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Sapphire Nitro+ RX 480 review: Polaris rethought and refined

Brad Chacos | July 25, 2016
The wait was worth it for custom Radeon RX 480 cards.

nitro 480 power draw

No surprise here: The overclocked, fan-laden Nitro+ RX 480 sucks down slightly more power than the reference RX 480 under load. But that Dual-X cooler helps out when you’re not playing games, as the Nitro+ RX 480 consumes a bit less power than its reference cousin at idle.

While the new Polaris GPUs give AMD a huge step up in power efficiency compared to last-gen Radeon cards—our system gobbled down an insane 400-plus watts with Radeon R9 390/390X cards comparable in performance to the RX 480 installed—Nvidia’s GTX 1060 is a power-sipping maestro. It draws less power under load than any other GPU we’ve ever tested.

Heat

We test heat during the same intensive Division benchmark, by running SpeedFan in the background and noting the maximum GPU temperature once the run is over.

Many of the tested cards sport custom coolers, making this somewhat of an apple-to-oranges affair. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see how Sapphire’s Dual-X cooling solution compares to the reference RX 480 and GTX 1060.

nitro 480 gpu temp

The Nitro+ RX 480 stayed nice and frosty even in extreme gameplay scenarios, never once going over 76 degrees Celsius. That’s a significant improvement over the stock RX 480’s blower-style cooler, and a few degrees chillier than even the supremely power-efficient GTX 1060.

Even better: Sapphire’s Dual-X cooler is again damned quiet in addition to pleasantly effective. It’s not quite silent, but anecdotally, I never once heard its fans over the test system’s closed-loop liquid cooler for the CPU, which is itself pretty quiet most of the time. Sapphire’s custom coolers continue to knock my socks off.

Okay, I lied. Once, and only once, the fans sped up to audible levels while running the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark, though exiting and restarting the run fixed the issue. I asked Sapphire representatives about it, and they said the problem stems from AMD’s latest Radeon Crimson driver, which released just a few days back. Sapphire and AMD are working together to eliminate the issue shortly, Sapphire promised, and it shouldn’t sprout up often. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Next page: Overclocking

Overclocking

We didn’t expect to be able to push the Nitro+ RX 480 much further, considering its meager out-of-the-box overclock—but we wound up pleasantly surprised. Using the WattMan overclocking tools inside AMD’s Radeon Crimson control panel, we were able to boost the card’s power limit by 15 percent, its memory clock by an additional 100MHz, and its core clock all the way up to 1405MHz, which represents a 7.5 percent frequency increase over the Nitro+’s default 1306MHz max clock speed.

 

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