From time to time, AMD and Nvidia release a GPU that can be modded to function like a different class of card. In the old days, there were so-called “soft mods” that could identify consumer GPUs as workstation equivalents to improve compatibility with various applications, and there’ve been a number of GPUs that could be modded via BIOS replacement. These modifications either set new clock rates and memory frequencies or unlock additional cores within the GPU itself.
There’s a way to perform this trick on the RX 460 as well, and it can unlock 128 GPU cores that are present on-die but not enabled in the base RX 460 part. If performed correctly (and if the upgrade works), you’ll unlock an additional 128 GPU cores, or about 14.3% more than the GPU ships with by default (from 896 cores to 1,024). You’ll also get 64 texture mapping units, up from 56 in the base part.
This guide comes courtesy of der8auer at the Overclocking Guide and has been tested on both an Asus Strix 4GB and a Sapphire Nitro 4GB. In each case, the unlock completed flawlessly, but there are a few things to be aware of if you decide to go this route. First, there are two reasons why a company locks off GPU cores: Either to sell the chip into a particular market segment at a lower price, or to recover a bad chip and position it as a good one. In the first case, you’ll be able to unlock these cores just fine — AMD turned them off to hit segment positions, not because there was a problem with the GPU cores. In the second case, you may be able to unlock the GPU, but it won’t render properly. Issues could raise from artifacts to hard locks depending on the nature of the problem, and there’s no way to predict which you’ll encounter or what the results will be.
How much improvement you’ll see depends on the GPU you use and its stock clocks; der8auer’s published benchmarks show the Asus Strix running slower than the Sapphire card at stock speeds but picking up more performance from the BIOS flash (10% average vs. 5% for Sapphire). The GPUs thermal profile is still likely calibrated to an 896-core card, which means that it may throttle back more at higher clock rates or require a voltage tap to be perfectly stable.
Don’t look for huge gains — the RX 460 design is handicapped by a relatively low number of render outputs (ROPS), with just 16 of them compared with 32 ROPS on Nvidia’s GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti. Because unlocking the core doesn’t get you any additional render outputs, games that are fillrate-limited will see only a modest performance improvement. Still, an extra 5-10% isn’t bad — just make sure you understand the risks before you fiddle with your GPU’s BIOS.