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


View All Comments

  • just4U - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    yeah.. competes with a 970 on some games.. and the reference 980 on others. Was a good card. Reply
  • akamateau - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link


    2 RX 480 in Crossfire CRUSHES GTX 1080!!!!

  • AntDX316 - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - link

    The hype was fake.

    I mean honestly releasing a 14nm flagship slower than their previous gen is a step in the wrong direction. I wouldn't be surprised if they just release an $800 version of the 14nm in early 2017 with masssive power. They just need more time to get their fabrications correct. I assume there could be some unforeseen problems and if the problems do arise with the $200 version it won't leak into the common video card world. It would be kept rare and quiet so that stuff can be fixed for their $800 flagship.
  • slickr - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - link

    This isn't a flagship card you moron! This is a mid range mainstream card, created specifically for the mass market. Their flagship card is coming in 2017, its Vega and its got HBM2, matured 14nm process, 4000+ stream processors, etc... Reply
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - link

    It's not a flagship card. They don't have a new flagship card so they tried to hype their mainstream card with "This is what you really want/need!" The recent trend is for gamers to buy more expensive cards, not cheaper ones, though, so in my opinion unless the economy tanks it's a bad strategy.

    If it performed 20% better or they sold it for $160 instead of $200 it would be all the things they tried to hype it as being. But as it is, it just looks like the first 14/16nm mainstream card to market. No more, no less. It's a solid card but it'll never be that impressive to launch a mainstream card that slots right into what the competition will offer in 1 or 2 months while leaving the rest of the market uncovered.
  • Gigaplex - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - link

    Next you'll be telling us that the NVIDIA 750 Ti was the Maxwell flagship. It came first, that does not make it a flagship. Reply
  • ihatenividiaastheyareaholes - Saturday, July 9, 2016 - link

    heres a thought how about people stop arguaing about this and wake the fuck up to what is going on that being the consoles trying to knock pc of its glorious pedastel Reply
  • IronTed - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    You sir are a moron. Reply
  • slickr - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - link

    The 390 easily beast the gimped and fraudulent 970 3.5GB trash for LESS money. The trash 970 still costs around $300, in extremely rare cases $280 for only 3.5GB.

    The RX 480 costs $200 or $240, consumes less, has full DX12 support, its cooler, quieter, overclocks a lot more.
  • sonicmerlin - Friday, July 1, 2016 - link

    The reference cards don't overclock at all. If you want an AIB card expect to pay significantly more. Reply

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