The Red Devil RX 480’s “Unlocked” BIOS Unleashed & Evaluated

Intro

The Red Devil RX 480 8GB video card originally shipped from PowerColor nearly a month ago with a BIOS that limited the card’s potential to only a little bit faster than the reference RX 480.  Although the card features an 8-pin power connector and a triple fan cooler that allows it to boost up to 1330MHz, when testing it this weekend, we found that it frequently throttled the clocks and its performance was disappointing.  Yesterday, however, a brand new “unlocked” BIOS was released and this evaluation features the PowerColor Red Devil RX 480 running with the new BIOS versus the reference RX 480.

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This 256KB unlocked BIOS file can be acquired from the PowerColor Devil Club or from TechPowerUp.  The new unlocked BIOS is intended for enthusiasts who want to improve the Red Devil’s performance by increasing the card’s power limits, and it removes a TDP restriction in the original BIOS.  Using this new BIOS will increase the power consumption, temperatures, and noise but it will bring performance gains.  Since the Red Devil cards ship with a dual-BIOS and a switch, flashing the BIOS is easy and reasonably safe for the experienced overclocker.

AMD released its Polaris architecture as the RX 480 on June 29, and we compared the reference 8GB version to the GTX 980, to a mildly overclocked 970, and to the reference 290X and to the XFX 390 OC.  We saw that even though it launched on immature drivers and with power issues, it is definitely well-suited for bringing less expensive VR to the masses as AMD claims.  We followed its progress with improved drivers that somewhat addressed the power issues, and we also saw that it was only a fair overclocker versus the GTX 1060.

Now we have the PowerColor Red Devil RX 480 8GB with the new unlocked BIOS that we will benchmark at PowerColor clocks against the reference RX 480 with 25 games to see how it compares in performance.   A follow up evaluation will manually overclock the Red Devil, and we will compare its performance with its competitor, the EVGA GTX 1060 SC, on Nvidia’s latest drivers.

The much smaller Red Devil RX 470 is pictured below next to the Red Devil RX 480 on the bottom.  The aesthetics of red on black make for very good looking cards.

DSCN1739According to AMD, the RX 480 is differentiated from the RX 470 graphics card by the RX 480’s superior ability to deliver immersive VR experiences whereas the RX 470 is aimed primarily at desktop PC gaming.  However, both the RX 480 and the RX 470 feature asynchronous shaders and new geometry capabilities that enable support for DirectX 12 and Vulkan with the latest version of Graphics Core Next (GCN) for PC gamers.  And gamers will be able to stream and record their favorite games up to 4K at 60 FPS with virtually no performance impact.

Polaris architecture combines the latest FinFET 14nm process technology and advanced power, gating, and clocking technologies to deliver a less power-hungry gaming experience compared with AMD’s last generation.  Polaris boasts a brand new display engine and HDR-ready capabilities while the new Radeon WattMan offers a new level of customization and control over clocks, voltages, and temperature.   And as with previous generations, Radeon software tends to optimize the hardware as drivers mature, improving gaming performance over time.

Instead of requiring 2 PCIe connectors as in the 28nm R9 200 and 300 series, the RX 480 and the Red Devil RX 470 get by with only 1, yet  they deliver near R9 390X performance.  In the case of the PowerColor Red Devil RX 480, it uses a single 8-pin PCIe cable versus the 6-pin power connector in the reference RX 470 and RX 480.DSCN1457

We saw the reference RX 480 get into trouble with its 6-pin connector as being insufficient for overclocking.  In fact, we have to increase the fan speeds of the reference version to annoying noise levels just to prevent it from throttling its clocks.  Having an 8-pin power connector plus superior 6+1 multi-phases where each phase supplies 25W instead of 22.5W found in the reference board, the Red Devil RX 480 is designed for superior performance, overclocking, and more stable power delivery.

Make sure to check the RX 480 8GB launch article which gives more details about Polaris’ new features.

The reference RX 480 8GB vs. the Red Devil RX 480 8GB

First, here are the specifications for the reference RX 480.  Its core clock will boost from 1120MHz up to 1270MHz.RX 480 specs

The above specifications are for the 8GB $239 version of RX 480 that we reviewed at launch.  Below are the specifications for the $279 PowerColor Red Devil RX 480 that boosts its core clock up to 1330MHz, or potentially 60MHz higher than the reference version.
red devil 480 specs

The specifications of the Red Devil RX 480 are quite impressive compared to the reference RX 480.  The Red Devil’s boost clocks have been increased from 1270MHz to 1330MHz and its cooling and power delivery are greatly improved.  This is why we were originally disappointed to see the rather conservative performance BIOS that PowerColor originally shipped with tended to throttle the clocks down to 1279MHz to keep it just barely ahead of the reference version.  The quiet BIOS was no faster than the reference version, although it is certainly whisper-quiet.

Our Testbed

We are going to focus on just two cards in this evaluation, the reference RX 480 versus the Red Devil RX 480 with the unlocked BIOS.  We will also show results of the reference RX 470 4GB and the Founders Edition of the GTX 1060. A follow up evaluation will compare the Red Devil RX 480 overclocked to its maximum versus the overclocked EVGA GTX 1060 SC on the latest Nvidia drivers.

We shall test 25 games and 2 synthetic benchmarks at 1920×1080 and at 2560×1440.  Our testing platform is Windows 10 Home 64-bit, using an Intel Core i7-6700K at 4.00GHz which turbos to 4.4GHz for all cores as set in the ASRock Z7170 motherboard’s BIOS, and 16GB of G.SKILL DDR4 at 3000MHz.

  • PowerColor Red Devil RX 480 8GB OC – $279 – at PowerColor clocks and with automatic fan speeds.
  • RX 480 8GB – reference version – $239 to $259.  The fan speed has been increased to keep the clocks from throttling.
  • RX 470 4GB – reference version – $179
  • GTX 1060 6GB – Founders Edition – $249

First, let’s take a closer look at the new PowerColor Red Devil RX 480.

7 COMMENTS

    • The RX 480 4gb is the same as the 8gb one, just the VRAM changes, there’s also a 3gb 1060, so I’m unsure which one they’re using.

      • We used the Founders Edition of the GTX 1060 (6GB) for this evaluation. I just fixed the typo in the Test bed that mistakenly said 8GB. We are using the Red Devil RX 480 8GB.

  1. I just flashed the unlocked BIOS onto the rx 480, but the max powelimit i can set still is 5%. Any suggestions?

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