Earlier this month AMD released their first Polaris 11 part, the RX 460. Like the RX 480 gamers have the option of two different memory configurations for the RX 460, though they aren’t 4GB and 8GB options. Rather graphics cards featuring this GPU will come with either 4GB or 2GB of memory.
For our launch day review we had the Sapphire Nitro model on hand, which came loaded with 4GB of VRAM. The only issue with this being that the 4GB models feature an MSRP of $140 while the 2GB models come in at $110. Priced at $110 the RX 460 is decent value as it comes in at a similar cost per frame as the more expensive RX 470.
However, the 4GB model at $140 is horrible value, at roughly just 20% cheaper than the RX 470 it is a little over 40% slower.
The choice then seems obvious; get the 2GB model and be done with it. That said if you ask the question “should I buy the 2GB or 4GB RX 460” on a tech forum or even the YouTube comments section, you will quickly find yourself in murky waters.
On my own RX 460 review a few brave soles asked that very question and a torrent of answers poured in, many of them backed by strong opinions on the matter. You will hear things like “2GB isn’t enough for 1080p gaming anymore”, “avoid the 2GB model it won’t last”, “4GB is future proof” and so on.
Rather than just assume I know the answer I wanted to do some indepth testing in a range of games to find out if there really is difference. If there is, under what conditions and does the evidence suggest that the larger model will see you off into the future. With that let’s jump to the benchmarks.
For this test I’ve dropped my sensible Skylake Core i3 test machine and gone for the Skylake Core i7 machine to remove any possible system bottlenecks that might shape the results. Both RX 460 models have been clocked according to the AMD specification, this means core frequency of 1.2GHz and a memory frequency of 1750MHz.
The graphs have been labeled with the maximum memory allocation seen when testing with the 4GB RX 460 model. This provides a rough indication as to how much VRAM might have been used and I have done my best to test these games at 1080p using realistic quality settings. Ideally I like to target 60fps though given the settings used this wasn’t always possible.
In some games I didn’t relax the settings too much in order to achieve a 60 fps average. I am well aware that doing so would come with a certain degree of criticism, as it would appear as though I am trying to avoid filling the VRAM. So keep that in mind when you see average frame rates dipping down to console levels of performance. If the 2GB and 4GB cards do deliver the same performance when forced to such low frame rates, it is safe to assume there will be no difference with relaxed settings targeting 60fps performance.
The Witcher 3
First let’s start with The Wither 3, a game that doesn’t even exceed 2GB of VRAM when run at 1080p using the high quality settings with HairWorks disabled. Here we saw no more than 1.7GB’s of memory allocated during our test. You might think this is a pointless test then given it doesn’t exceed the capacity of the 2GB model.
I find this a very valid test as The Witcher 3 is a very well put together title boasting incredible visuals. Not only that but at 1080p using the high quality settings the RX 460 is only good for a little over 30fps. Naturally gamers are going to want to reduce the quality settings further for a smoother more desirable experience and doing so will reduce the memory capacity requirements.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst might be an extreme memory pig when using the Hyper quality settings but that won’t fly here. Even with the medium quality settings we weren’t able to achieve a 60 fps average. Still 50fps on both the 2GB and 4GB models was very playable – note the maximum memory allocation seen here was 1.9GB’s.
The massively popular online first person shooter Overwatch is one game you wouldn’t expect to be very demanding on memory, and well it isn’t. In fact here the 2GB model came out slightly ahead after taking the average of three benchmark runs as 1 to 2fps is within the margin of error.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Using the medium quality settings we reached a 60 fps average and just 1.7GB was the maximum memory allocation seen. The 2GB model was 1 to 2 fps slower here but again that is considered to be within the margin of error.
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V saw an allocation of exactly 2GB using the high quality settings at 1080p. Here both the 2GB and 4GB models provided exceptional performance pushing well beyond 60fps.
Tom Clancy’s The Division
Another game to allocate up to 2GB of memory was The Division. Using the medium quality settings both models average 52 fps which allowed for very smooth gameplay.
Out of interest I cranked up the quality setting to high and ran the tests again. The memory allocation only increased to 2.1GB and this wasn’t enough to upset the 2GB card as it again provided the exact same performance.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
The latest game to be featured in this comparison is Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Using the medium quality settings the RX 460 is only able to overage 34 fps at 1080p. As you can see the 2GB and 4GB models provided the exact same experience.
Although the performance of both RX 460 models was weak when using the medium quality settings we decided to check the high quality performance. Here the average frame rate dipped below 30 fps and yet the 2GB and 4GB models delivered the exact same performance.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is known to be a bit of a memory hog and we can see that when using the medium quality settings at 1080p. Here we find a maximum allocation of 2.7GB’s which is quite a bit more than the six games we have already looked at. Despite that the RX 460 performs much the same with either 2GB or 4GB’s of memory when looking at the average frame rate.
That said if we look at the frame time results we see that the 2GB model does start to lag behind a bit. The 1% data isn’t that bad and really another is the 0.1% data, that said the bigger variance here does mean gamers will see slightly choppy performance at times. Of course with an average of just over 40 fps, some gamers will want to reduce certain quality settings which will somewhat alleviate the strain on the VRAM.
Middle-earth Shadow of Mordor
Middle-earth Shadow of Mordor was tested using the very high quality preset which saw memory application reach 2.6GB. The average and 1% frame time performance was much the same on both the 2GB and 4GB models. However the 0.1% performance of the 2GB RX 460 took a serious nose dive. That said when playing the game I honestly couldn’t tell these cards apart, the 2GB model certainly didn’t appear to suffer from frame drops.
Boosting the quality preset to ultra saw the game max out the 4GB RX 460 with an allocation of 3.9GB. This did see the average performance of the 2GB model fall away and again the frame time performance also suffered. The 4GB model did play noticeably better than the 2GB model now. Still if you are a gamer who targets 60 fps then it has to be said the 2GB RX 460 will work just fine in this game.
Star Wars Battlefront
Surprisingly Star Wars Battlefront allocated up to 2.9GB worth of VRAM during our test using the high quality preset at 1080p. Yet despite that we saw similar performance on both models, in fact here the 2GB card came out slightly ahead.
Far Cry Primal
Far Cry Primal is another game that provided surprising results. With the HD texture pack enabled along with the high quality settings the same allocated up to 3.6GB of VRAM. Yet despite this both the 2GB and 4GB RX 460 models delivered similar results while the in game performance was indistinguishable.
Batman Arkham Knight
Batman Arkham Knight allocated up to 3.4GB of VRAM using the high quality settings though do note that the GameWorks options were disabled. The 2GB model did provide slightly slower performance though it has to be said I honestly couldn’t tell a difference between the two models here. Although slower the 2GB model didn’t appear to suffer an stuttering issues.
Finally we have Doom and this game is in no way 2GBs of VRAM friendly, note frame time results aren’t included here due to the way I have to test on the Vulkan API. Although the experience on the 2GB card wasn’t horrible as the frame rate never dipped below 31 fps it wasn’t nearly as smooth as it was on the 4GB model. In fact the 4GB version was almost 50% faster when comparing the average frame rates and more than twice as fast when looking at the minimums.
This is a shocking performance variation, especially given the game never called for more than 3.1GB’s of VRAM. It is worth noting that by lowering the shadow quality to its lowest value the average frame rate of the 2GB card jumped up to 66 fps with a 61 fps minimum.
So what can we conclude based on these results? Well a good number of things really. Something I would like to point of right off the bat is the fact that I did test using a high-end Core i7 test system and while the results are valid I almost regret this decision now.
The impact of having to swap data out of the VRAM to the system RAM or pagefile is lessened when using a high-end system, complete with high clocked DDR4 memory and SSD storage.
Therefore while still valid, I am keen to re-create this comparison in my Core i3 test rig, to see if the results change much. This is something I plan to do over the next week and if the results are different, expect a follow up video.
With that little disclaimer out of the way, what did we find? Regardless of the test system used what we can walk away knowing is that for the most part the RX 460 is going to deliver the exact same performance with either 2GB or 4GB of VRAM, in over 90% of the games out there.
Games such as The Witcher 3, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Overwatch, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto V, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Far Cry Primal, Batman Arkham Knight and Star Wars Battlefront for example all played exactly the same on both the 2GB and 4GB RX 460 models.
Most of these games were tested with the average frame rate well below 60fps. This means those targeting 60fps with even lower quality visuals certainly won’t find a performance difference between these cards.
Middle-earth Shadow of Mordor and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate are examples of games that do see a slight performance advantage in favor of the larger 4GB card, though both were tested with averages south of 60fps and in neither case was the 2GB model noticeably slower.
In fact the only exception through my testing was Doom. This game looks to require at least a 3GB frame buffer for optimal performance. Though I should point out that the 2GB RX 460 was still able to deliver playable performance and with a few tweaks was able to maintain over 60 fps at 1080p, so this is hardly a deal breaker.
Given the data at hand I find it very difficult to recommend the 4GB RX 460 to anyone… it just seems like a waste of money. For a little extra cash, we are talking around $40 US here, you can land yourself a considerably more powerful graphics card in the RX 470.
AMD is targeting eSports gamers with the RX 460 and if you find yourself predominantly playing titles such as Counter Strike Global Offensive, Rocket League, Dota 2 and Overwatch for example, then without question get the 2GB model.
As for future proofing I personally don’t subscribe to that theory. If you’re buying a sub-$200 graphics card for it to last generation after generation, then your standards aren’t particularly high to begin with. By that I mean you’d have no problem reducing a few quality settings to achieve playable performance down the track.
Spending 20% more now, to enjoy almost no performance advantage simply doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t imagine the logic behind spending at least $30 more on what would otherwise be a $110 graphics card to gain potentially nothing. Put that $30 in the bank, it will come in handy in a year or two’s time for that next GPU upgrade. Anyway that’s how I view this situation. Tell me, do you agree or am I bonkers? Let me know in the comments.