Radeon RX 480 Review: Does This Mid-Range GPU Still Holds Up?

Review Radeon RX 480

When you’re a PC gamer, one of your first priorities is to able to run games at the maximum setting possible, preferably at least 60 frames per second.

This is why most PC gamers invest in a graphics card that will allow them to play the most recent games. For some people, upgrading their graphics processing unit (GPU) is a never-ending affair as GPU makers tend to just flood the market with their products.

So for this post, we’re going to take a step back and review one of the older mainstream graphics cards from AMD, the Radeon RX 480. Is the pixel-pumping RX 480 still a good investment for PC gaming? Or is it just old news now?

Let’s find out!

Reviewing the AMD Radeon RX 480

Rx 480

The RX 480 has marked a massive shift in the field of VR gaming as it was the cheapest VR-capable graphics card that met the requirements for using VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Before we talk about the main features and performance of the RX 480, let’s first take a look at its specifications.

Technical Specifications

GPU

Requirements

GPU Memory

Supported Rendering Format

Connectivity

Compute Units

36


Base Frequency

Up to 1120 MHz


Boost Frequency

Up to 1266 MHz


Max Performance

Up to 5.8 TFLOPs


Stream Processors

2304


GPU Power

110W

Typical Board Power (Desktop)

150 W


PSU Recommendation

500 W

Memory Speed (Effective)

7 Gbps


Max Memory Size

4 GB


Memory Type (GPU)

GDDR5


Memory Interface

256-bit


Max. Memory Bandwidth

224 GB/s

HDMI™ 4K Support

Yes


4K H264 Decode

Yes


4K H264 Encode

Yes


H265/HEVC Decode

Yes


H265/HEVC Encode

Yes

Display Port

1.4 HDR


Dual Link DVI

No


HDMI™

4K60 Support


VGA

No

Features

  • Supported Technologies
  • Radeon™ VR Ready Premium
  • Radeon™ FreeSync Technology
  • 4th Gen GCN Architecture
  • Radeon™ Chill
  • Radeon™ ReLive
  • DirectX® 12 Technology
  • AMD Eyefinity Technology (Gaming)
  • Catalyst Software
  • AMD CrossFire™ Technology
  • AMD CrossFire™ (Bridgeless)
  • Frame Rate Target Control
  • 3rd Gen 14nm Process Technology
  • OpenCL 2.0
  • OpenGL 4.5
  • AMD PowerTune Technology
  • TrueAudio Next
  • Unified Video Decoder (UVD)
  • Video Code Engine (VCE)
  • Virtual Super Resolution
  • The Vulkan® API
  • AMD ZeroCore Power Technology
  • AMD Gaming Evolved Client

Exterior and Interfaces

Rx 480 7

The RX 480 weighs about 24.1 ounces (685 grams), is 10.5cm tall, 24.2cm long, and 3.5cm wide. At first look, the card looks very similar to AMD's Radeon R9 Fury Nano. However, if you take a closer look, you will observe some cost-cutting measures when compared to AMD’s last-gen highest tier card.

Despite the Allen screws on the four corners of the card, the black plastic body is all one piece. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this card features a multi-part design.

Around the back, you will see that the actual PCB is only about 18 cm long. Up top, next to the standard Radeon logo, you will see the six-pin auxiliary power connector. For today’s standards, this should be an eight-pin connector.

The fully closed design will help facilitate airflow from the fan to the front bracket. This keeps the entire card nice and cool for long gaming sessions. AMD has eliminated the DVI output in order to make more room for the ventilation holes. There are three DisplayPort 1.4-ready connectors and an HDMI 2.0 interface, so you can connect up to four monitors at the same time if you want.

Specs and Technology

Architecture

Process size

GPU clock

Boost clock

Typical desktop power

Max performance

Memory

GCN 4 Polaris

14nm

1,120 MHz

1,266 MHz

150W

Up to 5.8 TFLOPs

4GB and 8GB GDDR5

With the RX 480, AMD has moved on from its GCN (Graphics Core Next) 3 architecture to the GCN 4, which is also referred to as Polaris. Back then, it’s quite a significant change in terms of the chip’s physical design. AMD also ditched the 28-nanometer process that was utilized with the previous gen cards in place of the 14nm process.

This enables the manufacturers to put more transistors with each piece of silicon while still keeping power consumption and heat at a minimum. It’s worth noting that the 14nm process is denser than the 16nm process, which was utilized by Nvidia for their GTX 1070 and 1080 cards.

This basically means that AMD has managed to put more power into the GPU while keeping the price down.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is largely a mid-range GPU through and through. So don’t expect any fancy features here, especially when it’s an older card. When it comes to specs, the RX 480 is about as solid as you can get, but it’s nothing extraordinary.

The card runs at a base clock speed of 1,120 MHz and a boost speed of 1,266 MHz. With such considerable power, it’s good to know that the card only draws 150W of power.

The RX 480 is capable of up to 5.8TFLOPs, which puts it ahead of the GTX 970 from Nvidia – which happens to be the closest competitor in terms of price. However, higher TFLOPs don’t exactly mean superior performance.

The RX 480 is powered with GDDR5 memory and is available in two models: 4GB and 8GB. Apart from the price, another difference between the two versions is that the 4GB version will have a memory capable of 7Gbps while the 8GB model will have up to 8Gbps.

Performance

We tested the RX 480 with our in-house test rig by playing some games.


Dirt Rally

Dirt Rally (PC DVD) (UK IMPORT)

We like to test cards with Dirt Rally because it’s a relatively light game but still features some pretty good graphics, even by today’s standards.

We tested the RX 480 and set the settings to Ultra. As a result, the GPU didn’t even break a sweat even at 1080p and 1440p resolutions with over 60 fps. Thanks to its 8GB cache, the RX 480 displayed impressive performance even at 4K resolutions when compared to the GTX 970.

However, you have to keep in mind that the RX 480 is not suitable for gaming in 4K.


Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration - PlayStation 4

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a good game to use for a benchmark since it uses some impressive particle effects and lighting.

At the Full HD settings, the RX 480 manages to get a silky-smooth performance at around 63 fps. When we set it to 1440p, the game still runs at a very playable 44 fps. Overall, the RX 480 handled the game just fine.


Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

We’ve opted to test the RX 480 with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor instead of the sequel since the latter can be very demanding.

However, the Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor game still features impressive graphics with numerous explosion and particle effects, on top of some crisp textures. The in-game benchmark of the game is short but can really put the card to the test with the number of things going on the screen.

Again, the RX 480 video card displayed another impressive performance by managing an excellent 80+ fps at 1080p, and around 55 fps at 1440 resolution. Just smooth sailing all around.


The Witcher 3

Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition - PC

The Witcher 3 is a beautiful, open-world RPG that features some of the best graphics that gaming has to offer, even when it was released back in 2015. This is one of my favorite games of all time, so I felt compelled to test it out with the Radeon RX 480.

Surprisingly, the RX 480 is a beast when it comes to running The Witcher 3. I played on Ultra settings with hairworks enabled, depth of field enabled, etc., and it’s a lot smoother than expected. At 1080p, the RX 480 managed to get 65.3 frames, while it ran at 46 fps at 1440p. Almost identical in performance to the GTX 970.

Overall, it did amazing with The Witcher 3.


Fortnite

Fortnite - Xbox One

As currently the most popular game, I can’t pass the opportunity to play Fortnite with this card, even if it’s not that demanding of a title.

While the graphics of Fortnite are quite cartoony, it still features some pretty good effects and it’s an open-world game as well. We had everything set on Ultra at 1080p and the game ran at around 67 fps, which is more than enough for a smooth gameplay and be competitive.

Pricing

MSI GAMING Radeon RX 480 GDDR5 8GB CrossFire VR Ready FinFET DirectX...
  • Immersive VR experiences
  • AMD FreeSync technology
  • HDR compatible

The Radeon RX 480 is a GPU that offers a lot in terms of value.

The 8GB version was sold for around $230 to $240 and as mentioned, it was the cheapest VR-capable video card available at that time. As you can see from our tests and benchmarks, the RX 480 performed admirably. For the most part, it managed to run games at playable frames even when you crank up the graphical settings to the max.

Another impressive thing about the card is that it trades blows with Nvidia’s costlier competitor, the GTX 980. If you’re mainly gaming in 1080p resolution, this GPU is a great buy. Even at 1440p resolutions, the card offers decent performance.

The RX 480 is an amazing mid-range card but it’s a fairly dated model, so you will have to keep that in mind. There are other, more powerful GPUs that are offered within the same price range.

Competing GPUs

Not feeling the RX 480? Here are some known competing GPUs that you can check out:

Sale
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 Windforce OC 3GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
  • WINDFORCE 2x with Blade fan design
  • Support up to 8K Display @60Hz
  • Built with 4+1 power phases. Recommended PSU: 400W

The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 Windforce OC is an excellent mid-range card that can give the RX 480 a run for its money.

This card makes a case for itself as offers a significant bump over the GTX 1050 Ti when it comes to performance. In terms of raw performance alone, it can be compared to the GTX 1060 6GB but only a lot cheaper.

It’s also a dual-fan WindForce 2X version, so it doesn’t just look good, it runs fairly cool as well. Powerful consumption is also excellent for such a fairly powerful card.

The GPU is offered at more or less $240, which is roughly the same price as the 8GB version of the RX 480. However, it’s worth noting that the 4GB version of the RX 480 is available for about $200 just to give you a little bit of comparison.

Sale
ASUS ROG Strix Radeon RX 570 O4G Gaming OC Edition GDDR5 DP HDMI DVI...
  • 1310 MHz boost clock (OC Mode) for 7% performance improvement over reference. Engine Clock : 1300 MHz (Gaming Mode)
  • ASUS Aura Sync RGB lighting features a nearly endless spectrum of colors with the ability to synchronize effects across an ever-expanding ecosystem of AURA Sync enabled products
  • DirectCU II with patented wing-blade fans on 0db fan technology delivers 30% cooler and 3X quieter performance contact with direct-GPU contact heat pipes

The ASUS ROG Strix Radeon RX 570 is marketed as the replacement for the RX 470. AMD offered the card with the main objective of closing the gap with the GeForce GTX 1060 3GB in PC games where Nvidia’s offering was faster.

The RX 570 falls into the dense category of decent and capable video cards. The card provides excellent performance at 1080p resolutions. In many cases, it’s faster than the RX 470 but not by much. However, I have to say that this card’s performance is just all over the place.

If you are mainly gaming at 1080p a nd want to save some money, the Radeon RX 570 is a good choice.

Pros and Cons

To summarize, here are the pros and cons of the Radeon RX 480:

Pros

  • Excellent performance at 1080p resolutions
  • Very affordable VR-ready GPU
  • Beats previous generation cards that cost twice as much
  • Quiet operation at stock speeds
  • Conserves space and lightweight

Cons

  • Poor overclocking capabilities
  • Build quality is not that great
  • Not as power efficient as Nvidia cards

The Verdict

AMD has always been a brand that’s driven by value. The Radeon RX 480 is yet another card that brings robust power and performance at a fraction of the cost of more powerful GPUs.

For just around $200, the RX 480 is one of the cheapest VR-ready cards out there. So if you’re planning to get a VR headset someday, this card is not a bad choice at all.

However, it’s worth mentioning that this is not the latest model from AMD and there are better cards that are available in the same price range.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

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