The AMD Radeon R9 280X

AMD’s new lineup includes a lot of familiar faces but a lot of new, lower prics as well.

Today marks the first step in an introduction of an entire AMD Radeon discrete graphics product stack revamp. Between now and the end of 2013, AMD will completely cycle out Radeon HD 7000 cards and replace them with a new branding scheme. The "HD" branding is on its way out and it makes sense. Consumers have moved on to UHD and WQXGA display standards; HD is no longer extraordinary.

But I want to be very clear and upfront with you: today is not the day that you’ll learn about the new Hawaii GPU that AMD promised would dominate the performance per dollar metrics for enthusiasts.  The Radeon R9 290X will be a little bit down the road.  Instead, today’s review will look at three other Radeon products: the R9 280X, the R9 270X and the R7 260X.  None of these products are really “new”, though, and instead must be considered rebrands or repositionings. 

There are some changes to discuss with each of these products, including clock speeds and more importantly, pricing.  Some are specific to a certain model, others are more universal (such as updated Eyefinity display support). 

Let’s start with the R9 280X.


AMD Radeon R9 280X – Tahiti aging gracefully

The AMD Radeon R9 280X is built from the exact same ASIC (chip) that powers the previous Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition with a few modest changes.  The core clock speed of the R9 280X is actually a little bit lower at reference rates than the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition by about 50 MHz.  The R9 280X GPU will hit a 1.0 GHz rate while the previous model was reaching 1.05 GHz; not much a change but an interesting decision to be made for sure.

Because of that speed difference the R9 280X has a lower peak compute capability of 4.1 TFLOPS compared to the 4.3 TFLOPS of the 7970 GHz.  The memory clock speed is the same (6.0 Gbps) and the board power is the same, with a typical peak of 250 watts.

Everything else remains the same as you know it on the HD 7970 cards.  There are 2048 stream processors in the Tahiti version of AMD’s GCN (Graphics Core Next), 128 texture units and 32 ROPs all being pushed by a 384-bit GDDR5 memory bus running at 6.0 GHz.  Yep, still with a 3GB frame buffer.

The most important change for the R9 280X is price.  Starting at $299 for reference clocked models this is essentially giving Tahiti a discount of $60-80 compared to prices from just last month.  (BTW, you will likely find deals on Radeon HD 7000-series cards while inventory is cleared, so you might want to jump on them.)  Let’s also consider than the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition card launched in June 2012 with a price of $499, $200 higher than the cost for essentially the same product today. 

Because we are basically looking at the same ASIC and board design for the R9 280X as with the HD 7970, board partners like ASUS are ready with custom designs out of the gate. 

For our R9 280X testing AMD sent along an ASUS TOP model that comes overclocked out of the box at 1070 MHz core and 1600 MHz memory.  Obviously for our testing today I turned down the clock speeds to match reference specifications but we'll spend more time with the ASUS model in an upcoming review.

The R9 280X requires a 6+8 power configuration and ASUS has made the decision to turn them around 180 degrees to keep the cooler shroud from interfering with installation or removal. 

The output configuration is ideal with the ASUS R9 280X as well – with a pair of DL-DVI outputs, a full-size HDMI port and a full-size DisplayPort.


AMD Radeon R9 270X – Pitcairn to Curacao

The next card down the updated AMD Radeon products stack is the R9 270X and will hit a price point of $199.  The analog card from the previous product stack is the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition, otherwise known as the Pitcairn GPU.  The reference card I received from AMD actually had a label on the back that indicated a new ASIC name of Curacao, though when prodded for an answer AMD finally admitted that it was in fact NOT a new chip at all.  Oh well, take that for what you will.

The core clock speed of the R9 270X is 1.05 GHz (up to, thanks to Turbo clocks) which gives it a 50 MHz increase over the HD 7870 GHz Edition.  As a result, the theoretical peak performance jumps a bit from 2.56 TFLOPS to 2.69 TFLOPS as does board power from 175 watts to 180 watts.  The 256-bit memory bus is running at a noticeably higher speed though: up to 5.6 GHz from 4.8 GHz which should push memory bandwidth up to 179.2 GB/s. 

But again, the other specifications remain the same.  That means a 2.8 billion transistor 28nm chip with 1280 shader cores, 80 texture units and 32 ROPs.  The memory bus is backed by 2GB of frame buffer by default but you can expect to see 4GB options for about $30 more.

I mentioned the price of $199 above, and while that is lower than the HD 7870 GHz Edition was selling for last month, it’s not by much.  A quick look at PC Part Picker showed several models selling for $215-225 in early September.

Our AMD Radeon R9 270X testing was done with a reference sample that keeps the rather nice black/red design theme shown off at the GPU14 tech day event and live stream last month. 

The 270X only requires a 6+6 configuration for power.

AMD is definitely pushing this updated output configuration as the R9 270X reference card uses it as well.

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