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AMD Radeon RX 480 Video Card Review - Starting a Rebellion From $199

By: Anthony Garreffa, Jason Evangelho | AMD Radeon GPU in Video Cards | Posted: Jun 29, 2016 1:00 pm
TweakTown Rating: 87%Manufacturer: AMD

Note: The following page handling the VR side of the Radeon RX 480 was written by our resident VR Editor, Jason Evangelho.

 

Is AMD's New Radeon RX 480 Ready for Mainstream VR, and Beyond?

 

AMD is putting considerable effort into promoting VR. After all, the more widely VR is adopted, the more potential there is for the cost of entry to get driven down. And the more hardware AMD can sell to consumers, content creators, and game developers. Everyone wins.

 

amd-radeon-rx-480-starting-rebellion-199_10

 

The RX 480 is AMD's bid to bring what it calls "Premium VR" to the masses. Prior generation video cards that were deemed "VR Ready" by Oculus and HTC launched at $329, and the RX 480 starts at only $199. Can it deliver an identical VR experience, though? Can it crank out a smooth 90FPS per second, which is crucial not just for enjoyment in virtual reality, but also for comfort?

 

 

The great news is that Oculus has officially certified the RX 480 as Oculus Ready for the CV1 Rift, and they have incredibly strict testing procedures. HTC even threw in an endorsement, and the two major players behind desktop-class, premium VR singing your praises certainly helps AMD's cause.

 

My task, then, was simple: put the Radeon RX 480 through the paces in VR, using an entry-level system that still meets the recommended requirements for VR. Here's what I have lovingly dubbed "The People's Bench" since it represents the more realistic side of gaming, not what's only attainable by people with money to burn.

 

  • Intel Core i5-6400 CPU (Skylake)
  • ASUS Z170-A Motherboard
  • G.Skill Ripjaws V 16GB DDR4 2400MHz
  • VisionTek GO Drive 120GB SSD
  • Western Digital Black 1TB HDD
  • Corsair RM1000 Power Supply
  • Lian Li Pitstop T60 Aluminum Test Bench

 

We're sort of in the wild west of VR benchmarking right now. Anthony and I are in the process of developing reliable, stable benchmark routines for VR, but in the meantime, we welcome your feedback! The problem is that there are no adequate tools to properly evaluate it because it's not just frame rates that matter. It's motion-to-photon latency, it's frame times. For now, the two best tools at our disposal are pretty much FRAPS and careful user observations. Are frames dropping? Is there judder? Are physical actions relayed to the game instantly?

 

Using these tools, I had to ask myself a simple question: does the Radeon RX 480 consistently deliver the coveted 90FPS? And even if it doesn't, am I still having an enjoyable, comfortable VR experience?

 

So, I busted out my CV1 Oculus Rift and took the following mixture of games and non-interactive software for a test drive on the RX 480: Anshar Wars 2, Apollo 11 Experience, Chronos, Oculus Dreamdeck, Edge of Nowhere, EVE Valkyrie, Henry, Into The Dead, Lucky's Tale, and The Climb.

 

amd-radeon-rx-480-starting-rebellion-199_180

 

The results were promising, proving that AMD can deliver that premium VR experience at $199.

 

Apollo 11, Anshar Wars 2, Edge of Nowhere, Oculus Dreamdeck, Henry, Eve Valkyrie, and Lucky's Tale all delivered a rock solid 90FPS, with about the lowest average frame times you can expect at 11.1ms. Into The Dead, Chronos, and Crytek's The Climb couldn't quite maintain an average of 90FPS, dropping down to anywhere between 83FPS and 88FPS, with 99th percentile frame times at between 20ms and 22ms.

 

That being said, it was impossible to notice those missing frames with the naked eye. I only experienced a case of judder once during Into The Climb, and the rest of the games ran smoothly, resulting in zero nausea or discomfort. And remember, I was actively playing these - they weren't static benchmarks.

 

If you're sensing a "but," interrupting our praise-fest, here it is. The SteamVR Performance Test concerns me.

 

amd-radeon-rx-480-starting-rebellion-199_181

 

It concerns me for a couple of reasons. First, while we see Radeon RX 480 gaming performance pretty much on par with the Radeon 390, VR performance lags slightly behind. Notice how the quality graph shows the Radeon 390 spending more time in the "Very High" section? This is because the test doesn't behave like regular benchmarks. It adapts the quality settings on-the-fly based on your system's performance to deliver that coveted 90FPS.

 

Second, it's that fact that gives me pause when asked to recommend the RX 480 for first-time VR users. See, AMD is pushing the RX 480 as a GPU to experience premium VR, but they're also pushing the idea of it being somewhat future-proof, mentioning that they want to respect the user's investment. But will the RX 480 be viable next year when the second generation of Rifts and Vives inevitably hit the market, and developers keep pushing the visual envelope forward?

 

If a very select few games can't maintain a rock solid 90FPS at 100% of the time, will users get to play everything in the virtual reality playground in the next six months? 12 months? 18 months? By adding a second RX 480 into the mix, I'd say probably, but the mainstream consumer market isn't exactly the target market for Crossfire configurations.

 

For VR, today, the RX 480 is fantastic at the price. Make no mistake about that! But I think patience is the right call here. Adopt a wait-and-see attitude to see what NVIDIA's forthcoming GTX 1060 has up its sleeve, and what price tag it'll carry with it.

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