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.
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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.