Update January 30, 2017: For a brief second it looked like fresh rumours of an RX 490 were about to surface as Bethesda announced the high-res texture pack for Fallout 4 with an 8GB RX 490 as one of the recommended GPUs.
The AMD RX 490 is unlikely to ever see the light of day under that name, but check out our guide to the upcoming AMD Vega GPU architecture for a taste of what it might become...
The errant card was listed alongside the GTX 1080, but the Radeon listing has now been removed from the site and it now reads:
Recommended PC Specs:
- Windows 7/8/10 (64-bit OS required)
- Intel Core i7-5820K or better
- GTX 1080 8GB
- 8GB+ Ram
As well as a beefy processor and graphics card you're also going to need another 58GB of spare storage capacity too.
Original story August 8, 2016: AMD have just unveiled to investors their Vega GPU architecture is going to launch in the first half of 2017. What that means for the AMD RX 490 we're not 100% sure - is the 4K-focused Radeon to be Polaris or Vega-based?
The 4K-focused RX 490 has been teased on both AMD and partner Sapphire’s websites, hinting at a release later this year. But those rumours may have been quashed if AMD's top card is to use the next generation of graphics core.
But what is the AMD Radeon RX 490 actually going to be? Will it be another of AMD's dual-GPU cards, with a pair of Polaris chips jammed into one board, or is it going to be the first iteration of their new Vega graphics architecture?
All that exists officially of the upcoming AMD RX 490 in name are a few mentions on AMD’s own website, a reference in a deck of slides released to the press when the RX 480 was unveiled and an entry on the website of AMD’s biggest partner, Sapphire.
AMD RX 490 release date
Sodium chloride at the ready people, the totally trustworthy WCCFTech have unleashed another leak surrounding a potential RX 490 card, with their insiders claiming a December launch for the high-end AMD card.
We've heard the December rumour before; AMD themselves have twice listed the R9 490 on some giveaway pages with a closing date of December 31, 2016 before claiming it was a clerical error and the intern responsible had been taken out into the Texan sun, staked to a post and left to burn. The mistake in the name would indicate that this actually was an error rather than an irresponsible leak. Either they keep forgetting to take the R9 or RX 490 off whatever lists they give to the people writing their copy or AMD is gleefully trolling each and every one of us.
But the WCCFTech report still claims they've had reports the AMD RX 490 will not only be announced in December, it will be launched the same day. Maybe they've taken some cues from Nvidia and their last out-of-the-blue Titan X unveiling.
I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense for AMD to take this route. Building some hype about their only potential high-end, 4K-capable graphics card would be the best move for them, especially when their green-tinged competition has got that area of the market neatly catered for. Any prior announcement could halt any GPU upgraders in their tracks and stop them dropping the cash on the competition before seeing what AMD could produce.
With nothing more concrete being rumoured since then the likelihood of an RX 490 release this side of the new year might seem unlikely, but we've seen the graphics industry move quickly when it wants to. Though if the RX 490 is going to be based on the new Vega architecture then AMD have confirmed a release in the first half of 2017. In a recent investor call AMD showed a slide detailing a launch for Vega "for the enthusiast market in 1H 2017", as show in a report by Techfrag.
AMD RX 490 price
If AMD want their high-end RX 490 to compete with the likes of the Nvidia GTX 1080 in performance then it’s going to be a seriously pricey card when it does make an appearance in our rigs. And with the GTX 1080 still retailing for around $600 (£600) it wouldn’t be that unlikely for AMD to take that as a pricing benchmark for their top-end graphics card.
By then we may even have an Nvidia Pascal-based Titan card, rocking a $1,000+ price tag. That could make such pricing for an AMD RX 490 seem positively bargainous.
AMD RX 490 specs
Because of that ‘9’ in the title we know exactly where AMD is aiming this card. During a recent briefing about the new Radeon nomenclature, AMD’s chief gaming scientist, Richard Huddy, took us through how the names in their current generation break down.
The RX 480 is explained thus: the ‘RX’ denotes a greater than 1.5TFLOPs of processing power with the ability to hit 60fps at 1080p in ‘popular games’, listing DOTA 2 and LOL as being representative. We’re not talking seriously GPU intensive games here, but more widely accessible titles.
The ‘4’ in the name denotes the generation - fourth generation GCN architecture - with the ‘8’ indicating the tier of gaming it’s aimed at. With an ‘8’ or a ‘7’ AMD is aiming for a 256-bit memory bus, with the ability to deliver gaming performance at 1440p resolutions.
This is where it gets interesting in terms of the RX 490. Huddy explained that a fourth gen ‘9’ series card is specifically targeting a greater than 256-bit bus with a focus on gaming at 4K. That means the RX 490 has got to be powerful enough to deliver decent gaming performance at the very highest resolution levels, not just a 4K slideshow of your recent vacation in San Andreas.
The AMD RX 480 itself can’t deliver that sort of performance with its Polaris 10 GPU, so what silicon is AMD going to build its RX 490 around? There’s nothing left in the top Polaris chip for AMD to unlock to allow for that level of performance increase - they’ve assured us the GPU in the RX 480 is the full Polaris 10 silicon with nothing chopped off or shut down.
And we also know that the high-end Vega GPU architecture is still a long way from release as it’s only just making the transition from design to manufacturing testing. And that’s quite a distance from actual GPU manufacturing. The Vega chips then aren’t going to be here until the first half of 2017 at the earliest and that would probably discount them from being the beating heart of any AMD RX 4xx cards. More likely AMD would want Vega to represent a whole new RX 5xx series of cards.
AMD RX 490 performance
Potential AMD Radeon RX 490 benchmarks have been spotted online and the card has been listed on a Norwegian price comparison site. Does this confirm the existence of the mysterious RX 490, or something else entirely?
The Scandinavian listing is likely nothing at all. Us irresponsible tech sites have been listing the unreleased GPU in speculating articles for months, so it's not unreasonable to expect canny price comparison site wanting to get a product page up online before the competition. They've used a stock image of an RX 480 to illustrate the page and haven't listed any useful specs either.
What is more interesting though is the new entry in the Ashes of the Singularity benchmarking database posted by HotHardware. AMD love an AotS benchmark and always use it for any testing they publish for new cards. The listing doesn't say what the GPU is, just giving a device ID of 687F:C1, which would indicate that it is an unreleased card. That does look a lot like an AMD ID - the RX 480 is marked as 67DF:C7. The primary section would be the ID of the GPU itself with the second being the revision number. The C1 part then might indicate this is the first revision of a card, so possibly not that close to release.
In terms of actual performance the figures put the card around the same level as the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070. The AotS benchmark though is quite CPU dependent, so the choice of chip has a lot of influence over the final score, which in turn means this doesn't tell us a whole lot about the performance of this unreleased GPU.
Some people are speculating that because the benchmarks have just gone online we should be expecting the announcement of an RX 490 at AMD's New Horizon Zen preview event on December 13. If the CPU was down as unlisted then I might be inclined to agree, but the user ran the above benchmark on an old Intel octo-core, not a new Zen CPU.
If this is new AMD graphics silicon I'm not expecting it to appear that soon, but we could still be looking at the first benchmarks of an AMD Vega GPU and that's still quite exciting.
But if the RX 490 isn’t going to be Vega-based, and a Polaris 10 chip is not capable of the 4K gaming performance such a high-end card needs, AMD’s going to need to do something special to create a card that’s capable of giving either the GTX 1070 or GTX 1080 a run for their money.
And the scuttlebutt says that something special could be a dual-GPU card, sporting twin Polaris 10 chips. AMD has historically filled out the top-end of their graphics stacks with multi-GPU cards - with mixed results - so it’s not unreasonable to expect that to happen with a pair of the same chips they’ve used in the RX 480.
With the RX 480 running at a TDP of 150W, and the Polaris 10 chip on its own rated at 110W TDP, AMD will be able to create a multi-GPU card that sits under the 300W limit. And with effectively a pair of RX 480s running together in CrossFire such a card ought to be able to hit 4K comfortably, potentially able to give the GTX 1080 a bloody nose in certain tests.
Though multi-GPU gaming is not the most reliable of beasts. Sometimes you’ll find games on day one which simply won’t use both chips, with one expensive lump of silicon lying dormant, and other times developers just won’t take the time or make the effort to code multi-GPU support into their games at all.
But if that’s the only way for us to get an AMD card with 4K skills then those are the compromises we’ll have to make. Though until AMD actually makes an official announcement about the Radeon RX 490 it’s all still extrapolation and guesswork, and if turning the Vega architecture into actual product is going as well as it seems to be then we may skip the RX 490 altogether, moving directly on to the next generation of Radeons.