AMD Radeon RX 480 Review: Polaris Hitting The Sweet Spot

Introducing The AMD Radeon RX 480

AMD has been disseminating information about its Polaris architecture and the Radeon RX 480 for months now. If you’re a regular reader of HotHardware, you should already know that Polaris is AMD’s next-gen GPU architecture, designed for FinFET transistor technology. Polaris also ushers in the 4th generation of AMD’s GCN (Graphics Core Next) architecture. Some of the Radeon RX 480’s specifications were also revealed, along with the expected price point, and a number of the RX 480’s new features and capabilities, including support for the latest DisplayPort and HDMI standards. It seems AMD and its Radeon Technologies Group have been more vocal about this architecture and GPU prior to its launch than any other in recent memory.

The only pieces to the Polaris and Radeon RX 480 puzzle that have remained under wraps have been actual performance and power characteristics, but we are here reveal those to you today. We’ve also got additional details on exactly what’s changed with Polaris and have information on AMD’s latest overclocking utility, dubbed Wattman.

Take a look at the Radeon RX 480’s main features and specification below, and then strap in as we dive a bit deeper into the card’s real-world capabilities...
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AMD Radeon RX 480
Specifications & Features
GCN Architecture 4th Generation
Compute Units 36
Stream Processors 2304
Clock Speeds (Boost / Base) 1266 MHz / 1120 MHz
Peak Performance Up to 5.8 TFLOPS
Memory Size 4/8 GB
Memory Bandwidth 224 GB/s or higher
Memory Interface 256 bit
Memory Type GDDR5
Board Power 150W
AMD FreeSync Technology Yes
DirectX 12 Support Yes
Vulkan Support Yes
VR Premium Yes
DisplayPort Version 1.3 HBR / 1.4 HDR Ready
Price $199 4GB / $239 8GB - Find Them At Amazon

The AMD Radeon RX 480 is powered by the Polaris 10 GPU which is outfitted with 36 Compute Units, with a total of 2,304 shader processors. The reference specifications call for boost and base GPU clocks of 1266 MHz and 1120 MHz, respectively, and either 4 or 8GB of GDDR5 memory linked to the GPU via a 256-bit interface.  All told, the Radeon RX 480 offers up a total of 5.8 TFLOPs of compute performance with up to 224GB/s of peak memory bandwidth. It offers this level of performance within a 150 watt typical board power that requires only a single 6-pin supplemental PCI Express power feed.
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The AMD Radeon RX 480 Has Arrived

As you can see, the AMD Radeon RX 480 has a design language that’s not unlike of the previous-gen Radeons, with an understated, rectangular fan shroud and dimpled faceplate. Similar to the Radeon R9 Fury X, the faceplate on the Radeon RX 480 is non-removable.  The Radeon logos on the top and side feature a brand new font and the case bracket is outfitted with additional venting and accommodations for the updated display output configuration – which consists of a trio of DisplayPort outputs and an HDMI output.

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AMD Radeon RX 480 Front And Back

The Radeon RX 480 is only about 9.5” inches long and has the typical dual-slot form factor of most mid-to-high end GPUs. The overall length of the card, however, is lengthened due to the cooling fan, which protrudes form the back, and incidentally has additional cut-outs for air intake on the backside. The actual Radeon RX 480 PCB is significantly shorter than the shroud assembly. The PCB only runs about 70% of the length of the overall card.

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Radeon RX 480 Outputs And Cooling Vents

The AMD Radeon RX 480 reference card pictured here is rather unassuming, and belies the next-gen 14nm FinFET GPU with a brand-new architecture that resides beneath its cooler. We suspect AMD's board partners may get creative with custom RX 480s in short order. According to AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group, the Polaris architecture employed in the Radeon RX 480’s GPU offers a “historic leap in performance per watt” for Radeon GPUs -- we'll find out if that's true on the pages ahead.

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Radeon R9 Nano (Left), Radeon RX 480 (Right)

In comparison to the Radeon R9 Nano, which has an absolutely miniscule PCB, the Radeon RX 480’s is only about an inch longer. The cards are also about the same weight; the Radeon RX 480 is only a couple of ounces heavier. The Radeon RX 480 requires significantly less power, however, as evidenced by its single 6-Pin PCI Express supplemental power connector.

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