This paper evaluates the effects of transmit amplifier nonlinearities on digital radio link performance. Special emphasis is given to links carrying 256-level modulations, for which the impact of even mild nonlinearities can be severe. Performance is measured in terms of the flat fade margin ( ) normalized by its theoretical maximum (Fmax). Curves of versus amplifier input drive level are used to evaluate and compare numerous design strategies. A major contribution of this work is the development of a fast, accurate method of computer analysis, in contrast to the more cumbersome Monte Carlo simulations generally used for these assessments. Moreover, the new method is used to study a variety of techniques devised to combat the nonlinearity, particularly signal predistortion. It is also used to investigate various approaches to pulse shaping and filtering, to quantify the degradation in performance with increasing numbers of modulation levels, and to examine the possible benefits of linear equalization.