Introduction, Design & Features
AMD has come a long way since 2016 when, for a while, the company’s primary new product was the Wraith desktop CPU cooler it was pairing with processors like the AMD FX-8370. Those chips were, at the time, already a couple of years old and based on architecture dating all the way back to 2011.
It’s an impressive turnaround, then, that so far in the first four months of 2017 alone, AMD has teased its upcoming “Vega” graphics cards at CES 2017 in early January and launched two separate waves of its long-awaited “Zen”-based Ryzen CPU platform, starting in early March. While the chips, like the high-end Ryzen 7 1800X and midrange Ryzen 5 1600X, arrived with some issues around 1080p gaming performance (compared to competing Intel CPUs), the Ryzen CPUs have been praised overall. In general, they deliver multi-core computing performance that often competes well with Intel chips that cost twice as much, or more.
After the launch of the company’s Ryzen 5 processors in mid-April, the expected next steps for AMD were those high-end Vega-based graphics cards (these have been promised sometime in the second quarter), and a lineup of lower-end Ryzen 3 processors, expected sometime in the second half of the year.
But apparently that’s not enough new product for AMD, because the company launched four new midrange-to-low-end graphics cards in late April 2017, collectively known as the Radeon RX 500 series. These cards are based not around Vega, but on the same “Polaris” architecture that was baked into the company’s 2016 midrange video cards, notably the Radeon RX 480 and the Radeon RX 470 (the latter which we reviewed in demonic PowerColor Red Devil Radeon RX 470 trim).
Well, the Devil is back.
The Radeon RX 570, which we’re looking at here in the form of another evil-minded PowerColor card (the $189.99-MSRP Red Devil Radeon RX 570), and the Radeon RX 580 (which we already reviewed in the XFX Radeon RX 580 GTS XXX Edition), are expected to compete with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti and GeForce GTX 1060, respectively. Cards based on lower-end Radeon RX 560 and Radeon RX 550 silicon should also be available by the time you read this, or shortly after. Radeon RX 570 cards will ship with 4GB of GDDR5 memory and start at $169, while the three-fan, metal-bedecked Red Devil card we’re looking at here sells for $20 more (a $189 MSRP).
Now, those paying close attention to the graphics-card game will note that the RX 580 and RX 570 are positioned pretty much in line with the Radeon RX 400 series cards they’re replacing. Given that, and the fact that these are also based on Polaris chips (plus AMD’s history of, at times, rebadging existing silicon with a few minor tweaks and calling it a next-generation card), you might be thinking that that’s what’s going on here. AMD insists, though, that the Radeon RX 570 and RX 580 cards are based on a new Polaris graphics chip, dubbed “Polaris 20.”
We’re sure there’s something substantially different about the Polaris 20 chip that lets AMD claim it’s new. But the company didn’t provide any details about major changes with this silicon that’s at the core of the RX 580 and RX 570 cards. And we see a good many similarities between the specs of the RX 570 and the Radeon RX 470 it’s replacing, just as we saw with the Radeon RX 580 compared to its RX 480 predecessor. Both chips (the RX 570 and RX 470) have a reported die size of 232mm squared, and both feature 32 compute units, 2,048 stream processors, and 128 texture units. And both feature the same 256-bit memory bandwidth, just like the stepped-up RX 580 cards.
The primary difference, looking purely at the spec sheet from AMD, is that the newer card has a higher base clock speed (1,168MHz), compared to 926MHz on the Radeon RX 470 (a substantial jump of about 26 percent). But the “Peak Compute Performance” that AMD lists for the Radeon RX 570 indicates a more modest improvement. The new card claims to offer up 5.1 teraflops, while the Radeon RX 470’s specs advertised 4.9 teraflops. That’s an increase of 4 percent.
Based on AMD’s specs alone, we’re not expecting major performance gains here compared to the Radeon RX 470. But we’ll have to wait and see how it fares once we get to testing. We’ll get to that, but first, let’s take a look at the Red Devil’s finer details, which are fairly substantive for a card in this performance class. And we’ll also first detail AMD’s new power-saving “Radeon Chill” feature that limits frame rates to save power when there’s not much going on in-game.
Design & Features
Rather than rattle off a full list of the Radeon RX 570 and RX 580 specs, here’s the summary, direct from AMD…
Lest you think we were exaggerating about the similarities between this new card and the Radeon RX 470, here are the specs for the 2016 model.
Reps from AMD indeed told us that the newer cards are based on a “refined” new Polaris graphics chip. But based on what’s on the page here, we don’t see much substantive difference, other than faster clocks with the Radeon RX 570, and a higher power rating (150 watts, versus 120 watts with the Radeon RX 470). The latter is about what we would expect if AMD simply cranked up the clock speeds a bit beyond what was generally possible with the original run of RX 470 cards. Note, though, that the PowerColor Red Devil card we tested comes factory overclocked above AMD’s standard 1,244MHz. The Red Devil’s specs rate the card to run “up to 1,320MHz.” That’s a jump in maximum core clock speed of about 6 percent above what you’re likely to see with entry-level Radeon RX 570 cards clocked more modestly, and which will ship with more modest coolers.
As with many AMD-based graphics cards, the Red Devil Radeon RX 570 also has a small switch on the PCB, near the port section. The box says this lets you choose between “Ultra Overclock” and “Silent Overclock,” though we couldn’t find any details about clock change differences. Our test results below resulted from the card running in Ultra Overclock mode. But we ran several tests on the Silent setting as well, and never saw more than a 1fps difference between modes. The card wasn’t appreciably louder or quieter between those settings, either.
Here’s a visual overview of the Radeon RX 570’s specs and features, again direct from AMD. The company says cards based on the RX 570 GPU will be a good fit for gaming at 1080p and high settings. As we’ll see shortly in testing, that’s generally true, though you may have to dial back a setting or two if you’re aiming to stay above 60fps on some games.
Because the GPUs inside these cards use the same Polaris architecture that was found in last year’s Radeon RX 470 card, we’ll point you to that review at the link if you need to catch up on the details of what makes the Polaris cards old and new tick. The company didn’t provide any architectural details about what makes the new Polaris silicon different from last year’s chips, so we suspect it’s minimal at best. So, without anything new in that vein to talk about, we’ll jump to the other major feature AMD is rolling out with these cards: Radeon Chill.
The obvious, inappropriate Netflix-and-chill jokes aside, Radeon Chill is a software feature aimed at reducing power consumption by limiting frame rates when not much is going on in a scene being rendered. That might be when your character is standing around in an online RPG waiting for your friends to arrive. Or maybe you’ve walked away from your PC (to get a snack, and you forgot to hit Pause) while your character is in a calm section of a level.
AMD says Radeon Chill is opt-in, meaning you’ll have to enable it by switching it on in the company’s WattMan software (which is, ironically, used mostly for overclocking). Once you do so, an algorithm monitors your game inputs (keyboard, mouse, and so on) to predict when fast motion is happening on the screen. When your character is standing still or there’s little movement in the game, Chill ramps down the frame rate to save power, as well as reduce heat and sound output. Once you start moving, or a bunch of baddies crawl into your onscreen space, the card kicks back up into its normal performance mode.
In WattMan, you can also set a target frame-rate range you want to limit the game to, as you can see here…
AMD says enabling Radeon Chill can decrease the Radeon RX 570’s power consumption by up to 43 percent, and decrease card temperature by 20 degrees C.
The catch? AMD says not all games are a good candidate for Radeon Chill. We suspect that games like racing titles, where items are always flying by onscreen, are probably on that list. And at least for now, Chill is qualified to work on only some games. AMD sent along a list of 19 titles that it says should provide at this time a good experience with Radeon Chill enabled. You can see that list displayed graphically below. Some are very popular, like DOTA 2, Overwatch, League of Legends, and Witcher 3. But the launch list is pretty small, and no DirectX 12 titles are on it.
We asked AMD about the lack of DirectX 12 titles in the current Radeon Chill list. Our contacts didn’t offer much in the way of details, but they seemed to indicate DX12 itself is no deal-breaker for Chill. An AMD rep told us the company has “exciting updates coming very soon in regards to Chill and DX12 support.” Take from that what you will.
The other thing to keep in mind about Radeon Chill is that you may not need a new card to use it. It’s primarily a software feature, and we were told that it will work with “all GCN and Polaris-architecture GPUs.” That means all cards going back to the Radeon HD 7000 series (even relics like the Radeon HD 7770) should get support for AMD’s power-saving feature via a Radeon Crimson software update.
As appreciated as any power-saving feature is, we suspect that Radeon Chill will have limited appeal for the average gamer, who tends to be far more interested in maximizing frame rates, rather than lowering them. But for buyers looking to outfit a host of PCs for, say, a gaming cafe, particularly in a country where electricity is expensive, we can see how Radeon Chill could have appeal. And should AMD get its graphics chips into more gaming laptops, Chill could wind up useful for times when you find yourself gaming away from a power plug.
PowerColor Red Devil: Card Design
There’s no getting around the fact that the PowerColor Red Devil Radeon RX 570 is a very, very large video card—especially for one in this performance class. The quickest way to put that into perspective is visually.
From left to right here is the competing Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, the previous-generation PowerColor Red Devil Radeon RX 470, the Red Devil Radeon RX 570, and to the right of that, Nvidia’s highest-end consumer-focused card, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition. The latter Nvidia card is pretty big, at 10.6 inches long. But the Red Devil Radeon RX 570 pushes beyond 11 inches, making it one of the largest (or at least longest) cards to land in our graphics-card test bed since the dual-GPU monster Radeon HD 7990 back in 2013.
In other words, be very sure that your PC’s case has room for a large video card before clicking the buy button on this specific model, because you can find plenty of much smaller Radeon RX 570 cards out there. The Sapphire Radeon Pulse RX 570 ITXI, for example, looks to be about half the size of the Red Devil.
All that said, the Red Devil Radeon RX 570 does look and feel like a high-end card. The shroud surrounding the three fans is made of solid-feeling metal, rather than plastic, and there’s a massive metal backplate that, while it looks plain, extends well past the length of the PCB, and bends up to give the back of the card some stability and shape. If you’re looking for a card to show off inside your windowed case, and you like the looks of this big devil, you certainly could do worse.
As for ports, the PowerColor card has the same layout as the XFX-branded Radeon RX 580. You get three DisplayPorts, an HDMI port, and the one handy port the stock version of the Radeon RX 480 lacked: a dual-link DVI-D port, for users with older high-resolution monitors.
The card also requires a single eight-pin PCI Express power connector. That’s a bit much for a card of this class, but at least the port isn’t tucked inconveniently behind a shroud and a heat pipe, like we saw with XFX’s RX 580 card.
Overall, this is a solid-feeling, attractive card with appreciated aesthetic features for the price. We just wish it weren’t so (seemingly unnecessarily) big. The three fans and large, long cooler may come in handy for overclocking. But considering the card’s $189 price, if you’re intent on squeezing out more performance, you should step up to a 4GB version of the Radeon RX 580. Entry-level models of that card at that memory level start at just $10 more, or in the case of one Gigabyte Radeon RX 580 when we were wrapping up this review, the same $189 as this PowerColor RX 570.
One other reason you might want to step up to that RX 580 is support for virtual reality (VR) headsets. The Radeon RX 580 cards are certified VR-ready according to AMD, but the Radeon RX 570 doesn’t quite make the cut.