Sapphire Radeon RX 580 Nitro+ review: AMD battles for PC gaming's sweet spot, again

Polaris refined and repurposed still kicks ass.

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Bottom line

The Radeon RX 580 is almost a mirror image of its predecessor, so our buying advice remains the same. Modern graphics cards built using the 14nm or 16nm manufacturing process deliver huge performance increases over older models from the same price segment. If you’re using a Radeon R9 380 or GeForce GTX 960—or anything released before those—the Radeon RX 580 is a worthwhile upgrade.

The $200 4GB Radeon RX 480 is still the best mainstream graphics card you can buy today. The experiences it unlocks for that price are still remarkable: no-compromises 60fps-plus gaming at 1080p, darn satisfying 1440p gaming in many games, and even virtual reality. This review didn’t cover a 4GB RX 580, but since the new lineup hews so closely to RX 480 performance, I’m comfortable giving it my stamp of approval. If you’re gaming at 1080p buy this over any GeForce GTX 1060.

The $170 Radeon RX 570 also kicks butt at 1080p, 60fps gaming for even less money, albeit with 10 to 15 percent less performance, which makes it less future-proof. Pairing either the RX 570 or the RX 480 with an affordable FreeSync variable refresh monitor delivers a stellar gaming experience, and unlike Nvidia G-Sync monitors, FreeSync doesn’t skyrocket the cost of a display. FreeSync’s a major selling point for Radeon cards in this price range.

dsc01705 Brad Chacos/IDG

The $230-plus 8GB Radeon RX 580 is a trickier proposition. It’s most tempting if you’re planning on 1440p gaming or you think the cheaper model’s 4GB buffer won’t hold up well over the amount of time you plan on keeping the graphics card. But its price point puts the 8GB RX 580 head-to-head against Nvidia’s 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 and they’re virtually equals in terms of sheer performance.

Both of the cards are great, and AMD and Nvidia have both been killing it with software and drivers recently. If you value the extra 2GB of memory and affordable FreeSync monitors, go for the Radeon card. The GeForce GTX 1060 offers much better power efficiency, Nvidia’s wonderful Ansel tech, and typically sky-high overclocking potential. It’s a push.

If you do decide to go with an 8GB RX 580, Sapphire’s customized $250 RX 580 Nitro+ should be on your shortlist for consideration. It’s gorgeous, cool, and extremely quiet without being gigantic, and the extra power connection should come in handy if you plan on overclocking. The $250 price point is comparable to other highly customized 8GB RX 580s being released by other graphics card vendors, and Sapphire’s optimizations are stunning.

dsc01704 Brad Chacos/IDG

But my advice is not to buy the Radeon RX 580 if you’re reading this anytime near the card’s launch. As far as refreshes go, the Radeon RX 500-series is incredibly disappointing: Memory speeds and capacity weren’t touched whatsoever, unlike with AMD’s R300-series rebrands, and the slightly higher clock speeds only result in a performance uptick of a few frames per second. Leftover Radeon RX 480s can be found at deep price discounts as I’m writing this. On Newegg, several custom 4GB models can be had for $180, and Gigabyte’s RX 480 Windforce is just $170 after rebate. Heck, several 8GB RX 480s are hovering around $200—including Sapphire’s own RX 480 Nitro+.

Go with the older RX 480 cards if they’re available and you want to save some cash. You won’t notice the performance difference. But at its core, the Radeon RX 580 is still the same Polaris GPU we’re used to from before, so once the cheap Radeon RX 480s dry up, the 4GB version of this newer refresh is still the best $200 graphics card you can buy.

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At a Glance
  • $249.99 MSRP $249.99
    View

    The Radeon RX 580 is basically the Radeon RX 480 with a new name, but that still makes it the best mainstream graphics card around. Sapphire's custom Nitro+ design is stellar.

    Pros

    • Great 1080p, good 1440p, and solid VR gameplay
    • Compelling price to performance
    • Sapphire's Nitro+ customizations look and work great

    Cons

    • Lags far behind GTX 1060 in power efficiency
    • Basically a rebrand of the RX 480 with slightly higher clock speeds
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