Sapphire Radeon RX 580 Nitro+ review: AMD battles for PC gaming's sweet spot, again

Polaris refined and repurposed still kicks ass.

IDG

IDG

When AMD’s Radeon RX 480 launched just under a year ago, it redefined what was possible with a $200 graphics card, delivering uncompromising 1080p gaming, darn good 1440p performance, and even the ability to play VR games—none of which was ever available in a graphics card that affordable before.

But it wasn’t quite a flawless victory, and not just because Nvidia’s comparable (yet pricier) GeForce GTX 1060 launched shortly after. The Radeon RX 480 suffered from a power-draw controversy that AMD fixed with admirable speed. Stocks of the card were limited for months, which led to inflated pricing and endless anguish in enthusiast forums. The 4GB Radeon RX 480 was hands-down the best “sweet spot” graphics card you could buy, but it had some baggage in Google searches.

Enter the Radeon RX 580, announced today as part of AMD’s mild Radeon RX 500-series refresh.

The Radeon RX 580 release sweeps away all of that controversy—and gives AMD new Radeon 500-series GPUs to sell alongside its new Ryzen 5 processors. But these “new” graphics cards aren’t really new at all, relying on the same underlying graphics processors as the RX 480, but with slightly boosted clock speeds granted by a year of process optimizations. With so little changed, and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 likewise matured, is AMD’s offering still the mainstream graphics card champion?

Let’s find out.

Meet the Radeon RX 580

Here’s a look at the reference specs for the Radeon RX 580 and RX 570 (which PCWorld also reviewed). Even though the chart says the RX 570 packs 4GB of memory and the RX 580 has 8GB, that’s just AMD’s recommendation. Both cards will be offered in both capacities.

specs AMD

AMD’s Radeon RX 570 and RX 580 tech specs.

There’s not much difference from the RX 480, honestly. You’ll find minor bumps to peak compute speeds and memory bandwidth, but the only major tweak is the RX 580’s clock speed. AMD’s up to the second generation of optimizations on the Polaris architecture, which let the company bump the speeds up from the RX 480’s 1,120MHz base and 1,266MHz boost clocks to 1,257MHz/1,340MHz on the Radeon RX 580. The Radeon RX 580’s base clock is now effectively the same as the RX 480’s boost clock. Pretty nifty, though there’s unfortunately no bump to memory speeds or capacity.

Cranking clocks requires cranking power, though. The Radeon RX 580 is rated for a 185W TDP, compared to the RX 480’s 150W, so expect the cards to need an 8-pin power supply. AMD’s also allowing board makers to build cards with both an 8-pin and a 6-pin power connectors to push things even further.

chill AMD

Radeon Chill now supports League of Legends and Dota 2.

AMD’s offsetting that power increase with the introduction of a new power state that reduces energy usage when you’re idle, using multiple monitors, or watching videos. The company’s also stressing the tremendous power- and temperature-savings of Radeon Chill, a wonderful feature introduced in Radeon Crimson ReLive. Chill’s disabled by default, though, and only compatible with 19 games—though they’re 19 of the most-played games around, and coinciding with the Radeon RX 500-series reveal, AMD also announced that Dota 2 and League of Legends now work with Chill.

The company won’t release a reference version of the Radeon RX 580 though. Instead, all of the cards that hit the streets—today—will be customized models by AMD hardware partners like Sapphire, XFX, PowerColor, et cetera.

dsc01655 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Sapphire Radeon RX 580 Nitro+.

Speaking of which, the card we’re reviewing today is the 8GB Sapphire RX 580 Nitro+, which cranks clock speeds all the way up to 1,411MHz, or 69MHz faster than Sapphire’s older RX 480 Nitro+.

But it can go even further! While the older card relied on a single 8-pin power connector, the Sapphire RX 580 Nitro+ adds an optional 6-pin connector to the mix, so the board can provide plenty of juice if you wind up winning the silicon lottery with a GPU that overclocks like a champ. That’s augmented by Sapphire’s black diamond chokes, which filter and clean up the card’s electrical signals.

dsc01662 Brad Chacos/IDG

Sapphire’s RX 580 needs two power connections.

The Sapphire RX 580 Nitro+ maintains a tweaked version of the superb Dual-X cooling system from its predecessor. That’s fine by us. Dual-X’s dual fans and heat pipe-infused heat sink work well—as you’ll see in the temperatures section—and Sapphire has re-engineered the cooler’s design to run much quieter than before. Plus, the look of Sapphire’s card remains stunning.

While many modern graphics cards rock bright colors, angular designs, and RGB everything that cater to the edgy so-called “gamer” aesthetic, the RX 580 Nitro+ sticks to sleek silver-and-black simplicity that looks great in our GPU testing system. The Sapphire logo on the side still lights up, but in a tasteful blue hue by default (you can manually change the color with Sapphire’s Trixx utility). The perforated black shroud looks elegant despite being hard plastic, especially paired with the Nitro+’s gorgeous (and redesigned) metal backplate.

dsc01700 Brad Chacos/IDG

That’s one pretty backplate.

The Sapphire RX 580 Nitro+’s fans won’t start spinning until you toss a decently heavy graphics load at your PC. They’re also held in by a single screw for easy replacement in case of failure—no need to send your entire GPU back. Sapphire’s aforementioned Trixx software even includes a Fan Health feature that, uh, checks the health of your fans and can connect you with Sapphire support if one craps out.

dsc01664 Brad Chacos/IDG

Finally, the Nitro+ includes dual DisplayPorts, two HDMI 2.0 connections, and DVI-D. The DVI port will be a blessing for folks with older monitors, while the pair of HDMI ports should come in handy for early virtual-reality adopters, as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive each utilize an HDMI connection.

Enough talk. Let’s benchmark!

Next page: Test system configuration, benchmarks begin

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Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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