XFX Radeon RX 480
Based on AMD’s latest ‘Polaris’ architecture, the Radeon RX 480 is designed not just for general gaming, but specifically to deliver great VR performance without breaking the bank. The least expensive versions come with 4GB of RAM, but you can also buy one with 8GB.
It’s usual for new graphics card technologies to appear first at the high-and enthusiast end of the price range. But with Polaris, AMD has taken a different approach, targeting first the affordable mid-range sector, where the majority of new graphics card sales are made. The RX 480 is designed to deliver high performance at 1080p and 2560x1440-pixel resolutions.
At, £249 from Overclockers UK, the XFX Radeon RX 480 8GB is close to the more affordable end of PC gaming, but towards the higher end of the price range for a Radeon RX 480. We feel the best value for money is to be had from the less expensive 4GB versions of the RX 480. 8GB of RAM doesn’t really add much to the gaming experience at resolutions like 1080p and 1440p where the RX 480 performs at its best. Neither does this particular XFX card add much in the way of enhanced performance or cooling over a reference RX 480. So if you can afford this 8GB board and you’re not already tied to AMD (perhaps by owning a FreeSync monitor), we would recommend taking a serious look at a GTX 1060 first.
The Radeon RX 480, then, is an unusual product in that it’s not pitting AMD’s latest tech against the newest products from Nvidia.
Polaris uses FinFET technology to shrink the manufacturing process from 28- down to 14nm, which allows for more densely-packed components and reduced power consumption over previous designs. This is even smaller than the latest 16nm design from arch-rival, Nvidia, which also uses FinFET technology.
The new design means increases in clock speeds are possible, with less heat produced, resulting in greater efficiency and less need for noisy cooling fans. It also brings with it support for the latest display interfaces, and the XFX Radeon RX 480 8GB comes with 3 DisplayPort 1.4 connectors and an HDMI 2.0 port.
The RX 480 supports all of AMD’s existing technologies, such as FreeSync, CrossFire and Eyefinity, and adds improved support for DirectX 12 as well as asynchronous processing, which allows multiple tasks to be computed simultaneously at different priority levels. This gives a boost to DirectX 12 as well as VR.
The XFX Radeon RX 480 8GB sticks pretty much to AMD’s reference blueprint, featuring a stock cooler sitting towards one end of a plain rectangular box. This standard cooling design isn’t exactly noisy, but you’ll certainly notice the fan during gaming and much quieter cards are available.
There’s nothing flashy about XFX’s design, although a full metal backplate has been added, to protect the card’s components and assist with cooling. This board is also slightly overclocked from AMD’s reference spec, its 2304 stream processors running with a boosted core speed of 1288MHz, up from the 1266MHz stock speed. The memory runs at the stock 8GHz speed, which is, incidentally, faster than the standard 7GHz speed provided on the reference 4GB models.
Performance-wise, the Radeon RX 480 certainly lives up to its promise of delivering high-end 1080p gaming. Frame rates are generally quite comfortably over the magic 60fps mark, with even higher frame rates available to FreeSync and highspeed gaming monitors. Stepping up to 2560x1440 is also feasible while maintaining smooth gameplay.
Running Thief at 1080p with Ultra quality settings resulted in performance never dipping below 58fps, with an average frame rate of 81fps. The game was still perfectly playable in High quality at 1440p, with an average frame rate of 71fps. For some reason, switching the game to Ultra quality consistently caused the game to crash at this resolution, but stepping up to 4K was fine at any quality level, although the RX 480 is definitely running out of steam at this point. The Alien Isolation benchmark
returned even better scores right across the board.
AMD promises decent VR performance from the RX 480 and this is largely borne out by our tests. The XFX card receives a ‘High’ quality rating from the Steam VR Performance test, with an average quality rating of 6.7.
This is a good performance level for a graphics card at this price point and would be easy to recommend were it not for the latest GTX 1060 boards from Nvidia. The GTX 1060 costs a little more than an 8GB RX 480, but delivers noticeably superior performance, despite coming with only 6GB of memory. It also achieves a superior score from the Steam VR Performance Test, managing a ‘Very High’ rating and a quality score of 8.3 points.
Choosing between AMD and Nvidia here is going to come down to the pricing and performance of the particular board you’re looking at. Put a highly overclocked RX 480 up against a highly-priced Nvidia GTX 1060 Founders Edition (page 48) and the RX 480 comes out on top. However, this XFX model comes with only a modest overclock and not much in the way of enhanced cooling or features, making the relatively small jump in price for an GTX 1060 seem like a better idea.
With only one review sample available, we were unable to test the RX 480 in a twin-card ‘CrossFire’ configuration, but other testers show performance approaching that of a single Nvidia GTX 1070. Even though AMD cards are much easier to set up in CrossFire mode than the equivalent Nvidia configuration, multi-card setups are always more complex than single card ones and require specific support from games in order to take advantage of a second card effectively. Furthermore, to compete with a GTX 1070 on price, you would need to opt for two 4GB RX 480s which would leave you with less available memory.
So, we would advise against buying two RX 480s from the get-go, but it’s great to know that a relatively simple and inexpensive upgrade path is there should you need it. You can also feel smug in the knowledge that GTX 1060 owners won’t be able to do the same, as these cards have no multi-GPU capability at all.
The XFX Radeon RX 480 8GB is a relatively inexpensive highperformance gaming card with great frame rates at 1080p. However, its performance is bettered by the Nvidia GTX 1060 and the lowerpriced 4GB version of the RX 480 will offer better value for money for most gamers. Paul Monckton