AMD RX480: A GPU for the masses?

Polaris is blinding but won't burn your fingers

Publisher AMD
Ahead of E3 in 2 weeks AMD have launched its new Hardware using their 14nm Finfet technology designed around its latest GCN architecture Polaris GPU's but these are not the headline grabbing power wars from Nvidia's 1080 launch a few weeks ago.

Instead it grabbed headlines and most likely large market share instead with a card that could redefine mainstream performance and become its, if not,THE most successful card this generation.The first batch of cards Polaris 10 and 11 are aimed at the entry and mainstream levels and the debut of the RX 480 is the bigger of the 2 with 11 aka RX 470 to be even cheaper and released later. But this is far from what we class as a mainstream unit in terms of power and that price makes nearly every other card seem irrelevant. These are bold statements from me but I cannot stress how impressed I have been with AMD's long running plan and now we can see all the pieces falling into place.

As I talked about nearly 2 years ago with its Mantle plans, DX12 and obviously HUGELY beneficial and Influential console design wins it has slowly built up its control over game development and began chipping away at the Nvidia market and mind share which has increased since DX12 games started to ship. But I will cover more on that in an upcoming video as here I just want to cover the new card and what this obviously means to the next bout of consoles that I covered a few months back as predicted will be based on this and possibly the new ZEN CPU. This new card the 36CU Polaris 10 is the pretty much nailed on one that will appear in the new NEO console that should be announced officially in 2 weeks time. Its bigger brother the 480X that will sport 40CU is the one that will appear in the next Xbox machine that again should be announced next year or depending on the launch plans and aims they could even wait for the VEGA.

Go into the light

In the here and now the RX480 is a mammoth card with a minuscule price tag of only $199 for the 4GB version or $229 for the 8GB most likely becoming £'s here in the UK and I recommend the 8GB to anyone and everyone. This price is even better than expected with a sub £200 card with ~5.5Tflops of performance, modern architecture and competing with 980<->980Ti cards that cost twice that price. It also means you have a card that will outperform a GTX970 quite extensively all for around £50-£100 less depending on model chosen you can see how it all stacks up. The price to performance ratio for this card is remarkable and AMD's claims of increasing the TAM (Total addressable market) with this new fabrication and products is not far-fetched at all.

Polaris is based on the latest GCN 4.0 architecture manufactured on FinFET fabrication offering twice the voltage leak improvement over previous generations with overall much lower power consumption and better performance. It will fit into most towers and only needs a single 6-pin source while giving 1.7x the performance per Watt while AMD improve this further still to 2.8x with its own technology improvements, meaning that the die shrink from 28nm is delivering a large chunk of the benefits but not all. The new architecture for Polaris offers up some exciting benefits from previous cards with features like:

  • Memory Compression
  • Improved Shader Efficiency
  • Primitive Discard Accelerator
  • Hardware Scheduler
  • Instruction Pre-Fetch

So conservative Rasterization now makes it way to the red camp and should complete all DX12 enabled API options within hardware. Among others not fully shared and this also means that its current lead on compute based operations with its Command controllers are all present and improved here along with the Instruction Pre-Fetch improvements. More widely known on the CPU side this will make a big impact on data penalties, latency and bandwidth as it predicts the data needed for instructions ahead of requirements reducing latency and improving performance.

VR choice

One of the marketing aims for the card is delivering VR power at a very low cost and this is something AMD will and should heavily market. Allowing PC to use and experience both Oculus and Vive headsets with such a low level entry means that I can see many consumers and companies having complete AMD machines to run as a VR solution. Its low level pricing but very attractive performance capabilities will help its adoption rates rapidly start and only increase when the range extends.

With the new card looking very attractive from both a price and performance level the high end looking to compete or beat the 1080 may be sad that this is not that (although it was widely known it was not going to be here)with its next card VEGA due next year with its HBM2 memory fixed on that target level we could have a 1080 beating card at possibly $200 less than the ,yet to release ,green machine. It also helps show just what AMD have been planning and how it is moving to expand its market share in what is a shrinking market as the ZEN is going to try and snatch as much back from Intel in the server market first this can only be a positive for AMD and a negative for Intel and Nvidia is in the same boat, a situation it is aware of as it has already been branching out into other areas over the past few years with its smart car projects. Having many prongs to control its brand awareness and astro-turf like few others this may have started to run its course. I have made no secret of my disdain of some Nvidia practices over the years and I am happy that AMD seems to be making a comeback with a product that is not only impressive but offers up incredible value to us the consumer along with its far more open source approach to API models and features like Free-sync and its Linux driver.

How does it perform?

Performance wise we have some leaked benchmarks that put this very card into the 980 levels or just above and around the Fury cards which is a very impressive level to start with for what is going to be most likely a widely adopted format. This means that many AAA games being designed with AMD hardware from both consoles and the ones to come (Nintendo also most likely) along with a growing level of PC discrete GPU's it will only strengthen its grip on game developers and increase the gap from its green rival. But the benefits do not stop here with the new architecture also demonstrated using its Multi-Adapter configuration allowing multiple GPU's to work in tandem for rendering and this can and will include APU cards. As in my console video I feel this will pave the way for the next Xbox and possibly Playstation to offer up simpler upgrade paths for the machines selling a plug in addition that will again be supported by the big software teams. Yes X-fire and SLI has never been a success and the demo shown against a 1080 did seem very weighted in AMD's favour but the change here is that if this is no longer a niche market but instead far more widespread it will only increase in its implementation and success and as we know and I have talked about far, far too much it is all about the software that delivers and engineers always like to exploit new technology when given the chance.

As any press event like this needs to be kept in check we have an idea of how it will perform and stack up but until we have actual hands on tests to validate and benchmark it we can never be 100% sure. Along with how far it can be overclocked which from the die shrink it should have some legs over previous GPU's. My card is ready for its June 29th launch so check back to my channel and site then to get a full breakdown and review of it along with the all important Real-time metrics up against other cards. This year is going to be exciting no matter your chosen platform or vendor and one star is burning bright ahead that could just be a real trail blazer.

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