AMD Radeon RX 480 Video Card Review

AMD's next generation GCN GPU is here! We review the AMD Radeon RX 480 and find out what kind of gaming experience it provides at 1080p and 1440p. We compare apples-to-apples with four other video cards to find out how it compares at both resolutions. We even find out how high it will overclock! Waited for benchmarks, right?

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Performance Summary 1080p

The wrapper is finally off AMD's 4th Generation GCN architecture, also known as Polaris. In what was debuted today, the AMD Radeon RX 480 a video card targeting the $199 price point with a 4GB model and the $239 price point with an 8GB model AMD is poised to take the mainstream 1080p market by storm.

In our preview evaluation today we have looked at gaming on the AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB model at 1080p and 1440p. We gamed in DX12, we gamed in DX11, we compared the Radeon RX 480 8GB video card to four different video cards that sit around the RX 480 in price and performance with highest playable settings and apples-to-apples comparisons.

Our first impressions of the video card upon gaming at 1080p are positive. We feel we had a positive and enjoyable gaming experience at 1080p with the Radeon RX 480 8GB video card. In most of the games we played we were able to play at the highest possible in-game settings. This allowed for a very immersive gameplay experience.

Rise of the Tomb Raider and The Witcher 3 are two very GPU intensive games, and both were playable at the highest settings. With the on board 8GB of VRAM Tomb Raider used over 6GB of it while gaming at maximum settings just at 1080p, so that capacity was welcomed.

Hitman 2016 can also be demanding with mob NPC crowds on the screen. We were able to run this game beautifully in DX12 on the AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB video card at 1080p. We had no problems or issues and performance was so good that we could play at the highest possible settings. It seems AMD is off to a great start with DX12 support in games right now.

When all is said and done the AMD Radeon RX 480 is the perfect 1080p video card. It's 30%+ faster than the Radeon R9 380X and blows the GTX 960 out of the water.

Performance Summary 1440p

It is however at 1440p that the Radeon RX 480 8GB video card starts to show its weaknesses. It is not unexpected of course that we have to lower some settings to make it playable at 1440p, but the RX 480 1440p level of performance left us wanting. In all our tests the AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB video card was on par with the AMD Radeon R9 390 8GB and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB video cards. In fact, in a few games the Radeon R9 390 was a few percentage points faster, but by very little.

We had hoped that the Radeon RX 480 8GB video card would be closer to AMD Radeon R9 390X or GeForce GTX 980 performance at the onset. If not right at the performance level of those video cards, at least closer to those in terms of performance. However, that is simply not the case. The AMD Radeon RX 480 is actually delivering the same, or just under, the performance of the Radeon R9 390 depending on the game.

The one advantage the Radeon RX 480 may have though moving forward is when it comes to DX12 performance in games. Simply put the Radeon RX 480 may have longer legs to grow and push forward in performance when DX12 and Async Compute come into play in future games. AMD is off to a great start with DX12 performance if Hitman is anything to go by. We just need more stable DX12 games that show us an actual benefit to using DX12. More are coming soon!

Generational Improvements

Now let's be real, the Radeon RX 480 8GB video card is indeed a $239 video card, and the AMD Radeon R9 390 launched at a price of $329. Therefore, in reality the AMD Radeon RX 480 has brought a higher level of performance down now to a more affordable price point. This is the effect of a new generation and node change that we would expect to see, and we are seeing it, so that goal is accomplished. Still, for a next generation video card, $239 seems a little steep for only Radeon R9 390 level performance today. You must also consider that custom add-in-board partner video cards may have a higher price for custom coolers and designs and clock speeds.

Given the specifications however, one might think the Radeon RX 480 8GB video card should be slightly faster than it is still. We think the fact this video card has such a small amount of ROPs, 32, is the technical reason the video card struggles at higher resolutions. It is true that generally you want more ROPs if your goal is high resolutions like 1440p+.

The AMD Radeon R9 390 and Radeon R9 390X both have 64 ROPs. Knowing that, it is impressive that with half the ROPs the Radeon RX 480 8GB video card is equaling Radeon R9 390 8GB performance at 1440p. However, just think of the Radeon RX 480 had 64 ROPs what its performance might be with these architectural improvements. That's the kind of video card AMD needs to compete with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070.

Competition

Then what is the competition for this video card you ask? Well, we'd venture to say the competition hasn't arrived yet. The real battle is going to be NVIDIA's next move and what it brings to the table at this same price point. Will it be the GTX 1060 later next month? Until then however, we can definitely say that the AMD Radeon RX 480 improves immensely from the previous generation AMD Radeon R9 380X. We saw some impressive performance increases, 30% at the worse up to 40-50% in some cases over the R9 380X. That's a very large improvement and should not be overlooked. AMD has improved power efficiency and noise levels are not a problem with this video card.

Compared to the GeForce GTX 960 the performance improvements are even greater. The AMD Radeon RX 480 is up to 60%+ performance over a GeForce GTX 960. That's enough right there to upgrade directly from a GeForce GTX 960 to the Radeon RX 480 and receive a huge improvement in your gameplay experience. It really is.

What the Radeon RX 480 8GB video card is not an upgrade for is if you already have a Radeon R9 390 or R9 390X video card. The Radeon R9 390X will offer better performance, and the Radeon R9 390 and Radeon RX 480 will only offer equal performance. The only reason you would want to switch out an R9 390 with the RX 480 is if you need less power draw or a smaller video card. For a new computer build the Radeon RX 480 would make a lot of sense. You probably would not want to purchase a Radeon R9 390 now once the Radeon RX 480 is out, we'd go for the 8GB RX 480 over a new R9 390.


The Bottom Line

AMD needs a win, desperately. We want to see AMD succeed, the competition benefits all gamers and enthusiasts. It drives innovation, as well as drives competitive pricing. AMD succeeding with a new line of GPUs is good for everyone. Whatever the past history of development that this GPU or the Polaris line has experienced or was intended for the facts are the AMD Radeon RX 480 is a $199-$239 video card that offers the same performance as the Radeon R9 390 and GeForce GTX 970.

This is good news for 1080p mainstream gamers who cannot spend $500 on a video card. This will put more performance and a better gameplay experience in more people's hands, and ultimately that's a good thing. It does need to be brought up though that custom video cards may carry a premium, and if we start to see Radeon RX 480's around $250 then people are going to start questioning the value at that price. $199 sounds great, but the real performance model is going to be the more expensive $239+ 8GB custom video card versions, and those are going to be above $240.

If you have a 1080p screen, the AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB has "Winner" written all over it. And with 1080p in mind, the 4GB will likely be great at 1080p too. We are unsure if we will see any benefit to a 8GB RX 480 at 1080p, but we will be testing that. If you have a 1440p screen or higher, we suggest you look at other GPU options.

We only hope AMD can maintain a competitive edge on the hardware front moving forward this year. We have lots more planned for the Radeon RX 480, so stay tuned.

The cards are for sale at Newegg right now, expect to see those going in and out of stock today.

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AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB

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