New AMD driver fixes RX 480 power draw without sacrificing performance

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It’s been a hell of a week for graphics card enthusiasts. Yesterday, Nvidia’s 1060 was officially revealed, promising a card that matches the former flagship GTX 980 in performance, for a fraction of the cost.

It also came to light that AMD’s equally budget-conscious, recently released RX 480 has a power draw issue, frequently pulling far more power from the PCIe bus than the spec allows for. It’s ideally an issue that shouldn’t have happened. In its quest for perceived power efficiency, AMD opted to use a lone 6-pin connector to keep the card’s TDP at 150. Had its engineers instead opted for an 8-Pin, there wouldn’t be an issue with power draw, but once again AMD’s cards would be fingered as being power-hungry. It’s something that’s happened anyway, with Nvidia being confident that the 1060 has a TDP of 120w.

That said, AMD’s response to the situation has been fantastic. They’ve owned up, admitting that the card draws too much power, and promised that a driver-based solution would be coming this week. And they’ve delivered.

The new 16.7.1 Radeon driver is available, and it seems to have lowered the power draw of the card significantly, without any perceivable compromises to performance. According to the folks at PCPer the AMD RX 480 when set to compatibility mode still sometimes draws a little more juice than the PCIe spec allows for, but it’s such a small overage that it’s no longer potentially dangerous.

“With the two new fixes, AMD has brought the reference boards back to where we expected them to be. The power phase weighting adjustment is in my mind, the most crucial change. By allowing the 6-pin power connection to provide more of the power to the card than the +12V on the PCI Express graphics slot, there is significantly reduced worry about power draw through the motherboard. Even though we still found that the current readings were over the 5.5A level that the specification says is a maximum, the change gets the RX 480 much closer, and with zero impact on card performance.”

Here’s what the new driver does:

Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.7.1 Highlights

  • The Radeon™ RX 480’s power distribution has been improved for AMD reference boards, lowering the current drawn from the PCIe bus.
  • A new “compatibility mode” UI toggle has been made available in the Global Settings menu of Radeon Settings. This option is designed to reduce total power with minimal performance impact if end users experience any further issues.  This toggle is “off” by default.
  • Performance improvements for the Polaris architecture that yield performance uplifts in popular game titles of up to 3% [1]. These optimizations are designed to improve the performance of the Radeon™ RX 480, and should substantially offset the performance impact for users who choose to activate the “compatibility” toggle.

Fixed Issues

  • Radeon™ RX 480 limited PCI-E Bandwidth (PCI-E bandwidth is now at the correct speed on the Radeon™ RX 480) with Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.7.1.
  • Minor stuttering no longer occurs in Grand Theft Auto V on Radeon™ RX 480 with Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.7.1.
  • Video corruption will not be observed in DOOM with resolutions above 1920×1080 with Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.7.1.
  • Hitman™ graphical corruption no longer occurs when the game is set to use DirectX®12 API and using zoom with weapons with Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.7.1.
  • Display will not exhibit minor flicker on Radeon™ RX 480 when Freesync is enabled on a games launch or exit with Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.7.1.

You can – and really SHOULD – download the 16.7.1 driver if you own an RX480 from AMD right now. Just remember that the compatibility mode that lowers TDP is off by default, so if you’re worried, you may want to toggle that on.

Last Updated: July 8, 2016

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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