XFX Radeon RX 590 Fatboy review: Pedal to the heavy metal

Smaller process, bigger cooler, faster speeds—with tradeoffs

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Should you buy the XFX Radeon RX 590 Fatboy?

Maybe, but it depends on a couple of factors.

The $280 Radeon RX 590 is a killer option for no-compromises 1080p gaming, especially if you have a monitor faster than 60Hz. It’s also a very viable 1440p gaming option, especially if you don’t mind dropping graphics settings down from Ultra to High, or have a FreeSync-compatible monitor to help smooth out your gameplay.

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Comparable G-Sync monitors cost much more than this.

In fact, as part of the Radeon RX 590 press blitz, AMD drove home how much more affordable the FreeSync ecosystem is compared to Nvidia’s pricey G-Sync options—and it’s right. The wide array of monitors you can buy without selling your firstborn is a feather in AMD’s cap, and the Radeon RX 590 would be a fine fit with a reasonably priced FreeSync panel.

When it comes to sheer performance, the XFX Radeon RX 590 beats the overclocked EVGA GTX 1060 SSC in pretty much every game other than GTA V, and by a noticeable amount. In some games, like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Rainbow Six Siege, the Radeon RX 590 utterly womps the GTX 1060’s frame rates—though Nvidia’s GPU maintains a significant edge in power consumption and heat levels. With comparable dual-fan 6GB GTX 1060s still usually selling for $270 and above, opting for the Radeon RX 590 feels like a no-brainer, especially with the three free games AMD’s throwing in.

The RX 590’s bigger-boned predecessor is the potential spoiler here, though. At 1,580MHz, the XFX Radeon RX 590 Fatboy’s clock speeds measure in about 12 percent faster than the 1,411MHz we saw in custom options available at the RX 580’s launch, like the Sapphire Radeon RX 580 Nitro+ and the Asus ROG Strix we retested today. Despite that, this custom Radeon RX 590 is only 7 or 8 percent faster than the custom RX 580 in most of the games we tested. In some scenarios it was even less.

xfx fatboy 2 Brad Chacos/IDG

That margin is notable, but it’s literally not game-changing. The Radeon RX 590 is a great 1080p and solid 1440p gaming card. So is the Radeon RX 580, albeit at somewhat fewer frames per second—and it’s still being sold going forward, often at a sizeable discount. We’ve seen 8GB Radeon RX 580s on sale for around the $210 mark recently. At that price, opt for the older card for 1080p gaming, unless all three free games bundled with the RX 590 strike your fancy. (Though we didn’t test it here, the $180-ish Radeon RX 570 is a great option for 1080p/60 gaming.) 

Consider spending the extra cash on the Radeon RX 590 if you’re gaming at 1440p, though, as the boost can help it hit 60 fps in situations where the RX 580 falls just short. It’s a great option if you want to upgrade to a more pixel-packed monitor but shudder at the idea of spending $350 or more for a GTX 1070 or Vega 56.

At the end of the day, the Radeon RX 590 shows the limits of what a simple process shrink can achieve with no corresponding architectural changes. It’s faster than the Radeon RX 580, but mildly so. It also needs a lot more juice and throws off a lot more heat to achieve those gains, even when paired with a thick, potent cooler like the XFX Fatboy’s.

If you decide to go for an RX 590, we recommend sticking with a high-end custom variant like the Fatboy. Pushing Polaris this far clearly needs all the metal you can throw at it. XFX also loaded this card up with ports galore and a much-appreciated dual-BIOS. But make sure it fits in your case before you buy!

No matter whether you decide on a Radeon RX 570, 580, or 590, one thing’s certain—AMD has a stranglehold on the best mainstream graphics cards around.

At a Glance
  • The XFX Radeon RX 590 Fatboy uses brute force and an improved 12nm process to muscle past Nvidia's GTX 1060, but it doesn't displace the RX 580 completely.

    Pros

    • No-compromises 1080p and good 1440p performance
    • Lots of ports
    • FreeSync and free games offer great ecosystem value
    • Dual-BIOS lets you choose: speed or quiet
    • Out-performs the 6GB GTX 1060

    Cons

    • Hot and power hungry
    • Very large, fat card may not fit in all cases
    • Not much faster than RX 580 for the price
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