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Sizing 'em up
Do a bit of quick math, and you end up with the theoretical peak performance numbers for the following graphics cards:

  Peak pixel
fill rate
(Gpixels/s)
Peak
bilinear
filtering
int8/fp16
(Gtexels/s)
Peak
rasterization
rate
(Gtris/s)
Peak
shader
arithmetic
rate
(tflops)
Memory
bandwidth
(GB/s)
Radeon RX 480 41 182/91 5.1 5.8 256
Sapphire Radeon R9 380X 33 133/67 4.2 4.3 256
Radeon R9 290 61 160/80 3.8 4.8 320
Radeon R9 Fury X 67 269/134 4.2 8.6 512
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 960 32 82/82 2.6 2.6 112
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 63 126/126 4.9 4.0 224
Gigabyte GTX 980 85 170/170 5.3 5.4 224

We won't be testing every card in the table above, but our theoretical numbers offer some interesting insight about how the RX 480 stacks up against its AMD stablemates and the Nvidia competition. Thanks in part to its ROP count, the RX 480 handily outpaces the Tonga-powered R9 380X in raw fill rate, but it falls a bit short of the enormous shader arrays on the R9 290 and the Fury X. The RX 480 also achieves higher theoretical int8 texturing rates than everything in the table save for the R9 Fury X, even if its performance on more complex textures is still limited by GCN's half-rate throughput with fp16 data types.

Now that we've taken stock of the RX 480's theoretical performance, let's take a look at some actual numbers generated by the Beyond3D test suite to see how these cards behave in practice.

The RX 480 is clocked higher than the Tonga-powered R9 380X, and its slightly larger shader array gives it slightly more pixel-pushing power than that card. Nvidia's cards maintain their long-running advantage here.

Hand the RX 480 an incompressible texture, and its memory bandwidth numbers unsurprisingly outpace everything else on the board. When the GeForces can employ their delta-color-compression, however, the competition heats up. Still, whatever new DCC mojo AMD has added to the RX 480 appears to be one of several factors contributing to the RX 480's very solid performance increase over the R9 380X.

Hm. Despite having more texturing units onboard than Tonga does, the RX 480 seems to run into a wall at about the same peak rate as its predecessor. Perhaps there's another bottleneck at work somewhere for this test.

Now here's something interesting. In our past graphics card reviews, AMD's cards have fallen behind in this polygon throughput test when we've presented them with work in a strip format. Here, the RX 480 sets itself apart by delivering similar rates for both formats, and at faster rates than even the R9 Fury X before it. Perhaps we're seeing that fancy new Primitive Discard Accelerator at work.

Polaris 10's theoretical peak shader performance is pretty potent, and our ALU tests confirm it. The RX 480 edges past even the GTX 980 in these tests.

Now that we've examined these cards' theoretical performance, let's put them to the test in some real-world gaming scenarios.