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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  • FriendlyUser - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    Warframe is very, very light on the GPU. I get ~100fps at 1440p with a much older card and almost everything maxed. Try Witcher 3 for a challenge at 4k. Reply
  • Murloc - Tuesday, July 5, 2016 - link

    I can play age of empires 2 @4K on a gtx 275 get on my level Reply
  • Questor - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    Bandwagon much? One picture and you are already condemning a product that hasn't had a fair chance. You hurt yourself in the long when you subscribe to bandwagon jumping by spreading fanboy-ship; opinions not based on a clear factual completeness, but rather a possible detractor that is as yet unproven across the entirety of the products. Competition serves all of us. It brings prices more under control and forces innovation. Reply
  • mikato - Friday, July 29, 2016 - link

    "It's a terrible product. Look at the temps."

    I don't know about everyone else, but I don't buy my GPUs based on thermal images and point temps. Amirite?
    Reply
  • poohbear - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    How is it a bit disappointing??? do you really think most of us are running GTX970s?? The vast majority of people have gtx950 class cards, and this would be a nice step up considering the price. Reply
  • sharath.naik - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    Its disappointing because, 970 can overclock 10-15% sometimes more. You need to look at the thermals to understand that these are like already overclocked from the factory and cannot do more. Reply
  • smartthanyou - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    In no situation will a 10-15% overclock ever produce a performance difference that an end user would notice. In a benchmark application? Sure, numbers will increase but frames in a game will not increase to a point to make a difference.

    Overclocking 10-15% in almost all cases is pointless.
    Reply
  • FriendlyUser - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    All these are reference and have zero electrical margin for overclock. Reviews have shown that the board uses all juice it can and is almost constantly at the limit (or over) of the PCIe slot power delivery! You will only be able to judge overclock in cards with more complicated designs. The chip itself is probably quite variable, being the first of the 14nm AMD generation. Some will overclock well, others wont. Reply
  • wumpus - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    Last I heard, 970 was at the top of the steam surveys (I won't enable whatever kludge they wanted to find out). It isn't a bad goal, but my confidence in AMD shipping it to newegg faster than nvidia can ship an as of yet hypothetical 1060 isn't all that great. Assuming they do, it doesn't really mean they have a long window of "the card to buy at ~$200".

    A bigger worry is how many of those 970s are going to be hitting the market. Until AMD can claw back some marketshare, there could easily be a used 970 for every new 480 buyer out there. And this is coming from someone who had been assuming that I would get a 390 (or two) and DYI some watercooling for an ideal VR rig (before prices skyrocketed. I'm guessing lose the watercooling and go with nvidia once both VR and nvidia 14nm prices come back to Earth). This card isn't helping AMD all that much.
    Reply
  • lunarmit - Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - link

    It is, but it's just one card. Add in 1% for the 980, and 1% for the 980 ti and you have ~90% of the cards are powered below that once you factor in the AMD comparables. Reply

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