AMD Radeon R9 280X 3GB Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: October 7, 2013
Product Name: R9 280X 3GB
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AMDís R9 280X has been a long time coming. Ever since the HD 7970 was introduced, rumors have been swirling about what the next batch of Radeon cards would look like, and now we finally have an answer. Today, the R9 280X is being launched alongside the R9 270X, R7 260X and a pair of lower end cards while the flagship R9 290X and R9 290 will see the light of day before monthís end.

This new series of cards has a lot of expectations to live up to since its predecessor, the HD 7000-series, houses cards which have been around for nearly two years but continue to lead the pack in the price / performance category. The R-series is meant to continue this tradition, but in a way some may have not been expecting: by leveraging the same GCN architecture weíve come to know and love.

Much like NVIDIA did with the GTX 700-series, AMD have enhanced several aspects of their architecture by increasing clock speeds and adding a smattering of new features to create these new cards. While that may not sound too exciting, it has allowed the R9 280X to hit an extremely competitive price point which is essential as the Radeon lineup evolves according to the new market realities.

The R9 280X uses AMDís standard 28nm Tahiti XT core which formed the backbone of the HD 7970 and subsequently, the HD 7970 GHz Edition. In this form, it houses 2048 stream processors, 32 ROPs, 128 texture units and interfaces with the GDDR5 memory through a 384-bit wide bus. Basically, there isnít anything here we havenít seen before since the Tahiti XT already featured a fully enabled core so itís not like AMD had additional SIMD units just waiting to be unlocked. The real question is whether or not the 280X will provide enough differentiation from current products to make a real impact in a highly competitive segment.

Much like the GTX 770, the R9 280X may initially represent a rebadging of current technology but performance has been augmented by higher clock speeds than a HD 7970 3GB. AMD has also stated there will be no reference design so this will be a board partner focused ASIC. Expect plenty of variety as MSI, Gigabyte, XFX, ASUS, HIS, PowerColor and others launch custom cooled, overclocked versions that are loosely based off of their current HD 7970 designs.

The R9 280ís core layout mirrors those of the HD 7970 3GB and its GHz Edition evolution but the memory and engine frequencies stride in a space between the two. In this iteration the Tahiti core operates at a constant speed of 1GHz, though according to the BIOS, thereís a rarely-used Base frequency of 950MHz. The 3GB of GDDR5 memory follows very much the same pattern but sticks to the 6Gbps bandwidth pioneered by AMDís GHz Edition.

TDP remains unchanged despite the higher clock speeds. According to board partners, the amount of voltage going to the core has been fractionally reduced which may negatively affect overclocking. This is particularly bad news for enthusiasts who have long championed the overhead of AMDís Radeon series.

For the time being at least, AMD isnít planning on discontinuing any of their current products since thereís plenty of stock still left in the channels. Youíll likely see substantially fewer vanilla HD 7970 3GB cards in the channel as AIBs transfer their production to the R9 280X, so scoop up those great deals while theyíve still around. Nonetheless, thereís plenty of space between the R9 280X and the new R9 270X so these 7000-series parts will likely stick around for some time.

From a pricing competitive perspective, AMD is aiming for very distinct segments. With this in mind, the $299 R9 280X is extremely competitive and strikes directly at two of NVIDIAís most successful cards: the $399 GTX 770 and $249 GTX 760. Unfortunately, neither was touched by the latest round of price cuts and with performance that should almost hit HD 7970 GHz Edition levels on tap, the 280X will likely be a dominant force despite its lack of a Never Settle game bundle.

Features typically take a back seat to raw performance but the R9 280X has a trick up its sleeve. Weíve covered AMDís API / driver combination called Mantle previously and while it canít be tested just yet, this may be a key differentiator for GCN-based cards going forward. However, other than Mantle, DX11.2 compatibility and clock speeds, there really isnít anything that can distinguish the R9 280X from its predecessors (which are also Mantle / DX11.2 compatible).

The R9 280X should bring up the value quotient in AMDís lineup which is an important factor for the gamers it is targeting: those who are still holding onto a HD 6900 or HD 5800-series card. Now may be the great time for these users to upgrade since this new product may offer that perfect combination of price and performance.

Due to the refreshed nature of this card, expect a hard launch with stock in the retail channels this week.

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