We tested the most recent video card from AMD: the Radeon RX 480, based on the new Polaris architecture, focused on the mainstream market and virtual reality. Let’s see how it performed in our tests.
The Radeon RX 480 is based on the “Ellesmere” chip, which is part of the new Polaris architecture. It is manufactured under 14 nm lithography, with tridimensional transistors, also called “FinFET”, which allows less energy consumption than the earlier generation, whose chips where manufactured under 28 nm process.
The Radeon RX 480 chip has 2,304 cores, divided in 36 compute units, works with base clock of 1,120 MHz and boost clock of 1,266 MHz, has a 256 bit memory bus and TDP of 150 W. According do AMD, it supports FreeSync, Vulkan, VR Premium, and DirectX 12 technologies.
About video memory, the Radeon RX 480 was launched in two versions: with 4 GiB of GDDR5 RAM running at 7 GHz (224 GiB/s bandwidth) and 8 GiB of GDDR5 RAM running at 8 GHz (256 GiB/s bandwidth). According to AMD, other manufacturers can offer models with different memory speeds, but not under 7 GHz. The suggested price in the USA is USD 199 for the 4 GiB model, and USD 239 for the 8 GiB version.
The card we tested is the AMD reference model, with 8 GiB of memory. Figure 1 shows the Radeon RX 480 we tested. Notice that its designs resembles to the Radeon Fury X, which we already tested.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 1: the Radeon RX 480

The 4 GiB Radeon RX 480 is placed on the price of the Radeon R9 380X (also with 4 GiB or memory), while the 8 GiB model is placed between the Radeon R9 380X (with 4 GiB) and the Radeon R9 390 (which has 8 GiB of memory). There is no direct competitor from NVIDIA in this price range, and the closest products are the GeForce GTX 960 (USD180 with 2 GiB of memory) and the GeForce GTX 970 (USD 290, with 4 GiB).
Therefore, we decided to test the Radeon RX 480 versus the GeForce GTX 960 and the Radeon R9 380, which we tested recently. Besides that, we also included a GeForce GTX 970.
Keep in mind, however, that all the three video cards included in this test are factory overclocked. The Zotac GTX 970 (model ZT-90101-10P) has a 3% overclock on the GPU, the HIS Radeon R9 380 is 2% overclocked, and the Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 970 (GV-N960G1 GAMING-4GD) has an overclocking of 11%. Thus, the comparison to other models, with different clock rates, can have different results.
In the table below, we compare the main specs from the video cards we included in this review. Prices were researched at Newegg.com for this article.

Video card

Core clock

Turbo clock

Effective memory clock

Memory bus

Memory bandwidth

Memory

Processing cores

TDP

DirectX

Price

Radeon RX 480

1,120 MHz

1,266 MHz

8.0 GHz

256 bit

256 GiB/s

8 GiB GDDR5

2,304

150 W

12

USD 229

Gigabyte G1 Gaming GeForce GTX 960

1,241 MHz

1,304 MHz

7.0 GHz

128 bit

112 GiB/s

4 GiB GDDR5

1,024

120 W

12.1

USD 180

HIS IceQ X2 OC Radeon R9 380

990 MHz


5.7 GHz

256 bit

182 GiB/s

4 GiB GDDR5

1,792

190 W

12

USD 170

Zotac GeForce GTX 970

1,076 MHz

1,216 MHz

7.0 GHz

256 bit

224 GiB/s

4 GiB GDDR5

1,664

145 W

12

USD 290

Now let’s take a closer look to the tested video card.
[nextpage title=”The Radeon RX 480″]
The card is 9.4 inches (240 mm) long and uses two slots. It has a centrifugal fan, which is a good choice because it blows the hot air outside the case, and allows the slot contiguous to the card do be used without spoiling the video card refrigeration.
Figure 2 shows the video connectors of the Radeon RX 480. It brings three DisplayPort 1.4 and one HDMI 2.0 connectors.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 2: video connectors

In Figure 3 you see the top of the card, where there is a six-pin PCI Express power connector.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 3: top view

Figure 4 unveils the end of the card, which is closed.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 4: end view

Figure 4 shows the solder side of the RX 480. There are no memory chips on this side. Besides that, it shows that the PCB is shorter than the cooler.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 5: solder side

Figures 6 and 7 show the cooler of the Radeon RX 480. The cooler consists on three main parts: a plastic cover, that directs the air flow to the heatsinks and the outside the case, the GPU radiator, made of aluminum with a copper base, and a big metalic piece that cools the memory chips and the voltage regulator transistors.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 6: the Radeon RX 480 with the plastic cover removed

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 7: the Radeon RX 480 with the cooler removed

In Figure 8 you see the RX 480 without the cooler. There are eight memory chips. As we mentioned before, the card itself is smaller than the cooler, being only 7.1” long. So, it is possible that some manufacturers offer even shorter cards.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 8: Radeon RX 480 without the cooler

On Figure 9 you see the “Ellesmere” chip, manufactured under 14 nm technology.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 9: the Ellesmere GPU chip

Figure 10 shows one of the memory chips used on the Radeon RX 480. It is a Samsung K4G80325FB-HC25 chip, with 8 Gib (1 GiB) capacity and 4.0 GHz (8.0 GHz effective) maximum clock.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 10: memory chip

Figure 11 shows the Radeon RX 480 voltage regulator. It uses six phases for the GPU and one for the memory chips.

Radeon RX 480 reviewFigure 11: voltage regulator

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between the tests, the only variable component was the video card being tested.
Hardware Configuration

Operating System Configuration

  • Windows 10 Home 64-bit

Driver Versions

  • AMD driver version: 16.6.2 (beta)
  • NVIDIA driver version: 365.19

Software Used

Error Margin
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
[nextpage title=”3DMark”]

3DMark is a program with a set of several 3D benchmarks. Fire Strike benchmark measures DirectX 11 performance and is targeted to high-end gaming computers, while Sky Diver also measures DirectX 11 performance being aimed at average computers. The Cloud Gate benchmark measures DirectX 10 performance.

Radeon RX 480 review

On the Fire Strike benchmark the Radeon RX 480 was 49% faster than the GeForce GTX 960, 37% faster than the Radeon R9 380, and 4% faster than the GeForce GTX 970.

Radeon RX 480 review
On the Sky Diver benchmark, the Radeon RX 480 was 26% faster than the GeForce GTX 960, 23% faster than the Radeon R9 380, and obtained the same performance of the GeForce GTX 970.
Radeon RX 480 review

On the Cloud Gate benchmark, the Radeon RX 480 was 17% faster than the GeForce GTX 960, 16% faster than the Radeon R9 380, and was on a tie with the GeForce GTX 970.

[nextpage title=”Gaming Performance”]

Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 is one of the most popular games of the Battlefield franchise, being released in 2013. It is based on the Frostbite 3 engine, which is DirectX 11. In order to measure performance using this game, we walked our way through the first mission, measuring the number of frames per second (fps) three times using FRAPS. We ran this game at Full HD, setting overall image quality at “high.”
The results below are expressed in fps and they are the mean between the three collected results.
Radeon RX 480 review

On Battlefield 4, the Radeon RX 380 was 36% faster than the GeForce GTX 960 and the  Radeon R9 380, and was 4% slower than the GeForce GTX 970.

Dirt Rally

Dirt Rally is an off-road racing game released in April 2015, using Ego engine. To measure performance using this game, we ran the performance test included in the game, in Full HD resolution and image quality configured as “high” and MSAA 2x.
The results below are expressed in fps.
Radeon RX 480 review

In this game, the Radeon RX 480 was 21% faster than the GeForce GTX 960, 13% faster than the Radeon R9 380, and 14% slower than the GeForce GTX 970.

Dying Light

Dying Light is an open-world horror game launched in January 2015, using the Chrome Engine 6. We tested the performance at this game with all quality options as “high” and Full HD resolution, measuring three times the frame rate using FRAPS.
The results below are expressed in fps and they are the mean between the three collected results.
Radeon RX 480 review
On Dying Light, the Radeon a Radeon RX 480 was 42% faster than the GeForce GTX 960, 40% faster than the Radeon R9 380, and 3% slower than the GeForce GTX 970.

Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V, or simply GTA V, is a open-world action game released for PCs in April of 2015 and uses the RAGE engine. In order to measure the performance on this game, we ran the performance test of the game (the plane portion), measuring the frame rate with FRAPS. We ran GTA V at Full HD, with image quality set as “very high” and MSAA as 2x.

The results below are expressed in frames per second.

Radeon RX 480 review

On GTA V, the Radeon RX 480 was 32% faster than the GeForce GTX 960, 37% faster than the Radeon R9 380, and 8% slower than the GeForce GTX 970.

Mad Max

Mad Max is an open-world action game launched in September of 2015, using the Avalanche engine. In order to measure the performance using this game, we ran its intro, measuring the framerate with FRAPS three times. We ran the game at Full HD, with image quality set as “high”.

The results below are expressed in fps and they are the mean between the three collected results.

Radeon RX 480 review

On Mad Max, the Radeon RX 480 was 39% faster than the GeForce GTX 960, 32% faster than the Radeon R9 380, and obtained the same performance of the GeForce GTX 970.

Rise of the Tomb Rider

Rise of the Tomb Rider is an adventure/action game launched in January of 2016, based on Foundation engine. In order to measure the performance using this game, we ran the benchmark included on it, using Full HD resolution and graphics quality “high”.
The results below are expressed in frames per second.
Radeon RX 480 review
On Rise of the Tomb Rider, the Radeon RX 480 was 41% faster than the GeForce GTX 960, 44% faster than the Radeon R9 380, and performed the same way as the GeForce GTX 970.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an open-world RPG released in May of 2015 and based on the REDengine 3 engine. In order to measure the performance on this game, we walked around at the first scene of the game, measuring the frame rate with FRAPS three times. We ran the game at Full HD with image quality set to “high.”

The results below are expressed in fps and they are the mean between the three collected results.

Radeon RX 480 review

In this game, the Radeon RX 480 was 58% faster than the GeForce GTX 960, 40% faster than the Radeon R9 380, and also performed just like the GeForce GTX 970.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]
Recently, when we compared the Radeon R9 380 and the GeForce GTX 960, we concluded that AMD still offers competitive video cards on the mainstream segment. With the launch of the first video card from Polaris architecture, that uses a 14 nm manufacturing process, the brand is even more solid on this segment.
Compared to the GeForce GTX 960 (which is the closest NVIDIA video card in terms of price), the Radeon RX 480 was significantly faster, delivering also performance in all the games we tested. AMD also improved its technology compared to the Radeon R9 380, offering more performance with a smaller TDP, which also means less heat and noise.
Actually, the Radeon RX 480 obtained, in our tests, a performance comparable to the GeForce GTX 970, which is a more expensive video card, thus offering a better cost/benefit ration than the NVIDIA model.
With all this, the Radeon RX 480 is an excellent deal for anyone who is looking for a mainstream video card, capable of running recent games in Full HD and maximum quality with high framerate, or even at 4K.