AMD Radeon RX 470 review: A great graphics card with a wonderful, terrible price

The Radeon RX 470 simply doesn't do enough to differentiate itself from the RX 480.

With the launch of the Radeon RX 480 (US$200 for the 4GB model, US$240 for the 8GB model) firmly in the rear view mirror, AMD’s bringing its cutting-edge 14nm Polaris GPU to even more of the masses.

While the revolutionary RX 480 delivered uncompromising 1080p gaming performance, damned fine 1440p gaming performance, and basic VR capabilities at an incredible price, the new Radeon RX 470 ($180) ostensibly aims to kick ass in 1080p gaming at an even lower price. But the Radeon RX 470’s spec sheet reveals that the graphics processor beating inside of it is just barely nerfed compared to the full-blown RX 480, for a barely lower price. Can this iterative step-down card carve out a niche of its own—or maybe even steal a bit of the thunder from AMD’s mainstream flagship?

Buckle up. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

Meet AMD’s Radeon RX 470

Glance at the RX 470’s stats and you’re sure to raise an eyebrow.

The RX 470’s clock speeds top out at 1,206MHz, with 4GB of onboard GDDR5 memory traveling over a 256-bit bus. That’s pretty darn close to the RX 480’s 1,266MHz max clock speed, and the same amount of base RAM. Under the hood, the RX 470 has only four fewer compute units than the RX 480; 256 fewer stream processors; 16 fewer texture units; and the same amount of ROPs.

amd radeon rx 470 specs

That said, there are definitely some key additional tweaks. The RX 470’s base clock speed of 926MHz is far below the RX 480’s 1,120MHz; its memory is slightly slower at 6.6Gbps effective versus 7.0Gbps on the RX 480; and the RX 470 has a 120 watt TDP, 30W less than the RX 480’s. There’s also surprisingly no reference 8GB memory option for the Radeon RX 470, though AMD says it “encourages [hardware partners] to differentiate” if they see a market for 8GB versions. But for the most part, AMD’s new card sticks pretty close to the RX 480’s central design. Maybe that’s why the card’s priced just $20 lower than a 4GB RX 480.

One key difference between the RX 480 and RX 470: While we’re still mostly waiting for custom Radeon RX 480 cards to hit the streets—Sapphire’s Nitro+ model ($220 for 4GB on Amazon) being a notable exception—there will be no reference models of the RX 470 available at launch. All of the RX 470s on release will be custom models from AMD hardware partners. It’s the mirror opposite of the RX 480 situation—and it adds a whiff of “apples-to-oranges” in comparisons between the two cards. The clock speeds and cooling solutions in custom models can vary wildly.

xfx radeon rx 470 2 Brad Chacos

XFX’s Radeon RX 470.

AMD sent us an XFX Radeon RX 470 (US$220 in this configuration) for evaluation. Yes, that makes this card more expensive than a reference 4GB RX 480—posing an, er, interesting value proposition out of the gate.

The extra cash gets you some attractive niceties though. XFX’s card adds a 50MHz overclock to the RX 470 boost speed, topping out at 1,256MHz. (XFX says another model with a slower overclock will retail for US$210.) It’s a true on-the-card overclock, too, with no need to download additional software to enable it. The company’s also lifted the card’s memory speeds up to 7.0Gbps effective, bringing it in line with the RX 480.

The card features XFX’s popular Double Dissipation cooling system. That includes “Ghost Thermal 4.0”—a heatsink with composite copper heat pipes snaking throughout, as well as a refreshed “UniBody VRM” design, which helps transfer heat from the card’s VRMs directly to the heatsink and heat pipes. All told, XFX says, you can expect 40 percent more cooling efficiency than in prior models.

xfx radeon rx 470 8 Brad Chacos

The XFX Radeon RX 470’s fans are held in by brackets. You can pop them out without tools. It’s pretty cool!

The heatsink is only part of Double Dissipation’s design, though. The load-sensing fans pick up speed for heavier loads, and scale all the way down to idle when you’re not gaming or otherwise pushing the GPU. Idle fans are silent fans! Continuing a theme XFX toyed with earlier this year, the XFX Radeon RX 470 includes two large, swappable fans that are held in by snap brackets for easy-peasy tool-less replacement. That makes returns a much simpler affair. XFX also plans on rolling out custom fans with various colored LED lights “in the future” so you can make the card your own. I dig it.

The 9.45 x 4.76 x 1.57-inch card rocks a sleek metal XFX-branded backplate, along with a 6-pin power connector and DVI-D, HDMI 2.0b, and a trio of DisplayPort 1.4 connections. AMD’s Polaris GPU supports all sorts of cutting-edge display technologies through those ports, including high-dynamic range video, 60Hz-plus frame rates at 4K resolution over HDMI, 120Hz frame rates at 4K resolution over DisplayPort, and AMD FreeSync monitors.

xfx radeon rx 470 7 Brad Chacos

Ooooh, purdy. Ignore the dust.

As a Polaris-based card, you’ll also get features like Frame Rate Target Control, H.265 encoding and decoding, the in-driver Radeon WattMan overclocking tool, CrossFire support, and dedicated asynchronous shader hardware that can improve performance in next-gen, “close to the metal” DirectX 12 and Vulkan gaming APIs.

Overall, it’s a slickly designed piece of kit that’d look good in any gamer’s case. You don’t find graphics cards with backplates very often in the US$200-ish price range. As a cherry on top, XFX is extending the RX 470’s warranty an extra year compared to previous-gen cards, out to three years. (XFX used to be famous for its lifetime warranties, but had to fall back from that during the bitcoin mining craze, when digital prospectors were buying—and burning out—AMD graphics cards by the bucketload.)

Got it? Good. On to the fun stuff.

Next page: Performance tests begin.

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Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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