XFX Radeon RX 480 full review
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. Here's our XFX Radeon RX 480 8G review.
Note: The RX 480 has now been replaced by the RX 580. Read our Asus ROG Strix Radeon RX 580 TOP Edition 8GB review.
It’s usual for new graphics card technologies to appear first a the high-end 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 2560 x 1440 pixel resolutions.
XFX Radeon RX 480 review: Price
At, £249.95 from Overclockers UK the XFX Radeon RX 480 8GB 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. Read our GTX 1060 Founders Edition review.
The Radeon RX 480, then, is an unusual product in that it’s not pitting AMD’s latest tech against the newest products from arch-rival, Nvidia.
XFX Radeon RX 480 review: Features and design
Polaris uses FinFET technology to shrink the manufacturing process from 28 nanometres down to 14 nanometres which allows for more densely-packed components and reduced power consumption over previous designs. This is even smaller than the latest 16 nanometre design from arch-rival, Nvidia, which also uses FinFET technology.
The new design means increases 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 cards 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 1,288MHz, up from the 1,266MHz 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.
XFX Radeon RX 480 review: Performance
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 high-speed gaming monitors. Stepping up to 2560x1440 is also quite 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 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 level 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 does deliver 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 and the RX 480 is sure to come 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 (the two 4GB RAM doesn’t double up on CrossFire mode).
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.
See also: Best graphics cards to buy right now
XFX Radeon RX 480: Specs
- GPU: AMD Radeon RX480
- Compute Units: 36
- Stream Processors: 2304
- Core Speed: 1120MHz
- Boost Speed: 1288MHz
- Memory Speed 8GHz
- Memory Bandwidth >224 GB/sec
- Memory bus width: 256-bit
- Memory type and capacity GDDR5 8GB
- PCIe 3.0
- CrossFire Ready: Yes
- Power Consumption: 110W
- Recommended System PSU: 350W
- Power Connector: 1x 6-pin
- Ports: 3x DisplayPort 1.4, 1x HDMI 2.0
- Card width: 2 slots
- Dimensions: 127mm x 254mm
- Accessories: None
- Warranty: 2 years