Three cards up, three cards down. Let's put some final analysis on the R9 280X cards from ASUS, MSI and Sapphire.
As with all overclocked retail graphics cards, the difference in clock speeds tend to be somewhat minimal out of the box. Only in very rare and extreme cases do the vendors really step up and impress us with performance gains over reference specifications. Both the ASUS DirectCU II and the MSI Gaming versions of the Radeon R9 280X fall into this category; with overclocks of just 70 and 50 MHz neither is really blowing away the stock results we saw in our first R9 280X review.
The Sapphire R9 280X TOXIC is slightly better with an overclocked setting that is 150 MHz faster than base and also tweaks the memory speed a little bit as well. As a result, the Sapphire card is clearly the fastest of the three options on the table today though admittedly the performance deltas begin to look small when viewed progressively (MSI -> ASUS -> Sapphire).
The truth is that all three of these cards offer a lot more than just higher clocks. The custom PCB design, unique coolers, and different sound levels have just as much (if not more) to say about which card is right for you.
All three cards shy away from the reference design from AMD and I am thankful! The ASUS DirectCU II cooler and board design show a lot of ASUS' engineering prowess in the market and overclocking both the GPU and the memory speeds gives us a bit more confidence in the design. The dual fan combination is quiet and effective keeping the GPU at 72C even under a full gaming workload.
The MSI Gaming card has the least improved clock speeds out of the box but the cooler was also the quietest of the bunch. MSI has implemented the Military Class components yet again on this card. It also provides the best overclocking software, in my opinion.
Sapphire's TOXIC card is the flashiest card in our comparison while also offering the highest cooling capacity. But maintaining that same 72C temperature while drawing 50 watts more power than the ASUS card also means that the fans are spinning a little faster and generating a bit more noise. The LED lights and yellow + orange color scheme will definitely make the TOXIC stand out against the sea of red in other R9 280X designs.
Pricing and Availability
As of this writing, this is how the pricing of three R9 280X cards in this roundup stand:
- ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II – $315 (Newegg.com)
- MSI R9 280X Twin Frozr Gaming – $315 (Newegg.com)
- Sapphire R9 280X TOXIC – $349 (Newegg.com)
Clearly the TOXIC card attempts to justify its price with the larger and impressive cooler along with the highest default overclocks. Both the ASUS and MSI cards are on equal price footing and both provide very similar features. The DirectCU II cooler and custom board design from the ASUS option likely give it the edge, head to head.
All three of these Radeon R9 280X cards make good on the promise that AMD brought forward with the release of the revamped Radeon line earlier this month. Though none of these hit the $299 starting MSRP, none are plain and unoriginal either. Instead, they focus on improving the design of the R9 280X with custom board layout and design, improved components and overclocked settings right out the gate.
The most impressive card, from a pure performance and overclocking perspective, is the Sapphire R9 280X 3GB TOXIC. Its massive cooler, custom PCB, and higher clocks offer the best performance while at the same time causing significantly more noise than either competitor. Users that want the best performing option possible, regardless of the power and sound concerns, will love this card.
For the overall recommendation though we are stuck between the ASUS DirectCU II and the MSI Twin Frozr Gaming cards. Both offer quality designs, both fit into dual slot configurations without compromise, and both run at a much lower noise level than the Sapphire card. MSI's design has the lowest noise output, only increasing in dbA measurements by about 1 dbA from idle to load. But I do believe that the custom design on the ASUS board and cooler is likely to net an advantage in the long run.
ASUS R9 280X 3GB DirectCU II & MSI R9 280X 3GB Twin Frozr Gaming
Sapphire R9 280X 3GB TOXIC