Complete Disassembly of RX 480 – The Road to DIY RX 480 Hybrid

By Published June 30, 2016 at 3:11 am
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We're putting the AMD RX 480 under water. Our GTX 1080 Hybrid project revealed significant improvements to overclock stability and lowered the 1080's thermals by 100%, an important boost versus the Founders Edition ($700). This endeavor opened our eyes to new means of testing component limits, and makes for a fun DIY project to push new hardware to its absolute peak performance – or make it die trying.

Following our RX 480 endurance and thermal findings, we believe it's possible to improve thermals, reduce overall power consumption (by eliminating the need for a fan spinning at 4000+ RPM), and significantly cut noise output. The overclocked RX 480 was able to sustain its 1340MHz core only because we ran the fan so fast, and by switching to a liquid cooler (powered externally, not by the video card), we'll free-up some power for the core and memory. This will also allow us to reduce overall fan RPMs on our mod's VRM fan, hopefully cutting noise levels to something lower than the ~55-60dB output experienced in our overclocking test. Our overclock, although reasonable, is entirely unbearable because of its high noise output and would be unacceptable for any real-world user or home.

We're fixing that.

In this Part 1 of our AMD RX 480 'Hybrid' build, we tear-down the new AMD card to look at the GPU, VRM power design, VRAM, and thermal design. Part 2 will show the application of a new thermal solution. We bought a few Arctic Cooler VGA coolers for this project, including the Hybrid III ($120), Twin Turbo III ($50), and Mono Plus ($35). We've also got a box of EVGA Hybrid CLCs, though the mounting won't fit.

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So: Why did we buy so many coolers? Well, ramping into this project, we knew to expect different mounting holes than on previous AMD cards – but we weren't sure just how different. By buying a whole slew of coolers, we figured at least one of them would fit the mounting points of the RX 480. We knew to expect the RX 480 would have very similar mounting points to the R9 380 and R7 370 GPUs, but we were only told by AMD that they'd be “similar,” not the same. Part 2 will reveal if our Hybrid III cooler fits, or if we'll have to drill custom holes to mount the CLC pump to the GPU socket.

Fan RPM vs. Temperature & Core Clock (& Noise)

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Above is recreated our Fan RPM, Clock, & Temps vs. Time chart. We encountered similar thermal performance on the GTX 1080 FE, which prompted our 1080 Hybrid DIY project.

Read our test methodology on Page 2 and results on Page 3 of the RX 480 review to understand these results. The ~3800~4300RPM can be axed if we replace the VRM blower fan with a liquid unit. To do that, we've first got to disassemble the RX 480:

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Above: We've drawn and marked where screws belong on the rear side of the card.

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Above: The underside of the heat plate. Thermal pads contact the MOSFETs (between the expansion slot and the chokes) and the VRAM modules.

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Aluminum heatspreaders emerge from the heat plate where VRAM is present.

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Above: The video card and reference cooler are relatively simple.

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Tear-down is trivial for the RX 480. To remove the shroud from the reference design card, perform the following steps:

  • Draw an outline of the card and prepare to place screws on this outline. This will help you re-mount the hardware at a later date, as there are a few different screw sizes.

  • Remove the screws securing the shroud to the PCB. These are on the back of the card and are the larger, outer screws.

  • Remove the shroud.

  • Remove the four screws securing the heatsink to the GPU, then remove the heatsink by unscrewing the screws along the “RADEON” branded plastic panel.

We noticed solder points for DVI ports on the reference PCB, which means that AIB partners can use the reference PCB and add DVI ports. This is something AMD already confirmed, but we can now see that the board is already set up for partner modifications.

The card uses a 6-phase VRM and 2K Nichicon capacitors. The major limiter to overclocking will be PCI-e power draw concerns – which we've mitigated with power solutions to be detailed in Part 2 – and then board power limit. 6-pin will keep us under 200W total board power, but we'll do our best to work with what's available.

Editorial: Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke
Video: Andrew “ColossalCake” Coleman

Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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