RX 560 & RX 550 (& Polaris 12 Too!)

Third up is the Radeon RX 560, and this is a little different than the higher-end cards. Whereas the RX 580 and RX 570 are essentially higher clocked versions of their RX 400 counterparts, RX 560 is a new configuration altogether. AMD never shipped a fully enabled Polaris 11 desktop card in the last year as part of the RX 400 series – though they’ve been showing up in laptops like the MacBook Pro – meaning that AMD had held on to another two CUs that they are finally enabling for the RX 560. As a result this card is gaining more than a clockspeed bump.

AMD Radeon RX 560 Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon RX 560 AMD Radeon RX 460 AMD Radeon R7 360 AMD Radeon R7 260
Stream Processors 1024
(16 CUs)
(14 CUs)
(12 CUs)
(12 CUs)
Texture Units 64 56 48 48
ROPs 16 16 16 16
Base Clock 1175MHz 1090MHz N/A N/A
Boost Clock 1275MHz 1200MHz 1050MHz 1000MHz
Memory Clock 7Gbps GDDR5? 7Gbps GDDR5 6.5Gbps GDDR5 6Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit
Transistor Count 3B 3B 2.08B 2.08B
Typical Board Power 60-80W <75W 100W 95W
Manufacturing Process GloFo 14nm GloFo 14nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture GCN 4 GCN 4 GCN 1.1 GCN 1.1
GPU Polaris 11 Polaris 11 Bonaire Bonaire
Launch Date 05/2017 08/08/2016 06/18/2015 01/14/2014
Launch Price $99 $119 $109 $109

By the numbers, the additional two CUs give the RX 560 a 14% boost in shader and texture throughput. Coupled with that are some modest clockspeed increases for both the boost clock and the base clock. The boost clock is being bumped up from 1200MHz to 1275MHz (6%) and the base clock from 1090MHz to 1175MHz (8%). Coupled with the increased CU count, and we’re looking at a performance improvement on paper of around 22%. That said, the ROP count isn’t changing, so the actual performance improvement will likely be in the middle of those values.

When it comes to memory, AMD has only mentioned 4GB cards thus far. Though given the target market and the fact that the higher-end RX 500 cards are getting mixed configurations, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see some 2GB cards here as well. AMD has not disclosed the memory clocks, but as RX 460 already shipped with 7Gbps GDDR5, I’m expecting the same here. So memory bandwidth would be identical to RX 460.

Things are particularly interesting for power consumption. Whereas the high-end Polaris cards are both seeing their TBPs increase this generation, the RX 560 is covering a wider range. The official TBP is 60 to 80W. AMD’s partners will be releasing both sub-75W versions that don’t require a PCIe power connector, and 75W+ versions that do. We’re told that the 75W+ versions will be the more common of the two. What’s not clear right now is whether the sub-75W models will get the same clocks, as board partners can turn down the power limit without turning down the official clockspeeds, at the cost of increased power throttling.

Moving on, unlike the RX 580, RX 570, and RX 550, the RX 560 isn’t launching this week. Rather it’s going to be launching in early May. Prices on these cards will start at $99, which is a good deal lower than where the RX 460 launched at, though consistent with its pricing over the last few months. The competition for the card will be NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1050, which is still priced at $109, but is not uncommon to see on sale at $99.

The target market for the RX 560 will be lower-end 1080p gaming. It’s not nearly as fast as the RX 570, so that means dialing back on graphics quality a bit to sustain good framerates, but it’s also some $70 cheaper.

AMD Radeon RX 550 Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon RX 550 AMD Radeon R7 250X AMD Radeon R7 250
Stream Processors 512
(8 CUs)
(10 CUs)
(6 CUs)
Texture Units 32 40 24
ROPs 16 16 8
Base Clock ? 1000MHz 1000MHz
Boost Clock 1183MHz N/A 1050MHz
Memory Clock 7Gbps GDDR5 4.5Gbps GDDR5 4.6Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit
Transistor Count 2.2B 1.5B 1B
Typical Board Power 50W 95W 65W
Manufacturing Process 14nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture GCN 4 GCN 1.0 GCN 1.0
GPU Polaris 12 Cape Verde Oland
Launch Date 04/20/2017 02/10/2014 10/11/2013
Launch Price $79 $99 $89

Last and literally the least is the Radeon RX 550. This is a particularly interesting card because it has no Radeon RX 400 series analogue. In fact the GPU it’s based on is brand new; this is the first product to get it.

At the heart of the RX 550 is AMD’s new Polaris 12 GPU. This is an even smaller, lower performance, and lower power GPU than Polaris 11. It features just 8 CUs – half as many as Polaris 11 – but a full 128-bit memory bus. Overall Polaris 12 is comprised of 2.2B transistors, coming in at a die size of 101mm2. Interestingly, this is not all that much smaller than Polaris 11; AMD has shaved off just 800M transistors and 22mm2, about 22% of the transistors and 18% of the die area respectively. So AMD is definitely in the area of diminishing returns, as fixed function hardware and interfaces are now taking up a significant fraction of the die area.

Polaris 12 comes as a replacement for the equally quirky Oland GPU, which was released all the way back in late 2012 in laptops, and 2013 in desktops as the Radeon R7 250/240. Oland was a cost-optimized GPU for low-end devices, and as a pairing partner for CrossFire with AMD’s APUs. Polaris 12 in turn fills much of this same role. If it’s anything like Oland, Polaris 12 will have other features stripped out (e.g. Oland didn’t have a video decoder), but we don’t have any further details on Polaris 12 at this time.

The RX 550 in turn will ship with a Polaris 12 clocked at 1183MHz for the boost clock, while the memory clock is unknown. Practically speaking, I’d expect this to deliver around half the performance of an RX 560, but it may do better than expected depending on the ROP configuration. Unexpectedly, it should be also flush with memory bandwidth. While AMD has not announced the memory clocks, it will have a full 128-bit GDDR5 memory bus. So memory bandwidth could be comparable to RX 560, giving it a lot more bandwidth per FLOP and helping to offset the lack of shader resources.

Polaris 12 is primarily destined to live its life in laptops – a similar fate as Polaris 11 – but AMD is starting off with the desktop ahead of a big laptop push later this year. The desktop card will come with 2GB of VRAM and will be priced at $79. This is not a massive amount of savings compared to the $99 RX 560, but then as I’ve stated before, AMD is getting into diminishing returns here. Sub-$100 cards have to give up a lot of performance for a small decrease in price.

Unlike the other RX 500 cards, the RX 550 isn’t meant to replace earlier AMD cards. If you have a Radeon R7 250, the odds are your entire system is due for an upgrade. Instead it’s being positioned as a step-up card for system owners looking for something better than an iGPU, but without taking too big of a hit to the pocket book. Practically speaking, the target market for the RX 550 is a mix of entry-level gaming and HTPCs. On the former the card should be a good bit faster than an iGPU and more than suitable for MOBAs and other mass-market games, and in the case of the latter, it’s AMD’s lowest-power card that features both HDMI 2.0 and a video decoder (and even Freesync support). The 50W TBP means that low-profile designs can be offered, making is a good pairing for slim HTPCs.

The RX 550 will be launching later this week, on April 20th.

Intro, RX 580, & RX 570
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  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - link

    Yup, that's pretty much what I'd like to see in the current generation. Although I've given up on desktop gaming for the moment, if I were to dabble in it again, I'd do it with a retired half height business box like an Optiplex or something that'll fit under a modest monitor stand. For that to work, I need the lowest possible TDP. A GT 730 did the job a year or two ago, but it wasn't quite enough GPU even then so I had hopes that there'd be something to fill that need in Pascal and Polaris. So far the only options are the lowest end Pascal-based Quadros which don't really offer a good value proposition. The RX 550 gets closer, but like you've already said, 50W might still be a bit of a stretch for such a small cooler.
  • phoenix_rizzen - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - link

    Yeah, I'm still waiting for something newer than a GT730 for 3-monitor setups at work. Our standard desktop case only supports half-height cards. Single-slot isn't required for our uses, but half-height most definitely is. Fanless would be best, but a quiet-enough fan would be acceptable.

    Will be interesting to see if the 1050 or 550 can be made to work in this setup.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - link

    heck the 7750 managed it without throttling, and it puled 60 watt.
  • ET - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - link

    All we need is for OEM's to want to address this market slot. It can be done even with an RX 460, and probably even better with a 560. There's just need to tweak the voltage and clock rate, and these cards can reach sub-40W with decent performance. I actually find the 60-80W of the 560 quite promising, especially considering the full 16 CU's.

    I find the 550's 50W somewhat disappointing, by comparison, but I guess that could also be easily tweaked down.
  • lmcd - Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - link

    What type of cases are you looking for that require half-height? There are a lot of very nice, quite small ITX cases that can handle dual-slot full-height.
  • DanNeely - Thursday, April 20, 2017 - link

    Old School mini-ITX. Before Mobo's got dense enough that mITX didn't involve serious performance compromises, it was all about building the smallest functional computer you could. While part of that market's migrated to things like a NUC the remainder is still around because the NUC is still a compromise too far for them. For people int that group, half height cards and a low profile CPU cooler let them roughly halve the volume over a conventional case layout with support for full height cards.
  • anakha64 - Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - link

    Unfortunately GCN1 isn't quite dead yet. AMD have Radeon 520 and 530 models (no RX) on their website. 520 is described as '1st Gen GCN Architecture' and 530 as '3rd Gen'.
  • DanNeely - Thursday, April 20, 2017 - link

    The 530 has me really wondering because Wikipedia doesn't list any small 3rd gen GPU:. Did AMD make a smaller GPU using 3rd gen cores for the 5xx generation? Was it designed a few years ago but never launched? Are these bottom of the barrel binning rejects of a large die that they're just trying to use up.
  • TallestJon96 - Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - link

    The 560 is actually not too bad. Something like 2.6 teraflops with 4gb VRAM for $99. Thats much better than the 460 with ~2.2 teraflops and either 2gb (never buy 2gb) for $110 or 4gb for $130-$140. Compared to a $130 4gb 460, the $99 4gb 560 is about 55% better value for the money.

    The 460 4gb never made sense with the much better 470 4gb only costing $30-$40 more.

    For anyone on a tight budget, an R5 1400 and either 560 or 570 is a great deal for good performance.
  • ET - Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - link

    The 460 4GB made sense for an HTPC, but unfortunately the only low profile 4GB card isn't really available to buy, so I made do with a 2GB version.

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