We’ve reviewed an onslaught of cards from the RX 5700 series, including the RX 5700 and XT reference models, the Sapphire Pulse XT, MSI Evoke XT, and RX 5700 Red Dragon by PowerColor. Today, we’re looking at another non-XT model: The Sapphire RX 5700 Pulse is going head-to-head with the PowerColor RX 5700 Red Dragon, with the AMD Reference card tagging along to provide some much-needed perspective that, although there will only be one winner between these two AIB cards, both are a massive upgrade over AMD’s blower design.
As a reminder that’s hopefully unnecessary, the real difference from one board partner card to the next hinges upon thermals and acoustics, not necessarily gaming performance. There certainly can be a gaming performance impact, but this is typically limited to less than 2% change in performance from baseline for the RX 5700 series cards. AMD already maxed the silicon as much as it could and boosting isn’t as sensitive as NVIDIA cards; further still, the AMD RX 5700 non-XT model is artificially limited (without modifications, which are possible) to a SET frequency of 1850MHz (not necessarily GET). This, along with maxing the silicon, relegates most changes from cards to what we call “quality of life” features, like significantly reduced noise levels, PCB designs that might be more accommodating to one case or another, and reduced thermals. VBIOS power limitations are also at play, where VBIOS changes can allow cards to draw more power than reference, but won’t necessarily yield performance benefits as a result. Finally, another useful feature present on both the Sapphire and PowerColor models is dual VBIOS, which allows a backup if the user botches a flash.
AMD’s RX 560 continues a trend of refreshing the Polaris line, but with a more notable change than the previous RX 580RX 570 refreshes: The RX 560 fully unlocks itself to 16 CUs, up from the previous 14 CUs of the RX 460. This change (in addition to voltage-frequency changes) instantly accounts for performance increases over the RX 460, theoretically making for a more exciting update than was had with the 580 & 570. That’s not to say that the predecessors of this 500 line were unworthy, but they certainly weren’t eye-catching for anyone who’d followed the 400-series launch.
Our review of the Sapphire RX 560 Pulse OC 4GB ($115) card is the first look at this new low-end line from AMD, updating the entry-level, sub-$120 market (in theory) with fresh competition. The incumbent would be the GTX 1050, which we previously thought a better buy than the RX 460. Today, we’re seeing how that’s changed in seven months.
To catch everyone up on the RX 500 refresh thus far, it’s mostly been a glorified BIOS update to the RX 580 and RX 570 cards, driving higher frequency, permitting higher voltage under OV, and trading more power for some performance. Nothing special, but enough to keep AMD in the game until its eventual Vega launch. We found the RX 580 to be a strong competitor to the GTX 1060, particularly at the price point, though noted that owners of RX 480 series cards shouldn’t bother considering an upgrade – because it’s not one. This 500 series is not meant for owners of the 400 series. Tune out until Vega, Volta, or high-end Pascal makes sense.
Sapphire’s RX 560 Pulse OC has one of the weakest cooling solutions we’ve seen of late, but – as we learn in our VRM+VRAM temperature testing – it’s sufficient for this type of card. A low-end GPU doesn’t draw much power, and so Sapphire skates by with its MagnaChip Semiconductor MDU1514 + MDU1517 3-phase power design.
As this content is relatively straight-forward, given the low price, let’s dive straight into testing.
The first and last of AMD’s Polaris GPUs hit the market last year, among them the RX 460 and subsequent Sapphire RX 460 Nitro 4GB, a card that underwhelmed us with unimpressive performance and an ambitious price. Just a few months later, overclocker der8auer implemented a BIOS flash to unlock additional stream processors on some RX 460 cards, bringing the count from 896 to 1024 by just flashing the card BIOS.
We recruited Libor “Buildzoid” Sadilek of Actually Hardcore Overclocking to assist in our latest coverage of AMD's RX 460 GPUs. The full review of the Sapphire RX 460 Nitro is located here, with a tear-down of the card over here. Today, we're focusing on the electrical component quality of the Sapphire RX 460 Nitro VRM, along with PCB quality in general.
The Sapphire RX 460 Nitro uses an overpowered VRM, but the cost of the end product is not necessarily offset by this. We'll see if prices stabilize as stock becomes more prevalent, though. NVidia and AMD have both been selling out of stock in short order with their new architectures.
This coverage is entirely video driven. You can find the video embedded below, but be sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel for future “specials” like this one.
Following the Sapphire RX 460 Nitro 4GB graphics card review that we posted, we decided to send the card through a tear-down, as we did with the RX 470, RX 480, GTX 1060, and GTX 1080 (links go to disassembly articles).
The RX 460 Nitro uses a custom PCB and shroud. This is a step away from the reference coolers provided by AMD for the RX 470 and RX 480 cards. The Nitro is easily dismantled, done by removing a handful of rear-side screws to release the shroud & cooler, then four more screws to release the heatsink.
Let's run through some photos and discussion of the PCB. Here's a video of the process, for more perspective:
The theoretical end of AMD's Polaris desktop GPU line has just begun shipment, and that's in the form of the RX 460. Back at the pre-Computex press event, AMD informed us that the Polaris line would primarily consist of two GPUs on the Polaris architecture – Polaris 10 & 11 – and that three cards would ship on this platform. Two of the three have already shipped and been reviewed, including the ~$240 RX 480 8GB cards (review here) and ~$180-$200 RX 470 cards (review here). The next architecture will be Vega, in a position to potentially be the first consumer GPU to use HBM2.
Today, we're looking at Polaris 11 in the RX 460. The review sample received is Sapphire's RX 460 Nitro 4GB card, pre-overclocked to 1250MHz. The RX 460, like the 470, is a “partner card,” which means that no reference model will be sold by AMD for rebrand by its partners. AMD has set the MSRP to $110 for the RX 460, but partners will vary widely depending on VRAM capacity (2GB or 4GB), cooler design, pre-overclocks, and component selection. At time of writing, we did not have a list of AIB partner prices and cards available.
As always, we'll be reviewing the Sapphire RX 460 4GB with extensive thermal testing, FPS testing in Overwatch, DOTA2, GTA V, and more, and overclock testing. Be sure to check page 1 for our new PCB analysis and cooler discussion, alongside the in-depth architecture information.
We liked the RX 470 well enough, which, for our site, is certainly considerable praise; we tend to stick just with the numbers and leave most of the decision-making to the reader, but the RX 470 did receive some additional analysis. As we stated in the review, the RX 470 makes good sense as a card priced around $180, but not more than that. That's the key point: Our entire analysis was written on the assumption of a $180 video card, presently fielded only by PowerColor and its Red Devil RX 470. Exceeding the $180 mark on a 4GB 470 immediately invalidates the card, as it enter competition with AMD's own RX 480 4GB model (see: 4GB vs. 8GB VRAM benchmark). Granted, it's still far enough away from the RX 480 8GB & GTX 1060 that the 470 may exist in some isolation. For now, anyway.
But as seems to be the trend with both nVidia and AMD for this generation of graphics cards, the RX 470 has some pricing that at times seems almost silly. Take, for instance, the $220 XFX RX 470 RS Black Edition True OC card: it's $20 more than a 4GB RX 480, it's clocked to where we overclocked on our RX 470, and it will perform about 3-5% slower in AVG FPS than the RX 480 4GB reference card. And let's not start on the seemingly irrelevant $240 8GB RX 470 Nitro+, effectively an RX 480 8GB card (even in clock-rate) with four fewer CUs, fewer TMUs (from 144 to 128), and slower memory – though it does have a better cooling solution, to Sapphire's point.
Sapphire, a Hong Kong technology company, has been making Radeon video cards for the better part of a decade. Leaked details about Sapphire’s RX 470 Platinum Edition and RX 460 have been reported by Videocardz.com, whose track record on reporting similar leaks has been generally reliable.
The leaked Sapphire RX 470 Platinum Edition photos show a cooler that looks almost identical to AMD’s RX 480 reference design. The RX 470 Platinum Edition has a silver-colored reference blower cooler and includes a custom backplate. One last difference is Sapphire’s name branding, which is printed in white on the side of the RX 470 Platinum instead of AMD’s red Radeon logo. You can read our thoughts on the RX 480 reference cooler in our review here.
Joining us for this weekend's hardware news recap is Lyndell Chase, a new host for GN's weekend news segments and forthcoming feature videos. We couldn't have picked a more news-packed week to introduce a new co-host: AMD launched the R9 380X (reviewed), nVidia posted a Pascal update and virtual reality push, overvolting support was added for the Fury GPUs, and AC Syndicate / Battlefront launched.
The R9 380X was clearly the biggest news item of the week, something we spent a considerable amount of hours testing and reviewing. We remarked that the R9 380X would be a good buy at its price-point, proving a direct challenge to nVidia's GTX 960 mainstay. The rest of the news – Pascal especially – is all worth paying attention to, even if it's a little way out.
Here's the video recap!
AMD's most recent video card launch was September of 2014, introducing the R9 285 ($243) on the slightly updated Tonga GPU. Tonga was laterally imposed to take the place of the Tahiti products, namely the HD 7970 and its refresh, the R9 280. The Radeon 7970 video card shipped in late 2011 on the Tahiti GPU, a die using TSMC's still-fabbed 28nm process, and was refreshed as the R9 280, then updated, improved, and refreshed again as the Tonga-equipped R9 285. At its core, the 285 would offer effectively identical on-paper specs (with some changes, like a 256-bit memory bus against the 384-bit predecessor), but introduced a suite of optimization that yielded marginally improved performance over the R9 280.
All of this is to say that it's been a number of years since AMD has introduced truly new architecture. Tahiti's been around four years now, Hawaii shipped in 2013 and was a node refresh of Tahiti (more CUs, ROPs, and geometry / rasterizer processors), and Fiji – the anticipated new GPU – won't ship for a short bit longer. Filling that space is another refresher line, the Radeon 300 series of video cards.
AMD's lull in technological advancement on the hardware side has allowed competitor nVidia to increase competition in some unchallenged market segments, like the high-end with the GTX 980 Ti ($650) and mid-range with the GTX 960 ($200). The long-awaited R9 300 series video cards have finally arrived, though, and while they aren't hosting new GPUs or deploying a smaller fab process, the cards do offer marginally increased clockrates and other small changes.
This review benchmarks the AMD R9 390 and AMD R9 380 graphics cards against the preceding R9 280, R9 290(X), GTX 960, and other devices. The R7 370 and R7 360 also launch today, but won't be reviewed here.
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