Articles

AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire Review

Author:Brent Justice

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Monday , July 11, 2016

We were lucky enough to get our hands on two AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB video cards last week. We configured these in CrossFire to find out if $480 of brand new AMD GPUs can beat NVIDIA's new $700 GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition, just like Raja Koduri suggested to enthusiasts from Computex. And we throw in GeForce GTX 1070 too.
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Performance Summary 1440p

We can say for certain that adding a second AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB video card does allow games to be playable at 1440p with nearly the highest settings, and in some cases the highest game IQ settings.

In our initial review of AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB we found that for the most part the AMD Radeon RX 480 felt better positioned in the 1080p gaming space. Single card RX 480 performance allowed the highest IQ level of 1080p gaming. However, at 1440p it struggled and we had to sacrifice a lot of gameplay IQ settings.

With two AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB video cards in CrossFire the 1440p gaming space now becomes playable. We are able to maximize the in-game IQ settings of most current games. However, there still are some games that give AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire a challenge. If current games are challenging AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire as such, what will future games that are even more demanding ask of it? Will AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire be able to handle those well at 1440p? That is of course the question.

It is possible that native DX12 games might help improve performance on AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB in CrossFire or multi-GPU configurations when game developers program for mGPU specifically with the new API. That has yet to be seen how much scaling or performance impact we will see, but there is the potential for it. Right now though, you can count DX12 CrossFire support out. CrossFire isn't something you want to shoot for if you plan on playing a lot of DX12 games. The support just isn't there. For DX12's new multi-GPU support, application level development has to occur to support it.

Moving on to 4K performance, the gameplay experience just gets worse for the AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire. Save for Tomb Raider most other games did not fare well at 4K showing severe weakness in Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire. It's not the 8GB part that is keeping 4K performance low, if we were to generate an educated guess, we would start pointing our fingers toward the lack of appropriate ROPs for such a high resolution. The rasterization power just isn't there for what 4K demands.

We would not recommend AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire for gaming at 4K. The performance degradation combined with the poor frametimes equals a bad experience at 4K.

Many of our readers have asked for frametime gaming data, and this being a CrossFire review, we wanted to include this data. Keep in mind that when we determined our best playable settings, that we found our gaming experience to be acceptable in terms of frametime or smoothness of play. Some gamers are more sensitive to frametime smoothness than others, so it is up to you to judge whether or not the frametime data is of value.

The frametime data currently does not look too good on AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire. We do have to remember that drivers are early, and so is CrossFire support on the new GPU. It is possible over time and several driver releases frametimes will improve on the new architecture. However, as it is currently, there is a lot of room for improvement. We thought the "Frame Pacing" feature was supposed to automatically take care of this issue, but it doesn't appear to be.

The GeForce GTX 1080 Equation

AMD made a bold claim during the live webcast of its Polaris introduction. We were shown two AMD Radeon RX 480 video cards comparing to, or even performing better, than a single GeForce GTX 1080. This comparison was live broadcast to all, and has been a common point of comparison for AMD. After all, if it really could deliver GeForce GTX 1080 performance for only $450-$480 then it would provide the same performance at a much cheaper price than NVIDIA is offering. It sounds good on paper, and would be, if it were true.

There are instances that AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire did allow the same gameplay experience and performance as GeForce GTX 1080. It is also true that there were more instances where GeForce GTX 1080 still outperformed RX 480 CrossFire as well. So it is really a tossup. It depends on the game you are playing, some games it may be equal, in others the GTX 1080 may give it an embarrassing blow.

Using 60% more power than GTX 1080, the performance benefit doesn't seem to be there in regards to AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire. 60% more system power required for performance that may at times equal the GeForce GTX 1080, but other times may not, is not a good value at all.

Yes, AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire costs less than GeForce GTX 1080, a whole lot less, and compares closer to GeForce GTX 1070 on price. AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire may be a good value compared to GeForce GTX 1070, offering more performance, for a somewhat equivalent price. That is where it seems to fit best. Compared to GeForce GTX 1080 though, the GTX 1080 is more consistent in every way, performance and frametime offering a smoother experience, literally.


The Bottom Line

AMD RX 480 CrossFire is much less expensive and if you are concentrated on price, then RX 480 CrossFire is a win compared to both GTX 1080 and GTX 1070. Hands down that cannot be argued! But there are caveats that go along with that value.

AMD RX 480 runs hotter and consumes a lot more power than GTX 1080 and GTX 1070, 60% more and 87% more respectively. Then only sometimes equals or bests GeForce GTX 1080 performance. RX 480 CrossFire did consistently outperform GTX 1070 however. There are many gaming situations that GeForce GTX 1080 still offers more performance, and it certainly offers better frametime consistency than CrossFire if you are sensitive to that.

The main problem with AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire is the CrossFire part. CrossFire, and SLI for that matter, have always been a stop-gap solution for better gaming performance. You never get 100% efficiency scaling and frametime consistency suffers making games laggy, choppy, stutter if IQ is pushed too hard overall. Then there is the support for CrossFire and SLI itself in games, something AMD has not been very good at in recent games. Today we saw Hitman using DX12 crash repeatedly and was not playable using CrossFire, however it was playable in DX11. Multi-GPU support moving forward using DX12 is going to be a new ordeal as mGPU performance is handed off to the game developer rather than the AMD or NVIDIA when it comes to building the driver. OpenGL and Vulkan APIs are a bit shaky too when it comes to mGPU usages going forward. Here is what AMD had to say to us about this recently when we were asking about mGPU support in DOOM.

I don’t believe there are plans to have mGPU enabled in OGL path for DOOM, and the Vulkan guys haven’t figured out what mGPU looks like yet.

Understand please that as games move to the newer APIs, the mGPU work has to be done by the developers, it’s not in the driver anymoreآ…

So while many have seen DX12 and mGPU / EMA (Explicit Multi Adapter) support as being a good thing, it may very well end up being just the opposite as AMD and NVIDIA are losing control of mGPU implementation in games. AMD's RX 480 saviour may in fact be newer DX12 games, but hanging its hat on mGPU usage to compare to its competition's new generation of GPU seems to be a futile comparison at best since it has no control over whether mGPU is implemented or not in games. Quite frankly, looking forward in terms of gaming, it is extremely hard to suggest that anyone move to multi-GPU configuration currently with either AMD or NVIDIA cards. Certainly AMD and NVIDIA are going to be using their influence to get support for mGPU/EMA in upcoming DX12 games.

AMD's Robert Hallock pointed this out as well.

"A little realism is important, and it’s worth pointing out that developers must choose to adopt these features for their next-generation PC games. Not every feature will be used simultaneously, or immediately in the lifetime of DirectXآ® 12. Certainly DirectXآ® 11 still has a long life ahead of it with developers that don’t need or want the supreme control of 12."

The performance claims for AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB CrossFire seem inflated or exaggerated compared to GeForce GTX 1080 when it comes to real world gaming with current Triple A titles. Perhaps we were shown a current best case scenario with Ashes of the Singularity, which we still think the enthusiast world sees more as a benchmark than an actual game. That said, AotS is a great demo for what can be done in DX12, we just don't know how much will be done, and we are going to have to take this on a game-by-game basis. We have seen mGPU/EMA support using Unreal Engine which is very promising.

Discussion

Editor's Note: We are looking to add a couple of new DX12 titles to our gaming suite at the suggestion of AMD and will be moving forward with that certainly.