This morning AMD is taking the wraps off of their next line of video cards, the Radeon RX 500 series. Like past video card lineup refreshes, the RX 500 series is based on AMD’s existing GPU architecture, Polaris, but shipping in new configurations and at new prices in order to boost AMD’s GPU performance and their competitiveness. This gives AMD and its partners something new to sell for 2017, while at the same time also giving them something even faster to tempt current 300/200 series owners into upgrading to Polaris. Adding an extra wrinkle into all of this, there’s even a new Polaris GPU joining the family, albeit at the low end.

In prior generation refreshes such as the Radeon 300 series, AMD has bumped up clockspeeds while tweaking prices, and the Radeon RX 500 refresh is no exception. For the cards based on upgraded versions of existing RX 400 SKUs – primarily the RX 580 and RX 570 – clockspeeds and TDPs are up. Meanwhile towards the lower end of the stack, we’re finally getting a full-enabled Polaris 11 card in the RX 560, or below that, a new low-end GPU in the form of Polaris 12, which is going into RX 550.

However this refresh also deviates from the course a little bit for AMD, as they haven’t been sitting completely idle on the GPU front. The RX 500 series is using new revisions of the existing Polaris 10 and Polaris 11 GPUs. These revised chips have received further tweaking to reach higher clockspeeds, while also fixing a couple of minor issues with the GPUs. In the case of the latter, AMD is adding a new mid-power memory clock state so that applications that require memory clocks faster than idle – primarily mixed-resolution multi-monitor and video decoding – no longer cause the memory to clock up to its most power-demanding speeds, keeping overall power consumption down.

Meanwhile on the manufacturing front, all of the revised Polaris chips are being manufactured on what AMD is calling the “Latest Generation FinFET 14” process. This is a bit of a mouthful, but in short it’s AMD calling attention to the improvements partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have made to their 14nm LPP processes in the last year. Yields are up and overall chip quality is better, which improves the average performance (clockspeed & power) characteristics of the chips. Both foundries have also been making other undisclosed, small tweaks to their lines to further boost chip quality.

Typically these kinds of yearly gains would simply be rolled into a product line without any fanfare – these improvements are gradual over time anyhow, not a binary event – but for the RX 500 series AMD wants to call attention to them to explain why clockspeeds are improved versus the RX 400 series cards released last year. Though to be clear here, the difference isn’t dramatic; the gains from a year’s optimization to a manufacturing line are a fraction of a full node improvement.

One thing to note here is that while AMD’s chip quality has improved here, for the desktop AMD is investing virtually all of those gains into improving clockspeeds. Consequently, TBPs are actually going up relative to the RX 400 cards, as AMD looks to maximize their performance-per-dollar ratio. To get a better look at the numbers, please take a look at our RX 580 review.

Moving on, as I mentioned earlier, AMD’s target market for the new RX 500 cards is owners of existing 28nm cards such as the Radeon 300/200 series, as well as NVIDIA’s GTX 900/700 series. The actual performance gains over the RX 400 cards are only around 5%, so this isn’t meant as an upgrade for owners of those cards. Instead the added performance is meant to further entice 28nm owners who didn’t bite on the RX 400 series. AMD is continuing with their play for volume with the RX 500 series, so they are eager to grab what they estimate to be the 500M gamers who are still on video cards more than 2 years old.

Spring 2017 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
Radeon RX 580 (8GB) $229 GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB)
Radeon RX 580 (4GB) $199  
Radeon RX 570 $169/$179 GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
  $129 GeForce GTX 1050 Ti
Radeon RX 560 $99/$104 GeForce GTX 1050
Radeon RX 550 $79  

Diving into the cards themselves, we have the RX 580, RX 570, RX 560, and RX 550. These cards will extend from $79 up to $229, launching in waves over the next month.

AMD Radeon RX 580 Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon RX 580 (8GB) AMD Radeon RX 480 (8GB) AMD Radeon R9 380 AMD Radeon R9 280
Stream Processors 2304
(36 CUs)
2304
(36 CUs)
1792
(28 CUs)
1792
(28 CUs)
Texture Units 144 144 112 112
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Base Clock 1257MHz 1120MHz N/A 827MHz
Boost Clock 1340MHz 1266MHz 970MHz 933MHz
Memory Clock 8 Gbps GDDR5 8 Gbps GDDR5 5.5Gbps GDDR5 5Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
VRAM 8GB 8GB 2GB 3GB
Transistor Count 5.7B 5.7B 5.0B 4.31B
Typical Board Power 185W 150W 190W 250W
Manufacturing Process GloFo 14nm GloFo 14nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture GCN 4 GCN 4 GCN 1.2 GCN 1.0
GPU Polaris 10 Polaris 10 Tonga Tahiti
Launch Date 04/18/2017 06/29/2016 06/18/2015 03/04/2014
Launch Price $229 $239 $199 $279

At the high end is AMD’s new midrange contender, the RX 580. Like the RX 480 before it, this is a fully enabled Polaris 10 GPU. Taking advantage of their manufacturing gains, AMD is bumping up the boost clock by 6%, from 1266MHz to 1340MHz. Meanwhile the base clock – which has proven somewhat arbitrary on Polaris since it rarely throttles anywhere near that much – is increasing by 12%, from 1120MHz to 1257MHz. As we’re seeing in our RX 580 review, expect the performance gains to closely mirror the boost clock changes.

Meanwhile the memory clock is not changing for the 8GB cards. AMD is holding fast at 8Gbps GDDR5 on a 256-bit memory bus. It should also be noted though that while the default configuration of the RX 580 is 8GB, like the RX 480, some 4GB cards are also expected to be produced.

Otherwise when it comes to power, there’s no such thing as a free lunch; TBPs have increased from 150W to 185W in order to allow RX 580 to reach these clockspeeds. In the case of this SKU, AMD is investing all of their manufacturing gains (and then some) into clockspeeds. Which given the outcome of the RX 480 versus the GTX 1060, shouldn’t be too surprising, as it’s clear that AMD isn’t going to beat NVIDIA on efficiency with Polaris.

The RX 580 is launching today. 8GB cards will start at $229, while 4GB cards will start at the all-important $199 price point. Since vendors can reuse their existing factory overclocked RX 480 designs – and indeed, AMD doesn’t even have a reference RX 580 design – board partners are hitting the ground running on factory overclocked cards. These cards have even higher clockspeeds, some on the order of 1400MHz or more, with higher TBPs to match. Board partners do prefer factory overclocked cards due to their higher margins, so I’m not sure just how many cards will actually be available at $229/$199 today.

Finally, the competition for the RX 580 will be NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1060 6GB, which as of late has been starting at the same $229 price as the RX 580. In terms of performance the GTX 1060 6GB comes out ahead of the RX 480 in most scenarios, so this is the gap AMD wants to close with the higher clocked RX 580 cards. Though it’s a fine line for AMD to walk, as it doesn’t leave AMD with much (if any) of a price advantage.

The target market for the RX 580 will be a mix of 1440p and 1080p gaming. Polaris 10 isn’t quite powerful enough to do no-compromises 1440p gaming across the board, and RX 580 can’t fix that (this will be Vega’s job). But it can handle 1440p on some games, and will scream on 1080p for everything else.

AMD Radeon RX 570 Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon RX 570 AMD Radeon RX 470 AMD Radeon R7 370 AMD Radeon R9 270
Stream Processors 2048
(32 CUs)
2048
(32 CUs)
1024
(16 CUs)
1280
(20 CUs)
Texture Units 128 128 64 80
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Base Clock 1168MHz 926MHz N/A 900MHz
Boost Clock 1244MHz 1206MHz 975MHz 925MHz
Memory Clock 7Gbps GDDR5 6.6Gbps GDDR5 5.6Gbps GDDR5 5.6Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
VRAM 4GB 4GB 2GB 2GB
Transistor Count 5.7B 5.7B 2.8B 2.8B
Typical Board Power 150W 120W 110W 150W
Manufacturing Process GloFo 14nm GloFo 14nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture GCN 4 GCN 4 GCN 1.0 GCN 1.0
GPU Polaris 10 Polaris 10 Pitcairn Pitcairn
Launch Date 04/18/2017 08/04/2016 06/18/2015 11/13/2013
Launch Price $169 $179 $149 $179

Next up is the Radeon RX 570. Like its more powerful sibling, this is an enhanced version of its RX 400 series predecessor, the RX 470. We’re looking at the same cut-down Polaris 10 GPU with 32 of 36 CUs enabled, but again clockspeeds are increased. RX 570 goes from 1206Mhz to 1244MHz on the boost clock, a 3% gain, while the base clock is increased from 926MHz to 1168MHz, a gain of 26%.

One thing RX 570 gets that RX 580 does not is a memory speed bump. On RX 470 AMD set the SKU standard at the somewhat odd 6.6Gbps; for RX 570, this is now a full 7Gbps, for a 6% increase in memory bandwidth. Polaris 10 in general likes memory bandwidth, so as you can see in our companion RX 570 review, this works out well for the RX 570. The standard memory configuration here will be for 4GB of VRAM, however AMD has mentioned that we should expect to see some 8GB cards as well, though none of these are on the launch list they’ve provided.

Moving on, TBPs have increased for the RX 570 as well. Whereas the RX 470 was a 120W card, the baseline for RX 570 will be 150W in order to drive the Polaris 10 GPU at higher clockspeeds and to power throttle less often. For board partners, this means they can either use the reference RX 480 as a starting point, or as many of them will be opting to do, use their existing designs for factory overclocked RX 470/480 cards and build from there.

The RX 570 will be launching at $169, $10 cheaper than where the RX 470 launched last year. Perhaps more importantly, this means there’s now a $30 gap between the starting price of RX 570 4GB cards and RX 580 4GB cards, which helps make the different SKUs stand out a bit better. Like the RX 580, the RX 570 is launching in volume today. Expect board partners to hit the ground running on factory overclocked designs, particularly to take advantage of the fact that RX 570 is starting from a lower clockspeed than RX 580.

Otherwise the competition for the RX 570 is a mixed bag. AMD considers the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti the primary competition for RX 570, however the cheapest GTX 1060 3GB cards have been starting close to $169 for a bit now. So depending on stock and NVIDIA’s pricing, the GTX 1060 3GB will more often be AMD’s competition.

The target market for the RX 570 is 1080p gaming. In this capacity it should be able to tackle most games without compromise, though it doesn’t quite have the steam to sustain 60fps Ultra on every last game.

RX 560 & RX 550 (& Polaris 12 Too!)
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  • Meteor2 - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - link

    I just want to give the 550 a cuddle Reply
  • Der Keyser - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - link

    I'm missing a bit of information:

    I'm a photographer and are solely looking for a GPU that will drive 3x 4K displays fast and fluently in desktop mode - no need for gaming. I have a mini-ITx machine so as little noise as possible is preferred. Will a RX550 suffice for that?

    I cannot se how many displays - and which interfaces - the GPU's support. I would prefer 3 x DIsplayport, but HDMI 2.0 will suffice - DVI-D will not drive 4K properly.

    Will both the rx560 and rx550 support zero fan speed idle for normal desktop mode (no 3D accelerated workloads)?

    Or should I just upgrade my machine to a Kaby Lake or the upcoming Coffe lake CPU and use the iGPU for my needs? Not sure 3 x Displayport is possible with Kaby Lake - maybe with Coffe Lake?
    Reply
  • kn00tcn - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - link

    but the cpus arent 'zero fan speed', so why do you need such a feature? a large enough slow enough fan is quite close to silent

    you'll have to read the product pages of every brand's card & model if you insist on zero fan (if it cant be stopped in software), fan speeds have nothing to do with the gpu maker
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - link

    The concern you should have right now is that any low profile cards are unlikely to include 3 ports, especially as vendors have dropped mDP from consumer cards. Full profile cards will, but for legacy reasons you can count on one of those being a DVI port, so we're back to square one. In fact of all the cards I've seen so far, all of them seem to be using the same AMD PCB with 1x DP, 1x HDMI, 1x DVI.

    As for zero fan speed idle, that will be up to the specific card vendor. There's no way to know now.
    Reply
  • Der Keyser - Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - link

    Yeah, that's the problem. My mini-ITX machine will not hold a full lenght dual-slot GPU which. Currently is needed for for a GPU with 3x displayport and zero fan speed idle.

    Really strange the no vendor has made a specialized card to cater for this niche. I can't be the only non-gamer wanting to go 3 x 4K display.

    the R9 Nano card seems interesting, but I cant figure if it will go zero fan speed idle.
    Reply
  • Mugur - Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - link

    I use 2 x 1440p Dells at work from my notebook with a single DP output (daisy-chained). I think this is a feature since DP 1.2. So a cable from notebook to 1st monitor and another cable from monitor 1 to monitor 2. Reply
  • Der Keyser - Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - link

    Should mention my machine will take a dual-slot card, it's only the length thats very restricted.

    And the R9 nano card is pretty expensive considering I don't need all that GPU power
    Reply
  • Der Keyser - Sunday, April 23, 2017 - link

    Jeezz, don't know why i didn't think of the workstation cards. They are just what I need.
    A nvidia quadro P600 does exactly what I want with 4 x displayport and single slot setup.
    And it's less than 200$ :-)
    Reply
  • Simon42 - Friday, April 21, 2017 - link

    I have an RX 460 plugged into a single 4k TV inside a Silverstone FT03 mini itx case. It's at 100% as soon as I use Chrome or SolidWorks intensively, so it gets over its 60° silent fan limit often... The memory improvements on RX 560 are interesting to me, but I think 4k is a good workout for the whole computer so running multiple monitors might be a challenge without better hardware (I'm running a 3570K Ivy Bridge). Reply
  • xMiracle45 - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - link

    What a Joke its clock boosted 400 series. Meanwhile over at Nvidia they are eating up the market with the 10 series. Should have Launched Vega in the first quarter. Not sure why AMD has fallen so far off the competitive market with their graphics cards the 7870's use to be the go-to. Reply

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