We’re finally in a post-mining world, with stable pricing and supply for graphics cards. The situation isn’t exactly ideal yet in India, but it’s getting there. The hope that we had of low prices due to oversupply hasn’t really panned out – instead, both AMD and Nvidia are using game bundles to add value to the sales of new units.
Nvidia’s recent GeForce RTX series launch has also pushed prices upwards, and even the brand new GeForce RTX 2060 doesn’t really serve the value-conscious gamer who just wants a smooth experience at high settings. The mid-range segment, typically with prices between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 30,000 is still ruled by the GeForce GTX 1060, and to a lesser extent, AMD’s Radeon RX 580.
Both are relatively old products now, and against that backdrop, AMD recently launched a new GPU model — the Radeon RX 590. This is a relatively minor refresh of the Radeon RX 580, using a new manufacturing process to extract higher speeds from the same chip design.
We’ve got a Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 590 Special Edition graphics card featuring this new chip in for review. Let’s see how much of an upgrade it is, and whether it poses a challenge to Nvidia’s old but still popular GeForce GTX 1060.
AMD Radeon RX 590 GPU architecture and specifications
AMD’s big news with the Radeon RX 590 is the shift from a 14nm manufacturing process to 12nm, which has allowed it to raise clock speeds to squeeze out a bit more performance. Otherwise, this is essentially the same GPU as the Radeon RX 580, codenamed Polaris (which itself is essentially the same GPU as the Radeon RX 480). Interestingly, it’s been well over a year and a half since the Radeon RX 580 was released.
The focus is squarely on gaming at 1920×1080, which according to AMD and the regularly updated Steam Hardware Survey, is what the vast majority of gamers target. AMD promises at least 60fps in today’s biggest games and over 120fps in popular esports titles. There is also a huge gap in prices between Radeon RX 580 graphics cards (approximately Rs. 19,000) and Radeon RX Vega 56 cards (approximately Rs. 45,000) that AMD wanted to fill.
The Radeon RX 590 GPU should deliver 12 percent better performance than the Radeon RX 580 on average, slotting in above rather than replacing it. As far as competition from Nvidia goes, it should go up against the GeForce GTX 1060 and the brand new GeForce RTX 2060. If you want to upgrade from a graphics card that’s two years old or more, and are not necessarily planning to move up to a 1440p or 4K monitor, you might be interested in the Radeon RX 590.
This GPU has exactly the same configuration as the Radeon RX 580 (and the Radeon RX 480), with 2,304 stream processors in 36 clusters that AMD calls compute units, matched with 144 texture units. That means very little has changed since mid-2016. Clock speeds are higher though, at 1469MHz for the base and 1545MHz for the boost speed. Despite the process shrink, TDP has gone up from 185W to 225W, which shows that all gains in efficiency have been sacrificed for speed.
Radeon RX 590 graphics cards will have 8GB of GDDR5 RAM on a 256-bit bus. This is somewhat slower and less modern than GDDR6 RAM which we would have liked to see, but having 8GB will give AMD a marketing advantage over Nvidia’s current offerings at this price level.
Aside from the hardware itself, AMD boasts of several software and driver-level features for its GPUs, including of course FreeSync support for variable refresh rates on affordable monitors, automatic optimisation of game settings, gameplay recording and streaming with Radeon ReLive, power optimisation with Radeon Chill, and granular overclocking with Wattman. New with the recently released Radeon Software Adrenalin 2019 Edition is the ability to stream games to a smartphone, tablet, or VR headset and make adjustments to settings remotely using the AMD Link app.
Finally, AMD is offering buyers quite a bit of value in the form of three AAA games free with all Radeon RX 590 purchases: Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2, and Tom Clancy’s The Division 2. These games are all releasing between January 25 and March 15 so while the benefit is slightly delayed, you are getting brand new top-tier games. You’d be saving approximately Rs. 9,000, going by currently available Indian pre-order MRPs, but you have to redeem the offer before February 9, 2019.
Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 590 Special Edition graphics card
AMD hasn’t put out a reference card for this GPU, so there is no option with a stock cooler. Board partners including Sapphire, Asus, PowerColor, and XFX all have their own coolers and design flourishes. We have Sapphire’s Nitro+ Radeon RX 590 Special Edition in for review. Not only does it have a distinctive design of its own, but it’s also factory overclocked. The GPU has been tweaked to run at a maximum boost speed of 1560MHz, and the memory has also been pushed up to 8.4Gbps.
First of all, this card is enormous, and its shroud is a very bright and unusual baby blue shade. It’s really going to be noticeable, and there’s very little chance of it matching anything in your PC case. The two huge 95mm fans are lit with light blue LEDs, and there’s no way to change the colour, dim them, or turn them off. This could be quite a distraction in a windowed PC case at night. We’ve never seen PC components this garish, much less enthusiast-grade gaming hardware.
This is quite jarring in an age when graphics cards are usually designed to look stealthy, and black or at least dark grey is pretty much the standard. The only way to change the fan colour is to buy Sapphire’s red or white replacement fans, which can be swapped in, though these don’t appear to be available in India yet. If you’re looking for RGB LEDs, the only thing you can control is the Sapphire logo on the top. You can choose any static colour or one of several effects. The logo lighting can even be turned off, but this is of little comfort.
Speaking of the fans, Sapphire says it has come up with a new advanced airflow design to improve performance and reduce noise. Each fan can be lifted out after undoing a single screw, so that the entire card doesn’t need to be shipped to Sapphire if a fan needs to be replaced. When the card is idle, both fans can spin down completely so there’s no sound at all.
The front face has a pattern of dimples spreading across its surface, and a silver backplate with a latticed pattern for heat dissipation. Like the fans, Sapphire sells replacement shrouds in dark blue and red. It’s a nice idea for customisation, but these aren’t available in India either, and the idea of paying extra for them isn’t very appealing.
The two silver heatpipes on the top will be very noticeable in any windowed PC case. The massive heatsink’s fins are visible behind the fans and at the back. This graphics card is not only taller than standard PCIe cards, but it’s also a little thicker than usual for a dual-slot card. You’ll also definitely want to keep the neighbouring slot free for airflow.
You get one DVI (digital only) port, two DisplayPort 1.4 ports, and two HDMI 2.0b ports on the rear. You’ll need one 8-pin and one 6-pin PCIe power connector, and a 500W power supply is recommended. If you take a close look at the upper right corner of the backplate, you’ll notice a small cavity where a tiny switch can be accessed. This lets you flip between gaming-optimised compute-optimised (read: cryptocurrency mining) BIOSes. A tiny slip of paper in the retail box warns users that their PCs might become unstable if they try to run games when the compute BIOS is enabled, and that you need to reinstall drivers after every switch.
Sapphire says it has used high-quality capacitors and power circuitry, and has ensured adequate cooling for them as well. Overclocking and diagnostics are supported through the downloadable Trixx 3.0 utility.
Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 590 Special Edition performance
Our test bench for the Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 590 consisted of the following components. You can check out our reviews of the Radeon RX 580 and GeForce GTX 1060 GPUs at the times of their respective launches to compare performance results. There are some differences in the test hardware and games used then and now, but most test results should be roughly comparable. We used the latest version of Windows 10, and AMD’s Adrenalin Edition 2019 driver, version 19.1.1 for this review.
As always, we began our tests with the industry standard 3DMark suite. The Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 590 scored 5,182 points in the DX12 Time Spy test, 3,743 in Fire Strike Ultra, and 13,969 in Fire Strike. For reference, the Radeon RX 580 scored 4,492 in Time Spy, 3,132 in Fire Strike Ultra, and 11,823 in Fire Strike. Our highest performing GeForce GTX 1060 sample scored 4,273, 3,168, and 11,421 points respectively when reviewed at the time of launch.
The Star Swarm simulation test on the Radeon RX 590 gave us an average frame rate of 43.04fps compared to 40.22fps with the Radeon RX 580. Unigine Valley, at 1920×1080 using its Ultra preset, returned an average of exactly 60fps with a minimum of 30.5fps and a maximum of 113.9fps. That’s a bit higher than the 53.9fps that this GPU’s predecessor managed.
We began our series of in-game benchmarks with Far Cry 5 using the Ultra preset. Running at the target 1920×1080 resolution, the average frame rate was a very smooth 78fps. We also tried this test at 2560×1440 and got 57fps on average, which was still perfectly playable. Out of curiosity, we raised the resolution to 4K, and got only 29fps with visibly choppy visuals on screen.
Moving on to the very recent Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we tested with DirectX 12 and TAA enabled. At 1920×1080 using the Highest quality preset, our average frame rate was a decent 66fps. Moving up to 2560×1440 made that drop to 44fps, which shows that there is some headroom for future upgrades with this GPU.
Metro: Last Light Redux is one of our more demanding titles. Using the Very High preset and SSAA enabled and AF set to 4X, we recorded an average of 58.3fps at 1920×1080. In this example, we wouldn’t try playing at 2560×1440 because performance came in at only 32fps.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is also quite heavy on hardware requirements, and it has a pretty demanding built-in benchmark run. Using the Ultra preset, we got 56.7fps at 1920×1080 and 38.5fps at 2560×1440.
We then turned to manual gameplay in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Our average frame rate was 62fps, using the Ultra graphics preset and High post-processing at 1920×1080. The ever-forgiving Doom benefits from the low-level Vulkan API on AMD GPUs, and ran perfectly well at over 150fps at 1920×1080, and over 90fps at 2560×1440.
Sapphire’s Trixx software supports overclocking the GPU and memory as well as tweaking the voltage. You can create up to five profiles, and there are also quick toggles for Stealth and Power Modes, which decrease or increase the maximum power draw by 5 percent respectively. You can set the fans to automatic or fixed speed, or define a custom ramp. If you prefer, you can use the WattMan tool within the AMD Radeon Software control panel for overclocking.
There’s also a handy power consumption monitor that showed us that power consumption was between 120W and 140W when running the Unigine Valley benchmark, and that it spiked as high as 177W while we were playing Far Cry 5. It also showed power consumption as high as 25W when idling with the fans not even spinning. These figures are quite high, and show that AMD has gone for performance over efficiency.
At least the enormous cooler serves to keep this card running quiet. Even in our heaviest games, we barely heard more than a dull hum from our open-air test bench. The fans never reached the kind of roar that they can when running the self-test in the Trixx utility.
It seems that the Radeon RX 590 GPU exists because AMD felt that it could address a gap in the market, and because Nvidia is currently getting a lot of attention for its new GeForce RTX series. The real fight will hopefully come later this year when AMD is ready to release its next generation.
The choice between the Radeon RX 590 and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 comes down to two factors — power consumption and cost. Most people don’t really factor power consumption into their buying decisions, but if it’s something you’re conscious of you’ll definitely prefer Nvidia’s options which run far more efficiently and are therefore also likely to be smaller and quieter. AMD has chosen to brute-force the kind of performance you get with this GPU, but it does pay off in terms of performance.
As for cost, AMD has historically had trouble managing to get graphics cards out at decent prices in India. The $279 (approximately Rs. 19,570) that Radeon RX 590-based cards should cost has turned into Rs. 27,000 (average street price) which completely tips the balance that this GPU should have with its rival from Nvidia. GeForce GTX 1060 cards with 6GB of RAM can now be had for around Rs. 22,000 and the GeForce RTX 2060 now on sale at Rs. 31,000 should easily outperform this card. Even the Radeon RX 580 isn’t all that different, and 8GB cards cost less than Rs. 22,000 now.
If AMD and its board partners can sort out prices in India, Radeon RX 590 graphics cards including the Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX 590 could find themselves in a sweet spot for buyers. It should be able to handle games at 1920×1080 for many years to come and won’t disappoint, especially if AMD continues to release useful software updates like it has been doing. For now though, it’s a little difficult to recommend simply because you can get performance that’s almost at this level but for much less money elsewhere.
Price (MOP): Rs. 27,000
- Great performance at 1920×1080
- Excellent construction quality
- Runs quietly even under load
- Fans are removable and easy to clean
- High power consumption
- Non-controllable fan LEDs
- Garish styling
Ratings (out of 5)
Value for Money: 4