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Reviewed: AMD RX 480 Featured

The RX480 is rocking AMD's new Polaris 10 architecture and delivers affordable gaming to the masses.

The new 14nm FinFET Polaris architecture first materialised as a mid-range GPU designated as the Radeon RX 480. The 14nm manufacturing process was a big move forward from the previous 28nm and provided a higher density of transistors on the GPU so that it could do more with a smaller thermal and power consumption profile. The result is a graphics card that can be had for under $400AUD that allows gamers to enjoy respectable performance at 1440p or decent performance at 1080p. DX11 titles benefit from the new architecture but the end-game with the RX480 was affordable DX12 and VR for the broader PC gaming community. 

This review is based on an AMD sample with the reference cooler - models with after-market coolers are now available. Although alternative coolers are usually more desirable with lower noise, lower temps and factory overclocks with better performance, the reference cooler is still worth a look as it is more affordable, and exhausts all of the hot air out the back of the card and away from the internal components.

RX480

The card is relatively compact as a reference design, the 6-pin power connector sits about mid-way along the top of the card and is easy to access. The reference design model is pretty... well... "reference" looking but seems quieter than other AMD reference cards we've seen in the past. This GPU is pitched squarely at the mid-range - it's affordable to most who take their gaming at least a little bit seriously. There are 4GB and 8GB versions available to suit different budgets.

Let's take a moment to look at this "Mid-Range" concept. Gaming in the mid-range is harder to judge than high-end or entry-level. At the high-end, gamers usually aspire to play the latest AAA titles with all the eye candy on at 1440p or perhaps push the envelope to 4K. These high-end games are taxing and both cards and monitors can be a significant investment. Entry-level on the other hand usually involves lower resolution gaming, capping out at 1080p. Expectations of eye candy are typically low or medium for relatively recent titles. An entry-level card can still play many eSports titles and is generally fine for older games that still rock. The troublesome mid-range is a much broader area with a population that includes the bulk of gamers according to Steam Surveys - happiness really depends on what games people play and what their expectations are. Our rule of thumb is that a mid-range card should play just about anything at 1080p with the settings at high (perhaps with AA scaled back and shadows at medium or low) and still achieve around 55-65FPS.

Releasing the RX 480 instead of a high end card makes sense when you consider how many gamers reside in the broad mid-range and the small market (relatively speaking) that will splash out for a GTX 1080. The RX 480 is a good 'all-rounder' and will meet the minimum requirements for most VR applications for those who want to get on board.

With FreeSync monitors, high resolution gaming at 1440p is smoother than it would otherwise be and 1080p gaming is an absolute blast for the price. Let's take the example of someone who needs a 2560x1440 resolution display for work/study/productivity but also wants to game at that native resolution without dropping too much eye candy. A FreeSync enabled display will even out the FPS and make gameplay at higher quality settings but frame rates in the low 50s much smoother than a non FreeSync display.

Connectivity

Interestingly, for a grass roots gamer card aimed at the budget conscious gaming enthusiast, the RX480 reference card doesn't have a DVI port. Many gamers are likely to be still using monitors limited to VGA or DVI connections. The card comes with 3xDisplayPort and 1x HDMI. 

Reference Cooler

This is a reference cooler, usually avoided by enthusiasts where possible but the RX480 reference sample we received actually wasn't too bad. At idle, it was practically silent and although it made some noise under load, we found a scenario where the reference design cooler was preferable over the after-market style but more on that later when we look at the Fragabyte practical build. The aesthetic design of the reference cooler has been improved and as a black graphics card it won't clash with most builds.

Crimson Application

The Crimson software from AMD was stable throughout all of our testing. We didn't see any memory leaks, lockups or other issues at a system level, nor did we experience any in-game issues or driver crashes. There is a new feature called 'Wattman' - it allows you to set the overclocking parameters in an intuitive way. The usual reminders are there that overclocking can reduce the longevity of your GPU or even kill it. Personally, I really like the layout and ease of use that Crimson provides. 

 


The 8GB of GDDR5 seems generous for a mid-range card but at the price point we were really happy to see it. The height of the card is basically the same as the PCIE slot-plate which is worth noting as most non-reference coolers are taller. 

The full specifications of the AMD RX 480 are listed below.

 

 

RX480
AMD Radeon RX 480

Graphics Engine

AMD Radeon RX 480

Interface

PCI Express x16 3.0

GPU Architecture

Graphics Core Next 4th Generation (GCN4) FinFET 14nm

Compute Units

36

Stream Processors

2304

Memory Type

GDDR5

Memory Size(MB)

8192

Memory Interface

256 bit

Core Clock Speed(MHz)

Boost / Base Core Clock
1266 MHz / 1120 MHz

Memory Speed 

Memory Clock Speed
1750 MHz 

Memory Bandwidth

224 GB/sec

DVI Output

0

HDMI-Output

1 (version 2.0) 

DisplayPort

3 (version 1.4)

Maximum Displays

4
Digital Maximum Resolution: 7680 x 4320

HDCP Support

Y

VR Ready

Y

DirectX Version Support

12

OpenGL Version Support

4.5

Multi-GPU Technology

Crossfire

Card Dimensions(mm)

240 x 112 x 37 mm
686g (weight)

Power Consumption (W)

150W

Power Connectors 6-pin x 1
Technology Support

-AMD FREESYNC
-Vulkan Support
-Virtual Super Resolution

 

Physical Appearance & Build Quality

This was a reference sample and didn't come in a retail box so we can't talk about the packaging, driver disk or accessories. The build quality of the reference sample was good, it ran quiet with a sensible default fan profile. The output connectors all felt solid and worked as they should have, the power connection felt secure and was easy to access. Whilst the reference design doesn't have the bells and whistles of the ASUS STRIX, Gigabyte G1 or MSI Gaming series of cards, it worked as advertised and was 100% stable in our testing (non-overclocked). With all of this in mind, we didn't find any faults or reasons not to like the build quality or appearance of the reference RX 480.


Test Setup

We tested the AMD RX 480 on our MSI X99S Gaming 7 test rig as listed below for all of the benchmarking and general game-play. We also used the BenQ XL2730Z 144Hz 2560x1440 27" display via DisplayPort using the cable that came with the monitor in the retail box. We also still had the Noctua NH-L9x65 fitted from a previous review but left it there due to the ease of access that it provided for the PCIE release lever.

MSI X99S Gaming 7 Test Bench

The test bench used for this review was the MSI X99S setup with the following specification:

  • Intel i7-5630K
  • 32GB Kingston Savage DDR4 3000
  • MSI X99S Gaming 7 motherboard
  • Noctua NH-L9x65 CPU Cooler
  • ADATA SX900 256GB SSD
  • Western Digital Blue 4TB SSHD
  • Corsair HX850 PSU
  • Samsung Blu-ray drive
  • Logitech G810 keyboard
  • Logitech G900 mouse
  • Logitech Z533 desktop speakers
  • Kingston HyperX Cloud Revolver headset
Image00009


Test Methods

Benchmark testing where we use a scripted or specific benchmark utility that has no user interaction other than setting the graphics properties and hitting 'start'. The utility then gives us a report of the relevant statistics.

We also only graph the average frame rates as minimum and maximum frame rates can be misleading.

The following tests were all reproducible or scripted or in-game benchmarks that are consistently executed without human intervention.

Futuremark Firestrike

We've moved on from the older 3DMark11 benchmarks that still hold relevance for some but the latest benchmarking tests from Futuremark give modern day GPUs a serious belting at the extreme, high end and mid-low end levels. 

In these synthetic benchmarks, we see the GTX 1080 dominate with the Firestrike series.

Firestrike Ultra

Firestrike Ultra is first up and gives a good indication of how '4K-ready' a GPU is.

firestrike-ultra

Firestrike Extreme

Next up Firestrike Extreme is geared to test 2560x1440 gaming capability

firestrike-extreme

Firestrike

Firestrike gives an indication of performance at 1080p

firestrike

Skydiver

We tested SkyDiver in the interests of completeness but the result is aimed at low end graphics platforms. 

firestrike

Unigine Heaven 

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 Basic is one of the programs that we run to temperature test the cards and we also do a benchmark run during the process. 

heaven

Futuremark TimeSpy (DX12) 

This benchmark taxes graphics cards to see how well they handle the load of DX12.

timespy

In most of the tests, the RX 480 beats the GTX 970 but the most telling statistic is how much better the RX 480 is when compared to the previous generation R9 380 GPU. The RX 480 is a great step forward in the mid-range for AMD.


Tomb Raider 

For the in-game benchmarking utility, the following graphics settings were used:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, Motion Blur:On, Screen Effects:On, Quality: Ultimate,Texture Quality: Ultra,Texture Filter: Anisotropic 16X, Hair Quality: TRESSFX, Anti-Aliasing: FXAA Shadows: Normal, Shadow Resolution: High, Level of Detail: Ultra, Reflections: High, Depth of Field: Ultra, SSAO: Ultra, Post Processing: On, Tessellation: On, High Precision: On

Although TRESSFX is an AMD feature we had it enabled because gamers will want to enjoy it in this title and we have other benchmarks so it all evens out in the end.

 

tombraider2

The RX480 is really close to the Radeon Nano and splits the difference between the GTX970 and GTX 980 NVIDIA cards for a steady 60FPS at 1440p.

Hitman Absolution 

The following settings were used in the in-game benchmark:
1920x1080 & 2560x1440, MSAA:8x, Vsync: Off, Quality Setting: Ultra

hitmanabsolution

The RX 480 is on par with the GTX970 in the Hitman Absolution 1440p test but loses by a few frames per second at 1080p.

Bioshock Infinite

The in-game benchmark for Bioshock Infinite was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, DX11, All settings maxed out

bioshock

The Bioshock Infinite test shows a bigger gap in performance between the RX480 and the GTX970 or R9 390X but it's still head and shoulders above R9 380.

Sniper Elite III

The in-game benchmark for Sniper Elite III was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, All settings maxxed out

sniperelite3

Sniper Elite III is an older title and can be had for a bargain at Steam Sale time. The RX 480 competes better at 2560x1440 than it does at 1920x1080 with performance that will keep any gamer happy in the mid-range.

GTA V

The in-game benchmark for GTA V was run using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, DX11, Tessellation: 3, ShadowQuality: 3, ReflectionQuality: 2, Reflection MSAA: 2, SSAO: 2, Anisotropic Filtering: 16x, MSAA: 2x, TextureQuality: 2, ParticleQuality: 2, WaterQuality: 2, GrassQuality: 2, ShaderQuality: 2, Soft Shadows: 1, UltraShadows_Enabled: false, Particle Shadows: on, Shadow Distance: 1, LongShadows: off, Reflection_MipBlur: on, FXAA Enabled, TXAA Disabled, Lighting_FogVolumes: true, Shader_SSA: true, PostFX: 2, DoF: off, MotionBlurStrength: off

gtav

Even at 2560x1440, with a little help from FreeSync, the RX480 is able to provide a smooth experience but it does trail the GTX 970 and R9 390X.

Tom Clancy's: The Division

The in-game benchmark for The Division was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, All settings at Ultra with V-Sync disabled

division

Interestingly, the RX480 was placed closer to the GTX 980 than the GTX 970 in The Division benchmarks. This result is pretty good for a $400 graphics card.

Ashes of the Singularity

The in-game benchmark for Ashes of the Singularity was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, All settings at Extreme pre-set


ashes

The RX480 shows the much touted performance improvement in DX12 of the Polaris architecture over the previous generation.

Hitman (2016)

The in-game benchmark for Hitman (2016) was set using the following options:

1920x1080 & 2560x1440, All settings at the Ultra pre-set with VSync disabled

hitman2016

The DX12 performance of the RX480 is also highlighted in the latest Hitman title. The RX480 manages to beat then GTX 980 at both resolutions - if you are a fan of the Hitman genre, the RX480 delivers great value for money with the latest title.


When testing the AMD RX 480 in general gameplay, we had both FRAPS and any in-game frame counters running so we could see the frame rate for reference when needed but also to note any material variations. The methodology is to play the game and note the typical FPS, any rendering issues, look for stutter and also keep an eye out for imperfections around colour or missing textures that impede the immersion.

These tests are subjective, less reproducible and much more prone to variation so the results are not compared to other cards. This is a good representation of my experience with the review sample and what you should expect if you went out and bought this card.

All observations were made on the test system used for benchmarks connected via DisplayPort and running at a resolution of 2560x1440/144Hz unless specifically noted in the comments.

First Person Shooters

division
The Division

Played on Ultra Settings with V-Sync turned off.  At 1080p, the RX 480 was able to deliver an experience pushing 60 FPS for the most part although FPS did drop when things got busy and when there was a lot of fire.

When pushed to 1440p, the RX 480 wasn't up to the 'Ultra' task as the frame rate dropped to the low 40s and even below. This is to be expected at the price point though.

blops3COD: Black Ops 3

With Texture quality set to Extra, other settings at High and SMAA 1x, we saw a steady 90FPS at 1440p. The game felt smooth and the aim true with no detectable lag on our BenQ XL2730Z FreeSync display. This setup was easily competitive and the KDR stayed positive when playing which is always a good sign.

Battlefield 4 cover art
Battlefield 4

When set to Ultra at 2560x1440, the result was an impressive 70-100 FPS with a typical reading of around 80FPS. It's worth noting that the gameplay and level of activity can drastically impact the results, for example when zipping through Shanghai in a fast moving helicopter, frames did dip to as low as 60FPS. Typical run and gun gameplay saw much higher results and delivered a great experience for the money.


Far Cry 4 box art
Far Cry 4

The typical frame rate at the Ultra pre-set was pretty stable at 60FPS. As nice as the XL2730Z is, we did switch to a 60Hz 2560x1440 IPS display to enjoy the full colour palate. At night time, we did notice an increase of typical performance to 75FPS.

Role Playing Games

 

Elder Scrolls Online cover
Elder Scrolls Online

This is a frustrating game to benchmark due to the impact of weather, time of day and the activity of other players. We saw an indicative frame rate of 45-55 when the settings were set to their maximum.

 

witcher-3

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

This game has punished many a graphics card in our lab but 45-55FPS on High settings at 1440p is a respectable result. Further tweaking of shadows etc could see a good looking result at 60FPS.


Fallout 4 cover art
Fallout 4

When using the Ultra pre-set at 1440p, Fallout 4 was smooth at 60FPS. The gritty post-apocalyptic world and quirky loot looked great.

wows

A steady 74FPS made playing WOWS immersive and lots of fun - again, we switched to the IPS display for this to really enjoy the colours of the game.

All up, the RX480 delivers some great performance for the price. Remember that this is a reference design card and the models that feature custom coolers will likely have even better performance with lower temps and fan noise. We swapped this card into the console sized Fragabyte rig and considered it to be the perfect graphics card for the case and the purpose of the compact build. 

The RX 480 is on brief to meet the budget, gaming experience and availability of AMD's target market.

The acoustic profile of the reference cooler can't compete with the after-market designed coolers like the Twin Frozr VI from MSI or the ASUS STRIX. That said, we did find that our Fractal Design Node 202 rig ran much cooler with a reference design cooler than a non-reference style due to a lack of active case airflow. This is a win for the reference design but for typical builds with decent case airflow, we would recommend picking up a quality non-reference cooled RX 480.


Acoustic and Thermal Results

During the Futuremark TimeSpy Demo, we managed to record 26dB(A) at a distance of 30cm from the open air test bench. There was a slight whine in the pitch of the cooler but it was more obvious in the open air testing and not something that we noticed in the practical builds.

The RX 480 recorded a maximum temperature of 82C but it exhausted almost all of the hot air out the rear slot and not into the case. On the open air test bench, this didn't matter but in the AMD Test Bench and Fragabyte mini ITX systems, this had a positive impact on the CPU temps and fan speeds.

Practical Build

The RX 480 found its way into both the AMD Test Bench and the mini ITX Fragabyte Rig - that's right, two practical builds! We did the AMD Test bench build first, noted the lower CPU fan speeds and ambient case temperatures and it got us thinking about how the RX 480 reference design might go in a tight case like the Node 202.

AMD Test Bench

The AMD Test Bench was setup with the following specifications. The RX 480 was a noticeable upgrade from the previous generation R9 380 and it also looked the part.

  • AMD FX 8350
  • 16GB ADATA XPG V3
  • Gigabyte 990FX Gaming motherboard
  • AMD Wraith Cooler
  • Kingston M.2 120GB SSD
  • Western Digital Black 6TB HDD
  • Cooler Master V1000 PSU
  • Cooler Master Cosmos SE Case
  • Logitech G810 keyboard
  • Logitech G900 Mouse
  • Logitech Z533 desktop speakers
  • Kingston HyperX Cloud Revolver headset
  • BenQ XL2730Z Freesync Display

This build is as AMD 'reference' as it gets with the reference Wraith CPU cooler and the stock Radeon cooler but it was the best result I've seen with stock cooling on an all-AMD platform. The temperatures were good, the noise was also very reasonable and best of all, the performance we saw basically matched the results of the more expensive X99 test bench setup that we used to benchmark the RX 480. For a gamer on a budget, this setup should do just fine!

Node 202 FRAGABYTE

The Node 202 was originally built as a console-sized build for use in either a lounge room or as a portable LAN build. The first build included a Gigabyte GTX 970 G1 Gaming card with a Windforce 3 cooler. We also used a Noctua L9i cooler. Whilst this configuration worked, the lack of active airflow in the slim case resulted in both GPU and CPU heating up the components more than we would consider ideal. The system never actually crashed but we had been on the lookout for either an ITX card or a reference design to see how much of a difference it made. 

Enter the RX 480 reference card. We also replaced the thin standard fan on the Noctual L9i with a standard 25mm thick NF-A9 fan. With both of these changes, the system ran much cooler, much quieter and on par or even faster than the previous configuration. The rig was also able to operate in horizontal (flat) configuration without a thermal penalty as the stock cooler was able to draw the required air in through the base of the Node 202. 

At the end of this testing I was personally very happy with the performance profile of the build and would be happy to have a system of this spec as either a LAN rig or in my lounge, connected to my TV. If you like the Node 202, consider a reference-style graphics card and the Noctua L9i - our combination was ideal and easy to build.

The specifications for the Node 202 in our practical build were:

  • Intel i5-4670K
  • 16GB ADATA XPG V1
  • Gigabyte Z97N Gaming 5 ITX motherboard
  • Noctua L9i cooler with NF-A9 fan attached
  • ADATA SX930 480GB SSD
  • Western Digital Blue 1TB SSHDD
  • Fractal Design Node 202 with SFX PSU
  • Logitech G310 keyboard
  • Logitech G900 Mouse
  • Logitech Z533 desktop speakers
  • Kingston HyperX Cloud Revolver headset
  • BenQ XL2730Z Freesync Display

Overclocking

We didn't have any joy in sustaining a material overclock on the reference card.


Pricing

When you look at the performance and the cost, the RX 480 is competitively priced. There is a lot of variation due to the number of options in that there are 4GB and 8GB versions, reference and non-reference (overclocked) editions.

price

The RX 480 is a worthy GPU in the mid-range classification. It performs well at both 1080p and 1440p, has good availability and is ready for the next generation of DX12 titles.

Final Thoughts

The RX 480 GPU is a well-performing advancement from AMD and when paired with 8GB of GDDR5 it's a serious option in the mid range. This is the first Polaris card we've seen and AMD has since released the lower spec RX 470 and entry-level RX 460. The improvements in this generation are a positive indication of what is to come in the high end. The decision to target the larger population of gamers with both lower budgets and needs in a serious play for the mid-range and entry-level demographic so we will be watching the market share stats with interest. Competition is great for gamers and the RX 480 brings it.

Whilst we were impressed with the performance of the reference card, when paired with a FreeSync monitor, it just gets better. With more FreeSync monitors hitting the shelves at prices lower than the NVIDIA G-SYNC alternatives, tear-free gaming is also becoming more affordable to the masses. As a trend, the RX 480 is good news.

The RX 480 belts out the frames at 1080p, even giving us around 60FPS in the Division but it can also do well at 1440p. We found that generally speaking, the quality sacrifices for smooth 1440p gaming with the RX 480 were pretty modest.

In our testing, we found a practical use for the reference cooler design with the Fractal Design Node 202 but for most people who have decent case airflow, probably spend a smidge more and get a non-reference cooled RX 480 like the ASUS STRIX or MSI Gaming series for quiet running and a factory overclock.

 

AMD Radeon RX 480

 Image004

PROS

Great value
8GB of GDDR5
When paired with a FreeSync monitor 1440p gaming is a legitimate option
Good DX12 performance

CONS

crossReference design cooler limits overclocking and makes more noise than the AIB designs of MSI, ASUS and Gigabyte.

Awards

HighlyRecommended TheValueAward

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Last modified onFriday, 23 September 2016 12:49

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