Sapphire Radeon RX 590 Nitro+ Special Edition 8 GB Review



AMD today announced its Radeon RX 590 graphics card. This is an unexpected product launch given the current competitive environment, and nobody expected something new from AMD until 2019. The Radeon RX 590 is designed for the vast majority of PC gamers who still play at Full HD (1080p) resolution and is priced under $300. With a number of AAA game launches lined up for the holiday, AMD is going after the crowd that's either upgrading or gifting a graphics card for gameplay at 1080p with all details maxed out in every game. Rival NVIDIA hasn't managed to address this segment with its RTX "Turing" architecture yet, and there is a big price-performance gap between its "Pascal" GeForce GTX 1060 and $360 GTX 1070, which AMD is targeting with the RX 590.
The Radeon RX 590 packs none of the exotic HBM tech from its RX Vega siblings and uses existing GDDR5 memory, which has AMD and its partners enjoy more headroom in which to adjust prices. It is based on the "Polaris 30" silicon, which is essentially a "Polaris 10" die built on the latest 12 nm FinFET node at GlobalFoundries, yielding significant energy-efficiency dividends AMD is cashing in on to increase clock speeds by 15 percent. The engine clock has been dialed up to 1545 MHz, compared to the 1340 MHz of the RX 580.

Unlike the RX 580, the new RX 590 only comes with 8 GB of video memory (no 4 GB variant), and the card's memory setup is unchanged: 8 Gbps GDDR5 over a 256-bit wide memory interface, which yields 256 GB/s of bandwidth. The "Polaris 30" silicon features the same core-configuration as its predecessors, with 2,304 stream processors spread across 36 compute units, 144 TMUs, and 32 ROPs. There's still no ray-tracing machinery to rival RTX, or other new features.
In this review, we're taking a look at the Sapphire Radeon RX 590 NITRO+ Special Edition. Thanks to the pin-compatibility between Polaris 30 and its older siblings, Sapphire is reusing the PCB and cooler design from its RX 580 NITRO+ Special Edition. The card draws power from an 8-pin and a 6-pin PCIe power connector. There's also a factory-overclock on tap, which has the card running at 1560 MHz out of the box. Memory is overclocked to 8.40 Gbps. The card offers dual BIOS, and while the main BIOS packs the advertised speeds, a second "Silent" BIOS runs it at lower clock speeds, which triggers the existing fan-curve less, resulting in a generally quieter card.

Packaging and Contents

You will receive:

  • Graphics card
  • Documentation
  • Driver DVD

The Card

The Sapphire Radeon RX 590 NITRO+ Special Edition earns its name from the frosty blue paintjob on the aluminium cooler shroud and backplate, which are a throwback to the olden days of Sapphire's signature blue color scheme. The fans aren't just blue, but will light up to any color in the RGB spectrum. The backplate fuses with the shroud, giving the card a solid industrial feel. The card is 26.5 cm long and 13.5 cm tall.

Installation requires two slots in your system.

Display connectivity options include two DisplayPort 1.4, two HDMI 2.0b, and a dual-link DVI-D. The DVI connector has no analog wiring, so D-Sub dongles won't work and an active adapter has to be used.

The board uses a combination of 6-pin and 8-pin PCIe power connectors. This input configuration is specified for up to 300 watts of power draw.

Sapphire includes a dual-BIOS feature with their card, which will prove handy when it comes to recovering from a failed BIOS flash. The default BIOS runs the GPU at 1560 MHz and the memory at 2100 MHz; the "quiet" BIOS has a quieter fan curve and runs the GPU at 1545 MHz and the memory at 2000 MHz.

The Radeon RX 590, like every other current AMD GPU, supports up to 4-way CrossFire X via PCIe.

Test System

Benchmark scores in other reviews are only comparable when this exact same configuration is used.

  • All games and cards were tested with the drivers listed above, and no performance results were recycled between test systems. Only this exact system with exactly the same configuration was used.
  • All games are set to their highest quality setting unless indicated otherwise.
  • AA and AF are applied via in-game settings, not via the driver's control panel.

Each game is tested at these screen resolutions:

  • 1920x1080: Most common monitor (22"–26").
  • 2560x1440: Highest possible 16:9 resolution for commonly available displays (27"–32").
  • 3840x2160: 4K Ultra HD resolution, available on the latest high-end monitors.

Assassin's Creed Origins

Assassins Creed Origins is the tenth addition to one of Ubisoft's biggest gaming franchises. "Origins," as the name suggests, follows the story of the very first assassins. You play the role of an Ancient Egyptian supercop (Medjay) named Bayek who tries to keep peace in an embattled and turbulent Egypt during the late Ptolemaic period. The game gives a fascinating look into the global politics of the time, involving historic characters such as Ptolemy XIII, his more famous sister Cleopatra, and Roman emperor Julius Caesar.
Assassins Creed Origins presents the studio's best visual take on Ancient Egypt, and this could be the best rendering on how the superpower south of the Mediterranean could have been. The game is powered by Ubisoft's AnvilNext 2 engine, which also drove the previous two entries to the franchise. The game takes advantage of DirectX 11 and rewards faster graphics cards with more eye candy.

Battlefield 1

Although the latest addition to the franchise and with the grandest production design, Battlefield 1 is positioned as a prequel to Battlefield 1942, the very first game in the smash-hit online multiplayer shooter franchise. It depicts "the war to end all wars", World War I, a conflict that's far less explored by popular culture. You get to experience the very first tanks, automatic weapons, stick grenades, and dynamite. You also get to experience environments unique to WW1, such as the trenches of western Europe and the deserts of Arabia.
Based on the latest Frostbite Engine by EA-DICE, Battlefield 1 takes advantage of DirectX 12 with asynchronous compute to weave together richly detailed worlds. It is heavily taxing on current-generation hardware, and you're handsomely rewarded for investing more into your graphics setup.

Call of Duty: WWII

Call of Duty: WWII, as its name goes, is the Call of Duty universe coming full-circle from its very first games. It follows the events of World War II in 1944, specifically the Allied campaign from the west, beginning with the Normandy Landings. The protagonist is made part of the iconic battles of this theater, including Operation Cobra, Aachen, the Battle of the Bulge, Kasserine Pass, and the last bridge of the Rhine. The game doesn't go all the way through to the Battle of Berlin (so the studio could milk that cow for another couple of games).
Like most Call of Duty games, WWII is essentially a scaled up console-port on the PC platform, with slightly better geometry and textures, and is hence moderately taxing on your hardware. It takes advantage of DirectX 11. There are still plenty of well-designed scenes in the game that can bog down high-end graphics cards.

Civilization VI

The franchise that's synonymous with turn-based strategy, Civilization is an engaging "God-game" where you lead a nascent civilization all the way to the space age. Civilization VI is the latest entry to the smash-hit series and builds on the "4X" victory-condition approach. Improvements have been made to the game's technology tree system. The game also introduces unit stacking to help reduce on-screen clutter.
Based on the latest Firaxis engine, Civilization VI takes advantage of DirectX 11, but uses the API feature set to the fullest, including tessellation, and is moderately taxing on contemporary GPUs.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

The latest addition to the smash-hit cyberpunk first/third-person RPG franchise, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a continuation of the "Human Revolution" storyline, following protagonist and anti-terror operator Adam Jensen in his quest to unravel a dark secret about a shadow organization shortly after the Aug Incident that turned augmented humans into pariahs.
Based on Eidos' Dawn engine, which is in turn heavily derived from the Glacier 2 engine powering Hitman titles, Mankind Divided takes advantage of DirectX 12, which was added in a later patch. We are testing in DirectX 12 mode.

Grand Theft Auto V

Arguably the most anticipated PC release of this decade, Grand Theft Auto V is the latest installment in Rockstar Games' smash-hit open-world-action franchise where you get to play not one, but three protagonists you switch between on missions. It also comes with a very well-executed online multiplayer where you get to go on grand missions called "heists" with your friends in co-op mode.
Released over 18 months after it appeared on consoles, the PC release is a rare case of a game developer taking its time to perfect the game for a new platform. Enthusiasts regard the PC release an excellent port that takes advantage of higher CPU and GPU power to deliver a stunning environment that puts even the latest generation of consoles to shame. The game plays surprisingly well with PC-exclusive tech, such as multi-GPU, multi-monitor scaling, etc. We tested the game with everything set to very high and MSAA off.

Fan Noise

In past years, gamers would accept everything for a little more performance. Nowadays, users are more aware of their graphics card's fan noise and power consumption.
In order to properly test how much noise a card's fan emits, we use a Bruel & Kjaer 2236 sound-level meter (~$4,000). It has the measurement range and accuracy we are looking for.

The tested graphics card is installed in a system that does not emit any noise on its own, using a passive PSU, passive CPU cooler, passive cooling on the motherboard, and a solid state drive. Noise results of other cards on this page are measurements of the respective reference design.
This setup allows us to eliminate secondary noise sources and test only the video card. To be more compliant with standards like DIN 45635 (we are not claiming to be fully DIN 45635 certified), the measurement is conducted at a distance of 100 cm and 160 cm off the floor. Ambient background noise inside the room was well below 20 dBA for all measurements. Please note that the dBA scale is not linear but logarithmic. 40 dBA is not twice as loud as 20 dBA since a 6 dBA increase results in double the sound pressure. The human hearing perception is a bit different, and it is generally accepted that a 10 dBA increase doubles the perceived sound level. 3D load noise levels are tested with a stressful game, not with Furmark.

It's great to see that idle fan stop is included, which ensures a perfect noise-free experience during idle, desktop work, Internet browsing and light gaming.
With the default BIOS, the card is already very quiet, reaching only 31 dBA. The real kicker is the "quiet" BIOS, which is whisper quiet—as quiet as the best GTX 1060 cards we tested!

Performance Summary

This page shows a combined performance summary of all the tests on previous pages, broken down by resolution. Each chart shows the tested card as 100%, and every other card's performance as relative to it.


Clock Profiles

Modern graphics cards have several clock profiles that are selected to balance power draw and performance requirements.
The following table lists the clock settings for important performance scenarios and the GPU voltage used in those states.

Value and Conclusion

AMD's Radeon RX 590 comes at the right time to make a splash for X-mas business. The new card is based on the same Polaris architecture we saw two years ago on the RX 480, but uses a new 12 nanometer process at GlobalFoundries. Besides the production process, everything is identical on the RX 590. The number of shaders, ROPs, texture units, etc., is identical to what we saw with the Radeon RX 480. Software features are also unchanged, but at this time, there is no pressing need to address these. It seems AMD simply leveraged the new 12 nanometer process to reach higher clock speeds on their RX 590 with the minimum in time and money invested, which actually makes sense. The switch to the new 12 nm node lowers power draw, which conversely increases GPU-clock headroom. AMD cashed this headroom in to increase clock speeds by 15% over the RX 580.
The Sapphire Radeon RX 590 Nitro+ is significantly faster than the GTX 1060, by 11% when averaged over all our testing at 1080p. The performance improvement over RX 580 is 12%, which is better than expected. This means that NVIDIA's next-fastest SKU, the GTX 1070, is only 20% ahead, and RX Vega 56 (AMD's next fastest card) is 25% faster. The additional 10% in extra gaming performance over the RX 580 will come in handy when it comes to driving the latest titles at 1080p. Compared to what was needed two years ago, games do have (a bit) higher hardware requirements these days.
Power consumption of the RX 590 is comparable to the Radeon RX 580—so no improvements here. The Sapphire Nitro+ is a good bit more energy efficient than the XFX Fatboy we reviewed today, too. As for AMD's side, it looks like all the improvements from the 12 nanometer process went into reaching higher clocks instead of reducing power consumption. This is a reasonable approach since in this segment, performance is very important, and beating the GTX 1060 is a must to make the RX 590 a success. When looking at performance per watt, the RX 590 ends up as one of the worst cards in our test group. NVIDIA's GTX 1060 is 60%-80% more power efficient, and their RTX cards have more than twice the performance per watt. What's also a bit sad to see is that AMD still hasn't worked on reducing multi-monitor power consumption, an issue that has been around for many years.
Sapphire's dual-slot cooler works much better than the heatsink on the XFX RX 590 Fatboy. Temperatures reach only 75°C, which is quite good given the heat output of the RX 590 GPU. What's even more impressive is how quiet the fans are at the same time. The default BIOS achieved 31 dBA, which is already very quiet. It gets even better, though. Since the card has dual BIOS, Sapphire chose to make the second BIOS a "quiet" BIOS. This BIOS runs at an impressive 29 dBA, which is as quiet as the quietest GTX 1060 cards we tested—amazing. It's great to see that idle-fan-stop is included, too, so you can enjoy a noise-free graphics card when you're not gaming.
Priced at $279, the Sapphire RX 590 Nitro+ follows AMD's RX 590 MSRP and doesn't come with a price premium. I have to say that's very reasonable pricing, but rival NVIDIA has reacted preemptively and their prices for all cards below GTX 1080 Ti have been reduced by $10-$25. For example, the GTX 1060 6 GB was $260 and is now $230, and the GTX 1070 was $390 and is now down to $360. This puts a lot of pressure on AMD. Additional pressure comes from AMD's own RX 570 and RX 580, which are now priced at $150 and $200 respectively, while the RX Vega 56 can be had for $360. It looks like we're finally back to normal GPU prices from the horrors of the crypto-mining boom. At $280, the RX 590 is a good buy, but it could be priced cheaper—something like $250 would lure in a lot of potential buyers from the green camp because at that price point, the extra performance and lower price would make it easy to overlook the RX 590's higher power draw. With the RX 590, AMD is including three AAA games, including DMC 5 and Resident Evil 2, which is a straight $100+ value. Personally, I'd keep those games because they haven't been released yet and I'd like to check them out. If you're not all that interested, you could resell them to offset some of this card's cost.