If you're brave, you can flash older AMD Radeon cards to get next-gen performance

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AMD’s most recent Polaris-based graphics cards, the Radeon RX 570 and RX 580, are built on the same technology as their predecessors, the Radeon RX 470 and RX 480. But if you compare the cards side by side, then you’ll see that they differ in a few key areas.

While some of those differences are architectural, most of the pure performance gains come from faster clock speeds. At the same time, because the GPUs are similar enough, some intrepid hardware hackers decided to try to turn their Radeon RX 470 and RX 480 cards into a reasonable facsimile of their successors. For the most part, they succeeded, as Guru3D reports.

First, a refresher on the relative specifications of AMD’s reference cards, starting with the RX-580:

RX 580 RX 480
Graphics core: Polaris 20 XTX Polaris 10 XT
Compute units: 36 36
Stream processors: 2,304 2,304
Base speed: 1,257MHz 1,120MHz
Boost speed: 1,340MHz 1,266MHz
Memory: 4GB/8GB GDDR5 4GB/8GB GDDR5
Memory interface: 256-bit 256-bit
Memory bandwidth: 256GB/s 256GB/s
Memory speed: 8GHz 8GHz
Peak performance: Up to 6.17 TFLOPS Up to 5.83 TFLOPS
Maximum power: 180 watts 150 watts
Power connector: 1x 8-pin 1x 6-pin
Target market: Beyond smooth HD gaming Premium VR Experiences
Starting price: $199/$229 $199/$229
Availability: April 18 June 2016

Here’s the RX 570:

RX 570 RX 470
Graphics core: Polaris 20 Pro Polaris 10 Pro
Compute units: 32 32
Stream processors: 2,048 2,048
Base speed: 1,168MHz 926MHz
Boost speed: 1.244MHz 1,206MHz
Memory: 4GB/8GB GDDR5 4GB/8GB GDDR5
Memory interface: 256-bit 256-bit
Memory bandwidth: 224GB/s 224GB/s
Memory speed: 7GHz 7GHz
Peak performance: Up to 5.10 TFLOPS Up to 4.94 TFLOPS
Maximum power: 150 watts 110 watts
Power connector: 1x 6-pin 1x 6-pin
Target market: Max 1080P Gaming High visuals
Starting price: $169/TBA $149/$179
Availability: April 18 June 2016

While AMD itself utilized different board design with an 8-pin power connector compared to the previous generation’s 6-pin connectors, Guru3D points out that most original equipment manufacturers are building their 500 series cards with the same PCB designs that were used in their 400 series cards. The Device ID didn’t change between the two generations, making it possible to flash the firmware version from the older cards onto the newer cards.

Guru3D forum member BigMamaInHouse did just that on his Radeon RX 470. When flashed with the RX 570 firmware, the card performed as if it were the newer model. Apparently, the older cards run at the base same clock rates as the newer cards, and that results in similar performance improvements. Consider Guru3D’s testing results with their Radeon RX 570, which achieved a graphics score of 3,991 on the 3DMark Time Spy, and the very similar 3,902 scored by BigMaMainHouse’s flashed RX 470.

users flash amd radeon rx 470 and 480 cards with 570 580 firmware guru3d results
Guru3D
Guru3D
users flash amd radeon rx 470 and 480 cards with 570 580 firmware bigmamainhouse results
BigMaMainHouse/Guru3D
BigMaMainHouse/Guru3D

According to Hexus.net, users have achieved similar results by flashing their Radeon RX 480 cards using the RX 580 firmware. While it doesn’t seem possible to overclock the resulting hybrid devices, and stability was noted as an issue for some users, the fact remains that some lucky RX 470 and RX 480 owners can gain significant performance improvements with a simple firmware update.

If you decide to do the same with your own graphics card, then of course the usual caveats apply. You might break something or blow something up, so be careful. Also, make sure to read through the various forum discussions to discover some of the tips and tricks other users have discovered that will give you the best chance at success. If this kind of thing isn’t your cup of tea, then you could always sell your existing card on eBay and pick up a new one.

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