line-up of graphics cards and their driver versions are listed below:

  • AMD Radeon RX 480 (Crimson Edition 16.6.2)
  • ASUS Strix Radeon R9 Fury (Crimson Edition 16.3.1)
  • ASUS Strix R9 390X (Crimson Edition 16.3.1)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 (ForceWare 368.22)
  • MSI GeForce GTX 980 Gaming 8G (ForceWare 365.19)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (ForceWare 368.16)

  AMD Radeon RX 480 ASUS Strix Radeon R9 390X ASUS Strix Radeon R9 Fury Palit GeForce GTX 970 JetStream MSI GeForce GTX 980 Gaming 4G NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition
  AMD Radeon RX 480 ASUS Strix Radeon R9 390X ASUS Strix Radeon R9 Fury Palit GeForce GTX 970 JetStream MSI GeForce GTX 980 Gaming 4G NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition
Launch SRP
  • From S$779
  • From S$969
  • From S$479
  • From S$949
  • From S$1188
Core Code
  • Ellesmere
  • Hawaii
  • Fiji
  • Maxwell
  • GM204
  • GP104
Manufacturing Process
  • 14nm
  • 28nm
  • 28nm
  • 28nm
  • 28nm
  • 16nm
Core Clock
  • 1,266MHz
  • 1070MHz
  • 1000MHz
  • 1152MHz
  • 1216MHz (Boost Clock: 1317MHz) (OC mode)
  • 1190MHz (Boost Clock: 1291MHz) (Gaming mode)
  • 1127MHz (Boost Clock: 1216MHz) (Silent mode)
  • 1607MHz (Boost: 1733MHz)
Stream Processors
  • 2,304
  • 2816
  • 3584
  • 1664
  • 2048
  • 2560
Stream Processor Clock
  • 1,266MHz
  • 1070MHz
  • 1000MHz
  • 1152MHz
  • 1216MHz
  • 1607MHz
Texture Mapping Units (TMUs)
  • 144
  • 176
  • 224
  • 104
  • 128
  • 160
Raster Operator units (ROP)
  • 32
  • 64
  • 64
  • 56
  • 64
  • 64
Memory Clock (DDR)
  • 2,000MHz
  • 6000MHz
  • 1000MHz
  • 7000MHz
  • 7010MHz
  • 10000MHz
Memory Bus width
  • 256-bit
  • 512-bit
  • 4096-bit
  • 256-bit
  • 256-bit
  • 256-bit
Memory Bandwidth
  • 256GB/s
  • 384Gb/s
  • 512GB/s
  • 224Gb/s
  • 224 GB/s
  • 320 GB/s
PCI Express Interface
  • 3.0
  • PCIe 3.0 x16
  • PCIe 3.0 x16
  • PCIe 3.0 x16
  • PCI Express 3.0
  • PCI Express 3.0
Power Connectors
  • 1x 6-pin
  • 1x 6-pin, 1x 8-pin
  • 2x 8-pin
  • 2x 6-pin
  • 2 x 8-pin
  • 1 x 8-pin
Multi GPU Technology
  • Yes
  • CrossFire
  • CrossFire
  • SLI
  • SLI
  • SLI
HDMI Outputs
  • 1x
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
DisplayPort Outputs
  • 3x
  • 3
  • 3
  • 2x miniDP
  • 3
  • 3
HDCP Output Support
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • Yes
GPU Transistor Count
  • 6.2 billion
  • 8.9 billion
  • 5.2 billion
  • 5.2 billion
  • 7.2 billion
DVI Outputs
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1

 

Benchmarks

We tested the card with our usual suite of performance benchmarks. Two benchmark games, Hitman and Ashes of the Singularity, also take advantage of DirectX 12, so we were also able to get a look at how the Radeon RX 480 performed using Microsoft’s latest gaming API.

Here’s the list of the benchmarks we used:

  • Futuremark 3DMark (2013)
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
  • Crysis 3
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division
  • Ashes of the Singularity
  • Hitman

We used the Fire Strike Extreme test in 3DMark (2013) for our power and temperature tests.

 

3DMark (2013)

Even though its price might suggest that it is a budget card, the Radeon RX 480 actually managed to hold its own against the other cards, with the exception of the GeForce GTX 1080 of course. As expected, it was slower than the Radeon R9 390X and R9 Fury, but not by any overly large margin. In Fire Strike Extreme for instance, the Radeon RX 480 was only around 7 percent slower than the R9 390X. That's perfectly fine considering the cost of the Radeon R9 390X vs. the new Radeon RX 480.

It was even slightly faster than the GeForce GTX 970. In the same Fire Strike Extreme benchmark, the Radeon RX 480 was around 2 percent faster. That’s not a groundbreaking amount, but it’s impressive given that the street price of the GeForce GTX 970 is still upward of US$260 today.

When it comes to the GeForce GTX 1080, that card is still very much in a category of its own, where the Radeon RX 480 offers only a bit more than half the performance of NVIDIA’s Pascal flagship. The way it looks, AMD will have to perfect the performance scaling with two cards if it wants to outdo the GeForce GTX 1080. We’ll be running an article on CrossFire performance once we get a second card, so we’ll be able to test AMD’s claims for ourselves then.

 

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Performance results in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor hewed to the same pattern that we observed in 3DMark (2013). Taken alone, the Radeon RX 480 actually does quite admirably for a US$229 card as it manages just over 50fps. Previously, it was often the case that a card in this price range was good for only 1080p gaming.

The Polaris card was again slightly faster than the GeForce GTX 970, although the other AMD cards still had an edge over it. The Radeon R9 390X was a good 18 percent faster at a 1600p resolution, a lead that widened as the tested resolution increased.

 

Crysis 3

Things were slightly changed in Crysis 3, as the GeForce GTX 970 showed why we’ve long considered it the most bang-for-your-buck card for 1080p gaming. It managed to catch up with the Radeon R9 390X in the least demanding benchmark settings, and it was also quicker than the Radeon RX 480 at all our tested settings.

The performance differential between the Radeon RX 480 and Radeon R9 390X also widened as the graphical settings became more demanding. At 1200p with no anti-aliasing, the Radeon R9 390X was about 10 percent faster, but turning on 8x MSAA increased the difference to 20 percent.

 

Tom Clancy’s The Division

The Division is one of the newer titles in our benchmark suite, and it was especially interesting to see how AMD’s new card performed in a recently released game. As it turns out, rather well. Again, every statement of praise is qualified with an acknowledgement of how low its price really is, but if you can squeeze out nearly 40fps on 1600p and Ultra settings, that appears to us something to be happy about.

The Radeon RX 480 also beat the GeForce GTX 970 in The Division, although it again fell behind the likes of the Radeon R9 390X and Fury. At the most demanding settings (1600p, Ultra settings), the Radeon R9 390X was about 16 percent faster. The performance was a lot closer at 1080p, and it looks like the card is shaping up to be a supremely attractive option for gamers who don’t need to game at particularly high resolutions. 

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8.0
  • Performance 8
  • Features 7.5
  • Value 9
The Good
Delivers great bang for your buck
Performance is impressive for its price
Fairly low power consumption
The Bad
Lacks new features that are readily perceived by end users
Not much overclocking headroom
Same old reference design
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