I bought my first GU (graphics processing unit) back in 2012 when I built my first computer. It was an EVGA GTX 550Ti, not exactly an illustrious piece of hardware. It was (and still is!) a reliable card that I use in my desktop computer. It plays some light games fairly well, but it was time for a major upgrade. That’s why, when I was looking into building my home theater PC, I wanted to invest in a GPU that would not only knock games out of the park but also last me as long as my venerable 550Ti did.
I started looking for a card at a weird time, in between generations. The next big die shrink was on the horizon, 28nm having lasted three generations (four if you count some mobline Fermi-based parts made by Nvidia) and it was definitely time for a change. Nvidia set it;s sight on 16nm while AMD went for 14nm. Having seen Nvidia’s direction over the past several years (you need an account on their website to get drivers now, really guys?) and wanting to get more bang for my buck, I decided to try AMD this time around. The new cards wouldn’t come out for about another six months, so I settled in for a long wait.
The RX 480 finally came out on June 29th and I ordered one of the reference models. For those who don’t know, the reference model is the “basic” one released directly by AMD to its partners. I did this on purpose because while reference models get a bad rap for having blower coolers and worse circuit boards than the aftermarket versions, I actually specifically wanted one for the blower cooler. I was putting the card in my HTPC, which has a very small case. Blower-style coolers push all of the heat (and GPUs generate a lot of it) generated by the card out the back of the case, as opposed to aftermarket coolers which typically push the hot air into the case to be removed by other case fans. That’s not an option when your case is as small as mine, so I wanted to get rid of all rather than leaving it trapped inside. I hadn’t made this sort of purchase since buying the 550Ti in 2012, so I was pretty excited.
I had a few hiccups installing the drivers, but that’s pretty much par for the course when getting a graphics card. I was most excited to play Fallout 4 – I never had a card capable of rendering it before!
Fallout 4 plays beautifully on ultra settings. There are some texture glitches, including one where textures are replaced by a strange rainbow pattern, but after researching them I found that they aren’t linked to any one graphics card but seem to be a problem with the game code. I tried several other games, including State of Decay (not exactly graphics-intensive but I love that game) and The Witcher 2. All of them palyed extremely well.
Steam In-Home Streaming also works well on the RX 480. Thanks to encoding hardware built into the chip itself, the RX 480 streams with little to no impact on game performance (Valve recently fixed In-Home Streaming to take full advantage of this) which is pretty cool. I plan on using this feature more in the future.
The Radeon Wattman software for overclocking is nice, but I haven’t been able to get a good and stable overclock using it yet. I’m not very experienced with overclocking so it’s still somehwat confusing to me, but it worked pretty well in my experiments despite the crashing.
Overall, the RX 480 is a great value. I want to try some more intense games and see how it handles those, I expect it would be able to play them on high if not ultra settings. It should age well considering that AMD is more optimized for the new game APIs coming out like DirectX 12. I’m very happy with my purchase!
Have your own experience with the RX 480 or another card from this hardware generation? Talk about it in the comments below!