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AMD announces new Radeon RX 480: VR-ready, at a budget price

After months of speculation, AMD finally revealed its own next-generation GPU at Computex 2016 this week. The new RX 480 is a midrange card that AMD claims will deliver dramatic performance improvements in VR and 3D gaming. It’s all part of AMD’s overall strategy to reduce the cost of buying into the VR ecosystem, while improving their competitive positioning against Nvidia’s midrange products.

The RX 480, which will ship on June 29, is a 14nm GPU built at GlobalFoundries. It’s a fourth-generation GCN card based on the Polaris 10 architecture. The RX480 will pack 2,304 GCN cores, which works out to 36 compute units. Its boost clock is above 1.08GHz and it’s backed by a 256-bit memory bus and either 4GB or 8GB of GDDR5 depending on the SKU. Board power is 150W and the launch price is $199. Anandtech estimates a clock range between 1.08GHz and 1.3GHz to achieve AMD’s stated >5TFLOPS metric.

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The R9 380X is the toughest competition AMD has at the $199 price point (most of the GPUs in this bracket are R9 380s, but PowerColor has an R9 380X priced at $199). The R9 380X is a 2048:120:32 design (cores, texture units, and ROPS respectively) backed up by 182GB/s of memory bandwidth. We don’t know how many TMUs or ROPS the RX 480 will have, but memory bandwidth should be much higher, at 256GB/s (the RX 480 has 8Gbps GDDR5 memory and a 256-bit memory bus).

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One persistent rumor we’ve heard is that AMD’s Polaris desktop GPUs would match or beat the R9 390’s performance at roughly half the TDP. That seems quite achievable based on the RX 480’s core count (2,304 versus 2,560 on the R9 390), likely higher clock speed, improved efficiency, and memory compression improvements that were introduced in GCN 1.2 and likely further improved with Polaris’ fourth-generation GCN architecture. Overall performance will likely beat the R9 390 and approach the R9 390X, but at a much lower price (the cheapest R9 390X is currently $299 at Newegg) and vastly better power consumption.

There are some questions about total GPU efficiency since the RX 450 is rated for 150W, but doesn’t seem to offer as much performance as the GTX 1070, which also carries a 150W TDP — but a board’s TDP rating isn’t always an accurate illustration of its average power consumption. Historically, AMD’s TDP ratings have tended to refer to the maximum power a design could draw rather than a real-world metric of how much power they typically consume. We’ll have to wait and test the GPU before we can say much about its power efficiency compared to other AMD GPUs or Nvidia products.

Like Nvidia, AMD is heavily talking up Polaris’ performance improvements in VR, though the company hasn’t unveiled details on this topic yet. AMD claims that its new $200 GPU can match the performance of $500 GPUs from the previous generations in VR, and the company’s aggressive pricing should give it a very strong foothold in the midrange market. Currently, Nvidia’s $199 GPU would be the GTX 960. Anandtech’s Bench allows us to compare different GPUs against each other, and while there’s no entry for the R9 290 in last years’ database, we can compare the R9 390 against the GTX 960:

This is just a sample from the total comparison; you can view the two cards head-to-head by clicking the link above. If AMD can deliver R9 390 performance in a $199 GPU, it’s going to have an enormous edge over the GTX 960. Obviously Nvidia will have a GTX 1060 at some point, but AMD wants to stake out a strong position in this space, and it looks like they’ve got a potent GPU to do it with.

We’ll have more details and actual performance numbers on July 29. Stay tuned.

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