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AMD Radeon RX 460 review: A bargain or just bad?

Mostly awful, but I enjoyed the slug balancer

Multi-bazillion-transistor behemoths like Nvidia's Titan or the AMD Radeon R9 Fury are all well and good, but it's rare when you meet someone who actually bought one in the wild. ut the stats suggest hardly any of us actually buy them. Very few, if the latest Steam surveys are anything to do by, with not a single Titan showing up in the list. That said, even Nvidia's mid-range GTX 1070 card is only used by 1.93% of Steam gamers these days, and that's after a year on sale. Indeed, the second most popular GPU after Nvidia's last-gen GTX 960 is its old budget board, the GTX 750Ti, proving that cheaper cards are still by and large the most popular choice among the majority of gamers.

AMD's RX 460 is yet another attempt to capture that end of the market, but since we first looked at it a year ago, AMD's gone and updated it with a slightly newer variant, the RX 560. You can still buy an RX 460 if you scout around - Scan still sell the 2GB version for around £100 - but it's the RX 560 that should be your prime consideration. They're both based on the same GPU, but the RX 560 has a slightly higher clock speed, giving it a small boost to performance. We haven't looked at the RX 560 in detail just yet, but you can still get a pretty good idea about what to expect based on our following thoughts about the RX 460. Aspirational it ain't, but could this entry-level board make for good-enough gaming graphics? There's only one way to find out.

I've already detailed the speeds and feeds here, along with its arch nemesis from Nvidia, the GTX 1050. But the relevant cut-and-paste passage goes like this: “The 460 packs 896 of AMD’s Polaris-spec shaders for making pretty pixels and 16 render outputs for spewing them in the vague direction of your monitor. It also has a modest 128-bit memory bus and clocks up to about 1,200MHz. Price-wise the 460 clocks in at $109 for the 2GB version and $119 for the 4GB effort. Following the recent fire sale on the pound, those numbers in old money are if anything a tick or too higher. Yippee. Anyway, to put that into context, that’s well under half the 2,304-strong army of shaders provided by the Radeon RX 480 and precisely half the memory bus with and render output count. The 460 is also clocked a little slower than the 480’s 1,266MHz boost frequency. Oh and its texture unit count of 56 looks pretty pitiful compared to the 480’s 144 textures.”

Incidentally, those dollar prices translate into a starting price in the UK of around £95. The specific board I have in hand is the XFX Radeon RX 460 Core Edition in 2GB trim. It clocks in at around £110 in the UK.

So, what's it actually like to game with? At this stage I normally weave an intricate analytical web that gradually but inexorably coalesces into a coherent image of gaming experience on offer. Or I at least allow for a little suspense. And to be absolutely clear, my hopes were actually pretty high. I hadn't taken much notice of 460 reviews coming in and arrived with a fairly open mind.

But there's no getting round it: this card stinks. No doubt being the 2GB as opposed to the 4GB version doesn't help, but I very much doubt doubling the memory will fully rectify the 460's awful performance.

Things got off to an inauspicious start when my test PC hung catastrophically during the driver install and rebooted with a disk error. Nice. Unfortunately, that's not entirely an unusual experience when it comes to firing up AMD boards for the first time. If you have an occupational sideline in playing with these things you learn to dread the initial install process with AMD boards. It probably isn't actually all that often that it ends in disaster but I've had the dreaded black screen that can only be resolved with a full re-install on more than one occasion.

In this case, my installation wasn't actually nuked but it was hardly smooth sailing. Whatever, the usual Steam borkery eventually surmounted, I kicked off with Doom thinking it would be a nice showcase of what's possible with a budget board. The Vulkan codepath has absolutely flown on everything else I've tried.

But not the 460. I jumped straight to 1080p resolution at Ultra settings and the performance was so appalling, it was a job of work to get the mouse pointer across the screen to access the settings. Eventually I managed to knock everything down to medium in the global options and disable anti-aliasing entirely. Even then, it's barely playable and a glance up at the frame counter reveals frame rates below 20 most of the time. Nasty.

What is the point of Doom if not top-notch visuals? Which you can't have with the RX460...

Into Witcher 3 and things are a little better. It's sort of playable in a hideous, laggy, jerky manner of speaking at fairly high details. Crushing everything to medium makes for moderately smooth frame rates and fairly pleasing visuals. But you're still right on the edge of playability with no margin in hand.

Shadow of Mordor, meanwhile, is a similar story. Tolerably playable settings at 1080p are achievable, but there's not a lot of joy in the look or feel of the game. Firing up Total War: Attila didn't salvage the situation either. The result was a low graphics memory warning and an automatic default to lower texture details.

Not that this delivers anything close to smooth gameplay, regardless of where you put the camera. Bumping the global settings slider across to roughly medium quality settings results in reasonable playability, but at the cost of the bulk of Attila's vituperative visual appeal.

All of which makes the 460 a thoroughly unappealing proposition, certainly in 2GB trim. Expectations need to be kept in check at this price point to be sure. But there's affordability and then there are false economies and the 460 falls decisively into the latter camp. It's just not a graphics card that makes any sense as a purchase for gaming.

The single-port power connector helps with compatibility. If you cared. Which you really shouldn't

In short, it's really disappointing to find that after what amounts to a double-node jump in terms of chip production technology with this generation of GPU, this is not only the best AMD can do at this price point but that AMD thinks the 460 is fit for purpose. It's not, albeit with the aforementioned caveat that the 4GB version might rectify things to at least some degree.

Admittedly, graphics card prices have spiked painfully recently. But if £100 is your limit, the second hand market would be a much better way to spend your money than this awful, sluggish waste of silicon. I wouldn't lick it were it glazed in honey.

Instead, I'd recommend spending the extra money and getting something like Nvidia's GTX 1050Ti. This is a much more competent card for 1080p gaming thanks to having an extra 2GB of RAM to take it up to 4GB, and the cheapest version we could find goes for just £135 these days, making it a much better use of your hard-earned cash than AMD's effort.

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Jeremy Laird