Noted overclocker Roman 'der8auer' Hartung, best known for designing the Delid Die Mate tool, has posted a guide to unlocking the block-off stream processors in an AMD Radeon RX 460 graphics card to boost performance by around 12.5 percent.
The Radeon RX 460 is positioned as a reasonably high-end card, but sits short of the top spot thanks to a reduced number of texture mapping units (TMUs) and stream processors. As is usual in the semiconductor industry these parts are physically present on the Polaris GPU die, but are locked off in order to prevent their use. Typically this is done as part of the silicon binning process: parts with one or two faulty stream processors will have the bad parts locked out and end up in lower-end hardware. In his write-up, however, der8auer suggests that yields on AMD's higher-end chips may be better than expected, leading to parts with perfectly functional stream processors being artificially degraded simply to meet demand for cheaper graphics cards.
'The AMD Radeon RX 460 unlocking process involves nothing more than a simple firmware update and can result in a performance upgrade of 12.5 percent,
' der8auer wrote in his piece for Overclocking Guide
. 'The Radeon RX 460 is considered a solid choice in terms of price/performance. It comes by default with 56 TMU and 896 Stream Processors in the form of the Polaris 11 GPU architecture. But here’s how to get an additional 8 TMUs and 128 Stream Processors.
The unlocking process requires no hardware modification, and is carried out simply by flashing a patched firmware file. Naturally, this carries a risk: While der8auer has found that every RX 460 he has tried to unlock has done so successfully, there's no guarantee that the locked-off stream processors aren't genuinely faulty. If this proves so, it will lead to at best considerable system instability and at worst a completely dead card - meaning the entire process is very much try-at-your-own-risk.
This is far from the first time that buyers have been able to take advantage of high yields to get free performance out of their hardware: Earlier this year it was discovered that selected models of AMD's higher-end Radeon RX 480 graphics card had 8GB of memory fitted despite being artificially limited to 4GB. As with der8auer's discovery, it soon proved possible to patch the firmware and unlock the extra VRAM
Thus far, der8auer has provided patched firmware files for the Asus RX 460 Strix O4G and Sapphire RX 460 Nitro 4G graphics cards, with additional models due to be tested and added to the compatibility list in the coming weeks. A video demonstrating the process is reproduced below.