Gaming is one of the main focuses of Computex 2016, and for good reason — this is the launch year for VR, and a lot of companies have made a lot of big bets on VR being a hit. Ahead of this year’s show, we saw NVIDIA announce new graphics cards based on their new Pascal architecture, which combined impressive performance and a much lower cost. But, it’s AMD that’s long been known as the value player in the GPU market, and they lived up to their reputation at their Computex press conference today. The RX 480 is AMD’s first GPU based on their new Polaris architecture, and while it’s not as powerful as what NVIDIA showed off, it’s so cheap you might not care.
The AMD RX 480 is capable of over five teraflops of computing performance, compared to around nine for the GTX 1080 and 6.5 for the GTX 1070. The new card has 36 compute units with 4 GB or 8 GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit memory bus. By virtue of using the new Polaris architecture, the RX 480 also has some premium features like HDR compatibility and AMD FreeSync, which works with displays to increase refresh rate. The card will draw 150 watts of power, which is about the same as the new NVIDIA cards despite being quite a bit less powerful — not bad, though, considering the price difference.
The RX 480 isn’t AMD’s premium Polaris card, and while they weren’t prepared to say anything about a more powerful card today, it was implied that we could hear about one before year’s end. Until then, AMD has a pretty strong proposition for those uneasy about the RX 480 being so far behind the GTX 1080 in power. During the press conference, AMD Senior Vice President Raja Koduri ran a live side-by-side demo of the GTX 1080 and two RX 480s running a game called Ashes of the Singularity. Granted, AMD probably picked which game to test carefully, but it was hard not to be impressed — the GTX 1080 ran the game at just under 60 fps, while the dual-RX 480 setup got up to 62 fps. Koduri confirmed to me after the presentation that both rigs were running the game at equal settings.
The upshot of the demo was that two RX 480s are still cheaper than the $600 GTX 1080 while providing roughly equal performance. And, because Microsoft’s DirectX 12 (introduced with Windows 10) has native support for multi-GPU setups, using Crossfire to connect the two RX 480 cards is unnecessary — a pretty big deal, considering neither Crossfire nor NVIDIA’s SLI technology have great reputations when it comes to bridging two graphics cards reliably.
AMD took special care to note that the RX 480 is VR-ready. That helps explain recent graphics card pricing, both for AMD and NVIDIA. VR is undeniably exciting, but it’s faced with a monumental challenge — reviving the stagnant PC industry. During the press conference, AMD noted that fewer than 1 percent of all PCs owned today can run VR — for the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive to achieve mainstream success, they need to successfully convince millions of consumers to start buying expensive desktop computers again. A big part of that is making those desktops less expensive, and on the consumer side, the graphics card is one of the most expensive components of a PC. AMD’s aggressive pricing should help with that, which should help the nascent VR industry and, in turn, AMD — a rising tide lifts all boats.
The 4 GB AMD RX 480 graphics card will launch on June 29 for $200. AMD will also sell an 8 GB version of the card, although they were not yet ready to confirm pricing (we’re expecting it to be around $250).