AMD Radeon RX 480 4GB versus Radeon RX 480 8GB

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4GB versus 8GB of Memory on the Radeon RX 480

Yesterday we took an in-depth look at the new AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB reference card and found that it was a great card for gamers running 1920 x 1080 or 2560 x 1440 displays. The performance was pretty good for a $239 graphics card, but most gamers know that 8GB of GDDR5 memory is overkill if you are just going to be doing 1080P gaming. We had a number of people ask us about how the 4GB card performs since it costs less and $199 is more appealing to them. Let’s find out together! AMD Radeon RX 480 Bottom

All of the AMD Radeon RX 480 at-launch graphics cards have shipped with 8GB of memory on them. That means if you run out and buy a 4GB card this very second it really does have 8GB of memory on the card. AMD disabled it through a special vBIOS and also lowered the clock speed of the memory on the 4GB cards.

  • AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB Reference Card – Runs at 8Gbps, but board partners can use other speeds on custom cards as long as it is above 7Gbps
  • AMD Radeon RX 480 4GB Reference Card – Runs at 7Gbps, but board partners can use other speeds on custom cards as long as it is above 7Gbps
Radeon RX 480 ellesmere XT BIOS Flash

Flashing the Radeon RX 480 At-Launch Card To Change The Memory Capacity & Speed

We got out hands on on both vBIOS revisions and have taken the AMD Radeon RX 480 reference card and have tested with both the 4GB and 8GB versions of the vBIOS!

AMD ellesmere XT vBIOS Flash

The update process was a simple executable that was run on the desktop that took a few minutes to run and after that we could lock the memory to run at 4GB or run all 8GB.

For this article we ditched the press driver (Crimson 16.6.2 beta) and installed the public driver (Crimson 16.6.2 WHQL). We also tested at three different configurations to give you the best possible results as board partners will be using both 7Gbps memory and 8Gbps memory on their custom RX 480 cards next month.

  • AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB – Running at 8Gbps for 256 GB/s of memory bandwidth
  • AMD Radeon RX 480 4GB – Running at 8Gbps (Overclocked by 250MHz using AMD WattMan)
  • AMD Radeon RX 480 4GB – Running at 7Gbps for 224 GB/s of memory bandwidth

full-memory

With the AMD Radeon RX 480 reference card running the 4GB vBIOS we found that the memory topped out at 3940MHz  when running game titles at a 4K resolution. Before the flash the same game titles were using nearly 6.5GB, so it looks like the memory is being capped.

Let’s run these three Radeon RX 480 card configurations and see how performance looks on a few benchmarks.

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  • Charles

    Based on this and hardwareunboxed’s findings with the same kind of tests, 4GB is fine for this level of GPU. Same can be said in most cases with the 3GB 1060. I think the Partner cards like the MSI RX 480 Gaming X 4gb edition for ~$200 and others like it are the best bang for the buck in the market right now. The 4GB 480 on current relive drivers meets or beats the 1060 3GB in latest reviews as well. 3GB is not quite enough in upcoming games I fear.

  • Newt

    The problem is vram not the physical addressing of memory. All new cards including Nvidia’s have this issue, yes the sticker may read 8gb but unless you have games that use vram exclusively your card is actually pretty crappy compared to last generation. Resolutions as far as I’m concerned really have little meaning these days, gpu designers can easily change them with driver updates.

  • So, the RX 480 8GB vs 4GB with both memory chips at 2GHz (8Gbps) is nil?

    I can’t imagine anyone spending more than $19, just buy the 4GB card and overclock the memory (which is anyways rated at 8Gbps).

    Unless they want to CFx two of these babies and play higher resolutions. Then it makes sense to get the 8GB cards.

  • Charlie Jenkins

    do you need 8gb for 4k or will 4gb work for 4k

    • legitreviews

      For 4K video the Radeon RX 480 4GB will be fine, but for gaming the Radeon RX 480 doesn’t have enough power for an enjoyable gaming experience!

  • Acedia

    @nathankirsch:disqus how is the power consumption compared between the 4 and 8Gb versions?

    • Josh

      Seconded. I’m really curious about this.

  • keithplayspc

    …still waiting for that flashing utility to “leak” out so I can try it on my retail card ^_^

  • Medion

    Would be curious how the reduced VRAM and reduced VRAM speed would impact power draw given the “issues” surrounding this card. I suspect that by using the 4GB at 1750mhz (7000 effective), the card should come below the threshold that it shouldn’t be crossing. Thinking of getting the 4GB reference card for $199 for my wife’s rig.

    • Nathan Kirsch

      Agreed, but right now there are no true 4GB cards in the market. Since all the at-launch reference cards have 8GB of memory on them they are all using the power needed by the 8GB IC’s as AMD can’t de-power half the chips. They are just blocking access to them with the vBIOS.

      • Medion

        That’s been debunked. The REVIEW samples have a bios switch that allows the reviewer to switch effective VRAM amount and speed. The actual 4GB cards in the market have a physical 4GB of VRAM.

        • Nathan Kirsch

          link? My RX 480 8GB reviewers card doesn’t have a vBIOS switch and a friend that bought a retail card at Micro Center has 8GB of memory on it.

        • Medion

          https://www.reddit.com/r/pcmasterrace/comments/4qfy9d/i_work_at_amd_the_time_has_come_to_ama_about/

          Question: “Is it true that rx480 4gb is bios locked, and is really a 8gb version?”

          Answer (provided by Robert Hallock): “In the market you will see a version with 8GB of physical memory, and a version of 4GB of physical memory. We sent reviewers an 8GB model with a BIOS that allows them to flash between 4GB and 8GB available memory so they could perform testing on both hardware configurations.”

          —–

          Reading your article, I had figured that you guys used the review sample’s bios feature. You’re saying that you did this on a retail sample? You may want to reach out to AMD about that. They are clearly singing a different tune.

        • Nathan Kirsch

          I’ve reached out to Robert. We were sent an 8GB card along with two vBIOS files that work on the windows desktop to flash the card between a 4GB and 8GB model. I was told it was the same version that was used on retail cards to lock the memory down to 4GB. I also spoke today with Keith May over at WCCFTech and he bought an XFX Radeon RX 480 4GB and has confirmed that his retail bought card has 8GB of memory on it. I’ve also had 5-6 people confirm this that I don’t personally know as they’ve e-mailed asking for my files.

        • Medion

          Nathan, thank you for the heads up. Maybe he just said that in the AMA to discourage people from buying the 4GB over the 8GB?

          It’s questionable went AMD would do stuck a thing.

        • Acedia

          Is this the reason why the RX480 4gb version vanished from the alternate shop? Was pretty sad about it. Wanted to buy on, because I will save the cards price through a reduction of my electricity bill within a year.

  • Howard Joseph

    where can one get the different vBIOS and the installer at?

  • Coach

    We know that the soon-to-come non-reference cards will run better (oc) and cooler with modified hsf’s, etc. I am cuirious as to how long it will take for partner cards to come out. Since, I am in the market for a new one, I’m looking at the R9 390 and 390X models as well. It appears from what I’ve read, the RX 480 lands in between a 380X and 390 in benchmarks. Is this right? If I can buy a 390 for $239 right now, why should I choose the RX480. The only thing is a reduction in power usage which I am willing to ignore if my games run better. I need to do more research. Is the RX480 more “future proof”? I think I read OpenGL 4.2 or 4.3 compatible.

    • Acedia

      Rumored is mid to end of July.

  • Ry

    What about the FCAT tho?

  • Get Liquid!

    Is there a ETA on when custom cards from board partners will be available?

    • Nathan Kirsch

      Mid July! July 15th or July 18th was supposed to be when the board partners could announce custom cards, so I would expect to seem them come out then as they are being built and shipped now.

  • Eric

    4gb is for single gpu setup. If you want to do crossfire then get the 8gb version. 2×480 8gb will do very well at 1440p 🙂

    • Roger214

      Nvidia geforce 1080 has 8 gb of ram. I think a crossfire of two 480 with 4 gb each could be equivalent to a 1080.

      • xamaryllix

        That’s not how it works. If you crossfire two cards with 4GB of VRAM it’s like you have 4GB total, but faster. You need two 8GB cards to gain the benefits of 8GB.

        • Nathan Kirsch

          Correct you don’t double the memory with CrossFire

        • Abyss Gaming

          I can’t remember what it is called exactly (sorry) but new directx 12 technology is coming out where the vram will add up, but it will probably take a while to become mainstream.

        • KVragec

          memory pooling… But that needs to be enabled by developers. It is DX12 thing but if not enabled then, you know…

      • Eric

        Crossfire and SLI don’t add Vram…
        4gb+4gb is sttill 4gb. Sapphire Ed said the same thing too. If you want to do cfx then get the 8gb version 🙂

      • fn noobee

        Umm… VRAM doesn’t stack, brother.

        • Brandon M

          there was speculation that dx12 may add features to allow both frame buffers to be used independently, allowing vram to add.

  • Baya

    3D Mark fine but why did you only test BF4 and FO4? It would be way more interesting to see how the 4GB holds up in a much larger variety of games including well known “VRAM eaters” like FC4, AC Unity, Shadow of Mordor, Arkham Knight.

    • Nathan Kirsch

      I just randomly picked a couple game titles as it takes a full day to run three resolutions on three cards. What resolution would you like to see FC4 done at?

      • spartan2600

        1080p would be great: it’s still the dominant resolution and will be for several years yet.

        • Nathan Kirsch

          Added Far Cry 4 results at the three resolutions I am testing with and saw pretty much no difference with that game title!

  • Zaxx

    Wish upcoming non-ref 4GB cards would ship with an unlockable 8GB of memory…highly unlikely I’m sure.If the ref blower coolers weren’t such crap, I’d grab a 4GB and wait for the special vbios to leak and flash up.

    • Nathan Kirsch

      yeah, the blower isn’t the best but at $199 the Radeon RX 480 4GB with 8GB of memory on the card might be one of the best deals of the summer!

  • We were very interesting > We were very interested.
    and we pleasantly surprised > and we were pleasantly surprised.

    • Nathan Kirsch

      Thanks Mark! Was in a rush to get down and out the door for the 4th holiday!

  • 1rishPredator

    Considering the RX 480 is really a 1080p card, the 4GB model would perform the same as the 8GB even when a game is using more than 4GB. In benchmarks you would see a slight difference, but in real world gameplay, you wouldn’t notice anything different.

    • akumaburn

      Skyrim with mods.

      • tom jones

        But how many push Skyrim mods hard enough to need more than 4GB and don’t already own a better card than the RX 480?

        • Suckfalt

          the entire skyrim nexus community?

        • Master Hiei

          I’ve played modded Skyrim many times over with a 4gb GTX 770 and never had any stuttering whatsoever

    • Claudiu Peagu

      WTH does “a 1080p card” even mean? 😐

      • solomonshv

        means that the card is too slow to be useful at 1440p, 3440×1440 an especially 4k.

        • Dennis Stam Hooligan Seven

          2560×1440 is 1440p res not 3440

        • solomonshv

          At what point did I say that 1440p = 3440×1440? I listed the 3 popular resolutions above 1080p that this card can’t do.

        • Dennis Stam Hooligan Seven

          the 2 popular res after 1080p are
          2560×1440
          3840×2160
          other resolutions are like 2 monitros together or widescreen monitor

        • SlappyTheElf

          Even the gtx 1080 is going to start struggling a bit at 4k

    • Dennis Stam Hooligan Seven

      rx 480 is clearly a 1440p card..if u want to play at 1080p u can get this card but your monitor has to be 144hz so u have some benefit out of 1080p