First Thoughts

Bringing our first look at AMD’s new architecture to a close, it’s exciting to see the field shape up for the FinFET generation. After over four years since the last great node transition, we once again are making a very welcome jump to a new manufacturing process, bringing us AMD’s Polaris.

AMD learned a lot from the 28nm generation – and more often than not the hard way – and they have put those lessons to good use in Polaris. Polaris’s power efficiency has been greatly increased thanks to a combination of GlobalFoundries 14nm FinFET process and AMD’s own design choices, and as a result, compared to AMD’s last-generation parts, Polaris makes significant strides where it needs to. And this goes not just for energy efficiency, but overall performance/resource efficiency as well.

Because AMD is launching with a mainstream part first they don’t get to claim to be charting any new territory on absolute performance. But by being the first vendor to address the mainstream market with a FinFET-based GPU, AMD gets the honor of redefining the price, performance, and power expectations of this market. And the end result is better performance – sometimes remarkably so – for this high volume market.

Relative to last-generation mainstream cards like the GTX 960 or the Radeon R9 380, with the Radeon RX 480 we’re looking at performance gains anywhere between 45% and 70%, depending on the card, the games, and the memory configuration. As the mainstream market was last refreshed less than 18 months ago, the RX 480 generally isn’t enough to justify an upgrade. However if we extend the window out to cards 2+ years old to things like the Radeon R9 280 and GeForce GTX 760, then we have a generational update and then-some. AMD Pitcairn users (Radeon HD 7800, R9 270) should be especially pleased with the progress AMD has made from one mainstream GPU to the next.

Looking at the overall performance picture, averaged across all of our games, the RX 480 lands a couple of percent ahead of NVIDIA’s popular GTX 970, and similarly ahead of AMD’s own Radeon R9 390, which is consistent with our performance expectations based on AMD’s earlier hints. RX 480 can't touch GTX 1070, which is some 50% faster, but then it's 67% more expensive as well.

Given the 970/390 similarities, from a price perspective this means that 970/390 performance has come down by around $90 since these cards were launched, from $329 to $239 for the more powerful RX 480 8GB, or $199 when it comes to 4GB cards. In the case of the AMD card power consumption is also down immensely as well, in essence offering Hawaii-like performance at around half of the power. However against the GTX 970 power consumption is a bit more of a mixed bag – power consumption is closer than I would have expected under Crysis 3 –  and this is something to further address in our full review.

Finally, when it comes to the two different memory capacities of the RX 480, for the moment I’m leaning strongly towards the 8GB card. Though the $40 price increase represents a 20% price premium, history has shown that when mainstream cards launch at multiple capacities, the smaller capacity cards tend to struggle far sooner than their larger counterparts. In that respect the 8GB RX 480 is far more likely to remain useful a couple of years down the road, making it a better long-term investment.

Wrapping things up then, today’s launch of the Radeon RX 480 puts AMD in a good position. They have the mainstream market to themselves, and RX 480 is a strong showing for their new Polaris architecture. AMD will have to fend off NVIDIA at some point, but for now they can sit back and enjoy another successful launch.

Meanwhile we’ll be back in a few days with our full review of the RX 480, so be sure to stay tuned.

Power, Temperature, & Noise


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  • Drumsticks - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    I have heard this is true, but what does Anandtech (and many others) measure by? Most reviews show the 480 and the 970 very close in power draw.

    Polaris definitely appears to be a little bit more efficient than Maxwell, but likely less a good bit less efficient than Pascal. It's definitely better than the 3XX vs Maxwell days though.
  • looncraz - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    Compared to the 970, the RX 480 has better power consumption for the performance, yes. Not by much, but that value should increase with AIB versions as the reference runs rather warm and has a less than efficient VRM.

    Only time will tell how that consumption changes with clock speeds and how much overclocking can be genuinely achieved from the chip, but at this point, stock vs stock, the RX480 is a better buy than the 970.

    The 1060 is another matter altogether. It will certainly use less power and clock better than the RX 480, so we can assume that it will perform better as well - with nVidia simply tweaking its default clocks to best the RX 480. Still, it looks like the 1060 will have only 3GB or 6GB of RAM, so the cheaper RX 480 will fair better in RAM-heavy scenarios than the cheaper 1060.
  • just4U - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    There is no guarantees on the 1060.. especially if it's 128bit. The 960 was a little on the disappointing side. Especially considering what you had to pay for it. (I know.. I own a 960 4G and a 380..) Reply
  • fanofanand - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - link

    I wouldn't know how disappointing the 960 was, seeing as Anandtech never thought it worthy of review. *zing* Reply
  • gnawrot - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    I am pretty sure that AMD can deliver Vega in 2017 if they want to. In the mean time they will release their server CPUs (more profitable market). They cannot launch that many products at the same time. Reply
  • Michael Bay - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    Their server CPUs which nobody even wants. This particular battle was lost a decade ago. Reply
  • Domaldel - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - link

    Not really if what we've heard about Zen is correct.
    32 cores and 64 threads with each core roughly matching Broadwell clock for clock at a lower price point?
    While all of that could of course be bull there's also potential here for some serious disruption in the CPU market.
    And Zen is probably higher priority for AMD then the GPU market as a whole.
  • Gigaplex - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - link

    I doubt they'll match Broadwell clock for clock. They'll probably fall in the Nehalem to Sandy Bridge range. That should be enough though to cause some disruption in the CPU market if the price is right. Reply
  • mikato - Friday, July 29, 2016 - link

    So are you saying, Michael Bay, that if they released a CPU that was competitive or better price-performance-efficiency and Intel's then it wouldn't be successful? It sounds like that is what you are saying. Reply
  • r@ven - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    What are you stupid? The R9 390 was already made in the time to compete the 970. And even faster in 1440P. Reply

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