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AMD's Radeon RX 470 graphics card reviewed

A lesser star that's just as bright
— 9:14 AM on August 4, 2016

If you're just reading this review for the first time, you may not be aware that our initial impressions and conclusions about the Radeon RX 470 were based on incorrect data in a number of the titles we tested, thanks to a problem with our test system. We investigated and explained those issues in a separate blog post. Be sure to read that post before continuing.

The short version of the story is that we had to retest Grand Theft Auto V, Hitman, and Rise of the Tomb Raider for this review, thanks to excessive DPC latency on our testing PC during our initial round of benching. As consolation, we added benches of the DirectX 12 versions of Hitman and Rise of the Tomb Raider to our results, and we also benched the OpenGL and Vulkan renderers available with Doom. This review has changed significantly from its initial form, and some parts of it won't make sense if you're not up to speed on the issues we noted and the steps we took to resolve them. The revised review continues below.

As I write these words, it's just about dawn outside. Yesterday morning, a Radeon RX 470 showed up on my doorstep, and after endless technical difficulties, I finally got around to collecting data on the thing and four competing graphics cards at about 9 PM last night. Since that time, I've forgone sleep and consumed more caffeine than is probably healthy for the average horse, never mind the average sedentary hardware reviewer. That's alright, however, since we have a Radeon RX 470 review to share with you for the trouble.

R9 280X --- 1000 32 128/64 4.1 2048 384 6 288 250W
RX 470 926 1206 32 128/64 4.9 2048 256 6.6 211 120W
RX 480 1120 1266 32 144/72 5.8 2304 256 7 224 150W
R9 290 --- 947 64 160/80 4.8 2560 512 5 320 290W?
GTX 950 1024 1188 24 48/48 1.8 768 128 6.6 106 90W
GTX 960 1126 1178 32 64/64 2.4 1024 128 7.01 112 120W
GTX 970 1050 1178 56 104/104 3.9 2048 256 7.0 224 145W

As a refresher, AMD revealed the full specs of the Radeon RX 470 a couple days back. This card is the middle child between the e-sports-oriented RX 460 and the VR-ready RX 480. The RX 470's Polaris 10 GPU has 2048 stream processors and 128 texture units, down slightly from the 2304 SPs and 144 texture units on the RX 480. AMD also hobbled the RX 470 a bit by clocking its 4GB of GDDR5 RAM at 6.6GT/s, slightly slower than the RX 480's guaranteed 7 GT/s speed floor and typical 8GT/s pairing. The RX 470 maintains the full 32 ROPs and 256-bit path to memory of its slightly better-endowed sibling.

If you're thinking those changes aren't that drastic compared to the RX 480, it may or may not be surprising that the Radeon RX 470 is priced at $179.99 and up—just $20 less than the RX 480 4GB reference card. As we'll soon see, there's just not that much air between this card and the 4GB Radeon RX 480 at $200 (assuming you can find one at that price). The RX 470 will need to perform quite well to keep buyers from simply jumping ship to the more powerful Polaris card.

The hot-rodded Radeon RX 470 graphics card we have on hand for testing comes courtesy of XFX. This "RS Black Edition" RX 470 claws back most of the cut-down Polaris chip's clock speed deficit with a 1256MHz boost clock. XFX also used GDDR5 running at 7GT/s instead of the reference 6.6 GT/s spec.

We didn't have time to tear down this card to the bare PCB before publishing, but the RS cooler is certainly beefier than the reference blower AMD introduced on the RX 480. I count at least three copper heatpipes in there. XFX also outfits this card with a sturdy-feeling backplate and a handy warning LED above the PCIe power connector that glows red if the proper power cable isn't plugged in. In normal operation, this LED burns blue. Should one of the RX 470 RS' fans fail, XFX uses a clever installation system that lets users pop out the dead fan and replace it at home instead of sending the whole card in for service. 

The one roadblock this card might face is its price tag. We're still waiting on official confirmation from AMD on this point, but Newegg already has a listing up for the RX 470 RS for an eyebrow-raising $220. At that price, we're kind of baffled why someone would choose this card over the perfectly serviceable Radeon RX 480 reference card and the extra computing resources it offers. We've already got a reference RX 480 on hand for testing (albeit in 8GB, not 4GB, form), so let's find out how the RX 470 stacks up.