Power Consumption and Conclusions
The Radeon R9 285 card we used in our testing was able to run at 19 watts lower than our tested Radeon R9 280 card. Keep in mind that because ALL of these cards (including the R9 280X and R9 280) are overclocked a small bit out of the box, they might have had their voltages slightly adjusted as well. AMD did NOT ship out reference R9 280 boards and neither did they send out reference R9 285 cards. The result is that we aren't 100% sure that these results would be the same on reference platforms, but this is how it shakes out in the real world.
Also note that the R9 280 uses a few more watts than the R9 280X – this test was verified and repeated about 5 times to verify. Even with all that though, seeing our Sapphire Radeon R9 285 use noticeable less power to perform *nearly* the same as the R9 280 is a good signal for AMD's GCN architecture.
Pricing and Availability
AMD claims the Radeon R9 285 will be available today at all the normal retail and e-tail establishments you usually buy hardware from. In fact, a couple of models are already available on Amazon.com, both from Sapphire.
- Radeon R9 285 2GB – $249
- Radeon R9 280 3GB (EOL sales) – $219
- Radeon R9 280X 3GB – $289
- GeForce GTX 760 2GB – $244
If you already have a single Radeon R9 280, now might be the perfect time to start looking for a second card for CrossFire action if you are interested in that kind of thing. Once they are gone, you are going to be out of luck. The R9 280X would be a compelling option with its added performance and larger memory size if we didn't really already know, in our heart of hearts, that it was on the way out the back door as well to make room for a FULL Tonga GPU in the not too distant future. The GeForce GTX 760 has a lot of great features and lower power consumption, but in terms of raw performance per dollar, it can't hold up to any of these three options from AMD.
Never Settle: Space Edition Update
The AMD Never Settle bundle program continues to roll along and with the release of the Radeon R9 285 the company has improved things yet again. Added to the list of available games that Radeon buyers can select are Alien: Isolation, a Star Citizen Module pack, Habitat and a host of other older titles. Buyers of the R9 285 will qualify for the Gold Reward level, allowing selection of three of the titles.
Just a note: the Star Citizen inclusion here is centered on Arena Commander and Murray Cup Race Series modules. We aren't talking about the full game, which has a yet-to-be-determined release time frame anyway.
NVIDIA continues to battle in the bundle department, recently adding the new Borderlands Pre-Sequel to its quiver.
AMD's Radeon R9 285 is a evolutionary design in a few ways. It is a further enhancement of the GCN architecture even when compared to the design of the Radeon R9 290 and 290X with improved 4K video support. AMD was able to tweak the ISA and improve compute efficiency with the Tonga chip. It's evolutionary for the product line as well, including support for XDMA CrossFire, TrueAudio decode and FreeSync technologies give the R9 285 has much more a formidable feature set over the Radeon R9 280.
Some users might see it as a step back with the return to a 256-bit memory bus width and 2GB of frame buffer. Those changes likely force some small performance penalties on the GPU itself but the truth is the Radeon R9 285 performs basically identically to the R9 280 that it is replacing. Yes it loses in a couple of games (BF4 and Crysis 3) but it wins in a few as well (Bioshock Infinite and Metro: Last Light) making that aspect a draw.
We will likely see several other GPU replacements coming down the pipe as 2014 progresses and though the Radeon R9 285 is a fine graphics card, it just doesn't do anything exciting or revolutionary. We don't have a big price drop (the R9 280 was already selling for $250 or lower before this release); we don't see a big power consumption drop (there is a small one though); we don't see dramatically higher performance. The only weight behind the release comes in the form of those features that were missing from the R9 280-series of GPUs like TrueAudio and FreeSync. TrueAudio will appeal to some gamers but others just won't care about audio as much as they do graphics. The FreeSync support is great and probably the most important "feature" of this particular launch.
As unexcited as this conclusion might sound, the Radeon R9 285 2GB still looks to be the best graphics card you can buy for $250. But AMD already held that crown making this seem more like a maintenance release than a high impact technology launch. If you value the technology of Mantle, TrueAudio or FreeSync and are in the market for a graphics card in the budget of $210-280, then this is the one for you.
Best Performer at $250