AMD's Response To The Radeon RX 480 Issues Is Interesting

After fuelling hype to insane expectations, AMD has run into a little trouble with the launch of the Radeon RX 480 graphics card. People first discovered that the RX 480 was pulling more power from the PCI Express slot than the official specification allowed, and then reviewers found a way to basically unlock extra memory on the baseline 4GB reference cards.

Overnight, AMD has given the public an update on both issues -- and their response is, well, interesting.

Update: The 16.7.1 Crimson drivers have been released; users can download them here.

Let's start with the first and more concerning topic with the RX 480: power. AMD promised they would have an update today about a fix to the card's power usage, after reviewers found it was being a little bit greedy.

Not only did some reviewers notice that the RX 480 was pulling more from the PCIe slot than the specification officially allows, some units were also pulling more power on average than the 150W AMD quoted. Nothing substantial and nothing that would harm your PC, but not a good look nonetheless.

Even more surprising was when one publication successfully found a way, and published the means for users, to convert a retail 4GB AIB model of the RX 480 into a completely functional 8GB card. It involved voiding the card's warranty and using software to flash the GPU's BIOS, but it worked.

Obviously, AMD would prefer users didn't do that. "AMD does not authorize any modifications to the firmware on Radeon graphics boards. Unauthorised changes to the BIOS or firmware on a 4GB and/or 8GB boards will nullify and void the warranty on the board," the company said in a statement via email.

They also revealed that only one reference design of the RX 480 has been made, in a bid to reduce costs and accelerate production of the card:

To speed time-to-market in response to stronger than anticipated customer and gamer demand for the world’s first SEP $199 graphics cards capable of delivering premium VR experiences, we have chosen to leverage a single reference design for the initial 4GB and 8GB versions of the RX 480. By having a single reference design with identical physical dimensions and components, our partners are able to offer SEP $199 “Polaris”-based graphics cards for sale on June 29th. We expect RX 480 4GB-specific designs that differ from the current reference design to come to market later this summer in high volumes.

I've bolded the above there because it highlights a problem that AMD can't fix. If the 4GB reference cards have the same components as their 8GB models, then the only thing stopping users from flashing their cheaper cards into more powerful 8GB versions is concerns over warranty and a lack of technical know-how.

It's hard to really characterise it as a stuff-up on AMD's part. If you think about it in practice, it means that $US199 -- or a minimum of $320 here -- is really all you have to pay for a VR-capable card. AMD's partners and vendors might not be too chuffed though, particularly those in Australia selling 8GB reference cards that just got supplanted by their cheaper cousins.

For those who have already forked out for a reference card, however, you'll be pleased to know that new drivers are on the way. Version 16.7.1 "will be released to the public in the next 48 hours" and comes with a "collection of performance improvements". We're not talking gargantuan improvements here, only a bump of up to 3% at best.

But AMD says the jump will be enough to offset the impact of a new option: a "compatibility" toggle, disabled by default, which reduces the RX 480's overall power usage. It will be available through the Global Settings section of the Radeon software.

It's worth noting that once the market gets flooded with third-party designs later this year, you won't be able to simply flash your 4GB card into a faster, fancier 8GB model. Manufacturers will simply ship versions of the card with four 1GB memory chips instead of eight -- after all, they're not silly enough to throw money out the door. So you won't be able to simply flash your video card into an 8GB model, and you'll probably end up bricking your video card if you try.

For those lucky enough to get a reference 4GB card, it's hard to not see this as a great deal. You're already getting a decent 1080p and 1440p card for a low price, and in a way this just makes the RX 480 an even better purchase. That's probably not how AMD envisioned the marketing would work out, but I doubt those who scored a 4GB board will mind.


Comments

    If the physical architecture is the same whats the potential legal implication if any for false advertising then of saying its 4gb when its really 8?

      I wouldn't think there is any problem. The 4GB card does provide 4GB of VRAM -- the fact it contains a bit more isn't really relevant form a consumer protection stand point.

      What would be interesting is whether there is anything AMD or the board manufacturers could do to stop people from modding 4GB boards to 8GB. I imagine they might try to claim that it is either copyright infringement on the BIOS code, or claim that the BIOS is protecting some other copyrighted work and that the modification acts a a "circumvention device for a technological protection measure", so illegal under the DMCA.

        Indeed, moreso interested though with the people who pay more for the 8gb version who are perchance denied a refund to get a 4gb version they can then flash to create a cheaper 8gb (sans warranty of course) due to the architecture being the same. There's a 99% chance nothing will happen, we can be assured realistically, but it's interesting none the less as we rarely see something like this ever happen.

          Given that people are paying $60 more for a card that's technically the same as the cheaper variant, I'd say that's BS from AMD.

          Last edited 07/07/16 8:33 pm

          It's not as if this kind of thing doesn't happen in other areas of computing. Many of the different processor variants Intel sells are the same piece of silicon: they test the chips after fabrication, and label the ones that perform better as higher speeds. If a batch gives a particularly good yield, I wouldn't be surprised if they end up labelling some processors as slower models just because that's what people want to buy at the time.

          And it is similar here. If you buy a 4GB card right now, you can probably reflash it into an 8GB card. But if you purchase one a few months from now, you probably won't (the board manufacturers will probably have designed a 4GB variant and saved some money on the DRAM chips). They might not even change the product name when they make the change. So if you don't want to take the risk and really want an 8GB card, then that's what you should purchase.

            This. It's actually highly likely that a lot of the 4gb cards were 8gb ones that were tested and found that there were fabrication flaws on one of the chips, so flashing to use all 8gb may expose a bad memory module.

            Also it's par for the course in GPUs. Most of the time nVidia's x70s are binned x80s that had issues on one or more processing unit that they simply disabled access to.

              Reading all this makes me balk at the idea of spending all that money on a 1070 soon...

                Nothing wrong with the 1070, but that's generally how they make the lower-end chips in any fabrication scenario. In some cases even the high end chips will be fabbed with an extra processor or two that are disabled due to not working correctly, if doing that improves their yield.

                I don't think it should - from my understanding, no one is getting any less than what they pay for. You might get a 1080 that wasn't performing at a 1080 level, but at the bare minimum it'll be performing at least as well as a 1070.

              Came to the comments to say the same thing. Many, many, different pieces of tech are manufactured in this way. Memory is probably the most common, where they'll do factory testing and the ones that fail to have 8gb of reliable memory are instead sold as 4gb. You might get away with flashing one of these cards back up to 8gb, but they've failed for a reason - perhaps they'll fail after the first 10 million cycles, or they'll have banks of memory that'll only work if the supply power is super clean; or, there'll be a faulty bank and you substantially worsen the performance of (or brick) the card.
              Interesting little fact with electrical components - you know how resistors are sold with an accuracy figure? You can buy 10%, 5%, 1%, 0.1% accurate resistors - intuitively, you'd expect that a 5% accurate part would basically follow a bell-curve. This isn't the case, the ones that fall within a higher accuracy band are sold in that band, so 5% resistors are almost always more than 1% out from the specified value.

                I'm not super electrically inclined but I'd have assumed that the accuracy figure is a minimum accuracy, i.e. a 5% resistor would be expected to be at most 5% off from its stated resistance, but probably a lot less.

                  Yeah, it'll be at most 5%, but if they're also selling 1% parts, you can almost guarantee that you're not going to get a part that it 1% accurate or better when buying the 5%.

      Not a lawyer (so probably shouldn't even be posting, but it's the Internet) but I'd say none; as sold, the 4gB version only has access to 4gb if the manufacturer wants to put more expensive components in its their choice (no different to the binning process on most chips really). Can't really complain about your card having more potential than you paid for. It's not false advertising as only 4gB is available for use.

      If anything I'd say 8gB owners have more of a case, as they're being sold the same physical card as people who buy the cheaper 4gB card with the only difference being software, but even so I'd say there isn't much of a case as again it's no different to binning of chips; if someone over clocks their 3.2 GHz chip to 4Ghz (for example) you can't complain if you bought the 3.6 GHz chip and it doesn't over clock the same.... Unless of course the manufacturer advertised the chip as being capable of same...

      All that said, still not good from a PR perspective...

        Not a lawyer (so probably shouldn't even be posting, but it's the Internet) but I'd say none;

        Since when has that stopped anyone? HANG THEM! HANG THEM ALL! ALL OF THEM I SAY! JUDGEMENT ON THEM I CAST!!!!

      Regardless of legality, if AMD is whining about people unlocking the remaining 4GB, why was 8GB put there in the first place?

      They really don't have any right to complain if people unlock the full capacity of a budget item card.

      If anything, as @felicitous_blue pointed out, if anyone should be annoyed its those who bought the 8GB version which only differs in software.

      elon musk successfully implements the same software override strategy in the teslas.
      it just depends on if someone overrides that software lock measure to gain access to the additional range/battery capacity without paying the thousands of dollars to unlock it the elon musk way. see what transpires then

        I was pretty sure there was a physical component that had to be upgraded before this works/or is safe.

      Ask Nvidia.

      its better then advertising a 4gb card and only getting 3.5 +.5 XD

      I'd be more interested to find out if there are any implications from AMD selling two products for two different prices that are for all intents are purposes identical.

      Last edited 08/07/16 2:59 pm

        That's pretty much what I'm getting at :) might not have worded it clear enough though :)

        They aren't though. The 4GB versions might have faulty memory modules which were locked off, whereas the 8GB are getting a guaranteed 8GB.

        As others have pointed out, you're paying for guaranteed performance. Sure, there's a chance you could upgrade your 4GB, but you're also running the risk of bricking your GPU and you are definitely voiding your warranty if anything goes wrong with it down the track.

          They aren't though. The 4GB versions might have faulty memory modules which were locked off, whereas the 8GB are getting a guaranteed 8GB.

          You're drawing a pretty long bow with that. That's an assumption that has no basis on actual factual evidence.

            Not really. You're paying for guaranteed performance - if you pay for 8GB, they definitely have 8GB, whereas if you pay for the 4GB variant you might have 8GB.

            To quote people that obviously know more on this topic than I do... @negativezero

            This. It's actually highly likely that a lot of the 4gb cards were 8gb ones that were tested and found that there were fabrication flaws on one of the chips, so flashing to use all 8gb may expose a bad memory module.

            @Spadge

            Many, many, different pieces of tech are manufactured in this way. Memory is probably the most common, where they'll do factory testing and the ones that fail to have 8gb of reliable memory are instead sold as 4gb. You might get away with flashing one of these cards back up to 8gb, but they've failed for a reason - perhaps they'll fail after the first 10 million cycles, or they'll have banks of memory that'll only work if the supply power is super clean; or, there'll be a faulty bank and you substantially worsen the performance of (or brick) the card.

    ...and warranty.

    AMD is hardly whining. It was cost effective for them to manufacture a single design and buyers still got what they paid for, with warranties.

    This touches on the bigger issue of property rights. If you own a thing, should you legally be allowed to do whatever you want with it? The answer is of course yes. If I flash the BIOS of my card and brick it, woe is me, but if I flash the BIOS and in one year the fan breaks, then that's a warranty fix.

      The BIOS controls the fan... In any case, your argument is flawed. Yes, you can do whatever you want with it... you own it. You do NOT own the warranty, AMD does, and offers it as a service if you're a good little consumer.

    Been a few years since the last time something like this happened with the 6950 cards being flashed to a 6970. If you want answers about warranty go find someone that flashed a 6950 to a 6970 and then needed to RMA

    It's all good and well flashing your card from 4GB to 8GB.. but theres probably a reason your 4GB card was selected as such... you could be turning on defective memory from the bad yield.

    Yeah, but then again, i happened to be at the NVIDIA pascal celebration event and they dropped this suprise worldwide exclusive announcement:

    http://syndicateofgamers.com/2016/07/07/nvidia-unveils-gtx1060-specs-price-at-au-pascal-launch-event/

    took the pics/vids myself, feel free to use!

    They have known to do this before, I actually bought a reference card in the early naughties (for the life of me I can't remember the model). The shop disclosed that they had this model for cheap and were able to unlock two processing pipelines as it was the same reference card as the next model up (my memory might be a bit vague but that was the gist of it). Being young and naive I bought into it only for the card to develop graphical anomalies and eventually die in the arse.

    I would think twice about buying a reference card with the intent to unlock it, you may very well be buying building materials in the long run. Also be wary of stores trying to pass these cards off for cheap or even disguised as its big brother.

    Last edited 08/07/16 2:07 pm

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