Sapphire Nitro+ RX 480 4GB Reviewccokeman -
Category: Video Cards
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Sapphire Nitro+ RX 480 4GB Introduction:
While NVIDIA was busy showcasing its latest Pascal architecture, AMD was busily prepping its foray into 14nm territory. AMD recently introduced the 4th Gen GCN architecture, code named Polaris. Polaris is going to be available in several configurations, but for the desktop the release will be Polaris 10 on the Ellsmere XT core. The RX 480 is offered in both 4GB and 8GB memory configurations to hit the right price points. With this round of the GPU wars, it looks as if AMD has conceded the high ground, preferring to target the largest segment of the gaming market, the $200 to $250 price points that generate the larger section of the revenue when it comes to gaming level graphics cards.
Sapphire, traditionally AMD’s largest AIB partner, usually comes up with something unique after each new architecture is released. In the past we have seen the gamut run from rebranded reference cards all the way up to water cooled ATOMIC series cards. The Nitro series is a newer iteration and for this launch period I will be taking a look at Sapphire's Nitro+ RX 480 4GB card. This card is more eagerly anticipated than the 8GB card since it looks like the perfect fit for 1920 x 1080 gaming. Sporting a factory overclocked boost clock of 1306MHz on the 14nm core and 1750MHz on the 4GB of GDDR5 memory, this card should be more than capable of delivering a great gaming experience for your money.
Current pricing for this card is $219, 80 bucks less than the GTX 1060 that launched just a few short weeks ago. How will this factory overclocked card from Sapphire fare in the comparison? Let's find out.
Sapphire Nitro+ RX 480 4GB Closer Look:
Sapphire has stepped away from the oversized product packaging as the accessory bundle size has dropped over the years, and have gone vertical on the graphics. Not a bad thing as you can stack more product on brick and mortar shelves. The front panel shows a robot warrior with both company and AMD specific features. The Sapphire logo is at the top left, with the Nitro+ moniker on the right. The model number is in red across the front, while at the bottom edge we see that the card is VR ready, is optimized for DX12 performance, and has a Dual-X fan, along with superior design work. The back side of the package rolls through the full Sapphire Nitro+ RX 480 4GB set of features. Highlights would be DX12 support, Black Diamond chokes, Nitro Glow, and Freesync support. The accessory bundle includes a registration card, driver and software disc, and a quick installation guide. Slim, but you get what you need. Most of the display connectivity options are covered with the card's outputs and there is no need for an adapter at this point.
Sapphire's Nitro+ RX 480 4GB is a sleek looking card that comes equipped with the company's patented Dual-X cooling solution. From the front you get a dimpled shroud with a pair of dust-free 95mm fans. The back side of the card features a Sapphire-branded aluminum backplate that is designed to manage the airflow out of the card and into the outgoing chassis air stream. Stiffening the PCB is going to improve longevity of the card by reducing flex in the PCB that could reduce the life span of the card due to cracked traces in the PCB. The one card I have had fail on me was a direct result of PCB flex. This card, like all current cards, is meant to be used in a 16x PCIe 3.0 slot, but is backwards compatible.
At just under 9.5 inches in length, you get a bit of punch in a smaller package, making this card ideal for use in just about any chassis. Just about every card built for gaming features a dual slot cooling solution for not only proper cooling, but to have the right look. The top view of the card shows the Nitro Glow Sapphire logo so you know what hardware you are running.
Display connectivity on the Nitro+ RX 480 4GB consists of a single DL-DVI-D port, two HDMI 2.0b ports, and a pair of HDR ready DisplayPort 1.4 ports that support up to four displays. Sapphire left enough space on the I/O panel to dump some of the thermal load out of the chassis. Most of the airflow will be forced out the backside of the shroud and the end of the card. The back end of the card is open to vent the thermal load, as well as act as an air intake for cooling airflow when running at idle using 0% fan speed. Sapphire stepped up and put an 8-pin PCIe power connection on the Nitro+ RX 480 4GB. This drives up the potential inbound current to 225W instead of the 150W on the reference cards. This eliminates the potential for over drawing the PCIe power connections. Sapphire recommends a 500W PSU for use with its RX 480.
CrossFire is supported on the RX 480 series by way of way of AMD's XDMA technology that no longer uses a CrossFire bridge connection and sends the inter-GPU communication through the PCIe bus. Along the spine of the Nitro+ RX 480 4GB are a pair of switches that cover a pair of functions. The toggle switch is used to switch between the higher clocked performance profile and a low noise, lower clock speed profile. The other switch is a button that lets you choose how you want to use the lighting of the Sapphire logo. You can set the logo to change color based on fan speed, GPU temperature, or cycling through the RGB spectrum. If you want you can turn the LED logo off as well. Once the latest version of Sapphire's TriXX software is available, you will be able to use the Nitro Glow feature without opening the chassis to make a change. The Nitro Glow feature allows the card to integrate with many of the motherboards that are using RGB lighting effects.
Sapphire has used its Dual-X cooling solution for years in almost as many iterations with differing fan sizes, blade designs, and heat sink configurations. On the whole, Sapphire has done an excellent job of keeping their cards cool under a load. This iteration uses Nitro Free Flow to direct the airflow out of the card and up into the outgoing air stream of the chassis. With 120mm or larger fans being used in most chassis to pull the airflow from the CPU cooling solution out of the chassis, this seems like a good idea for airflow management. This Dual-X design uses a pair of 95mm dual ball bearing, dust-free fans to provide the airflow needed to keep the Nitro+ RX 480 4GB cool. These new fans are said to last up to 85% longer than other designs. A new wrinkle is that the fans feature a quick disconnect feature that enables the end user to order a new fan from Sapphire if one should break or fail. A pretty neat feature for sure.
The heat sink assembly covers the majority of the PCB keeping the GDDR5 memory and VRM components cool via direct and indirect airflow cooling. Sapphire is using a trio of heat pipes to move the thermal load from the copper contact plate to the aluminum fin array. Heat pipes have been a preferred method of moving the thermal load for a while now. Sapphire is using a pair of 8mm and a single 6mm heat pipe on this Dual-X design. As a complete system, Sapphire's Nitro Cool solution is up to 10% more efficient than previous designs.
The Ellsmere core is a 14nm FinFet design that houses 2304 unified shader cores, 32ROPs, and 5.7 billion transistors in a 232 mm² die size package. A total of 4GB of GDDR5 memory is used with access running through a 256-bit bus. Sapphire built all the bells and whistles into this card. You get Dual-X cooling, Nitro Glow LEDs, a factory boosted clock speed, good looks, and more. At this point all that is left is to put it through our tests and see what comes out on the far side.