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

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

AMD Finds Itself in a New Position


The release of the Radeon RX 480 puts AMD in an interesting position. First, the company has finally released a new consumer-focused video card on the new Polaris architecture, and it's the first consumer launch of a video card since the release of the Radeon R9 Nano in September 2015. It's an exciting time for video cards in general, with VR taking off through the likes of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, as well as NVIDIA's new GeForce GTX 1080 and GeForce GTX 1070, along with a slew of partner cards that offer exciting cooling setups, and even more performance.




Secondly, AMD is not competing with the new GeForce GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 which are far more powerful; instead, it is laser focused on the mainstream - wanting to hit the sub $200 market, as well as reposition itself within the VR ecosystem. This is the first time that I can remember AMD not releasing an enthusiast card first, and then trickling out the slower cards in the series.



Last year, AMD debuted the first card with High Bandwidth Memory technology with the Radeon R9 Fury X, with its new Fiji architecture, HBM1 memory, and water cooling by default - AMD still couldn't topple NVIDIA's best cards at the time. NVIDIA continued to hit AMD down with its GeForce GTX 980 Ti and Titan X video cards, even with their GDDR5 memory that couldn't match the 512GB/sec that HBM1 offered on the Fury X, beat AMD in both performance - and even sometimes price/performance per dollar. Especially in 4K gaming, which is where AMD positioned its then high-end and not enthusiast/flagship card - the Radeon R9 380X, as it had 8GB of framebuffer - compared to the piddly 4GB, albeit HBM1, on the Fury X.


Most gamers expected AMD to release a Fury X successor on the exciting new 14nm FinFET process and Polaris architecture until earlier this year - when AMD began its Rebellion against the Empire - the Empire being NVIDIA in this case, by announcing its intentions on the mid-range market. At the time, I remember most gamers, friends, and people commenting online through our comments on Facebook, our articles, Reddit, other sites, and tech YouTuber's comments that they weren't looking forward to AMD's mid-range card.


Then something changed. The tide shifted, and the Rebellion began.


Team Red supports had increased, and the mid-range market became something that they cared about - because AMD had shifted, and altered its image in consumers' minds. I constantly ask gamers, my local Australian friends, and family, and my many industry friends questions on which card they like or think is better - as it helps me judge the overall market, not just the product that happens to be on my test bed.


I've done this for years, as I did ten years of IT retail sales selling these exact parts and many other components to build cheap $600 PCs, right up to custom rigs worth $8000 or more. I like to know the opinions of consumers and gamers in the real-world, as it gives you a better idea of where things will be in a year or two. AMD has repositioned its image with gamers and consumers with the Radeon RX series, changing its entire marketing strategy from top to bottom - at least as much as they can do without somehow creating a totally superior product at the same price - which is impossible.




But with the Radeon RX 480, the company has a card it can push to the masses - not just the smaller market for people who spend over $300 on a video card. NVIDIA has positioned itself as the company you go to if you want something powerful and ready for next-gen games at over 1080p - such as 2560x1440, 3440x1440 on the 21:9 UltraWide monitors, and 4K.




AMD is positioning the Radeon RX series, and right now the RX 480, at the 1080p and VR gaming markets. This is where the mainstream audience is found, with tens of millions of gamers that are potential customers. AMD wants the gamers who are using older video cards that are less power efficient, nowhere near as powerful, and don't have the impressive list of technology and features that the new Polaris-based Radeon RX series have.




The new fourth-generation GCN architecture continues its support with FreeSync and DX12, but adds things like AMD TrueAudio Next, and improved Asynchronous Compute. You can feel safe in buying a new FreeSync monitor right now with a new Radeon RX 480, or waiting a few months and grabbing one of the new 1080p 240Hz or 4K 120Hz displays that are on their way thanks to the additional bandwidth of DisplayPort 1.4 on the RX series cards.



Pricing - AMD Nails the $200-$350 Market


I decided to compare a larger amount of cards priced up to, and just over the $239 price on the Radeon RX 480 8GB card at 1080p - while our 1440p and 4K testing dropped a few of those slower cards, especially since they only had 2GB of VRAM. The cards I tested, were listed on Amazon at the following prices (and obviously at the time of writing):


  • HIS Radeon R7 360 GREEN iCooler 2GB - $152.99
  • HIS Radeon R7 370 IceQ X2 OC 2GB - ~$150
  • ZOTAC GeForce GTX 950 AMP! Edition 2GB - $159.99
  • ZOTAC GeForce GTX 960 AMP! Edition 2GB - $208.32
  • HIS Radeon R9 380 IceQ X2 OC 4GB - ~$180
  • SAPPHIRE Nitro R9 380X 4GB - $248.99
  • SAPPHIRE Tri-X R9 390X 8GB - $429.99
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4GB (reference) - $412 (MSI ARMOR listing on Amazon)


So let's directly compare the Radeon RX 480 4GB at $199 and the 8GB at $239 against the most expensive cards we're testing - the R9 380X 4GB, R9 390X 8GB (both overclocked models) and the reference GeForce GTX 980 from NVIDIA. The Radeon RX 480 has some great sides to it, such as it being smaller, lighter, more power efficient (the GTX 980 uses 5W less) and has support for all the latest technologies like DX12, FreeSync, Async Compute, and more.


If we compare them at 1080p, the RX 480 in Far Cry Primal sits perfectly at 59FPS average - right on the 60FPS average we want to see. Looking at the R9 380X which costs $10 more, and it's beating it by 25%. The RX 480 loses to the 390X and GTX 980, but they're both considerably more expensive - by at least $150 more. Even in something like Metro: Last Light Redux, the Radeon RX 480 beats the overclocked R9 380X by 26.5% - and loses to the overclocked R9 390X card from SAPPHIRE by 15%, and to NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 980 by 22%.


In a game like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor where the framebuffer is squeezed to its limits, the GDDR5-based Radeon RX 480 still held its ground. Comparing it against the very similarly priced, and overclocked R9 380X, we have the RX 480 coming out on top by a huge 30% in Shadow of Mordor at 1080p. The GTX 980 is just 8% faster, while the overclocked R9 390X is 11.5% faster. They may be 8% and 11.5% faster, but they also cost close to twice the price of the RX 480.

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