There are no bad graphics cards, only graphics cards with bad pricing. And, well, the Radeon RX 470—especially XFX’s model—sits in a bad place. Rather than carving out a compelling new market segment, the Radeon RX 470 just plain feels irrelevant at $180 and up.
There’s no question the Radeon 470 is a great graphics card—at least in a vacuum. While it doesn’t quite hit a locked 60fps average at 1080p with all the bells and whistles cranked to 11, it comes damned close, and dropping the settings to High easily allows you to clear that gold-standard frame rate. Likewise, the RX 470 can generally hit 40-plus frames per second at 1440p at High or Ultra settings, making it a decent 1440p gaming option (especially if you have a FreeSync monitor to smooth out framerate hitches). It’s only a few frames behind a GTX 970 in most games. Heck, it even squeaks into the VR-capable category, albeit only by the thinnest of margins, thanks to the solid-for-Polaris out-of-the-box overclocks of this XFX model. That utterly blows away what the last-gen crop of $150 to $200 graphics cards were capable of!
But the world doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And in the real world, the 4GB RX 480 is a major spoiler for the RX 470 given the price of both cards and just how damned good the RX 480 truly is.
The 8GB Radeon RX 480, which again offers performance darn near identical to the $200 4GB version except in specific circumstances, offers 8 to 12 percent more performance than the RX 470. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s good for at least an extra 5 frames per second in most scenarios, and occasionally far more. It’s enough to push you right up or past the 60fps gold standard in today’s games at Ultra settings—something that the RX 470 can’t consistently do. It’s a crucial “smoothness of experience” threshold.
The gap widens when you take results from the overclocked Sapphire Nitro+ RX 480 (4GB) into account—and that’s the real killer for this card. The XFX Radeon RX 470 is the exact same price as the overclocked, custom cooled Nitro+. Both the $200 reference Radeon RX 480 and the customized Sapphire card offer superior performance to this tricked-out Radeon RX 470 for the same price or even less!
Why would you spend the same amount of money on an inferior-performing card that can’t quite deliver the same uncompromising 1080p experience? And a reference-clocked version of the RX 470 wouldn’t even hit the same heights as this amped-up XFX card.
The XFX Radeon RX 470’s quiet, removable fans and backplate make for a slick overall design, but I can’t help feeling that shaving off some of those extras to drive down the card’s price would make it more appealing in this price-sensitive segment. That’s not really XFX’s fault, though—this is a superbly designed graphics card. It’s downright perplexing that AMD’s second Polaris salvo would be priced so close to the Radeon RX 480. The Radeon RX 470 would make much more sense in the marketplace as a $150 card, even if it meant reducing performance a wee bit more.
There could be a potential twist in the future, though.
In the real world, Radeon RX 480s have been hard to find, with customized partner variants (like the Sapphire Nitro+) essentially MIA. The RX 480s that have hit the streets overwhelmingly lean towards pricier 8GB models, which no doubt offer better profit margins for everybody involved. Given how close the two RX-series cards are in performance, some manufacturers might very well decide to pass on manufacturing the 4GB RX 480, opting to instead offer the Radeon RX 470 for 1080p gaming and the 8GB RX 480 as a step-up card. Doing so could make more fiscal sense for AMD’s hardware partners and create more differentiation between the two GPUs.
That’d be intensely disappointing, given the 4GB RX 480’s superb price-to-performance ratio and heavily advertised $200 price point, combined with the RX 470’s not quite perfect 1080p chops. But I can see it as a possibility. And in that potential future, the RX 470 would be more attractive.
Okay, I’m taking off my tinfoil hat now.
In a vacuum, the Radeon RX 470 delivers a damned fine 1080p gaming experience that’s a huge leap forward from the previous crop of similarly priced cards. You’ll be able to hit 60fps at high or ultra graphics settings even in cutting-edge games. XFX’s custom variant is superbly designed, runs cool and quiet, and offers a longer warranty than before. If one winds up in your stocking this Christmas, you’ll be happy!
But here in the real world, the price is wrong. There’s simply no reason to buy a Radeon RX 470 over a Radeon RX 480—unless my bizarre conspiracy theories wind up becoming reality. Skip a pizza, pocket the extra $20, and buy the RX 470’s higher-performing cousin instead... if you can find one. If you can’t, and RX 470s are available en masse, then well—it’s still a great, affordable card in a vacuum.
XFX Radeon RX 470
XFX's gorgeous, thoughtful customizations are great, and the Radeon RX 470's performance devastates its predecessors, but it's priced too close to the RX 480.