Sapphire Nitro+ RX 480 review: Polaris rethought and refined

The wait was worth it for custom Radeon RX 480 cards.

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Our test system

As always, we tested the Sapphire Nitro+ RX 480 on PCWorld’s dedicated graphics card benchmark system, which is loaded with high-end components to avoid potential bottlenecks in other parts of the machine and show unfettered graphics performance. Key highlights of the build:

  • Intel’s Core i7-5960X ($1,016 on Amazon) with a Corsair Hydro Series H100i closed-loop water cooler ($97 on Amazon).
  • An Asus X99 Deluxe motherboard ($360 on Amazon).
  • Corsair’s Vengeance LPX DDR4 memory ($65 on Newegg), Obsidian 750D full-tower case ($155 on Amazon), and 1,200-watt AX1200i power supply ($308 on Amazon).
  • A 480GB Intel 730 series SSD ($248 on Amazon)
  • Windows 10 Pro ($199 on Amazon)

We’re comparing the $220 Nitro+ RX 480 (4GB) against AMD’s reference $240 RX 480 (8GB), Nvidia’s $300 GeForce GTX 1060 Founders Edition (which essentially performs on par with a $250 GTX 1060 reference card), and the same rivals we used in our reviews of those two cards. EVGA’s GTX 960 SSC, VisionTek’s Radeon R9 380, and Sapphire’s Radeon R9 380X represent the last-gen crop of $200-ish graphics cards. They don’t hold a candle to the new generation. You’ll also find results for more potent options that the GTX 1060 more directly compares to: the Sapphire Nitro R9 390, EVGA GTX 970 FTW, MSI Radeon 390X Gaming 8GB, and the reference Nvidia GTX 980.

We benchmark every game using the default graphics settings unless otherwise noted, with all vendor-specific special features—such as Nvidia’s GameWorks effects, AMD’s TressFX, and FreeSync/G-Sync—disabled. These cards can’t really deliver a compelling 4K gaming experience, so we limited our testing to 1080p and 1440p resolutions.

Sapphire sent us a review sample very shortly before launch, so all tests were performed using the default 1306MHz “Boost” BIOS. I’m hoping to test the card in quiet mode as well as push the overclock further later today. I’ll update the article to include the results as soon as I do. UPDATE: Overclocking results have been added towards the end of the article.

But enough jibber-jabber! Let’s see what an overclocked, custom-cooled RX 480 is capable of.

The Division

The Division, a third-person shooter/RPG that mixes elements of Destiny and Gears of War, kicks things off with Ubisoft’s new Snowdrop engine.

nitro 480 divisoin

Here, we see the start of a trend we’ll witness throughout the Nitro+ RX 480’s review. The card’s mild overclock doesn’t push it much higher than the frame rates pumped out by the reference RX 480, but it does enough to bring the AMD-powered card into parity with Nvidia’s more costly GTX 1060 Founders Edition.

Next page: Hitman

At a Glance
  • The 4GB Sapphire Nitro+ RX 480 delivers tremendous build quality, great performance, and thoughtful touches for a price that won't break the bank.


    • Quiet, efficient cooler
    • Astonishing build quality for the price
    • Great 1080p and 1440p gaming performance
    • Tremendous price to performance ratio


    • Not overclocked much over reference RX 480
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