It hasn’t been long since AMD first announced the Polaris family, starting with the Radeon RX 480. Polaris is the latest iteration of AMD’s Graphics Core Next architecture, and officially it’s the company’s fourth generation of their initial design. I’ve covered a lot of what makes Polaris interesting previously, but in a nutshell this is both an architectural rework as well as a die shrink. In traditional AMD fashion it’s not exactly on par with what NVIDIA pushes out, at least from a performance-per-watt standpoint, but Polaris certainly packs a mean punch for the price, and more than pulls its weight when it comes to open-source support under Linux. Today, AMD announced two newcomers to the Polaris family, both of which are set to grab them a lot of market share. Let’s meet the Radeon RX 470 and RX 460, shall we?
First, let’s talk about availability. This year’s GPU launch season is more or less a disaster for anyone not using Google Alerts or something like NowInStock.com overseas, because cards have been released in limited quantities and, rather unfortunately, there are a lot of people who want a new GPU that’s made for next-generation gaming. As of this writing, the RX 480 is not in stock anywhere. Some distributors have revealed to me that they don’t see stock coming in regularly because it’s snapped up so quickly. I know quite a few Ethereum miners locally scooped up a few RX 480 cards for mining purposes, and overseas it’s a slightly bigger problem, big enough to make retailers like Newegg and Amazon institute a two-card-per-person rule.
With expected availability on 4 August, the Radeon RX 470 might suffer the same fate as its larger sibling, that of being scooped up for mining purposes rather than gaming use. For AMD that’s a good thing because they’re still selling lots of cards, but for us gamers it’s not so great. The hope is that the RX 470 is available in large enough quantities to offset this, and at the expected price of $150, it’s definitely going to be on just about everyone’s wishlists.
The RX 460 is the smaller sibling catered to casual gamers and anyone who doesn’t really play AAA titles, but chooses to spend more time in eSports titles or older games. It is based on Polaris 11, a completely different chip to Polaris 10, and it was actually the first design that AMD signed off on. The numbering is counter-intuitive, for sure, but Polaris 11 came first and was AMD’s focus for the desktop and for mobile, while Polaris 10 targeted a different performance point and much more strenuous workloads. With expected availability on 8 August and a $99 recommended price, it’s going to sell like hotcakes, especially if you’re coming from a much older Radeon HD 7750, HD 7770, or R7 250/250E graphics card.
Taking a different approach compared to the RX 480 launch, an estimated 90% of cards available on launch day will not feature the reference cooler. It’s possible that some partners will ship cards with the reference cooler, but it’s not mandated by AMD this time around, which means that most of the stock on shelves will be custom designs. I’m not sure why this was the case with the RX 480, especially given that blower coolers aren’t always as efficient as aftermarket designs, but I’m happy that this launch is taking what I, and many others, perceive to be the better approach.
The Radeon RX 470 is probably going to be the one most people buy. Promising GeForce GTX 970-levels of performance for $150, it’s great value for money, and it isn’t too far behind the RX 480 either. We’ll probably see aftermarket RX 470 cards catch up to the reference RX 480 cards once overclocked, which would be pretty interesting. Some of the performance differences are down to having less compute units and a lower clock speed, but there’s also a memory bottleneck. 6.6GHz GDDR5 memory isn’t that fast, to be honest, and I forsee some limitations on that front when it comes to overclocks. We might find that vendors attach memory that is capable of 7.0GHz speeds, which would be nice.
Like RX 480, the RX 470 is a 256-bit card that ships with 4GB of GDDR5 VRAM in its default configuration. It draws its power from a single 6-pin power connector, although AMD assured me that 8-pin powered models would be available if their board partners choose to go that route. While the onus is on them to accommodate the TDP limits in whatever way they choose, I don’t think we’ll ever see 8GB versions.
Performance is quite good and about what I’d expected from a $150 card in the Polaris family, at least according to AMD’s supplied early benchmarks. Compared to the Radeon R9 270 (a higher-clocked version of my R7 265), the RX 470 can be as much as 2.4x ahead in the benchmarks of popular games like DOOM or Hitman. That’s better than Crossfire scaling from two R9 270 cards in the best scenario, for a TDP that is almost one third that of the dual-card configuration. The RX 480 was impressive when framed in the right context following the power supply draw fixes, but the RX 470 is great value no matter which way you slice it.
When it comes to the RX 460, things get more interesting. This is a low-power card designed to slip into any chassis and on any motherboard with at least a 250W power supply attached (preferably one that isn’t in danger of exploding soon). It replaces the Radeon R7 260X, an older card based on Bonaire that was pretty advanced at the time – it was the cheapest FreeSync-compatible GPU AMD had to offer, and it included niceties like TrueAudio and XDMA Crossfire. The RX 460 does all that and more, and generally does it 20% faster to boot.
Interestingly, as a FreeSync-compatible GPU, the RX 460 may also find a place in a system hooked up to a 120Hz or 144Hz monitor, because all of the scores for the games tested are well within the typical supported refresh window for this kind of card.
There’s also one other nice thing about this card: single-slot cooling! AMD didn’t talk much about the RX 460’s reference design because most partners won’t be rolling one out, but the reference cooler is shorter than two PCI slots stacked together, and is quite slim for most applications. I imagine that there’s a good chance we see a passively cooled version that’s also single-slot, as well as an actual single-slot blower design that would be suitable for HTPC use.
Consumers haven’t been treated to such a product in a very long time, and I think it’s time AMD lets their partners go crazy with the RX 460’s design. I mean, GTA V at 1080p with high settings is not an easy task, and yet somehow it manages to pull over 70 frames per second in the benchmark! This GPU, paired up with a decent quad-core AMD or Intel CPU, could become the backbone of many “console killer” self-built gaming towers. However, it doesn’t end there. Because the RX 460 has a very, very small die, and because it consumes less than 75W of power on average when properly configured, it’s also suitable for notebook duty.
That’s right, this GPU along with the rest of the Polaris 11 lineup will go into products like gaming laptops and professional notebooks that need good 3D acceleration capabilities. And, here’s the kicker – it’s the exact same chip inside the mobile products, with some reductions in clock speed and memory bandwidth. That changes things quite a bit for AMD. For the last few years NVIDIA has ruled the roost when it comes to notebook parts, and while AMD has had decent parts available, most of the time they were hooked up to APUs instead of Intel processors. If you currently want something decent and portable, most of the cheap systems you’ll find online ship with a Core i5 quad-core and a GeForce GTX 950.
Future products will ship with the RX 460 and GDDR5 memory, so there also won’t be the DDR3 issue where some cards come with the cheaper memory to save a few dollars from the bill of materials. AMD says that the reason for not chopping any parts from the chip is because they want their branding on the desktop and mobile lines to be mostly identical. Up to a point it’ll be the same, and you can expect more or less the same performance as well. From a consumer standpoint, this is actually quite a positive change – if you have an RX 460 in your desktop, for example, and you’re not too savvy about all the different variations of the GeForce GTX 960M/965M family, you can just pick up a notebook with an RX 460 GPU inside and it’ll behave mostly in an identical way.
So yes, there’s plans for a future RX 470 and RX 480 mobile part that either comes soldered into a motherboard or added in via an MXM upgrade slot.
And with that, this slide’s importance cannot be understated. To date, NVIDIA has not talked about or revealed any mobile GeForce Pascal parts. Everything for now is still Maxwell-based, which is a point I raised in my write-up about the HP Omen 2016 update, where their new Omen gaming laptop shipped with Maxwell-based GeForce GPUs. That misses out on all the cool stuff NVIDIA’s doing for Pascal, and it also misses out on the low-level optimisations for Direct3D 12 and Vulkan games. DOOM with the Vulkan renderer on the mobile RX 460, I expect, should be easily capable of 60fps at 1080p on high settings without needing to touch the resolution scaling settings. That’s something the GTX 960M probably won’t be doing for a while, if ever.
That’s a wrap on the latest additions to AMD’s Polaris family. Pricing for the Radeon RX 470 and RX 460 hasn’t been determined yet, but the expectation is that the cards will be priced at $150 and $100 respectively. At $150, the RX 470 offers GTX 970-like performance for a very low price, and can go faster still. At $100, the RX 460 is a no-brainer replacement for anyone still running a Radeon HD 7770 or R7 250E and wanting to get on the FreeSync hypetrain. Both cards are definitely going to gain AMD some much-needed market share, but they have to be kept in stock for much longer to be able to make any meaningful dents to the current numbers before Steam’s next hardware and software survey.
The Radeon RX 470 launches globally on 4 August 2016, and the RX 460 follows shortly after on 8 August. Reviews are expected to be going up at the same time, just like the RX 480 launch, and stock should be available locally on that day in limited quantities.