AMD Radeon RX 480 review: Redefining what's possible with a $200 graphics card

The $200 Radeon RX 480 is the first graphics card built around AMD's 14nm Polaris GPU, and it changes the game.

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Ashes of the Singularity

Between the bolted-on DirectX 12 support in Hitman and Rise of the Tomb Raider and the inherent difficulties in testing Windows Store apps—which don’t support traditional overlays or benchmarking tools like FRAPS—there’s only a single game with a stellar DX12 implementation to test: Ashes of the Singularity, running on Oxide’s custom Nitrous engine.

Ashes was an early standard-bearer for DirectX 12, and it’s still the premier game. (It’s fun, too!) The performance gains it offers with DX12 over DX11 are eye-opening—at least when running on Radeon cards.

480 aots 1440 crazy
480 aots 1440 high
480 aots 1080 crazy
480 aots 1080 high

The Radeon RX 480 can’t compete with the EVGA 970 FTW in standard DirectX 11 mode. But as with all the rest of AMD’s cards, flipping over to DirectX 12 causes performance to skyrocket—so much so that the Radeon RX 480 suddenly nudges out even the mighty GTX 980 in most tests. Why wouldn’t you use DX12 if you owned this card?

Ashes’s DX12 implementation makes heavy use of asynchronous compute features, which are supported by dedicated hardware in Radeon GPUs, but not in the older GTX 900-series Nvidia cards. In fact, the software preemption workaround that Maxwell-based Nvidia cards use to mimic the async compute capabilities tank performance so hard that Oxide’s game is coded to ignore async compute when it detects a GeForce GPU. Those cards actually perform worse when running AoTS in DX12.

Speaking of poor performance, the $200 2GB graphics cards from last generation really can’t handle playing at 1440p (or even 1080p, in DX12) on Ashes’ “crazy” preset.

Next page: SteamVR performance and synthetic benchmarks

At a Glance
  • AMD's first graphics card built around its cutting-edge Polaris GPU delivers big performance and better power efficiency for just $200, or slightly more for an 8GB version.

    Pros

    • Dirt-cheap price
    • No-compromises 1080p gaming, good 1440p gaming
    • Can power virtual reality headsets
    • Big leap in power efficiency over past AMD cards

    Cons

    • Still not as power efficient as GeForce cards
    • Stability and performance issues with slick new overclocking software
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