AMD RX 480

AMD’s RX480 will be available from 29 June onwards, and will represent the most powerful card in their Polaris line-up. At the E3 PC Gaming Show AMD’s Lisa Su strongly indicated that the 460 and 470 (along with the previous revealed 480) cards would “complete” the set of GPUs using Polaris architecture. A different GPU structure, dubbed ‘Vega’, is expected to provide AMD with even higher end cards (likely to be 490s if they stick to that naming scheme) either later this year or early 2017.

This week though, it’s going to be all about the RX480. The full NDA lifts on 29 June, but quite a few details (both confirmed and rather more rumour-ey) have crept out ahead of time. In an effort to cut through some of the hype and expectations, here’s what we know about the 480.

How much will these RX480s cost?

When AMD announced the GPU at Computex, it was with a suggested retail price (MSRP) of $200 USD. That was for the version with 4GB of VRAM. The MSRP for the 8GB version wasn’t stated during the show, but was expected to be around $230 (extrapolated from prior pricing models, not based on anything official as far as I can tell).

Prices sighted on Newegg appear to be broadly adhering to this (the 8GB version is $240), though these may just have been MSRP placeholders. They’re no longer present at the time of writing.

Other prices seen in the wild at ShopBLT have the 8GB 480 at $250 (Gigabyte) and $270 (XFX). Time will tell whether this is, as it appears, the higher end of the scale.

These are US prices. Expect the usual ‘swap the dollar sign for your own currency’ mark-up abroad; especially with GBP presently going nuts. Also expect non-reference cards to cost a bit more when they’re available.

Will custom manufacturer versions be available this week?

All of the 480 cards currently listed for sale look like the so-called ‘reference’ designs. That’s basically a static design, with a default cooler, conforming to the card specifications outlined by AMD. Third-party designs with built-in overclocks and fancy fan coolers won’t be available until later (how much later isn’t yet known, I’ve read anywhere between a week and a month).

So, if you buy a 480 on 29 June it’ll be one with the ‘blower’ style cooler (sending hot air out of the back of the card). These usually make the card run hotter and louder, though that won’t be confirmed until some reviews and hands-on impressions come in. If the ones on sale this week are all reference designs, this also means the only thing to take into consideration when choosing a manufacturer is their warranty and customer service policies, because the cards should otherwise be the same.

AMD’s reference design uses a single six-pin power connector and does not have a DVI port. The 480 does support DVI, but it’ll be up to the discretion of other manufacturers whether their cards include a DVI port or not.

rx480-pressshots (1)

A reference card with blower fan in all its glory.

Are these reference cards actually going to be available on 29 June?

It certainly seems like it, though concrete information is rather scarce in this area too. Anecdotal reports suggest AMD have rolled out plenty of stock, but there’s really no way of knowing until launch day. Even if there is a lot of stock ready to go, expect some shortages if independent benchmarks turn out to be promising.

What’s the performance like?

That’s the big question, isn’t it? Reviews, and benchmarks, are under NDA lock-down until 29 June, so the only figures out there at present are unverified leaks. These could be people breaking NDA, they could be people with retail connections getting early cards, or they could be total bullshitters.

AMD has said, consistently, that they are targeting the mainstream PC gamer. They’re also marketing the 480 as a good card for Virtual Reality. For that latter statement to be accurate, the 480 must be at least on par with Nvidia’s 970 or the R9 390 (pretty much the borderline minimum GPUs you need for decent performance with current VR headsets). That’s the baseline; the worst it can possibly be while still being a legitimate VR card.

For what it’s worth, the majority of the credible-looking benchmark leaks have the 480 looking better than that; somewhere around a R9 390X or a 980 (non-ti). Again, nothing is confirmed until independent benchmarks appear, but to expect any better than 390X/980 performance from a $200-250 card is probably diving a little too deep into the hype pool and forgetting to come up for air.

The performance/power efficiencies of the 480’s smaller chipset, combined with AMD’s marketing overtones about VR and the mainstream, make me think that a 390X equivalent is quite likely. It’s not going to compete with Nvidia’s high-end, high-expense 1070/1080 range, but for $200-250 it shouldn’t be expected to do so.

How about overclocking?

Very tough to answer ahead of actual testing numbers. A recent comment from German publication PC Games Hardware suggests their 480 reference card did not hit 1,400Mhz in testing (from a reference clock frequency of 1,266Mhz). That’s just one source, and doesn’t preclude a larger overhead for overclocking on later, custom cards (perhaps ones which require more than a six-pin connector to power), but for now it’s perhaps best not to expect absurd overclocks.

rx480-pressshots (2)

Even GPUs love belly-rubs.

Help, my PSU is ancient and shit, can I run an RX480?

If it’s really ancient, for gods sake replace it before it blows up your PC. The recommended PSU wattage for the 480 is 500. The GPU itself is said to draw a maximum 150W. As long as you have a PSU from a reputable manufacturer (80 Plus Bronze rated and above is usually a good sign), then 500W will be plenty.

So, should I consider an RX480 or what?

As always, it depends what GPU you currently have, and on your budget. Manufacturers Sapphire (who make cards for AMD) have stated that the 480 would be a “side-grade” for those with a 390X/980.

But if you’ve held off upgrading until this latest generation of GPUs, and want something that looks like it’ll do the job at 1080p/60fps (High-to-Ultra settings, depending on the game) for $200-250, the RX480 appears to be a very strong contender. At present, Nvidia’s new generational offerings are in a much higher price/performance bracket, so the mainstream 1080p ground looks like could belong to AMD for the time being. Benchmarks permitting, of course.

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