And lo on the 18th day of the fourth month, verily did AMD wheel out its latest but not necessarily greatest new graphics cards. I give you the new AMD Radeon RX 580, 570, 560 and 550 – precision engineered to smite the evil Nvidia. Except they’re not really new. Instead, they’re basically dirty old re-badges of existing graphics cards. That doesn’t automatically mean they’re not of interest. But it does mean we’ll have to wait a little longer for something really revolutionary from AMD.
In all candour, you can gauge the novelty of AMD’s new boards by the fact that I haven’t made great efforts to bag one for some hands-on action. There’s not really any point. That’s because they are for the most part only very slightly tweaked versions of the existing Radeon RX 400 family.
Take the new Radeon RX 580. It has exactly the same number of those pixel-prettifying stream processor thingies (precisely 2,304) as well as texture units (144) and render outputs (32) as the old RX 480. Not a huge surprise given they’re both based on the same 14nm AMD Polaris 10 graphics chip. The new RX 580 doesn’t even have faster graphics memory.
Ye olde RX 480, yesterday
What is does get is a slightly faster core clockspeed. The baseclock jump looks reasonably impressive, leaping from 1,120MHz to 1,257MHz. But it’s actually the Boost clock that these things usually run at in games and that has only ticked up from 1,266MHz to 1,340MHz. Yes, that’s six per cent faster, which is the most you can hope for in terms of a performance uptick. In reality, given the memory speed has remained static, you’ll be lucky to get even that.
Indeed, such is the similarity between the two cards that it’s said people are flashing the video bios on RX 480 boards to ‘turn’ them into RX 580s. This, of course, isn’t necessarily a good idea. Firstly, that’s because a standard RX 480 has only a single six-pin supplementary power connector and was already bumping up against the power spec of the PCI-E x16 slot. Ramping up the power consumption could put both your video card and motherboard at risk.
The 580’s higher clocks also make for much higher operating temps on the video board itself. That goes for not only the graphics chips but also the components that regulate the chip’s power supply, known as VRMs. Again, running a board not designed for those hotter temps may end in tears. That said, the fact the video bios update is possible and the board will reportedly function for a time, at least, emphasises just how closely related this new RX 500 family is to the old RX 400 boards.
Single power connector possibly problematic when hacking your 480 into a 580
Anyway, the RX 570 has a similar relationship with the old RX 470, albeit the 570 does get a very small memory clock boost, to boot. Where things get a tiny bit more interesting is the RX 560.
That’s based on the smaller AMD Polaris 11 GPU. As it happens, AMD never shipped a fully enabled version of that chip for the old RX 460. That’s allowed AMD to fully switch on Polaris 11 for the RX 560 and thus the stream processor count jumps from 896 to 1,024. It also gets slightly faster clocks, all of which adds up to (at a guess) 15 per cent or so additional performance – potentially significant in an entry-level card.
The final part of the puzzle is pricing. By the official numbers, the RX 580 and RX 570 are about 10 bucks cheaper at $229 and $169 than the 480 and 470 were at launch last summer. Again, the 560 looks like the most compelling proposition with a $20 price drop to $99. Pu a ‘£’ sign in front of those numbers for UK prices.
That said, I really wasn’t wild about the old RX 460 and honestly I can’t see this revised 560 board changing that. Save up for the 570 if at all possible, is my advice.
The old 460 was a bit of a bummer, the new 560 might be better
In the meantime, we’re left waiting and wondering about AMD’s increasingly fabled Vega graphics chips, which is a properly new family of GPUs which should include a really high performance version as well as generally improving AMD’s graphics performance at ever price point.
Vega is now late enough for legitimate questions to be pondered regards its health. I imagine the mostly likely candidate for the delay will be production problems at Global Foundries. That’s the chip production outfit that used to be part of AMD itself.
GloFo has only recently started to produce PC graphics chips as opposed to CPUs, and the high-end Vega GPU will be a much bigger chip than it is accustomed to making. Maybe it’s having problems producing enough working chips or getting the clock speeds up. Whatever, at this point I’m losing faith that AMD will pull the wraps off a new Vega GPU that can beat everything Nvidia currently offers.
Not that many of us will care about giving the likes of the Nvidia Titan Xp a bloody nose. If Vega is good enough to force prices down at the Nvidia GTX 1070 and 1080 level, that’ll be fine by me. As ever, we are all rather reliant on AMD keeping both Nvidia and Intel honest. So fingers crossed for Vega – it should finally appear in the next few months.