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AMD Radeon RX 480 for $200

AMD Radeon RX 480 for $200

AMD Radeon RX 480 for $200

Nvidia is clearly chasing the high-end GPU market with Pascal GP104 cards, and both the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 delivered better-than-Titan X-level performance in our tests. AMD’s answer to Polaris 10/11 won’t be direct competition, but rather that AMD is chasing the mainstream market. We can’t talk about everything we’ve been told right now, but just like Nvidia did with the GTX 1070, AMD released the following key details today.

Right now, we see a lot about positioning. AMD lists 36 compute units, and unless they change it with Polaris, so far they have used 64 “shader cores”, or 2304 cores, in each GCN CU. That’s less CU than the R9 390, but nearly 30% more than the R9 380. Price, however, is probably the most important aspect: it starts at $199. Presumably, this will be the 4GB model, with the 8GB model coming at a modest price premium — roughly $20 to $50, given current 2GB versus 4GB pricing.

Probably the most important number in all of this right now is TFLOPS, which AMD calls >5 TFLOPS. Again, this is about the same as the R9 390, at a much lower price and power level. If you’re wondering about clock speed, like on Nvidia architectures, peak TFLOPS on GCN ends up being two 32-bit FLOPS (floating point operations per second) per core, multiplied by the clock speed. Returning from >5 TFLOPS and the number of CUs, we get a minimum estimate of 1085MHz. Beyond that, the greater than sign means AMD hasn’t finalized the clock speed yet, so once the card retails, it could be 5.1 TFLOPS or 5.9 TFLOPS (~1280MHz).

In terms of memory, like the GTX 1070, the RX 480 will run GDDR5 at 8000 MT/s (2000MHz base, four bits per cycle). We might be tempted to complain about the 4GB and 8GB models, but at this level of performance, 8GB probably isn’t strictly necessary — you can still get it if you’re willing to pay a little more. The 256-bit bus is a massive drop from the R9 390’s 512-bit bus, and AMD hasn’t officially said whether they’re doing any new form of memory compression to help make up for it.

The only major item worth mentioning is that the RX 480 will support DisplayPort 1.3/1.4 HDR, an improvement over the DP 1.2 in the current offering. The RX 480 will also support VR, with performance expected to be similar to the R9 290/390 cards.

Looking at the big picture, those hoping to see AMD’s Polaris powered by Nvidia’s Pascal chips will be disappointed. Rather than improving overall performance, AMD is going after value-conscious gamers. That’s not wrong, AMD cites data from Mercury Research showing that 13.8 million people spend between $100 and $300 on graphics cards. Here’s the thing: For about a year and a half with GTX 970 and R9 290/390 cards, we’ve been able to get nearly this level of performance for close to $300-$350.

Cutting the price by a third is great, but it’s important for those who haven’t bought a faster GPU in the past year or two. Like our recommendation for the GTX 1070 preview, we recommend gamers consider skipping a generation or two between graphics card upgrades (if you can). Some people will buy a $600 card every two or three years, others will buy a $350-$400 card every few years, and still others will see a $200-$250 card as a regular upgrade.

So who is most interested in upgrading to the RX 480 once it is available? Anyone currently running an R7 370 or lower (HD 7870) can potentially double their gaming performance. Or to put it another way, the RX 480 offers roughly the same performance potential as the old Radeon HD 6990, while using less than half the power of the graphics card. But that card is now five years old. On the Nvidia side, if you’re considering switching from the green team to the red team, the GTX 760 and below (GTX 670 and below) will probably double the performance, not to mention adding some new features and lower power requirements .

We don’t have the hardware on hand yet, but this should come sometime before the official June 29 release date, and there will be other new GPUs in addition to the RX 480. While this may not be as exciting as a $380 Titan X equivalent, current consoles have to scrape by at 1.3-1.84 TFLOPS, so a $199 GPU now basically offers three times the performance potential of a PS4. Next time someone tries to tell you that PC gaming is expensive, try putting a $200 GPU in any PC made in the past 5 years so you have a cheaper console alternative.

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Wilbert Wood
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