AMD Radeon R7 265 Review
The R7-series cards may not be the first thing enthusiasts think of when looking for a capable gaming GPU but they certainly occupy a prominent space in AMD’s lineup. While higher end products typically get all the attention, the $125 to $175 market occupied by these low priced yet extremely capable graphics cards happens to be the most popular. In order to round out their offerings in this crowded volume-focused segment, AMD is launching the R7 265 2GB.
The R7 265 may represent the highest performance iteration of AMD’s R7-series but in many ways it’s more akin to the R9 270 and R9 270X. With this in mind, AMD is hoping that it will go toe to toe against NVIDAI’s GTX 660 2GB and GTX 650 Ti Boost while also threading carefully between the R9 270 and R7 260X. Like we said; this is an insanely cluttered corner of the GPU market.
In order to achieve their objectives of combining good 1080P performance with a value-focused design, AMD turned to one of their older architecture: Curacao, the artist formerly known as Pitcairn. Truth be told, other than some extremely minor optimizations and the addition of better PowerTune Boost algorithms, there really isn’t much to distinguish one core from the other. However, this is the first R7-series card to make use of the Curacao core so its pedigree is quite a bit higher than what we’ve come to expect from mid-level graphics cards.
To create the R7 265 a quartet of Compute Units was removed from the Pitcairn…er…Curacao core resulting in 1024 Stream Processors and 64 Texture Units. Meanwhile the render backends, L2 cache hierarchy and memory interface haven’t been touched so despite its middle-of-the-pack targeting, this card still has some relatively impressive bandwidth at its fingertips. Unfortunately, by utilizing and older core, AMD has cut out TrueAudio support which is a feature that may distinguish other R7-series cards in the future.
It goes without saying that by using the Curacao core, AMD has some lofty expectations that the R7 265 will maintain a significant gap between itself and the R7 260X. Other than the large uptick in ROPs and Stream Processors, one of the main differentiating factors will be the 265-bit memory bus despite the 265’s slightly lower GDDR5 speeds. Essentially, the R7 265 a rebadged HD 7850 (a card that’s nearly two years old we might add) with faster memory and some additional software additions to bring its overall power consumption down but by no means should that be taken as a negative point.
While it may look thoroughly outclassed by the new addition, the R7 260X still has its place in this picture. It consumes just 115W, supports TrueAudio, comes in some great-looking passive configurations and it’s price has just been cut to $119. This makes it a highly adaptable, affordable card for HTPC and small form factor users who need a blend of acceptable 1080P gaming framerates, a low acoustical footprint and plenty of audio / video features. The R7 260 on the other hand remains at $119 which simply means there aren't any announced price cuts at this point.
With the R7 265 sitting at $149, NVIDIA really doesn’t have much to compete against it right now. The GTX 650 Ti Boost has been all but discontinued with its stocks quickly running out as budget-minded gamers look for a capable GeForce option in the $149 bracket. Meanwhile, the GTX 660 currently retails for about $189 and the $250 GTX 760 is in another dimension from a price and performance perspective. The standard $120 GTX 650 Ti isn’t even in the picture for obvious reasons so NVIDIA may need to plug this gaping hole in their product stack sooner rather than later.
AMD does however run the very real risk of market saturation and sowing confusion within one of their most important markets. They now have five (yes, FIVE) different SKUs within just $100 of one another while just $50 separates the R9 270X and R7 265 with the R9 270 sitting between them. This has been AMD’s modus operandi for the last few generations and we can somewhat understand the need to plug perceived gaps. However, there’s a chance that one precision-targeted strike from NVIDIA may undo AMD carpet bombing initiative in one swift stroke.
AMD sent us a custom Sapphire R7 265 for our testing which carries an oversized heatsink, a single 6-pin power connector and a pair of cooling fans. Supposedly, the vast majority of board partners will be using their own designs this time around but how that will affect AMD’s stated price of $149 is anyone’s guess. For those wondering, we didn’t have to flash the BIOS on this card since it runs at reference frequencies.
Another big question mark here is availability. AMD is simply “introducing” (read: soft launching) the R7 265 right now with a retail rollout happening sometime before month’s end. With new NVIDIA cards based on the Maxwell architecture rumored to be in the pipeline, the R7 265 is a preemptive blow which may give potential customers pause before jumping on the GeForce bandwagon. It just remains to be seen how effective this card will actually be in the long term.
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