Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB Video Card Review

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Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX480 Video Card

The Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB video card is easily one of the most anticipated AMD Radeon branded cards that I have seen in years. I’m not sure if Sapphire leaked purposely leaked out images of the early ‘cheese grater’ version of the Radeon RX480 Nitro with the silver metal fan shroud or not, but it got people talking about the card more than a month before it was announced. The AMD Radeon RX 480 reference design got some negative feedback about how it draws power and the Sapphire Radeon RX 480 was the gem waiting on the sidelines that had an 8-pin PCIe power connector instead of the factory 6-pin power connector. This means that it should be able to easily handle the power demands of AMD’s 150W TDP Pascal GPU without leaving gamers concerned with power draws through the x16 PCIe slot or the additional PCIe power connector. Then there was the fact that the stock heatsink on the AMD Radeon RX480 looked puny and left many wanting lower thermals and noise levels. Again, the Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 480 was coming with a massive GPU cooler with three copper heatpipes, a large aluminum fin array and twin fans that are easily removable.

On paper the Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 looks to be a damn near perfect custom designed card by a board partner. After using the Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB for a very short period of time it left me feeling like I boarded the hype train. For starters the performance of this factory overclocked card is lower than that of the Radeon RX 480 8GB reference card despite having a higher boost clock speed of 1306MHz. I knew having 4GB of memory running at just 7Gbps instead of 8Gbps would slightly impact performance, but I thought going from 1266MHz on the core clock to 1306MHz would easily make up for that. The performance of the card felt the same when I played games, but when running the benchmarks I learned that they were coming out slightly lower. That was totally unexpected, but the good news is the card isn’t significantly slower than the AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB reference card and it costs less.

The GPU cooler on the Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB looks impressive and that it would be night and day better than the reference design. When I first powered on the open air test system it was running around 30C on the desktop and then it slowly climbed to 40C and then proceeded to go all the way up to 54C and that I when the fans on the card kicked on. Sure, the open air test platform has poor airflow, but I have benchmarked many 0dB cards from NVIDIA lately (GeForce GTX 1060 and GeForce GTX 1070) and found that some can stay below 30C at idle. I placed a 120mm fan blowing across the test systems memory and ultimately the back of the Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB and was able to get the temps down to 45C. Having proper airflow is a must or you’ll end up with a non-passive solution at idle like we did.

Sapphire has been marketing the easily removable fans as a key differentiating factor, but who benefits? Are there aftermarket clip-in fans that you can buy? If there were such a thing offered how would you load a new fan profile for the new fans as surely the number of fan blades, the pitch of the blades and overall airflow would be different. Building up an entire ecosystem is tough to do and most companies fail at it. Sapphire’s easily swappable fan design appears to benefit them the most. If a fan fails during the warranty period or arrives damaged they can quickly send you out a new one via first class mail. Before they’d have to send you a whole new fan shroud with the fans attached or get the card back and do the repairs and then send the card back to you and pay standard shipping rates.  This will save the company money and reduce the number of ‘used’ RMA cards that have been fixed and need to be re-sold somewhere. Nothing wrong with that and it is a marketable feature as repairing a failed card quicker would be nice.

I wanted to see if I could get a replacement fan and setup an account see how Sapphire customer support would handle my trouble ticket. We made up a fake account, so Sapphire customer support wouldn’t know it was us and told them that our parents gave us a Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB video card from Newegg and that one of the two fans was squeaky. They told us that we needed to send it back to Newegg for replacement. When I pushed them about replacing just the fan they quickly replied they don’t send fans out. When asked if it was just a pointless marketing feature they responded saying that is how the standard RMA process works. So, the only point of the removable fans is cleaning the heatsink fins out? You can remove the entire fan shroud assembly easily to do that since it’s just held on with a handful of Philips screws.

 

sapphire-rma-service

The Sapphire Nitro RX 480 4GB video card has left me with mixed feelings. I had high hopes for this card as Sapphire really touted it up. It’s a good card, but I was expecting more from this custom board. It doesn’t have any choke whine and appears to be well built, but the GPU cooler just didn’t do enough for me and that is one of the big reasons for buying a custom card. Weeks ago I watched and tuned in for the Sapphire Nation pod casts and Ed from their North American PR department and saw that he genuinely excited by the card. I’m sure other review sites will praise the removable fans and the GPU cooler for being cooler overall than the reference design, but it failed to impress this veteran hardware reviewer. Ed is generally spot on with his thoughts as he is a gamer and he himself was a hardware reviewer. The only problem is when he started to talk about the card he didn’t have a sample and he was basing his thoughts off what he knew internally and the same information we were seeing from corporate.

Gaming performance on the Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB looked pretty good and Sapphire is targeting this model at 1080P gamers whereas they feel the 8GB model is more for 1440P gamers or those that are wanting to run CrossFire. Our testing showed that a Radeon RX 480 4GB card is just as good at 1440P gaming as the 8GB version, so save yourself some money. Having a pair of Radeon RX 480 8GB cards is certainly the ideal solution for a multi-GPU CrossFire setup due to being able to utilize 8GB of memory between the two cards. The Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB should be a solid card for 1080P gamers that want to play with high settings or 1440P gamers that are okay with middle of the road image quality settings. The performance difference between the 4GB models and 8GB models are pretty minor as we showed you last month.

Overclocking performance was pretty decent as we were able to take the core clock speed from 1306MHz all the way up to 1370MHz with full stability. This is above the 1342MHz core clock found on the Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 8GB model that costs $50 more, so we are happy with that. Sapphire is using slower 7000 MHz memory on the Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB video card and overclocking it to 8000 MHz was out of the question.

When it comes to pricing the Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB is $219 versus the $199 price point on AMD’s reference card. The Nitro Radeon RX 480 8GB is $269, so you need to cough up $50 for the extra 4GB of GDDR5 memory, higher boost clock and higher memory clock speed. Sapphire also informed us that they bin their cards so the 4GB cards are going to be the fallout from the 8GB cards. Does that make it worth spending an extra $50 for? Tough call as the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB video card price range starts at $249.

 

Legit Bottom Line:  The Sapphire Nitro Radeon RX 480 4GB graphics card had decent performance, but didn’t leave us with that wow feeling due to what seemed like high temperature and fan noise issues.


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  • jhon

    hello can you post your wattman settings i have the same card but idk what settings are good or bad with this card

  • ninjaduck

    A very interesting point is that Sapphire launched a website for the fan exchange. I’m already waiting a week to get a reply, but they got a site now :D.

    http://www.sapphiretech.de/fanxchange/de/index.html

  • Charles

    I know that this is an older review but my scores on my MSI Gaming X RX480 4GB edition in Firestrike are higher that you show for the Nitro here. Maybe the new drivers? I get a total score on Firestrike of 11,033 on an i7 2600k @ 4.2Ghz. My GPU score is 13,528. More in line with the GTX 1060 and 980.

    • datguy

      Yeah the 16.11.5 boosted performance a lot on the rx cards

      • datguy

        16.11.5 drivers*

  • Bensonix

    WTF 352 Watts? that’s 100watts more than GTX 1060. for a card thats slower than 1060 that’s kinda fucked up if you think about it.

  • Bopeep

    All future AMD cards are factory overclocked 🙁

  • I got this card (4GB version) can i flash it to 8GB ? because this is a non-reference card that’s why i’m asking, i knew most of reference RX 480 4GB with Samsung memory can be flashed to unlock full 8 GB GDDR5

  • Daniel

    Hi!
    I still don’t estimate, what graphics card I should buy. I don’t know if I should buy new AMD graphics RX480 Nitro+ which have good responses in gaming (8GB version) or any of NVIDIA card, because I read on a discusion from 2015 the AMD graphics (R9 390) still haven’t drivers for Fallout 4 and have any troubles with some effects in the game. I just want the best enjoyment of this game (Fallout 4)
    Thank you in advance for your answer.

  • munkeychips

    FYI AMD cards don’t use SLI bridges and HDMI 2.0b supports 4k @ 60.
    Check your facts.
    http://www.hdmi.org/manufacturer/hdmi_2_0/

  • Henry

    “Sapphire does not include any DVI to VGA adapters or -SLI bridges- in the accessory bundle with this card.” AMD cards don’t use Nvidias’ SLI bridges or even Crossfire bridges since the 290x.

  • BIGOLDKIE

    Excellent review, covers everything!

  • Coach

    I just bought this card (8gb, high clocked version -I think it’s 1342, have to look again) I stewed over this for a long time. I got a good deal on Newegg along with the BF1 discount I’ll likely use soon. I was so tempted to go to the GTX 1070, but other monetary needs pushed me back to the 1060 vs 480 fight. We can argue the points of each all day, but for the games I play, the better future-proofing, I went with AMD.

  • Walter Nikolaou

    Should I replace my dead 290x with this one?

  • Hazli Subakir

    Hi. I have a question. Is it possible to use a Vga monitor with nitro rx480 8gb using an active dvi or hdmi converter? As why I’m still using a vga monitor is that I’m upgrading my system one at a time so a new monitor is kinda impossible atm. Thanks and sorry if this question has already been asked.

  • Ali Husain

    Where was the GTX 1060 on page 6 Fire Mark Extreme?

  • Gezo

    I was super hyped for the Nitro but I’m glad I got a 1060 after all.

    • Ali Husain

      This is the 4GB version, the 8GB version has better specs and more performance though, and apparently overclocks to 1400+ easily, at the point to where it annihilates its competitors

      • Brian

        Funny, people talk about RX 480s at 1400+ MHz, yet there is absolutely no data about any 480 anywhere breaking 1380.

        It MAY if it is a nearly perfect chip, hit 1400 +/- 35 MHz, but even then it still is nowhere close to “annihilating” the competition – it would be barely keeping its head above water.

        Bought a Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 980 Ti foe $355 on eBay, have it running 1503 core, 8.2 GHz effective VRAM – THAT annihilates anything near its price.

        • Ali Husain

          When the first results came for the RX480 Nitro+ 8GB, they had a factory OC version, and a Nitro that was further overclocked (this one was at 1420 MHz) And was shown beating the Gaming X (even when this one was overclocked, I think by +150 MHz) Unfortunately, I can’t find a link, I searched, but to no avail.

  • Víctor Marino

    Hi Nathan.

    Thanks a lot for your in-depth review. It’s really helping me make up my mind with regards to this card.

    I’m currently torn between the excellent EVGA 1060 SC (that you also reviewed) and the Sapphire RX480 Nitro 8GB, as both will have pretty much the same retail price. As it turns out… you’re one of the few people on the planet who have tested both! 🙂 So hopefully you can solve my doubt below?

    I have the Fractal Design Node 304 mini-ITX case, which means there’s not a lot of space for air to move inside. But it does have 2 small fans on the front (pulling air inside from top & bottom grids) and a big one on the back (as exhaust). So in practice, I’ve never run into any temperature issues so far and I’m extremely happy with the case.

    It also has a large side-grid to allow the GPU to pull cool air from the outside as you can see here:

    http://www.fractal-design.com/media/edbb1123-afb6-4179-a5b2-f974f38c53ba

    Right now I’m still rocking an MSI R6950 Twin Frozr III from 2011 (27cm long), and it never goes past 75ºC when gaming. But it’s not a great comparison because it does indeed get a bit loud under load, and it also doesn’t have a 0dB mode.

    So… my question is: do you think the Nitro would realistically be able to sustain a 0dB operation mode on idle inside the Node 304 case? I can’t really tell if your open air system resembles my case better (due to reduced airflow) or worse (as my case DOES have airflow) than other reviews using full-sized ATX towers?

    Also: do you think the 2-fan design on the Nitro could be better suited for my case than 1-fan when gaming, due to it using the full length of the side-grid to pull cool air inside the case? Or do you think the benefits of the second fan would be totally negated by the cooler and more efficient operation of the EVGA 1060 SC? (as well as less clutter due to the card being half the size…)

    On paper I was leaning more towards the RX480 this time around as I like to keep my cards for 3-4 years, so future proofing is important to me. DX12, Vulkan and 8GB of VRAM were strong selling points, as well as AMD’s track record of improving their cards a lot overtime via driver updates. I also really like the idea of being able to take out the fans for periodic cleaning, which will not be possible with the EVGA card.

    However, in practice it seems the EVGA SC card will actually be able to run much cooler, probably be silent 90% of the time my PC is on, and run quieter when gaming too… whereas the Nitro looks like it would be one noisy son of a gun especially when not gaming, turning the fans on and off all the time while I’m just web browsing or something.

    I was just wondering what your opinion is, based on the feeling you got when you reviewed both cards?

    Thanks a sorry for the long comment!

  • aryacebe

    Is it safe using PSU Bronze 80+ 450watts wih this card?

    • Carl Pilkingtion

      As long as you arent using any CPU that consumes more than 200 watts (talking about the FX-9590) and aren’t crossfiring and not heavily overclocking you should be alright

      • Nathan Kirsch

        yeah, that is on the borderline of being okay. Like Carl said as long as you are using a big power hungry CPU and lots of drives and fans you should be okay.

  • Edward Crisler

    Clarify a couple of points.. The issue with the fan replacement is due to the new system not yet being fully implemented. The system will allow for the direct fan replacements without shipping cards off.
    Concerning the Power Phase, the cards will be 5 phase. While the sample Nathan had was a 6 phase model the card was only using 5 phase during operation, the 6th phase was disabled in BIOS. A few early cards were built with the 6 phase before the switch over in final build.

    • Nathan Kirsch

      Okay, glad to hear it was disabled I was wondering how that will impact power consumption or overclocking. Are the 8GB cards using all 6 phases?

      Also, do you know when the fan system will begin? As you saw when I contacted the support team they said I needed to return the entire card and would not be able to get just a fan.

      • Edward Crisler

        I was told that the new service solutions are being rolled out. I do not have a set date yet but if someone has an issue and does not get the correct service they can reach to me and I will help get it resolved.

        All of the cards are using 5 phase power.

  • khanmein

    y 4gb variant come with hynix? while 8gb come with samsung? damn fishy~

    • Nathan Kirsch

      because the 4GB version uses less expensive 7Gbps memory while the 8GB version uses more expensive and faster 8Gbps memory.

  • Tharsys

    At least, Legit Reviews did not add the results of the OC with liquid nitrogen for NVidia cards 😉

  • John Deadcorn

    Nice review! I was extremely impressed with my Sapphire Nitro 380X. I jumped around from a few different Radeon partners for a long time but I’m sticking with Sapphire now.

    Also, near the beginning of the article it says the RX 480 is Pascal instead of Polaris, haha.

    • Nathan Kirsch

      Duh… Way to get my P’s mixed up 🙂

      • John K

        When can we buy these? And did you happen to look at how many chips are on the pcb? 😉

        • Nathan Kirsch

          They are available now! Links are in the article to buy at Newegg/Amazon. How many chips? Are you talking memory or power phases? This card has all 6 power phases and I just found out yesterday that the retail cards only have 5. Not sure how that will impact power and overclocking.