Performance on a budget: Breaking down AMD's RX 460 and 470 by the numbers

Continuing their trend of creating budget friendly graphics cards for everyone, AMD's RX 460 and RX 470 are officially on the market, bringing all the power of Polaris to the table in a compact, affordable package. Let’s a look at what's riding under AMD's hood this time around, and also go over what kind of performance you're likely to see from the wallet-friendly versions of the boys in red.

Polaris on a budget

The RX 470 and the RX 460 are currently being marketed in two very different ways. The RX 470 is meant to deliver 1080p 60FPS gaming for just under the price of the RX 480. The RX 460, on the other hand, is definitely meant for less graphically intensive applications. It’s focus is on delivering a quality experience for MOBAs, MMOs, and pretty much anything else that doesn't require a massive GPU to get over the 60FPS mark, as well as for games that won’t be severely effected even if you drop below every PC Gamer's coveted benchmark.

The RX 470 is packing an extremely respectable array of specs for a sub-$200 card – not quite as impressive as its older brother the RX 480, but interesting nonetheless. For a cool MSRP of $179, the RX 470 delivers 5.7 billion transistors, 4GB of GDDR5, 2048 stream processors, and a well-rounded 1206MHz clock speed, which culminates in a Peak Compute Performance of 4.9 TFLOPs.

With 4.9 TFLOPs under its belt, that throws the theoretical performance of the RX 470 between a GTX 970 that's clocked in at 3.9 TFLOPs, and a GTX 980, which is sitting at about 5.0 TFLOPs. That’s a heck of a value since the average price of both of these cards is well above the 470's $179 price tag. On the other hand, compared to the RX 480's floating point performance of 5.8 TFLOPs, you're paying $20 less for a GPU that's just under one TFLOP slower than its older brother. It's possible that in real world testing we'll see this performance gap shrink, but for a $20 difference it's a hard sell to not just make the jump to the RX 480's 4GB model, which will net you a significant performance bump for an extremely small increase in price.

The RX 460 compared to the 470 begins to show its budget-friendly teeth. Although you'll only be paying around $120 for AMD's most cost effective card, you'll be seeing a noticeable drop in performance that's to be expected from the lowest-tier option of any family. For your money, you'll be getting a 1200MHz clock speed, 896 Stream Processors, and optionally 2/4GB of GDDR5 to back it up, which will net you a respectable, but definitely not a massive, 2.2 TFLOPs of performance, all for a clean 75 watt TDP.

We weren't expecting a huge performance number out of this card, but 2.2 TFLOPs is decent enough for any gaming rig on a tight budget. And with a TDP of 75 watts, the 460 is perfect for any mini ITX build or a portable game station for your neighborhood LAN parties. In all likelihood, the 460 will handle select games that aren't terribly GPU-dependent extremely well at 1080p, but won't be able to make the jump to 1440p or 4K without dropping into dangerously low numbers. That really isn't an issue for anyone looking for a solid e-sports machine, but is definitely a bit below the bar if you're planning on using your rig for any graphically intensive triple-A titles.

Benchmarks by the Numbers

So let's take a look at how the RX 470 and the 460 handle some good ol' real world benchmarks. We're going to be focusing on a few reviews of each card, starting with Techspot's breakdown of the 460 and the 470, both of which ran their reviews off of the same test bench, rocking an i7-6600K running at 4.5GHz, 16GB of DDR4 clocking in at 3000MHz, a Samsung 850 Pro 2TB SSD, and AMD's Crimson Edition 16.7.3 driver breathing life into AMD's new GPUs.

Additionally, we'll be getting another sample from Digital Trends review of both cards to get a look at how the 470 and the 460 perform on a separate rig and a few more games. Digital Trends brought out the big guns with their X99 test bench, which is rocking an i7-6950X, 8GB of RAM, and an Intel 750 Series SSD. It’s a bit on the pricier side, but as they note in their review it eliminates virtually any chance of a bottleneck muddling the GPU's overall performance.

The RX 470 definitely performed about as well as we expected, but came in behind the GTX 970 by a few frames for the bulk of titles. This is surprising considering the fact that the 470 is rocking almost a full TFLOP over the 970, but understandable when you factor in the fact that AMD has had a bit of trouble on the driver side in the past. In all likelihood, we'll see future updates from Radeon Crimson smooth out performance for the 470 and likely push it ahead in the long run, but for now the 970 seems to be the stronger frame for frame GPU. Of course, considering the price difference between the $300 970 and the sub-$200 RX 470, AMD's card is easily the better value.

In Overwatch, the RX 470 at 1080p and Ultra settings pulled in an impressive 122FPS, and managed to maintain well above the 60FPS minimum even at 1440p, where it clocked in on average at 86FPS. A respectable level of performance for a competitive shooter, which places the 470 in the sweet spot for anyone interested in taking a deep dive into Overwatch's new competitive game mode.

Over on Battlefield 4, we saw the 470's FPS drop to a pretty solid 64FPS on Ultra settings at 1080p. That’s more than playable, and if you drop your settings to low or medium you'll likely see things jump to the extremely smooth FPS you want to keep your aim consistent and instinctual.

For more static RPG gaming, the 470 managed to pull an impressive average of 59FPS playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt at 1080p with all settings maxed out, and stayed at a very playable 43FPS after making the jump to 1440p and turning HairWorks on. Odds are that jumping to 4K would see the counter drop below 30FPS, but for anyone looking for a satisfying Witcher experience at just under 60FPS with everything maxed at 1080 this card does the job.

Rolling up to the radioactive world of Fallout 4, we see the frames jump to 86 on Ultra and 1080p, and sit at a respectable 58 on 1440p with the same settings, more than enough to experience the Commonwealth in all its glory. Although, anything above 60 has proven to do some interesting things to world physics, so if you choose to unlock the FPS there be prepared for things to go a bit faster than you expect.

The RX 460 is definitely sitting pretty for the bulk of competitive games, and seems to handle even the more graphically intensive options on the market, like BF4, well enough to play so long as you're willing to drop your settings a bit out of the Ultra range. Although it's worth noting that for games like Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, you shouldn't even need to do that, which puts the RX 460 exactly where AMD wants it for its extremely attractive ~$120 price tag.

In Overwatch, the 460 managed to run at an average of 70FPS at 1080p on Ultra Quality, while in DOOM the 460 managed to pull out an impressive 68FPS with Vulkan enabled and a respectable 52FPS back in OpenGL land.

That FPS jumps to a more than satisfactory 170FPS at 1080p and High settings when we take a glance at Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, definitely a step down from the 200-300FPS most high end GPUs get for Valve's competitive shooter, but more than enough to fulfill AMD's claims that the 460 is best suited for casual MOBAs and e-sports enthusiasts. It's definitely enough to match the refresh rate of a 144Hz monitor, which is an accomplishment for any GPU. Surprisingly, the RX 460 also manages to at least break the 30FPS mark for both Battlefield 4 (at 41FPS) and Fallout 4 (at 47FPS) on each game's 1080p Ultra settings, an accomplishment that hints that at lower settings the 460 could handle both games without a terrible struggle.

All in all, the 470 and the 460 are very different tools for very different gamers. It's hard to deny that the RX 460 handles the bulk of competitive shooters well enough to match other players handily, and if all you're planning to use your rig for is the odd League of Legends game and a few matches of CS:GO or Overwatch, you'll be more than satisfied with the friendly price tag on the 460.

The 470, on the other hand, is an interesting beast. The 4GB variant of the RX 480 has a current MSRP of $200, which makes the $179 price point for the RX 470 a bit of a hard sell. If you really can't find the extra $21 to make the upgrade, the RX 470 will fill all of your 1080p gaming needs. But if you have any room in your budget at all to make the jump to the 4GB version of the RX 480, there's really no reason not to.

On most games, you'll see a dollar for dollar increase on the performance of the RX 480 compared to the 470. For the bulk of the benchmarks, the RX 480 outpaced the 470 by a pretty consistent margin, ranging anywhere from 10-30FPS. A few oddballs had the 470 running on par with the 480, but for $21 you're easily buying a more powerful GPU that'll handle triple-A titles well into the future. It's strange that AMD priced the 470 so close to the 480 for this reason alone, and we may see them adjust the price point to somewhere in between the 480 and the 460 in the near future. Until that happens, it's really hard to justify picking up the 470 over its bigger, stronger brother.