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?


This is the big one folks, the launch everyone has been waiting for, AMD's next generation of GPUs for gaming. The big question on everyone's mind is can AMD compete with an aggressive competitor that has its focus on the extreme gaming performance market? In today's video card launch of AMD's 4th Generation GCN architecture AMD is taking a different approach, targeting the mainstream gamer with a more affordable video card. While the new RX 480 has been highly touted as a sub-$200 video card, we have yet to see any inkling of a sub-$200 card on launch day. The $199.99 RX 480 4GB was not sampled to us by AMD, but rather AMD was kind enough to send a RX 480 8GB card for review. It looks as if these 8GB cards are going to sell for $229 to $249 on launch day depending on what partners priced it at. All the cards you will see sold today are the same from all board partners as these are Made By AMD (MBA) cards.

AMD's marketing tells us that AMD wants to fulfill a place in the market that it feels always gets the short end of the stick. AMD feels it has the right card for the job at the right price delivering never before seen performance at this price point. We are going to take this new video card and find out exactly what kind of competitive 1080p and 1440p gaming performance it offers compared to video cards currently on the market, all right around the RX 480 price point. We will compare it with several different video cards to find out how performance compares at playable settings, but in an apples-to-apples format. This is a bit different than how we have done things in the past.

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The AMD Radeon RX 480 is the video card being launched today. This is of course AMD's next generation 14nm FinFET based video card we have been waiting for. You will notice that "R9" and "R7" monikers are gone. All video cards announced so far have the "RX" branding in front of the number. There is also no longer an "X" after the number, thank goodness.

As we mentioned above this is coming in at an interesting price point. Starting at $199 you will find the 4GB version of the AMD Radeon RX 480. With 4GB the reference memory clock speed is 7GHz, though it can vary depending on custom video cards from manufacturers. There is also an 8GB version, the default memory clock speed on it will be 8GHz and priced at ~$239. Naturally, manufacturers will have custom video cards and pricing and configurations and clock speeds can vary greatly. AMD wanted to leave a large range between VRAM capacity and memory clock speed to give add-in-board partners something unique to grab onto for whatever design purposes they see fit. We will be evaluating the Radeon RX 480 8GB (8GHz memory) version sent to us direct from AMD. This video card is called an MBA, or made by AMD video card.


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Today we are covering AMD's fourth generation GCN architecture named Polaris.

AMD has provided a clean and clear cut presentation slide that shows the major changes in each generation. For the Polaris generation there is an improved geometry engine, updated memory controller, updated delta color compression, updated shader functions, and even a new async compute ability not there prior. While this isn't a major overhaul of the architecture, it is nice to see GCN evolve over time and gain new and improved abilities as AMD is moving this GPU to the smaller 14nm.

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Improvements in the geometry engine are a new primitive discard accelerator. This culls triangles early in the pipeline that aren't viewed in the final scene so it doesn't have to rasterize these, improving performance. A new cache as well for small instanced geometry. There have been CU level improvements that not only add new function but also up the L2 cache, which is always welcomed.

Since memory bandwidth is always a concern you should note that the delta color compression has been updated as well with new features. Even though RX 480 uses GDDR5, and not HBM such as Fury X, with the memory compression updates it is more efficient than the Fury X was at memory bandwidth utilization.

Something you may not know is that there are actually three different Async Compute modes. You have Async Compute itself, Compute Preemption of Graphics, and Quick Response Queue. The AMD Radeon RX 480 supports all three modes of Async Compute.

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Here it is where it all comes together, the Radeon RX 480! It's a 5.8 TFLOPs capable video card built on 14nm FinFET with either 4 or 8GB of GDDR5. There are 36 CUs, 2304 Stream Processors, 32 ROPs, 144 Texture Units, and 5.7 Billion transistors. The TDP is rated at 150W. There is one 6-pin power connector. The MBA card length is exactly 9.5" in length.

AMD has now gone with the definitions of a "Base" and "Boost" clock speed. (THANK YOU AMD! No more "can clock up to" nonsense.) AMD's base clock for the Radeon RX 480 is 1120MHz. The boost clock is quoted at 1266MHz. Now, from our understanding of how this clock speed works there might be some situations in gaming that the clock speed actually goes under the 1120MHz rated base clock. This can happen if your game is not very demanding and doesn't require a higher clock speed, or if you have a target frame rate set. It can also happen if the power management determines that too much load is on the card and needs to knock the clock speed down a bit. AMD likes to think of this clock speed as variable based on what is needed. The power management system of the video card controls not only clock speed but also voltage.

For the most part, we are hoping the GPU under "normal" gaming loads should be nearer to the boost clock. Unlike NVIDIA GPUs with GPU Boost however, the boost clock on the Radeon RX 480 cannot be exceeded. The video card will max itself out at 1266MHz and never go over that, unless you overclock it. We have run a clock speed over time test to find out what the clock speed actually does and see how variable it is.

Memory bandwidth will be determined by which model of video card you have, 4GB or 8GB. The 4GB model will have a 224GB/sec bandwidth, and the 8GB model a 256GB/sec bandwidth. This is on a 256-bit bus with GDDR5. The AMD Radeon RX 480 also supports DisplayPort 1.3 and 1.4 ready as well as HDMI 2.0b. (Yea!)