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AMD’s RX 470 debuts with excellent performance below the $200 GPU price point

Today, AMD formally launched its new RX 470, the slimmed-down little brother of the larger RX 480. Debuting at $179, the new GPU offers much of the performance of the RX 480 in a cheaper package. Reviews have come in from a number of sites with generally positive results, though there’s an interesting discrepancy I want to touch on.

First, the big-picture takeaway. The RX 470 is a 2,048:128:32 GPU configuration (that’s cores, texture units, and ROPs). It’s a modest step down from the RX 480’s 2,304:144:32 configuration, and the GPUs base and top frequencies have been trimmed as well, down to 926MHz and 1206MHz as compared with 1120MHz and 1266MHz respectively.

With 4GB of VRAM and an updated Polaris-class core, the RX 470 makes short work of AMD’s previous GPUs in this space as well as the Maxwell-based competition. It’s up to 2x faster than the GTX 960 in DirectX 12 and Vulkan, and maintains a healthy lead against Nvidia’s GPU in every case — even Project Cars, which tends to favor Nvidia. AMD’s GPUs in this price band were typically anchored by old, GCN 1.0 cards, which means RX 470 compares even better against them.

With that said, there’s some indication that which version of the RX 470 you buy could matter quite a bit. Most of the reviews out today are on the Asus Strix RX 470; AMD didn’t distribute its own reference cards for this review. THG’s investigation of that card found its performance to be in-line with expectations, but its $200 list price is extremely close to the RX 480. The Asus card also has some issues with hot spot formation on the board rather than on the GPU.

The voltage regulators are packed tightly and not cooled well and are almost certainly operating out of spec. AMD took heat for the reference design it fielded with RX 480, but this is Asus’ own custom PCB and design — not AMD’s. The GPU’s frequency bounces around a good deal and rarely hits the 1270MHz Asus officially rates it for, instead topping out around 1150MHz. Asus also limits their card to a six-pin power connector, while at least one company, MSI, shipped an eight-pin version.

There’s some early indication that either the additional power or better GPU cooling may have had an impact on comparison results. Eurogamer also reviewed the RX 470, but they used an MSI GPU with an eight-pin power connector. Even at stock frequencies, the gap they measured between the RX 470 and the RX 480 was significantly smaller than what Tom’s Hardware, Hot Hardware, Legit Reviews, and PC World all recorded. (HH, ET, and THG all received the Asus Strix GPU, Legit Reviews and PC World got an XFX variant, and Eurogamer has the only MSI review we’ve seen so far).

The table below summarizes the performance delta between the RX 480 and RX 470 as measured by Eurogamer and Tom’s Hardware Guide. All of the tests in question appear to have been run with the same detail levels and resolution (1080p) at both sites, and with the same API where applicable.

This gap, and the substantial variance in AIB board pricing, seems to explain why different sites have significantly different opinions on the RX 470 itself. Eurogamer’s review claims that the RX 470 can offer 95%+ of the performance of the RX 480, PC World declared that the RX 470 is a “Great graphics card with a terrible price.” (the XFX RX 470 RS Black Edition that PC World reviewed has a $220 list price).

Before the RX 470 formally launched, word on the street was that the GPU would launch at $100 and $150. You’ll find these numbers widely mentioned online and they were part of our own reporting on the topic.

In retrospect, it’s not clear where this information came from. It’s not included in any formal deck that AMD sent to ExtremeTech, despite having been widely reported online last week. The $179 target price for the RX 470 (AMD calls this an SEP, or Suggested E-tail price) was only formalized a few days before reviews went up.

Whether or not the $179 SEP makes sense depends on whether your benchmark results look more like Eurogamer’s or more like THG’s. An RX 470 that offers 95% of RX 480 performance in a smaller power envelope and for $20 less is a winning deal; an RX 470 at 85% of RX 480 performance and $20 less isn’t as compelling. We’re investigating the situation and will report back once more information is available.

AMD’s successful RX 480 launch was tempered by Nvidia’s decision to return fire with the GTX 1060 (albeit at a higher price point) and the power issues that initially hit the reference cards. Neither is an issue here. While there are some questions about specific GPU models, all reviews are in agreement — the RX 470 is a huge performance upgrade over any Nvidia or AMD GPU competing in this price band. The only exception is the RX 480, and that GPU launched just last month.

While there are some questions about just how much performance the RX 470 “should” offer compared with the RX 480, the general shape of the comparison is clear. At $179, the RX 470’s price/performance ratio is at least scaled well against the RX 480. The GPU that costs slightly more also performs slightly better. No problem there. Some RX 470 SKUs may be slightly better deals than others, but there’s no bad results to speak of. The only question is, will the RX 470 and RX 480’s prices settle back down and move towards where they ought to be?

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