Grand Theft Auto V revisited
We also re-ran our Grand Theft Auto V tests with the same settings, the same benchmark run, and the same processing as our initial RX 480 review. The charts below are once again made up data from the new 16.7.1 driver, both with compatibility on and off, as well as the RX 480 performance from the release review. Grand Theft Auto V received specific attention from AMD in the new driver to reduce "minor stuttering," so we'll be looking to see whether the card delivers on that point.
The frame time chart itself is crowded, but that's probably a good thing. The Radeon RX 480 already did well by this measure with GTA V, and the fact that the three data plots mostly overlap one another indicates that there aren't any major changes in smoothness from our initial review.
It's not really a surprise that the RX 480 with the new driver outperformed the RX 480 with the old driver in raw FPS, since the game received specific optimizations in this update. It's also nice to see that that the power changes of compatibility mode balance out with the improvements in the new driver. With Compatibility Mode off, the RX 480 gets a 7% boost from this update.
The 99th-percentile frame time of the RX 480 also improves in this game. The card is just a hair off delivering 99% of its frames within 16.7 ms, so gamers can expect a mostly smooth experience from this update. That's not to say the RX 480 performed badly with GTA V in the first place, but installing the 16.7.1 update makes it just that little bit better.
In keeping with our measured 99th-percentile frame time result, the 16.7.1 drivers shave the time spent beyond 16.7 ms way down compared to the release driver. Whether in Compatibility Mode or in regular operation, the RX 480 spends little time beyond that critical threshold, and it even beats the GeForce GTX 970 (although it's worth noting that card has also had a couple driver updates since our initial tests). That's a result AMD's driver team should be proud of.
What about that power issue?
While it's good to see performance remain mostly unchanged with this driver release, the major question is whether AMD actually fixed the bus power draw issue that prompted so much outrage to begin with. The purpose of this driver update wasn't to make the card draw less power overall, but to improve the balance of power use between the PCIe 6-pin connector and the PCIe slot. Unfortunately, with our current power-testing setup we don't have the granularity required to detect a power use change at the PCIe bus, and measuring system power draw doesn't tell the whole story.
Tom's Hardware and PC Perspective have both released updated power numbers with the new driver, and both sites report that the new update lets the card draw less power from the PCIe slot and more from the beefier six-pin PCIe connector direct from the PSU. With the new driver installed, and without compatibility mode enabled, PC Perspective found that the RX 480 draws about 6% more power from the PCIe slot than the standard would allow, as opposed to about 20% more with the release driver. While that number is still out of spec, it's likely well within the capacity of any well-built motherboard to tolerate.
With the tools at hand, we discovered that turning on compatibility mode resulted in a roughly 5W drop in the power use on our test rig. That might not sound like a whole lot in the context of the whole system, but it's a fairly big deal from a board-power perspective. Considering the fairly minor performance hit, it might be worth it to users who are particularly worried about whether their power supplies or motherboards are up to the task of running an RX 480.
All told, AMD's update looks like it mostly resolves what could have been a sticky situation for the Radeon RX 480 reference card. The company appears to have successfully rebalanced the Radeon RX 480's power draw from the PCIe slot to the six-pin auxiliary power connector without negatively impacting performance. The "compatibility mode" switch should offer an extra margin of safety for owners of systems who are concerned about the card's impact on their systems, at the cost of a tiny bit of performance. If you're OK with the reference blower design, the RX 480 once again looks like the $200-$240 card to beat for now.