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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 - Part 2

Ashes of the Singularity

For a while, AMD’s singular advantage over NVIDIA was GCN’s support for asynchronous compute, which meant that AMD cards often enjoyed performance increases when moving from DirectX 11 to 12, the latter a low-level API that can take advantage of asynchronous compute capabilities.

Ashes of the Singularity is known for its use of asynchronous compute, and the Radeon RX 480 proved that Polaris could benefit from the move to DirectX 12 as well. At 1080p and High settings, switching to DirectX 12 brought about a fairly significant 33 percent improvement.

The Polaris’ card performance relative to everything else also conformed to what we observed in previous benchmarks. It traded blows with the GeForce GTX 970 – the latter held the advantage at the least taxing settings, but the Radeon RX 480 gradually muscled its way to a lead as we cranked the graphics and resolution up. It was also once again behind the Radeon R9 390X and Fury, but if we’re talking about merely pumping out playable frame rates for casual gamers – say, the bare minimum of 20fps – the Radeon RX 480 actually manages to deliver at even the highest settings. What’s more, the RX 480’s performance wasn’t even that far off from the GeForce GTX 980.

 

Hitman

Hitman is the other DirectX 12 title in our benchmark suite, and thus far, it’s proven itself to be a reasonably trying game to run at a quad HD resolution and Ultra settings. Having said that, the Radeon RX 480 happily put out just over 50fps, well within the playable range. Again, the card demonstrates that it is quite capable of handling 1440p gaming despite its less than premium price.

Even the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 is starting to show its age here, and the Radeon RX 480 handily beats it, coming in at around 41 percent faster at 1600p and Ultra settings in DirectX 12 mode. More interestingly, the Radeon RX 480 actually outstrips the GeForce GTX 980, a rather impressive feat.

 

Temperature and Power Consumption

All in all, the peak temperature we observed after looping 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme for 15 minutes was in line with expectations. At 70 degrees Celsius, the card was unsurprisingly cooler than certain higher powered cards like the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 and 980. One thing to note is that the GeForce GTX 970 we used is actually a Palit card with the custom JetStream cooler, and is not indicative of the 970 running a lot cooler than the RX 480.

Having said that, the Radeon RX 480 has clearly made some big gains in efficiency. A lot of this is probably due to the move to the 14nm FinFET process, similar to how the Pascal cards are now offering monstrous levels of performance while still reducing power consumption.

 

Overclocking

We used AMD’s new WattMan overclocking utility that’s built into the version of Radeon Software that was provided to us (at the time of review, other overclocking utilities did not work). After tweaking the settings, which included raising the power limit by 30 percent and bumping up the maximum fan speed, we were able to hit a maximum clock speed of 1,340MHz, and a memory clock of 2,025MHz. That translates into a 6 percent increase over the default speed in WattMan, where you can bump up the frequency in 0.5 percent increments rather than enter a custom value.

In 3DMark, this resulted in a 6 to 8 percent gain across all three Fire Strike benchmarks. It’s not fantastic, but it’s not terrible either. In fact, for such a modest increase in clock speeds, we’d say the gains are actually quite decent. AMD never singled out the card’s overclocking prowess, and it’s difficult to fault a US$229 card for not having a ton of overclocking headroom.

 

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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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