MSI RX 480 Gaming X 8G Reviewccokeman -
Category: Video Cards
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MSI RX 480 Gaming X 8G Introduction:
Back in June, AMD released its Polaris 10 4th generation Graphics Core Next PPU architecture to an anxious public looking for that next AMD card to offer competition to the green team. Once in the wild and no longer just rumors, it was clear that AMD had targeted the 1920 x 1080, $250 to $300 market and had conceded the very top end of the gaming spectrum to its competitors. It is a move that puts all of its eggs in one much larger potential customer basket. While there are reference cards on the market, AMD's board partners, including MSI, were busy putting together custom versions of their cards to address some of the initial lick back on the reference cards. Most specifically, power usage versus TDP rating. MSI offered multiple cards in differing price points, but the Gaming series gets the really cool options and highest clock speeds ergo performance.
The card I am looking at today from MSI has all the hallmarks of the brand: a large, well built, low noise cooling solution; Military Class IV power components; and a factory-overclocked Boost clock speed of up to 1316MHz right out of the box. Add in the features like RGB lighting to match the theme of your build and MSI's Gaming App that lets you control a myriad of effects and tools, and you have a really interesting package. Let's take a look and see how well this card handles not only your typical gaming scenario, but how well it handles higher clock speeds!
MSI RX 480 Gaming X 8G Closer Look:
The packaging for the MSI RX 480 Gaming X 8G looks much like what I have seen from MSI on its NVIDIA-based offerings, but with red accents instead of green. The front panel shows the RX 480 Gaming X 8G from a rear looking, 3/4 view showing off the Torx 2.0 fans and girth of the Twin Frozr VI cooling solution. The few changes on the front panel really come down to the product name against a red background and the AMD-specific feature set along the bottom left side of the box. A great move for product branding consistency on store shelves. At the top right, you can see MSI is using its Twin Frozr VI cooling solution on this video card. The rear of the package goes over the feature set, including HDR Ready, FreeSync support, CrossFire support, Virtual Super Resolution (VSR), and more. The big highlights are the Custom RGB lighting, Twin Frozr VI cooling solution, and the MSI Gaming App, which is ready to offer three different clock speed profiles along with some really nice add-ons.
Inside the box, the card is packed well in an open-cell foam shell with a warranty registration card. The accessories included with the RX 480 Gaming X 8G are a driver and software disc (should you not have Internet access) and a quick installation guide. Minimal, to say the least, but at this point, if you are spending cash on a decent video card, you more than likely have a monitor supporting at least a DVI connection and a power supply with at least one 8-pin PCIe power connection.
The MSI RX 480 Gaming X 8G is built upon AMD's Polaris 10 4th generation GCN technology. From the front, you can see the large 95mm Torx 2.0 ball bearing fans with dispersion blades that help push 22% more airflow directly through the large heat pipe-equipped fin array. The translucent red accents light up in red, while the MSI logo on the top of the card is able to light up in the full RGB spectrum. The back side of the card features a ventilated a back plate to help with card rigidity, but also aid in cooling. The MSI and Dragon logos are prominently displayed here. Combined with the cooling plate on the front of the PCB, this card is very rigid.
The top and bottom views show just how large the Twin Frozr VI cooler is. There are a total of three heat pipes packed into this two-slot cooling solution that loop through the contact plate and into the fin array. These heat pipes are held pretty tight to the top of the custom black PCB and are part of the Close Quarters cooling solution employed by MSI to keep the GDDR5 memory and Polaris 10 core cool. At 276 x 140 x 37mm in size, the RX 480 Gaming X 8G is going to fit in the majority of chassis on the market. Much like just about every current gaming-centric video card, the RX 480 Gaming X 8G is designed to run in a 16x PCIe 3.0 slot, but is backwards compatible to earlier standards.
Display connectivity on this RX 480 from MSI consists of a single DL DVI-D port, a pair of HDMI 2.0b ports, and a pair of HDR-ready DisplayPort 1.4 ports that support up to four displays. The I/O port has a decorative touch that looks like the MSI dragon logo with some additional accent work that allows plenty of airflow through the back of the chassis. Even with the open-shroud design, some of the thermal load gets dumped into the chassis' air stream. This usually is not a problem, as most modern chassis have enough airflow capacity built in right out of the box. The back end of the card is open to facilitate good airflow through the Twin Frozer VI cooling solution. At the bottom left are the shroud LED and Torx 2.0 fan wiring connections. Pretty much standard fare for this series from MSI.
No longer does AMD use bridge connections to support its multi-GPU strategy, CrossFireX. CrossFireX configurations are supported by way of AMD's XDMA technology that no longer uses a CrossFire bridge connection and sends the inter-GPU communication through the PCIe bus. The MSI Dragon logo is set by default to white, but, by using the tool in the MSI Gaming App, you can change this LED-based lighting to any color in the RGB rainbow to match the theme of your build. An 8-pin power connection, when combined with the PCIe slot, provides up to 225 watts to the card. By using an 8-pin PEG connection, MSI ensures that this card does not suffer the wrath of the public by consuming much more power than the PCIe or PEG connection can provide. The TDP of this card comes in at 150W from MSI. With a TDP this low, MSI recommends at least a 500 watt power supply to provide power to the entire system.
The Twin Frozr VI cooling solution is held on the 4th generation GCN core by four spring-loaded screws through the PCB. Pulling the cooler off the card allows us to see the components on the PCB. The amount of thermal paste used on the core is enough to cover the core and part of the surrounding area, so coverage is pretty good with the thin paste. This amount of TIM does not seem to impact cooling efficiency. A low profile heat sink is used to cover the Military Class IV power regulation system, including MSI's tantalum-filled Hi-C caps. The balance of the Military Class components used on the 6+2 phase system on this board are the Super Ferrite chokes and solid capacitors. These components combine to offer a cooler running, longer lasting power solution with a higher power handling capacity. To improve memory and VRM cooling, MSI uses a full cover heat sink that pulls heat from the VRM and memory and is cooled via diverted arflow through the Twin Frozr fin array.
As the vehicle to remove the thermal load from the core, the Twin Frozr VI cooling solution from MSI is built to handle the load. A pair of 95mm Torx 2.0 fans feature dispersion blades in addition to the standard blades on each of the fans. The dispersion blades are used in a 1:1 ratio with the standard blades for a total of seven of each blade on each fan. This configuration allows for up to 22% higher air pressure through the Twin Fozr VI fin array to employ MSI's Close Quarters cooling for the Military Class IV components. The heat pipe-based cooler has a trio of heat pipes, one 8mm and two 6mm, that flatten out as they go over the nickel-plated copper contact plate to improve thermal transfer. If you look at the side of the fin array, you can see some directional vanes that direct airflow through the fin array for improved cooling. MSI calls this Airflow Control Technology and it improves cooling efficiency. MSI also employs Zero Frozr Technology, which keeps the fans from spinning when the cards temperature is kept under 60 °C. Once the card reaches 60 °C, the fans start spinning to manage the thermals. You get the best of both worlds: low noise and great thermal performance.
AMD's Polaris 10 is built on AMD's 4th Generation Graphics Core Next Ellesmere architecture. This architecture is AMD's first foray into the 14 nanometer process, using GlobalFoundries to build the chips. Housing 5.7 bilion transistors in a 230mm² die, this "Polaris 10" core has 2304 shader units, 144 texture units, and 32 ROPS, with a maximum boost clock speed of 1316MHz in OC mode. By using MSI's Gaming App, you can choose one of three profiles that have varying clock speeds. The gaming profile core clock speed is slightly lower than the OC profile at 1303MHz, while the silent profile comes in at 1266MHz. The 8GB of high-speed GDDR5 memory from Samsung is used on this sample instead of the Micron ICs seen on the RX 470 Gaming X 8G from MSI. Out of the box, the memory on this card runs at an 8Gbps effective rate (2000MHz actual) and flows through a 256-bit wide bus. When you apply the overclocking profile in the MSI Gaming App, the memory speed takes a jump up to an 8.1Gbps effective data rate for added bandwidth.
Equipped with MSI's Twin Frozr VI cooling technology using Torx 2.0 fans and a custom PCB with an all-digital power management system, this AMD Polaris architecture-based card should deliver excellent cooling results to go with the capabilities of the Polaris core. Let's see if this card from MSI can out perform the comparison RX 480 cards on this list.