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AMD's Radeon RX 460 graphics card reviewed

The pint-sized Polaris breaks cover

Man, AMD doesn't leave us much new to talk about when we review graphics cards these days. The company already took all the wraps off its Radeon RX 460 graphics card and its Polaris 11 GPU a couple weeks ago. The only open question at the time was how much RX 460 cards would sell for, and we now know that the card carries a $109.99-and-up suggested price. With that sticker, AMD is squarely taking aim at the budget space currently dominated by Nvidia's GeForce GTX 750 Ti and its ultra-efficient GM107 Maxwell GPU.

The Polaris 11 GPU. Source: AMD

R7 260X --- 1100 16 56/28 2.0 896 128 6.5 96 115W
R9 265 --- 925 32 64/32 1.9 1024 256 5.6 179 150W
RX 460 1090 1200 16 56/28 2.2 896 128 7 112 < 75W
GTX 750 Ti 1020 1085 16 40/40 1.4 640 128 5.4 86 60W
GTX 950 1024 1188 24 48/48 1.8 768 128 6.6 106 90W

For an idea of where this chip fits into AMD's product line, the version of Polaris 11 on board the RX 460 most closely resembles the Bonaire chip in the R7 260X. It has 896 stream processors enabled (of a possible 1024 on the chip), a 128-bit path to memory, and 56 texture units. The move to 14-nm FinFET production lets AMD clock the chip at 1200MHz boost speeds, though, and it occupies a vague "less than 75W" thermal envelope instead of the 115W board power typical of R7 260X cards. AMD also pairs Polaris 11 with 2GB or 4GB of 7 GT/s GDDR5 memory, up from 6.5 GT/s on the 260X.

Here are some theoretical peak numbers to give an idea of how the RX 460 stacks up with a range of Radeons and GeForces:

  Peak pixel
fill rate
Radeon R7 260X 18 62/31 2.2 2.2 104
Radeon RX 460 19 67/34 2.4 2.2 112
Radeon RX 470 39 154/77 4.8 4.9 211
GeForce GTX 750 Ti 17 43/43 1.1 1.4 86
GeForce GTX 950 29 57/57 2.4 1.8 106
GeForce GTX 960 38 75/75 2.4 2.4 112

These all may sound like mild bumps, but Polaris 11 inherits all of the same under-the-hood improvements that first showed up on the Radeon RX 480 and RX 470. If you haven't already read our RX 480 review, you should head over there now to brush up on what AMD has improved with the fourth generation of its GCN architecture. In short, though, the most important bits of Polaris are its delta-color-compression facility for more efficient use of memory bandwidth, as well as a primitive-discard accelerator for more efficient geometry processing. Polaris also offers support for forward-looking standards like DisplayPort 1.3, HDMI 2.0b, and ultra-high-definition content like wide color gamuts and HDR video.

AMD sent over Sapphire's handsome Nitro Radeon RX 460 card for our tests. This manifestation of Polaris 11 has 4GB of RAM on board, and it lists for $139.99. Sapphire's board design has a six-pin power connector on board, so this isn't the card to get for folks dreaming of plugging an RX 460 into a slot and going. (For that, you need this Asus or this MSI card, among others.)

Sapphire bumps the RX 460's boost clock speed to 1250 MHz, and it rates the board for a 72W total power draw. While that figure might tempt the brave to try and run the card off the PCIe slot regardless, my test system wouldn't run the card without the six-pin PCIe plug occupied. It's also interesting that Sapphire only uses a PCIe 3.0 x8 connection for the RX 460. Given the copious bandwidth that bus offers, however, eight lanes of PCIe are probably sufficient for a chip with Polaris 11's vitals.

Sapphire spruces up the Nitro card with an LED-backlit Nitro logo on the PCB's back side. The LEDs behind this logo are a light blue (almost sapphire) color, but the yellow tone of the circuit board causes the light to appear greenish from the back side.

Undoing a few screws and flipping over the cooler reveals the Polaris 11 GPU itself. Sapphire uses a high-quality heatsink with a pair of heatpipes and a copper insert in an aluminum base plate. The plastic fan shroud comes off separately from the heatsink itself, making this cooler one of the easier ones to disassemble that I've ever had my hands on.

Here's the Polaris 11 die. It's tiny! Let's see how it runs.