Hardware Guides

The GTX 1060 Hybrid series has come to a close. This project encountered an unexpected speed bump, whereupon we inserted a copper shim (changing the stack to silicon > TIM > shim > TIM > coldplate) to bridge contact between the CLC and GPU. This obviously sacrifices some efficiency, as we're inserting two layers of ~6W/mK TIM between ~400W/mK copper, but it's still better than air cooling with a finned heatsink.

Our previous Hybrid projects (see: 1080, RX 480) axed the baseplate, thereby losing some VRAM and VRM cooling potential. For this project, we filed down the edges of the GPU socket to accommodate the protruding EVGA coldplate. This allowed us to keep the baseplate, granting better conduction to the VRAM and VRM. The blower fan is also still operating, but by removing the cover from the shroud (“window”), we're losing some pressure and air before it reaches the VRM. After speaking to a few AIB partners, we determined that the cooling was still sufficient for our purposes. An open air bench case fan was positioned to blast air into the “window” hole, keeping things a little cooler on average.

The GTX 1060 Hybrid tear-down went smoothly. We were able to remove all of the components with relative ease, look things over, and make a loose plan for part 2 – the build, which also seemed to go smoothly.

Until it didn't.

We were able to re-secure everything and, despite some very close clearance, even got the shroud back onto the card. Unfortunately, plugging it in revealed high idle temperatures, and a 30-second test led us to nearly 90C almost immediately. We terminated the test and cooled the card down, then re-evaluated the installation.

Our “Hybrid” mods aren't necessarily something we recommend for cards like the RX 480 and GTX 1060 – you're increasing cost of the card by 30% just to add a CLC – but the mods have routinely discovered throttle points. The GTX 1080 was our first Hybrid mod (one which we would actually recommend), and gave us an additional ~100MHz OC with perfectly flat clock-rate stability – something sorely lacking on the FE card. That's what we want, and will help further smooth over the 1% low and 0.1% low performance metrics (explained here).

Today, we embarked upon our journey to build a GTX 1060 “Hybrid” card. This is a DIY approach to liquid cooling the GTX 1060, and aims to stabilize the clock-rate over time to eliminate spurious frametime performance. We also hope to reduce thermals drastically enough that the overall noise levels will be reduced, presumably while maintaining a lower thermal value. This is what happened when we ran the same test on the RX 480 ($240) – it was trivial to run the radiator fan at 30% on the RX 480 “Hybrid” and keep lower thermals than stock.

Honestly, though, this GTX 1060 Hybrid endeavor is mostly within the realm of “because we want to.” It's not something you should necessarily do – that's an extra $50-$100 to throw a cooler on a card that's ~$250 to $300. Poor value. But we're doing it anyway, and hopefully we'll learn something about the performance and clock stability along the way.

This content is basically just a video, since we can't very well convey noise through words. Except maybe by YELLING with CAPS. We produced a similar type of video for the RX 480, basically comparing fan noise levels by recording them (using the same level of input each time on an X/Y H6N mic), then playing them back. Fans were tested at idle, 50%, and 100% for this comparison. The GTX 1060, RX 480, GTX 1070, and MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X are included in this video.

For full GTX 1060 coverage, check our GTX 1060 review & benchmark or catch up on the RX 480 here. In the meantime, the fan RPM noise comparison is embedded below:

Just to be clear straight-away: This test was largely conducted under the context of “because we can.” For the full, in-depth GTX 1060 review, check this article. Also note that this test does not make use of the Scalable Link Interface, and so we're throwing scare quotes around “SLI” just for clarity. The GTX 1060s do not have SLI fingers and can only communicate via the PCIe bus, without a bridge, thereby demanding that applications support MDA (Multi-Display Adapter) or LDA Explicit (Linked Display Adapter) to actually leverage both cards. NVidia does not officially support dual GTX 1060s. This was just something we wanted to do. We also do not recommend purchasing two GTX 1060s for use in a single gaming system.

All that stated, this test pairs an MSI GTX 1060 Gaming X with the GTX 1060 Founders Edition card, then pits them vs. a single GTX 1060, 1080, 1070, and RX 480s (+ CF). This is mostly a curiosity and an experiment to learn, not a comprehensive benchmark or product review. Again, that's here.

Ashes supports explicit multi-GPU and has been coded by the developers to take advantage of this DirectX 12 functionality, which would also allow cross-brand video cards to be paired. We already tested that with the 970 and 390X. Testing was done at 1080p and 4K at high settings, mostly. The Multi-GPU toggle was checked for Dx12 testing. We've also listed the results as AVG ms frametimes, just for another means to convey information.

AMD's panoply of RX 480 news announcements teased superior performance to the then-new GTX 1080 when paired in CrossFire. We decided to buy a second RX 480 8GB card for $240, put it into CrossFire with our sample that we reviewed, and validate those claims.

Multi-GPU configurations are tough to benchmark. We need to perform all the same thermal, noise, power, and FPS analysis as with other devices – but special attention must be paid to 1% and 0.1% low frame values, and more attention still paid toward plotting metrics versus time. Frequency, temperature, and fan RPM have some fluctuations that appear with multi-GPU configurations which are only truly visible when plotting versus time, rather than averaging a set of thousands of points of data.

In our performance review of CrossFire RX 480 8GB cards, we test FPS in Mirror's Edge, The Division, GTA V, and more, alongside temperature, noise, and power performance. We understand that thermals, noise, and power are sometimes less exciting to readers than raw FPS output, but would strongly recommend looking into our results for this benchmark – multi-GPU setups put greater emphasis on such testing. Some games show negative scaling, some positive, and some which are nearly unchanged. All of that below.

Before proceeding: This endeavor is entirely at the risk of the user, and there is a possibility of “bricking” or permanently damaging the hardware during this process.

In 4GB vs. 8GB AMD RX 480 benchmarking, our testing uncovered improvement in just a few titles – but the improvements were substantial when present. It is no mystery that early press samples of the card allowed for flashing to 4GB, which resulted in a 1750MHz memory clock and locked 4GB of the VRAM. This is reasonable, as media obviously wanted to test both versions of the card, but AMD wanted to limit sampling. We actually liked the way this was handled, given the option between a flashable sample and strictly an 8GB sample.

But there's more to it than that: Consumers have reported success flashing VBIOS from sold 4GB retail samples, resulting in 8GB cards. Let's talk about why AMD's shipping of “locked” cards makes sense, risks, and how to perform the procedure.

Multi-SKU launches of GPUs are sort of interesting. The RX 480 ships in 4GB and 8GB models, with some other less-than-obvious differences under the hood. GDDR5 speed, for instance, operates at 7Gbps on the reference 4GB model, as opposed to 8Gbps on the reference 8GB model (which we reviewed in great detail). There's potential for confusion in the marketplace with multiple SKUs, and the value proposition gets muddied between the $200 4GB RX 480 and the $240 8GB RX 480. That's not counting AIB partner cards, either, and those are rolling out.

In this benchmark, we compare the RX 480 4GB vs. RX 480 8GB to determine if the difference is "worth it" in games. We're testing GTA V, Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, Shadow of Mordor, Ashes, and more.

For a previous look at VRAM differences, check our (now dated) GTX 960 2GB vs. 4GB comparison.

AMD Radeon RX 480 Overclocking Guide

By Published July 03, 2016 at 5:35 pm

The AMD RX 480 “Hybrid” quest we embarked upon revealed some additional overclocking headroom, but also prompted a good opportunity to demonstrate live RX 480 overclocking. We've returned to showcase that today, alongside a top-level explanation of GPU core voltage, core frequency, fan RPM, power % target, and stability.

Note that there are a few disclaimers to be made with any type of overclocking: First, it's likely that any such endeavor voids the warranty, at least if exiting a range permissible by the AIB partner or OEM. That's because overvolting and power increases can potentially cause damage to chips long-term (or even immediately, if no restrictions are in place), and that's especially true on cards where cooling may not adequately cool critical components governing overclocking – like the MOSFETs and other VRM components. That's not to scare anyone away, though; overclocking is fairly safe if following basic rules of small, incremental stepping and using guides (and using OEM-provided software, which often has restrictions for safety). It's just that overclocking is always an “at your own risk” venture, and it doesn't hurt to remind everyone.

This guide explains how to use WattMan to overclock the AMD Radeon RX 480 GPU, showcases voltage (for overvoltage or undervoltage), power target, and some performance metrics.

The final part of our AMD Radeon RX 480 Hybrid build is complete. We've conducted testing on the RX 480 with liquid cooling, successfully yielding additional overclocking headroom and reducing temperatures by 59%. We also ended up hitting 1.15V to the core when overvolting and overclocking, something we talk about more below.

The first part of this AMD RX 480 liquid cooling guide tore-down the video card, the second part built it back up with an Arctic Accelero Hybrid III and liquid cooler, and our new video and article explore the results. The short of it: Liquid cooling an AMD RX 480 significantly improves the temperatures, the noise output, and provides marginal extra overclocking room.

This video is a follow-up to our popular GTX 1080 Hybrid series, if you missed that.

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