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Is the AMD RX 480 the Moto G of graphics cards?

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AMD Radeon RX 480# 2

OPINION Is AMD’s new graphics card a serious contender? Reviews Editor Alastair Stevenson certainly thinks so.

Nvidia’s on a hot streak this year. The GTX 1080, the year’s most anticipated graphics card, is the new performance benchmark and the 1070 is no slouch either.

But, given AMD’s stellar work investing in the new Vulkan API and its excellent 2015 portfolio, I had an inkling that the 1080’s time in the sun would be short lived.

That’s why my initial reaction to AMD’s freshly unveiled, ultra-affordable Radeon RX 480 was less than positive – the words “what the [censored]”, may have been uttered more than once.

However, having had time to reflect, I’ve warmed to the 480. In fact, it could become the Moto G of graphics cards – a card that redefines what ‘good value’ is.

Radeon RX 480: Super-cheap and VR-ready

The Radeon RX 480, according to AMD, will run VR games despite costing a piddly $200 – roughly £160 before VAT in the UK.

This is a big deal. Prior to now, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive’s hefty system requirements have limited their audience. The need for PCs to be able to play VR games at 90fps has been a particular challenge that means you have to invest in a decent GPU, like Nvidia’s £250 GTX 970, to run either headset comfortably, albeit at their low settings.

The low starting price is important, as it means the RX 480 targets a segment of the PC market where Nvidia has nothing to offer – at least until it launches a new wave of mid-range 10XX-series GPUs.

It could also be a stimulus that increases overall interest in the Vive and Oculus Rift, though pricing for the headsets will still leave both firmly as enthusiast items.

Video: HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift

Low price, top specs

AMD’s yet to offer a full specifications list for the GPU, but from what we know so far it comes loaded with the some impressive hardware and could be a valid competitor to the GTX 1070 – a card expected to cost £400. That's roughly twice the price the RX 480 will retail for in the UK.

The RX 480 has 36 compute units (CUs) – the building blocks that give any GPU its computational power. The number is a step up from AMD’s older R9 380, which had 28, and just four short of the company’s £300 R9 390.

It’ll also come with 4GB and 8GB GDDR5 options – which puts it roughly on par with the more expensive Nvidia GTX 1070 when it comes to memory – and will run AMD's much-hyped Polaris architecture.

Polaris is AMD’s answer to Nvidia’s Pascal; it aims to improve a GPU’s performance, stability and cooling efficiency.

Could it beat a GTX 1080 in Crossfire?

AMD’s performance claims aren’t limited to VR or the Nvidia GTX 1070. It also claims the 480 will match, if not beat, the Nvidia GTX 1080 when running in CrossFire. Crossfire is AMD’s version of SLI and lets you run two GPUs in tandem on one motherboard.

All this sounds like hot-air marketing, but AMD has offered some proof to back its claim. AMD raced a rig with two 480s running in CrossFire against a 1080-powered computer at the GPU’s unveiling. The CrossFire rig played strategy game Ashes of the Singularity at 62.5fps, while the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 ran the title at 58.7fps.

The performance difference may sound small, but when you consider the fact that two 480s are still cheaper than a single Nvidia 1080, it’s still a pretty impressive achievement.

Related: Best Graphics Card 2016

But you should still wait for our review...

All this sounds great, but before you hit the “shut up and take my money” phase, I’d take a minute to breathe. Sure, AMD’s claims sound impressive, and if even a portion of them ring true the 480 will offer excellent value for money. However, there are a few key details that leave me nervous.

For starters the game used during the demo is known to favour AMD components. This is because Ashes of the Singularity is optimised with DirectX 12 and supports asynchronous compute – a bit of technology currently absent on Nvidia GPUs.

Async compute is a nifty bit of tech that lets a GPU work on graphics and computing tasks simultaneously. This lets the 480 complete jobs faster by removing the need for the GPU to wait for one job to be finished before starting another on titles that are optimised for the tech.

This makes the performance claim slightly questionable, as there are currently very few games optimised for multi-GPU setups – though this may change if the shiny new Vulkan and DirectX 12 APIs get mainstream support from developers.

Related: Best Gaming PC – Build your own PC guide

AMD also kept quiet about the fact that running two 480s will double the GPU’s power requirements from 150W to 300W and require a fairly expensive motherboard that’s compatible with CrossFire.

Running two 480s in CrossFire will also impact VR performance, as most of the engines used in virtual reality games don’t feature CrossFire or SLI support. Both Valve and Oculus have warned that multi-GPU rigs will be more prone to crashing and black screens of death.

None of these are deal-breakers, and the 480 definitely has potential, but they are questions that need to be answered before we can definitively give the GPU our badge of approval.

Video: Nvidia GTX 1080 review

Fortunately, with review samples expected shortly, we won’t have to wait long to get our answers and I can’t help but get excited about AMD’s new GPU.

Stay tuned to TrustedReviews for a full review of the AMD Radeon RX 480 and leave any questions you have in the comments section below.

Domaldel

June 2, 2016, 6:01 pm

I doubt that my most burning questions will be all that relevant to your readers as I'm an AMD fan gaming on a full AMD rig in Linux. ;-)

Nikhil

June 2, 2016, 6:03 pm

Not really, the Moto G offered decent performance for a decent price. This card seems like it will be 80% as good as a 1070, which is pretty close.

Domaldel

June 2, 2016, 6:16 pm

By the way, I wonder how this card will do in 3440x1440p freesync in games.
I've been eyeing this really expensive IPS freesync monitor that apparently have a min refresh rate of half the max refresh rate allowing the drivers to compensate for any drops in frame rate by sending each frame twice if needed and still remain within the max refresh rate of the monitor.
That matters since I doubt that this card is able to always stay within the minimum refresh rate of that screen. Especially given my use case.
(Of course if it gets really bad I'll run Windows in a VM with PCI-e pass through)

TheHulksMothersCousin

June 2, 2016, 6:33 pm

So what res and was it 4k

hafiere

June 3, 2016, 2:02 am

We don't actually know yet if 150W is for average use case or just the maximum power draw of the card. When asked about it on Reddit, Robert Hallock said it is under NDA, so it could be drawing much less power which should be the case with how AMD has been going on about the efficiency of Polaris. We'll need to see the independent benchmarks before we know exactly how much power it draws. I also doubt that a CrossFire capable motherboard would cost much more than a motherboard that supports only a single card.

AS118

June 3, 2016, 3:55 am

I don't know about wrecked, but stronger performance than the 980 and just under the 980Ti for $200 is just crazy. I know this is with DX12, but most future titles will be DX12, and many games are coming out with DX12 and/or Vulkan support, which will favor AMD's architecture.

Since I would've been happy with 390 / 970 performance 980 / 390x beating performance for only $200 is an insane deal, so I'd be happy with just 1 card. Don't even need 2.

Alan Roberts

June 3, 2016, 10:02 am

AMD really need to hire a better product designer.
I know it doesn't really matter at the end of the day but I still like my high tech gear to look high tech.

I've got a bluetooth speaker that looks like it packs more power than this card :)

if you look at the 1080 design its like a goddam lambourghini aventador.
(thats not to say im particularly fond of that either)
but at least it screams power, speed and futuristic technology.

the rx480 looks like a house brick. (Although I guess that is part of the reason they can keep the price so low, but ffs put some stickers on it or something ;)

Alan Roberts

June 3, 2016, 10:31 am

me neither but its still nice for stuff to look nice.
I really dont mind paying a bit extra for a premium product with nice design.

I hardly think a silk screened logo on the card would cost them that much but would give a huge improvement to how it looks.

if looks didn't matter all of our computer cases would be cream square boxes.
but they are not so looks are obviously a consideration for many.
(even inside my case you can still see the cool design features on my GPU)

Jiří Kocman

June 3, 2016, 12:26 pm

There was <500 not <400. Propably RX480 with 8GB. 100 bugs difference is not too much as there is single card vs multi gpu

Harley Teter

June 3, 2016, 3:51 pm

The vast majority of games people play today and at least half the titles (I'm guessing, sue me) released in the next 6 months will still be largely Dx11 based. So until someone releases real benchmarks for games like Witcher 3, Crisis 3, maybe World of Tanks at 4k cause that game chugs along on my 390 at 1440. Only then will I take the 480 seriously. It's a good deal yes, but if it doesn't hold up to the hype people will be less likely to get it...that and most pc gamers are still under the stigma that "amd's drivers suck just get nvidia" and we really need to get away from that.

Bagehi

June 3, 2016, 4:10 pm

I believe they said the 8GB is $229. So that would be $458 of AMD GPUs up against the $699 (it was a Founder's Edition running on stage) Nvidia GPU. Granted, AIB boards are less, but none of them have announced a card priced below $540 yet, that I've seen. So, the price different is roughly $200 or more (assuming you can get the RX280 at the price quoted on stage).

Jiří Kocman

June 3, 2016, 4:36 pm

And whats about GTX1070.

With price 379 for 1070 and 229 for RX480 difference in performance/price is only 6% as 1070 can do 49FPS at same presets.

6% better price for RX if cost is 229 and little bit less better or even worse if price is higher than 229,
But you need bigger case, better board, stronger PSU, higher consumption which generate more heat and better cooling needed.

And only for similar games - strategy games where AMD is far away NV, only on W10, only if DX12 in action, only if performance scaling is same as in AOTS...

Do not understand, that people says: amazing price/performance NV is dead. WHen you take all data togethrer you will see that price/performance is not much better than NV

Bagehi

June 3, 2016, 5:07 pm

The 1070 blew away everything else out there for P/P. Nvidia spoke at length about the incredible P/P. Then AMD released the RX480 which beat it in P/P. The 1070 is amazing P/P. The RX480 is even more amazing P/P.

Bagehi

June 3, 2016, 5:09 pm

The slides they showed said 4K.

Michael Smith

June 6, 2016, 11:12 am

But you can see the Computer case.. You cant see the graphics card.. even if you have a window in the side of the case all you can see if the top of the card and that will look like any other card..

Alan Roberts

June 10, 2016, 9:37 pm

I can see my graphics card through the window... the side of the card has some nice backlit writing and logos.

so no this new AMD offering will look NOTHING like the gpu i have in my machine at the moment. even when looking through the window
(more or less the whole side of my case is perspex)

don;t get me wrong its a really good card for the money but jazz it up a bit so it looks less like a brick

Lemming Overlord

July 4, 2016, 10:56 am

There's a clear difference between mobile phones and GPUs retail business. While in the phone industry a manufacturer has some control over the final retail price, in the GPU world AMD and Nvidia do not control retail at all. Having said that, the Moto G launches (usually) at that notable $199/€199/£199 price tag from which you infer the comparison, but in fact the AMD RX480 is being price-gouged right now.

The 4GB version is selling for *at least* £220.
The 8GB version is selling for *at least* £260.

important fact: no-one has explained that a 8GB card is pointless if you are in it for gaming and do not intend to play over 1080p. Not sure about VR apps and the likes, but maybe 8GB on a card that doesn't fare well with 4K gaming is a bit of a moot point?

Also, the *reference edition* of the Asus RX 480 is being sold in mainland Europe for a steep €300, in-store (not on-line). That completely defeats the idea behind a "people's GPU" and will utterly ruin AMD's intended business model... What's the point of creating an affordable card if the retailers will still try to strangle it and eke out every cent they can? Pure naïveté from AMD.

Mihai Voicu Drebot

July 7, 2016, 7:33 am

I'm not saying NV is dead. However, for a guy like me, who does not play in 4k and is not prepared to break the bank, one 480 will be enough for a few years, so that will be what i will most likely get. However, i'm not in a hurry so i will wait to see what NV response is to the midrange market.

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