AMD's RX 480 Reference received our recommendation as a go-to for the $200-$300 market, but was immediately challenged by the release of the GTX 1060; the choice isn't so clear now, but both cards have appropriate use cases. Still, as with the Founders Edition card reviews, we recommended that our readers wait until AIB partner models of the RX 480 begin shipping, as the cooling performance will improve clock-rate stability on the Polaris 10 chip.
We finally received one of those AIB partner models. The MSI RX 480 Gaming X uses the Twin Frozr VI cooling solution – described in our Computex exclusive – and ships pre-overclocked to 1303MHz from ~1266MHz. The 8GB card's price should rest at $265, or $15 more than the reference RX 480 8GB ($250), and MSI will also be selling 4GB variants of the Gaming X. Our previous coverage of the RX 480 4GB vs. 8GB will help answer questions as to whether the lower capacity card is worth it.
Here's the specs listing of the RX 480, including reference clock-rate:
AMD RX 460, RX 470, & RX 480 Specs
|AMD RX 480||AMD RX 470||AMD RX 460|
|Architecture||Polaris 10||Polaris 10||Polaris 11|
|Compute Units (CUs)||36||32||14|
|Base / Boost Clock||1120MHz / 1266MHz||926MHz / 1206MHz||1090MHz / 1200MHz|
|COMPUTE Performance||>5 TFLOPS||Up to 4.9TFLOPs||Up to 2.2TFLOPs|
|Graphics Command Processor (GCP)||1||1||1|
|Geometry Processors||4||4 (?)||2|
|Peak Texture Filter Rate||182.3GT/s||154.4GT/s||57.6GT/s|
|Peak Pixel Filter Rate||40.5GP/s||38.6GP/s||19.2GP/s|
|VRAM Capacity||4GB GDDR5 @ 7Gbps
8GB GDDR5 @ 8Gbps
|4GB GDDR5||2GB GDDR5|
|Memory Speed||7Gbps (4GB model)
8Gbps (8GB model)
|Memory Bandwidth||224GB/s (4GB model)
256GB/s (8GB model)
|Display Port||1.3 HBR / 1.4 HDR||1.3/1.4 HDR||1.3/1.4 HDR|
|Release Date||June 29||August 4||August 8|
Polaris 10 vs. Polaris 11 Specs & Architecture
|Polaris 10||Polaris 11|
|Compute Units (CUs)||36||16|
|COMPUTE Performance||“>5 TFLOPS”||“>2 TFLOPS”|
|Architecture||Gen 4 GCN||Gen 4 GCN|
|Playback Support||4K encode/decode||4K encode/decode|
|Output Standard||DP1.3/1.4 HDR||DP1.3/1.4 HDR|
MSI makes a few changes to this:
MSI RX 480 Gaming X Specs
|MSI RX 480 Gaming X||AMD RX 480 Reference|
|Architecture||Polaris 10||Polaris 10|
|Fab Process||14nm FinFET||14nm FinFET|
|Core / Boost Clock||1303MHz||1120 / 1266MHz|
|Memory Capacity||4GB or 8GB||4GB or 8GB|
|Release Date||Mid August||June 29|
MSI advertises the core clock as reaching up to 1316MHz, though we measured output around 1303MHz on average. The pre-overclocked card includes MSI's Twin Frozr VI cooler, using a dual-push fan cooling solution and large aluminum heatsink for passive dissipation. As with every other Twin Frozr VI cooler we've recently looked at, the RX 480 Gaming X's implementation allows the card to operate at 0RPM fan speeds for temperatures lower than 60C. This operation prioritizes silence, an effective 0dB output, and allows the heatsink to perform its duties of sinking the lower heat generation.
Aiding that conduction are the three heatpipes routed through the copper coldplate, measured at 8mm, 6mm, and 6mm. MSI's newest version (VI) of the Twin Frozr cooler uses a squared-out heatpipe toward the coldplate, which helps ensure maximum surface area contact between the coldplate, aluminum fins, and the heatpipe itself. The rest of the pipes are the usual rounded design, but the tapered/squaring design is new with this generation.
MSI's custom PCB is flanked by a thick baseplate and backplate – one on either side – used for structural and thermal advantages. The structural impact is likely obvious: The card won't experience sag in the same fashion that an unsupported card with a large heatsink might. Thermally, the baseplate is outfitted with thermal pads that make direct contact to the VRAM modules and MOSFETs. This sinks heat across the surface of the baseplate, which is then cooled actively by air intake from the axial fans. The PWM is also engaged by the baseplate.
New alternating dispersion / traditional fan blades ensure that air gets trapped and propelled into the fins. The PCB is also larger than reference (in width and height), allowing for the large fans mounted to the card.
The MSI card we received was shipped at its maximum clock-rate setting, though users of the MSI software will be able to switch between different “modes;” these modes allow prioritization of silence, performance, or a mix between the two. The software further enables RGB LED light management, found embedded within the nametag of the card.
Looking down the right side of the cooler, we're able to see the chokes, capacitors, and fan cables. MSI's fan cables are easily accessible in the lower-right of the card – though not quite as well designed as Sapphire's Nitro – and can be swapped by the user if necessary for RMA.
Continue to page 2 for testing methodology.