The AMD Radeon RX 480 Review - The Polaris Promise
Pricing and Closing Thoughts
All the data is placed before you; the conclusions on the Radeon RX 480 are about to be written. But before I finish off this review let's look at one more angle on the new card. How does the Polaris 10 GPU compare to like-priced graphics cards in terms of value for your dollar?
- Radeon RX 480 8GB - $239
- Radeon R9 390 8GB - $279
- Radeon R9 380 4GB - $179
- GeForce GTX 970 4GB - $279
- GeForce GTX 960 2GB - $179
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This graph is getting a bit crowded with all five cards in there. Realistically, the Radeon R9 380 and the GeForce GTX 960 are barely in the same performance class as the others, so let's take them out to clean up the data.
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There we go, something we can read. Normalized to the RX 480, the R9 390 ranges from on-par to just 83% of the value the new Polaris 10 part provides. The GeForce GTX 970 doesn't fare as well. It only matches the value of the Radeon RX 480 in Grand Theft Auto V but falls to as much as 63% of the value of the new AMD card in Hitman! In fact, in all three of our DX12 benchmarks, Gears of War, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Hitman, the GeForce GTX 970 never gets higher than 74% of the performance per dollar value of the Radeon RX 480. That's pretty impressive.
I am a bit disappointed that the 8GB version we are reviewing here today doesn't hit that magical sub-$200 price point, though we plan on testing our card in that 4GB configuration this week, for $239 the Radeon RX 480 8GB provides an impressive value for enthusiast gamers on a budget.
From a pure performance perspective, the Radeon RX 480 isn't breaking any new ground. You won't find it breaking records in 3DMark, it's not putting NVIDIA's GTX 1080 on its heels and won't even surpass the Radeon R9 390X in real-world gaming performance. With AMD's stated target and goal of hitting the mainstream PC gaming market with a ~$200 graphics card, those options were never on the table. What we have instead is a product that puts NVIDIA on notice that it can't simply sit back and depend on the Maxwell to get the job done this summer.
The Radeon RX 480 is equal to or faster than the GeForce GTX 970 in every game but one, Grand Theft Auto V; and that title has some severe hitching and stutter that AMD was able to reproduce but doesn't have a fix for yet. In a couple of games, namely Hitman and Rise of the Tomb Raider, the advantage for the new RX 480 was substantial - as much as 40%! While I'm still not sold 100% on the idea that asynchronous compute is the culprit here (after all, even AMD has only mentioned that one of the DX12 titles we use here even implements it) it's hard to not see the DX12/DX11 split in the performance data. Clearly the AMD 4th generation GCN architecture is ahead of what Maxwell can deliver. What we do NOT have yet is a comparable GTX 1060 card based on Pascal to toss in the mix. Rumors are it will be sooner rather than later.
For AMD to AMD comparisons, the RX 480 clearly supplants the R9 380 and probably the R9 390 from making any sense for new buyers. What will be interesting over the next couple of weeks is how AMD addresses the gap between the RX 480 and the Fury / Nano line of products. Are they going to be comfortable with a $239 product and leaving the Fury X priced where it is until Vega is released? A $399 Fury card sounds pretty appealing...
There it is, the revolution that AMD has been promising us for what seems like years now. Does it live up to the hype? Hard to say for certain until the entire summer pans out, but the Radeon RX 480 is an impressively built and positioned graphics card that AMD hopes will spark sales, improve their market share position and give them the leverage to do more with the hardware and software technologies they have in place and en route.
One of the primary goals for the RX 480 was to bring VR gaming capability to the mass markets. By matching or exceeding the performance of the GeForce GTX 970, the universally accepted minimum performance standard from Oculus and SteamVR, the Radeon RX 480 becomes that new defacto graphics card, in both 4GB and 8GB varieties. And best of all, it does so with a price tag $50-100 lower.
AMD also finds itself in an interesting place in regards to future products. We know that there is no following, bigger GPU coming for at least 6 months, leaving NVIDIA free to trample around the high end market for as long as it wants. Will AMD find some magic capability to run dual RX 480s in CrossFire under DX12 that will allow it to scale with a large variety of software? Maybe a dual-GPU PCB is in the works - but with a better chance of success for gaming than the Radeon Pro Duo?
The build up has been tremendous and the product is very strong, but the Radeon RX 480 will have a battle on its hands again sooner rather than later. One advantage that AMD may hold over NVIDIA is on availability - if the RX 480 is widely available for the next several weeks, I see no reason why product shouldn't fly off the shelves. It's not perfect, and there are openings to be taken advantage of if competition is on point, but for the vast majority of PC gamers in the world, the Radeon RX 480 might be the perfect card at the perfect time.