Overclocking, Pricing and Conclusions
Overclocking with AMD graphics cards has always been a very different experience than overclocking with NVIDIA cards. The software tools for it aren't as advanced, and using the Catalyst driver integration always seems kind of clunky while not providing the actual information users really want. Voltages, specific clock speeds, an overlay, etc.
For our Fury X overclocking testing, which AMD was preparing us for during its E3 live streams, we used the Catalyst Control Center AMD OverDrive settings.
For those unfamiliar, the x-axis on this graph is the power limit of the card itself, which I quickly cranked up to 35% here. The y-axis of the graph adjusts the GPU clock but based on percentages rather than a fixed amount. This is where the actual overclocking occurs, and in reality I was never able to get the Fury X to run at more than a 10% overclock stable.
I left the GPU temperature target at 75C though we never really got close to that in real-world testing; it wasn't a bottleneck.
My net result: a clock speed of 1155 MHz rather than 1050 MHz, an increase of 10%.
That's a decent overclock for a first attempt with a brand new card and new architecture, but from the way that AMD had built up the "500 watt cooler" and the "375 watts available power" from the dual 8-pin power connectors, I was honestly expecting quite a bit more. Hopefully we'll see some community adjustments, like voltage modifications, that we can mess around with later in the week.
It's an interesting quandary we are in with the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X when it comes to raw gaming performance. First, the Fiji GPU is clearly a drastic improvement over the architecture and implementation found in Hawaii, AMD's previous flagship single-GPU offerings. The Fury X was able to outperform the Radeon R9 290X by as much as 42% and is regularly 30-40% faster. That is not a small difference in performance from one generation to the next, especially considering that Fiji uses about 40 watts LESS POWER than the Hawaii GPU used in the Radeon R9 290X. AMD's claims about performance per watt efficiency improvements during the announcement last week were clearly on point.
But the battle against NVIDIA is a different story. During the E3 live streams AMD never once mentioned performance comparisons against the likes of the GTX 980 Ti or GTX Titan X, which I put off as AMD taking the higher road and not mentioning the competition during a public event. After the Fury X reviewers guide leaked out over the weekend, showing comparisons to the GTX 980 Ti with Fiji edging it out in nearly all of the demonstrated games, I had some hope that AMD could pull it off.
Well, it didn't work out that way. The Fury X is definitely an incredibly fast flagship offering from AMD, but in my testing across 7 different games and 2 resolutions for each game, the GTX 980 Ti is the faster card in nearly all instances. Only in Crysis 3 and Metro: Last Light did AMD's hardware take the lead. The rest of the games, including Grand Theft Auto V, BF4, Bioshock Infinite and GRID 2, leaned towards the NVIDIA card. In the case of GTA V, one of the latest and most popular PC games with a heavy modding community, the GTX 980 Ti was 15-33% faster depending on the resolution in question. That is a hard performance gap to write off. (UPDATE: A couple of people have guessed that the GTA V performance deficit might be related to driver immaturity. That's definitely possible but still concerning considering GTA V is such a big PC game currently.)
You can't help but wonder how much of that performance penalty against the GTX 980 Ti is a result of the 4GB memory capacity (compared to 6GB on the GTX 980 Ti) and possibly even the decision to leave the render operator (ROP) count at 64 units on Fury X, the same amount that existed on Hawaii nearly two years ago.
AMD knows about my results as I am sure they knew about what these reviews would say before they published a handful of favorable configurations in the reviewers guide. The implications from the company, though not explicitly stated, is that it can only get better. Fiji's use of HBM is a totally new thing and the driver modifications needed to properly manage 4GB of memory on a wider, but slower, memory bus are still being perfected. AMD told me this week that the driver would have to be tuned "for each game". This means that AMD needs to dedicate itself to this cause if it wants Fury X and the Fury family to have a nice, long, successful lifespan.
First and foremost, I'm going to consider the design of the new AMD Fury X as the first stand out feature. Others may not agree, but I find the aesthetics that AMD's team built with the card to be gorgeous without being gaudy and over the top like so many other graphics cards tend to be today. The illuminated Radeon logo, the soft touch, matte finish plastics and the edge Radeon logo in the back plate are all little touches that help the card prove its worth in the $650 graphics card market. Oh, and any GPU with a tachometer is good in my book.
The cooler on the Fury X, despite the fact that it might have been implemented to help aid the GPUs ability to match the performance per watt capability of Maxwell, is a positive in my mind. I know that many of you would still prefer to see an air cooled Fiji card, and you'll get your wish next month, but being able to run your GPU at 50-55C under a full gaming load is a treat without requiring you to have to go the route of a full custom water cooling loop and without having to buy anything aftermarket.
And with that cooler you can also run your GPU more quietly as well. The Fury X is nearly silent even under a full gaming load. I wouldn't really worry about the pump whine yet either: I think installing it in a chassis will negate it and AMD claims to have fixed it for retail units anyway.
AMD is still playing catch up in some ways, but the company is trying to match what NVIDIA has in terms of add-ons and features to the GPU family lineup. GeForce Experience? Raptr. G-Sync? FreeSync. Dynamic Super Resolution? Virtual Super Resolution. Frame Rate Targeting? Yep. Fully DX12 and Vulkan ready? Of course.
I do wish that HDMI 2.0 had been included as well. Without it we really can't recommend the card for a future-proof gaming-based HTPC where the integration of a TV with 4K / 60 Hz capability with HDMI 2.0 is likely in the coming months and years.
Pricing and Availability
If all goes to plan, the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X card will be for sale today around the web for $649. Here's how the comparisons will stack.
- AMD Radeon R9 Fury X 4GB – $649
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB – $649
- AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB – $329
- AMD Radeon R9 295X2 8GB – $680
Although I included both the Radeon R9 295X2 and the GeForce GTX Titan X 12GB in our results on the previous pages, I don't consider them options for our readers at all at this point. The 295X2 is just too problematic with the dual-GPU config and the Titan X is just way too overpriced for gamers.
The Fury X is priced very competitively with the GeForce GTX 980 Ti in terms of performance, features, design, power and sound. I can't say that I think the new AMD flagship card is better than the GTX 980 Ti, but it's a much closer debate than it has been in what seems like forever.
In a world where a couple of percentage points of performance one way or the other can make or break a product launch, it's easy to forget how much of these types of purchases are based on preference. If you asked me today which card is faster, the AMD Fury X or the GTX 980 Ti from NVIDIA, I would definitely tell you the GeForce card. It runs at higher average frame rates while maintaining smooth frame times for a consistent experience. But, the truth is that AMD's new Fiji GPU is able to do that as well – smooth frame times and high frame rates for users of 2560×1440 and 4K monitors. It's just not as high.
If the AMD Fury X doesn't win in terms of raw performance, are there other areas where it can stand out? Yes, actually. I love the design and build quality of the card and that is the first time I have said that about an AMD reference solution in a long time. The liquid cooler integration also gives the Fury X the advantage in terms of keeping your flagship hardware cool and quiet. With an operating temperature of just 55C or so while gaming, Fiji is running about 30C lower than the GM200 Maxwell GPU in the GTX 980 Ti. Further, it maintains that temperature while also using a cooling system that is quieter than NVIDIA's as well. (Custom coolers on both sides may change that result though.)
Is Fury X the homerun that I think many users and enthusiasts were hoping it would be? Does it live up to all of the hype surrounding a months-long leak campaign and dual E3 stage shows? Probably not. But I still believe that AMD has built its best graphics card in several generations and is again competing in the space we need it to.