While enthusiasts eagerly await to coming of the next-generation of high-end Radeon cards, AMD shores up its starting lineup with the RX 500 series, featuring small but significant improvements over last year’s RX 470 and RX 480 graphics cards.

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2016 was a busy year for the video card business, with both major players introducing their new architecture to the gaming public. While Nvidia attempted to hit every corner of the market with its broad-ranging line of Pascal-based cards, AMD attempted to gain ground by focusing on the lower end of the spectrum with its first generation of Polaris-based cards.

At the top of the line was the AMD Radeon RX 480, a card aimed at delivering VR-ready performance at around $200. Below that was the RX 470, a solid 1080p performer priced below $200. Both were and remain solid cards, but low supply and high demand saw many buyers paying a premium price for what should have been an excellent value.

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Now we have the Radeon RX 500 line, AKA not the powerful cards featuring AMD’s new Vega architecture everyone was hoping for. AMD is calling the RX 500 series the second generation of Polaris, though it’s less of an upgrade and more of a refresh. The line consists of enhanced versions of the RX 460, 470 and 480, along with an $80 RX 550 card, you know, for the kids. We’re focusing on the very familiar Radeon RX 570 and 580.

Most of the specs for the RX 570 and RX 580 are exactly the same as last year’s RX 470 and RX 480. They’re basically the same thing, only slightly more powerful. The RX 580 has had its clock speed upped to 1,257 MHz base and 1,340 MHz boosted over the 480's 1,120/1,266, while the RX 570 tops its predecessor at 1,168/1,244 Mhz to the older card’s 926/1,206. Like I said, it’s a small but significant improvement.

Note that these specs are reference specifications, but AMD isn’t releasing reference cards this time around. Instead we’ve got a slew of board partner offerings available, many of which provide even more of a boost. The Sapphire RX 580 Nitro+ 8GB card we tested (the RX 580 is also available in 4GB versions) kicks the boost clock up to 1,411 MHz, while the ASUS RX 570 Strix OC card we received boosts to 1,278 MHz.

The Sapphire Nitro+ RX 580 is pretty on the bottom, plain on the top and outfitted with striking heat pipes on the inside.

Here’s a list of RX 470 and 480 partner cards available at launch.

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ASUS

  • $189 for RX 570 STRIX OC 4GB (tested)
  • $179 for RX 570 STRIX 4GB

Gigabyte

  • $259 for RX 580 Aorus OC 8GB
  • $229 for RX 580 Aorus 8GB
  • $219 for RX 580 Gaming 8GB
  • $199 for RX 580 Aorus 4GB
  • $189 for RX 580 Gaming 4GB
  • $179 for RX 570 Aorus 4GB
  • $169 for RX 570 Gaming 4GB

MSI

  • $245 for RX 580 Gaming 8G
  • $229 for RX 580 ARMOR 8G
  • $199 for RX 580 ARMOR 4G
  • $175 for RX 570 ARMOR 4G

Sapphire

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  • $275 for RX 580 Nitro+ Limited edition 8GB
  • $249 for RX 580 Nitro+ 8GB (tested)
  • $229 for RX 580 Pulse 8GB
  • $209 for RX 580 Pulse 4GB
  • $199 for RX 570 Nitro+ 4GB
  • $169 for RX 570 Pulse 4GB

TUL

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  • $269 for RX 580 8GB Red Devil Golden Sample
  • $249 for RX 580 8GB Red Devil
  • $229 for RX 580 8GB Red Dragon
  • $199 for RX 580 4GB Red Dragon
  • $175 for RX 570 4GB Red Dragon
It’s 2017, and the Asus Strix card is sporting dual DVI ports. This will doubtlessly overjoy someone.

Before we get into performance, let me say right off the bat that if you purchased an RX 470 or RX 480 last year, don’t feel compelled to trade up to the newer, slightly more powerful models. You’ve still got a fine card. Save your cash for when the Vega cards come out later this year.

AMD’s target audience for the Radeon RX 500 series is the reportedly large number of gamers still playing on video cards two years old or older. AMD tells us that audience is more than 500 million strong, some 80 percent of all PC gamers. The RX 570 is for those looking for a smooth experience on modern games at 1080p. The RX 580 is for those who might be up for pushing towards 1440p.

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As for the competition, AMD is pitting the RX 580 against Nvidia’s $299 Geforce GTX 1060, while the RX 570 has its sights on the GTX 1050 Ti, priced at $199.

Performance

I took turns swapping the two cards out of my current work system, featuring an Intel Core i7 6700, 16GB of pretty old Corsair DDR4 memory and damn I really need to upgrade my testing PC. I’ve got a newer system with an AMD Ryzen 1700x and much newer memory, but I decided to stick to the more known quantity for the purposes of benchmarking.

Since we already know a lot about how these chips are put together (everybody loves finfet) and in the interest of time, I stuck with the basics. Here come the frames per seconds.

If you’re looking for absurd numbers, look elsewhere. These are a couple of low to lower-middle range cards with modest goals in mind. Both do an admirable job of handling some of today’s tougher games at unreasonably high settings.

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The Radeon RX 580 hovered around or at the 60 frames per second mark for the more demanding titles, the average dropping below that for Ashes of the Singularity, which is mean, and Metro Last Light Redux, which is always kind of a dick.

The RX 570 did its best, keeping its distance from the scores of its more powerful sibling but still putting up a good fight. Richard Leadbetter over at Eurogamer ran a comparison between the newer cards and last year’s releases, and the RX 570 performs about the same as last year’s RX 480. That’s quite a nice bump.

The Radeon RX 580 would love to be a card for reliable 2160p gaming, but it’s probably not going to be that if you stick to ultra settings. Hitman running DirectX 12 managed to break the 60 frames per second barrier here, while the rest hung out in the high 40s, early 50s. Except Metro Last Light Redux. I don’t even known why I include it anymore.

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And look at that Radeon RX 570! If you don’t mind 30 frames per second, you’d be hard-pressed to find a card in its price range to handle 2160p as well.

Final Thoughts

That’s the key, isn’t it? The price range. Before I started swapping in the new Radeon RX 500 series cards, I had a Nvidia Geforce 1080 ti in my system, blowing most games out of the water at 4K resolution. But that’s a $700 card. The Radeon RX 580 starts at around $220 for the 8GB version, and it either keeps up with or outperforms Nvidia’s similarly priced GTX 1060 6GB.

It’s hard to say what’s going to happen when AMD starts rolling out its new Vega cards later this year, but that’s a worry for another time and likely another price bracket. Things at the lower end of the price pool are heating up as AMD introduces a pair of strong swimmers.