The AMD RX 580 is now the smart elder statesman of the current Radeon lineup, but when it first arrived the mildly updated Polaris GPU was actually a bit of a disappointment. Not only were we hoping the 500-series cards would herald a new world of Vega-based graphics cards (which ended up being their own unique brand of disappointing), it was barely any different from the RX 480 that had landed a year earlier.
It’s an impressively powerful, well-priced graphics card, with a comparatively huge pool of video memory and an aptitude for dealing with modern graphics APIs. And at just $190 (£197) it has very little competition in the market, with Nvidia’s GTX 1060 only giving it pause in a few DX11 titles and still being more expensive on the whole. Even the new GTX 1660 Ti struggles against its genuine value proposition.
It does have a little more competition in the mainstream market right now, with AMD launching its ‘new’ RX 590 graphics card. That’s just a moderate 12nm die-shrink of the Polaris GPU at the heart of the old RX 580, but it’s also a timely reminder that AMD’s mainstream graphics cards are your best bet for great-value gaming performance right now.
Even with the GTX 1660 Ti being unveiled its GTX 1070-level gaming performance keeps it another pricing tier above the RX 580. The straight GTX 1660 might have something to offer, however, with its slightly chopped TU116 GPU and $220 price tag
Polaris Enhanced. That’s what AMD called the updated 500-series of graphics cards, but they were never expecting to encourage anyone that spent their cash on a last-gen Polaris card to upgrade. Despite calling the GPUs at the heart of both the new RX 580 and RX 570 Polaris 20 it is still really the same 14nm Polaris 10 chip they used, to great effect, in the RX 480 and RX 470 cards.
The ‘enhanced’ bit comes from the fact that 12 months on from the initial Polaris release both the 14nm FinFET technology and the 4th Gen GCN architecture used in the latest AMD Radeon cards had a full year to mature. That means the production process and yields improved and the resulting GPUs were more robust.
That’s the main reason AMD have been able to release RX 580 cards with a higher base clock speed than the reference RX 480 cards saw at launch. The base/boost clocks of the original RX 480 were 1,120MHz and 1,266MHz respectively, while the reference spec of the RX 580’s Polaris 20 chip is set at 1,257MHz and 1,340MHz. With the general tightening up of the GPU’s manufacturing process AMD can ship out cards using pretty much the previous chip’s peak performance as a starting point to work up from.
Though if you were hoping for the same 40 compute unit, 2,560 core, Polaris GPU Microsoft shipped with the AMD-powered Xbox One X you’d be disappointed. Outside of the reference clock speed bump the RX 580 is the same GPU beast as the RX 480. The core configuration is identical – the 14nm Polaris 20 in the new card is still sporting 36 compute units (CUs) with 2,304 stream processors spread out across them. Alongside that are the same 144 texture units and 32 ROPs.
The memory system is the same too, with 8GB of GDDR5 delivering a full 256GB/s of memory bandwidth. And, like the 400 series cards, there are both 4GB and 8GB versions of the RX 580, as well as the RX 570.
All that seems to have really changed then, clockspeed hike aside, is the new RX 580 cards have a higher TDP to allow for the enhanced clockspeeds the new designs are shipping with. Those clockspeeds above are just the suggested reference design specs, but the fact AMD never created any reference samples for the new cards was indicative of their refresh/rebadge status, and also that most RX 580 cards would be expensive factory overclocked ones even if the prices weren’t being artificially boosted by the gluttonous mining community.
Our XFX sample runs at 1,366MHz, while the Asus STRIX card hits a heady 1,411MHz out of the box. The original STRIX edition of the RX 480, on the other hand, runs at a default 1,330MHz. That itself was a pretty hefty boost in factory-overclock terms, but the new variant from Asus is almost 100MHz ahead of that.