AMD has had an interesting year with their GPU lineup. The Radeon RX500 series (a beefed up version of the RX400 series) saw their release in mid-April of 2017 in the midst of slow dripping news about the forthcoming RX Vega. Compound this with scarcity due to crypto-mining and the stiff competition from Nvidia along with Apple’s partnership with AMD for 2017’s devices and you have a GPU line with a serious identity crisis. Does Team Red’s flagship RX500, the RX580, still have relevance in 2018’s GPU market? We are going to find out, but in a really, really unconventional way. This is our review of PowerColor’s RED DEVIL RX580.
- MSRP: $389.99*
- Video Memory: 8GB GDDR5, 256-bit
- Stream Process Units: 2304
- Engine Clock Speed: up to 1380MHz with boost
- Memory Clock Speed: 2000 MHz x4 (8Gbps)
- Connections: DVI-D x1,HDMI x1, DisplayPort x3
As we begin, I need to share a few words about the testing environment:
We are testing the PowerColor Red Devil Radeon RX580 inside of the Sonnet BreakAway Box 550, an eGPU or External Graphics Processing Unit. Our test bench for this process is a 2017 iMac equipped with an Intel Core i5 7600K,16 GB of 2400 MHz DD4 SDRAM, and a dedicated GPU that is less than desirable for much outside of every day operation. All benchmarks were performed under Windows 10.
If you are not familiar with their function, an eGPU (also called eGFX) unit offers an outboard option for connecting a PCI Express card to a machine via high speed bus that might not otherwise have that option. In some cases, this is to assist with mathematical computation or rendering. In our case, we're here for the extra muscle and the FPS.
The connection we are using, Thunderbolt 3, has connection speeds up to 40 Gbps across x4 PCIe lanes. It is important to note that the speed of Thunderbolt 3 depends on the devices connected. Some devices may only use an x2 PCIe lane, limiting this performance to 20Gbps. Also noteworthy, with PCI Express having a bus speed of 126Gbps, there will be degradation in the overall performance of the GPU.
Even with that difference in bus speed between Thunderbolt 3 and PCI Express, thanks to the good people at egpu.io, we have data showing that there is only a ~20% loss in performance when using an external monitor. Because of the nature of this environment, our benchmarking numbers are going to be anecdotal in comparison to previously collected data, but will give you a picture of how the PowerColor Radeon RX580 performs outside of normal conditions.
Which begs the question: If there is this much of a chance for performance loss, why would anyone even consider this?
For a moment, let’s pretend that you only get one device and that device must perform several tasks which require a multitude of environments for operation - everything from work to study to play. Perhaps, you chose the convenience and portability of a laptop, but keep some peripherals around for home use. Great choice, but one problem: your dedicated GPU is probably not much better than mine and likely the first component to present a bottleneck in the future. An eGPU offers an option for future-proofing your machine (to a point) and giving you options for a performance boost without having to buy a new system. This is a very specific use case and may not be for you.
Alright, enough about the testing environment for now. We will get into why, specifically, the PowerColor Red Devil RX580 is a good fit for setups like this. Let’s talk about the card itself:
From the onset, PowerColor is not messing around with their bold branding - invoking arcane designs on the packaging and backplate along with a sinister business card, urging you to join some dark enclave of users. I’m not going to lie: it was a bit over the top for me; a little on the nose with the “devil in the machine” allusions, but some people might like it.
Branding aside, what you get is a solidly built GPU with a 1.5 mm metal back plate to prevent card warping, 8mm heat pipes for more efficient heat dissipation, and two giant fans, equipped with a two-ball bearing system for greater longevity. The Red Devil also has two dip switches, one which will turn the branding LEDs on or off and the other to switch the BIOS between a more power efficient Silent Overclock mode (which will keep the fans off below 60?c) and Ultra Overclocking mode for high performance. As I was testing, I ran the card in Ultra Overclocking and it gets quite loud with the fans running at around 2700 RPMS, but the card does not inche much past 74C when being pushed.
Let's look at the numbers:
Editor's note: Since Dame was testing the RX580 in an eGPU enclosure, his results are roughly 20% lower than when installed directly in a PCI-e slot (this is about 12 frames difference at 60FPS, ie 48 FPS in this system will likely be closer to 60 in a standard install). The frame rate data collected below was not tested alongside the RX580 but is instead shown to demonstrate rough comparative performance to this scenario. Traditionally, we we avoid combining data from different testing scenarios but since we begin this assessment from a place that is not "apples to apples" we thought it fitting to provide this additional context for performance.
As you look at the charts, keep in mind that the numbers are presented as they were recorded without accounting for the ~20% performance degradation in an eGPU environment. You will notice that we also included numbers from the RX560 that we recently reviewed so that you can see the performance with the performance hit.
Even with the limited bus speed, the RX580 still out performs the RX560 and the GTX 1060 in the 1080p tests while falling slightly behind the GTX 1060 at 1440p. In a normal environment, this would not be a factor.
Another import note is that our testing environment pushed high/ultra settings without tweaking for optimal performance. It is possible to get an average of 60 frames per second (or higher) in 1440p and in this use case with minor tweaks to in-game graphics settings.
Anecdotally, MMOs like Elder Scrolls Online and World of Warcraft also showed fantastic numbers in instanced areas while keeping a decent pace in major cities and high traffic areas.
I also noticed a significant difference in performance dependent on the API used within the game I was testing. For example, Doom, using AMD’s Vulkan API, showed incredibly high numbers while Warhammer: Vermintide II, under DX11 and DX12, did not do as great. This observation could be moot as Vermintide is a CPU heavy game.
As stated in the introduction, this testing environment is very unconventional. So, why did we test in this environment and why this specific GPU?
The technology is still a fair bit wild west. But thanks to sites like egpu.io and both major players in the GPU market providing support through their drivers with NVIDIA’s Optimus and AMD’s XConnect, it is becoming more accessible to the end user.
With the adoption of eGPU tech from a wide range of companies like Apple, HP, Asus, Gigabyte, Razer, and even PowerColor themselves, the option of using a desktop GPU with a laptop, NUC, or all-in-one opens up new options for gamers to get better performance out of the system they have in which replacing components is not an option. The RX580 finds itself in a unique position as one of the higher performing and more compatible cards across the OS lines, even finding native support in MacOS as of patch 10.13.4.
As for the GPU itself, PowerColor’s Red Devil Radeon RX580 straddles the line of performance and price, delivering a solid option for high definition gaming in 1080p and 1440. The card is capable of pushing 4K, however our tests found its sweet spot to be in the 1080p and 1440p range, even in an eGPU enclosure.
No fault of its own, GPU prices are still high. The $389.99* price tag is a bit steep, placing it in the higher end of the bracket for the RX580 partner cards. However, its price is consistent with the performance range, falling directly between it’s strongest competitors from NVIDIA, the GTX 1060 ($320 - ~$500*) and 1070 (~$500*).
The Radeon RX580 is a strange card with an unfortunate release window fighting for its place at AMD’s gamer table while everyone at the table is looking for an RX Vega. PowerColor’s offering pushes the GPU to its power limits while keeping the heat under control.
With being a year into its release and rumors already swirling about a new generation of GPUs on the horizon as well as stifling GPU prices, it would be worth the wait to see prices fall. And when they do, the Red Devil will be waiting for you.
- Solid performance to price ratio
- Heat management is consistent
- Highly compatible across platforms
- Noisy fans at high temperatures require software control
- Under performs higher end competitors within the price reach
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.
*GPU pricing gathered from Newegg.com at time of the review.