While gorgeous games grab the biggest headlines, the games that draw massive crowds and televised tournaments run on far more modest hardware. Yes, I’m talking about e-sports. League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and even Overwatch are eating the gaming world, and a large part of their success is their ability to run on pretty much any hardware you throw at it—even dirt-cheap PCs powered by AMD APUs.
But while gaming on integrated graphics is definitely possible, it requires visual compromise. Hitting buttery-smooth 60 frames per second often requires dialing down the resolution or graphics settings even in less-strenuous DirectX 9-based e-sports games. That’s where AMD’s new Radeon RX 460 ($109 and up) comes in.
AMD’s positioning the Radeon RX 460 as an affordable solution for e-sports gamers who want to blow past not just 60 frames per second, but 90 fps with High settings at 1080p resolution without breaking the bank. That’s one hell of a step up! It’s no coincidence that this card is launching the very same day that Dota 2’s mammoth $20 million The International 2016 tournament kicks off.
What’s more, the RX 460’s unique blend of features could make it a viable alternative to the legendary GTX 750 Ti in home theater PCs or power-constrained computers.
Can the reality live up to the hype? Let’s dig in.
Meet the Radeon RX 460
As a graphics card devoted to e-sports and entry-level gaming, the Radeon RX 460 sports much more modest internals than the Radeon RX 480 ($200 and up on Newegg) or even the Radeon RX 470 ($180 and up on Newegg).
The RX 460 features a severely cut-down version of AMD’s new 14nm Polaris GPU, with half as many ROPs and less than half as many compute units and stream processors as the RX 470. The most affordable model packs 2GB of RAM—though 4GB versions will also be available—over a smaller 128-bit memory bus.
This won’t be a bridge burner, in other words. But the conservative design not only allows AMD and its partners to offer the Radeon RX 460 at an affordable price, it also reduced the TDP of the reference version to a mere 75 watts—low enough that it can be powered solely by your motherboard’s PCIe slot, without any extra power connectors whatsoever. That makes the RX 460 a potentially compelling option as an upgrade for prebuilt big box machines (from Dell, HP, et cetera) that lack extra power connectors. It could also power a kick-ass small form-factor home-theater PC, especially since the Radeon RX 460 supports HDMI 2.0b and high-dynamic range video.
In theory, at least. Like the RX 470—and very unlike the RX 480—the Radeon RX 460 is launching with a full array of customized partner cards rather than reference models alone. AMD sent us a list of launch cards and they all seem to feature overclocks and six-pin power connectors. But the initial batch of available RX 460s all seem to lean into providing a better e-sports experience rather than fulfilling the needs of low-power machines.
Another one of the Polaris GPU’s new tricks lends itself well to e-sports, actually. The RX 460 (and its pricier relatives) support H.264 video streaming at up to 120 fps at 1080p, which means you’ll be able to stream your games to Twitch easily.
AMD sent us an XFX Radeon RX 460 for evaluation ($150 for this 4GB model; a $120, 2GB version is also available). It’s a traditional full-length, dual-slot graphics card as opposed to the Radeon Nano-esque RX 460 reference design, complete with a six-pin power connector to help fuel its modest 20Hz overclock, to 1,220MHz. Notably, that’s a true on-card overclock—you don’t need to install any extra software to enable it, unlike with some graphics cards from other manufacturers.
XFX put the extra length to good use. The XFX Radeon RX 460 features a pair of small mid-sized fans sitting atop a basic aluminum heatsink. Those fans have some nifty tricks up their sleeves, too. They speed up or slow down based on load, all the way down to going completely idle (and silent) when you aren’t gaming. They’re also held in place by brackets that can be squeezed and released using your fingers alone, making it dead-simple to replace the fans if one dies—though you’ll still need to deal with the wiring connecting the fan to the graphics card.
Beyond the HDMI 2.0b port, you’ll also find solitary DVI-D and DisplayPort 1.4 connections, the latter of which supports resolutions far beyond what you’ll realistically use this card for in a gaming PC. The 4K support may come in handy with a home theater PC, however.
As a Polaris-based card, the XFX Radeon RX 460 also delivers features like Frame Rate Target Control, H.265 encoding and decoding, the in-driver Radeon WattMan overclocking tool, glorious FreeSync support, and dedicated asynchronous shader hardware that can improve performance in next-gen, “close to the metal” DirectX 12 and Vulkan gaming APIs.
Now that the introductions are out of the way, let’s dive into the fun stuff.
Next page: Test system details and e-sports discussion