When assessing PC hardware, you will usually fall into one of two schools of thought. The first is how a device competes in a battle with other products. The second is how well a device will meet your specific needs. The former is more popular because humans love comparisons and numbers, but the latter is more important for determining whether you’ll regret your purchase or not. For the AMD Radeon RX 590, the comparisons will help you make your decision, but it’s not why you’ll end up loving the card in everyday use.
AMD has launched this GPU today starting at $280. AMD partners XFX, Red Devil, Sapphire Nitro, and Asus each have their own RX 590 hitting the market today.
This GPU features a smaller 12nm process that enables it to get higher clockspeeds from the same architecture as AMD’s other Polaris cards like the RX 580. In the 590, those clock speeds reach 1.545 GHz with a base clock of 1.469 GHz. That’s up from the 1.340/1.257 GHz speeds of 2017’s 580. And that comes with some drawbacks mostly in terms of power consumption that you can probably offset with by saving money up front.
So what’s the deal with this card? Well, it’s a more powerful RX 580, which is itself a more powerful RX 480 from 2016. It’s also not even coming close to competing on the high-end.
If I were to look at this GPU at how it competes relative to the graphics space, I would call it a stopgap. That is reductive, but it’s true. AMD has spotted a gap in the market for a new 1080p60 video-card king between the 1060 at $250 and the GTX 1070 at $370. And the 590 fits into that space just in time for Black Friday.
But if we talk what you actually need, the RX 590 seems like a smart buy for those planning an upgrade this holiday.
I am reviewing the XFX Radeon RX 590 Fatboy. These are my early impressions based on incomplete testing. I will update this review.
What you’ll like (so far)
A great card for anyone with a 1080p 60 Hz display
Ever since the RX 480 came out, I’ve pointed people to AMD for their entry-level graphics needs. That’s not to say that you’ll get entry-level performance. My recommendation was due to getting as much performance as you would need for 1080p gaming at 60 frames per second at a reasonable price. The RX 580 maintained that trend, and now the RX 590 does so as well.
With the RX 590, you can set every game to Ultra and still expect to get close to 60 frames per second with only a few exceptions. Some of the biggest, most advanced open-world games like Ghost Recon: Wildlands or Watch Dogs 2 are still way too much for an RX 590 (or an Nvidia GTX 1060). But most games — even the newest ones coming out this holiday — run well.
At 1440p, the performance definitely takes a hit. A part of me was kinda hoping that the RX 590 would be to 1440p as the RX 580 was to 1080p, but I knew that was asking too much. The reality is that you’ll have to tune down the settings to maintain a high framerate, but it’s still capable at 1440p. I’ll have more on this soon including benchmarks.
It’s even more affordable than you think
But the real star of the RX 590 is the price. At $280, it’s compares favorably to the GTX 1060’s $250. But that doesn’t even tell the whole story. If you are investing in a new rig that you plan to keep for years, the Radeon ecosystem has a built-in price advantage called FreeSync.
While Nvidia’s variable refresh-rate tech Gsync is great for syncing up a GPU and a monitor, it’s expensive. It adds an extra cost to any official Gsync monitor. That’s something you won’t get with a display that supports AMD’s similar FreeSync feature.
Both FreeSync and Gsync eliminate ugly tearing, juttery images, and lag. But with the RX 590, you can get the card for $280 and then a compatible 1080p Freesync monitor with a 144 Hz refresh rate for $220. That’s a total of $500. You’d probably spend closer to $600-to-$650 for something similar in the Nvidia ecosystem.
And that price advantage will last. If you plan to upgrade your monitor in a few years, it’s likely that FreeSync and Gsync will still have a similar gap.
What you won’t like (so far)
Hot and powerful
I mentioned some drawbacks earlier, and they come in the form of heat and power consumption. Put simply, the RX 590 is hotter and hungrier for power than any other card in its class — and then some.
AMD rated the card for 225W total-draw power, which is up from 185W from the RX 580. That’s not far off the TDP of 250W for the RTX 2080 Ti. This is obviously where AMD made sacrifices to get the higher clockspeed at the heart of the RX 590.
The end result is that an RX 590 system is going to draw slightly more power from the wall than an RX 580. And it will draw significantly more than a 1060 — nearly 40 percent more under load, as far as I can tell from early testing.
And in those circumstances, it is also running quite warm. Under load, I saw temperatures in the low 80-degrees C. Most of its contemporaries never got out of the 70-degree range.
‘Fatboy’ is bulky
Finally, I think the XFX Fatboy is so bulky that you may struggle to get it into your machine. I was putting it into an NZXT H700, which is a big case that I love. The Fatboy fit into that space without issue, but I would imagine smaller cases could pose a problem.
I did, however, only have space for three additional PCI express cards while using the RX 590. While using the Vega 64, RX 580, or GTX 2080, I have room for four additional cards.
Conclusion (so far)
If you’re upgrading your PC this holiday, I would probably recommend the RX 590 to you. That’s especially true if you have an older monitor or plan to upgrade soon. If you have a Gsync display already, go ahead and stick with Nvidia. You won’t regret it. If you haven’t made that commitment already, however, you are going to get a lot of bang-for-your-buck from the RX 590.
Now, I am concerned about power and heat. And if you don’t want to think about pennies flying out of your house through your power outlets, I would probably still recommend the RX 580 — especially if you can find it at a reduced price.
If you are deadset on going with Nvidia, however, I would potentially try to wait to see what the GTX 2060 ends up looking like. That card won’t have ray tracing, so maybe it’ll have significant upgrades over the 1060 in key other ways.
But if you want to act this holiday, and with tariffs threatening the drive up prices I don’t blame you, then I think AMD is making a compelling argument at the affordable edge of the mainstream component market.
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