It’s yet another launch day for AMD; and this time around, we have a card in their GPU14 product lineup – the R9 270X. The press deck we received has the R9 270X targeted directly at the $199 price range, which should make it a viable option in the highly competitive mid-priced graphics card market. At that price range, it puts the NVIDIA GTX 660 series of cards squarely in its crosshairs. By all indications, it should also come relatively close to the HD 7950 performance, even with its slightly trimmed specifications. So, let’s get to work and find out what this card is all about!
Here are the specifications as provided by AMD. A quick glance shows this card should be available with 4 GB of memory, which should make high resolution multi-monitor users happy.
Having a look at the GPU-Z screenshot, we can confirm the above details and add a few more. GPU-Z reports the card being built around the Pitcairn GPU core. If that’s true, it’s the fastest iteration of that core to date. The pixel fill rate comes in at 33.6 GPixels/s, and the texture fill rate lands at 84.0 GTexel/s. The 28 nm fabrication process, 212 mm² die size, and 2800M transistor count all remain the same as the original Pitcairn release. For you Eyefinity users, that option is still available in this new release with no changes in its functionality.
You might notice in the slide above the mention of “Mantle” under API support. This is a big deal to AMD, and probably more so to game developers that decide to opt in. Basically, this reduces much of the overhead and restricted lower level access to hardware that using only DirectX and OpenGL APIs can create. From what I understand, Dice will be using the Mantle API for its Frostbite 3 engine when the game’s first patch is released sometime in December. The two slides below outline some of the other benefits game developers can expect by using the Mantle API.
AMD really tries to drive home the price versus performance of the R9 270X; and by the looks of their testing against previous generation cards, the value appears to be there. The first slide below depicts price against 3DMark Fire Strike scores to come up with a pretty astounding value increase over previous generation GPUs. The second slide below further drives home the point of being able to own a card for around $199 that can pop a 5500 3DMark Fire Strike score.
The R9 270X also continues on with AMD’s popular GCN (Graphics Core Next) Architecture, as do all the GPU14 products for that matter. The GCN Architecture has many performance and energy saving features well worth taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with. One of the most compelling GCN features is the ZeroCore function, which minimizes power usage during idle times. In fact, under a long idle state condition, the GPU is completely shut down other than a very small bus control clock to keep the GPU visible to the OS. Please visit the AMD GCN page for detailed information on everything GCN offers.
As mentioned earlier, the R9 270X targets the NVIDIA GTX 660 series of graphics cards. AMD performed some in house testing to illustrate what they feel is a superior product based on price and performance. Below are a few slides showing AMD’s results when testing a few popular titles. The last slide below highlights the TressFX feature and how it drastically improves the way a character’s hair appears in game.
Meet the R9 270X
Here is your first look at the AMD R9 270X reference design and its blower type cooler. Take a good look because you’re probably going to see partner cards with their own proprietary coolers on them, and you may well never see this exact cooler again. In its reference design form, the R9 270X measures right at 9.5 inches in length. This measurement will vary slightly when partner cards are released depending upon how they modify the reference design.
Up Close Look
Removing the reference design cooler is a pretty easy task that begins by getting the outer plastic housing off, which requires removing six screws. Once that is done, the copper block and aluminum heatsink assembly can be taken off by removing the four screws at the back of the card. From there, all that’s left to remove is the support plate, which is held in place by nine screws at the back of the card. The support plate also serves as the cooling mechanism for the memory and MOSFETs, as well as being the mounting platform for the fan.
A closer look at the heatsink itself reveals a pretty stout implementation here. We have a three heatpipe design that is built into a copper block and topped off by an aluminum fin stack. The rear half of the aluminum fin stack is closed off at the top to provide an air channeling effect, which should efficiently force the air out the back of the case. We’ll test just how well this reference design cooler keeps things cooled down later in the review.
Now that we have the R9 270X stripped down to the bare PCB, let’s have a look around. Here are a few overview shots of the naked PCB to start us off.
Power delivery consists of two 6-pin PCI-e power connectors and a 5+1 power phase design (5 GPU and 1 vRAM), along with a CHiL VRM handling the voltage regulation duties. Here are a few different images of the power delivery section found on this reference design card. Keep in mind, as AMD partners begin designing their own versions of the R9 270X, some may stay with the reference design, while others may completely abandon it in favor of their own PCB and power delivery designs.
The memory consists of 2 GB GDDR5 SDRAM. Hynix H5GQ2H24AFR-ROC is used for the memory modules, which usually overclock quite well. These particular memory chips are rated for 1.5 V and 6.0 Gb/s speed. We’ll see how far we can push them a bit later. As far as the GPU core itself goes, we don’t have official confirmation on the exact codename as of yet. However, GPU-Z hasn’t failed us yet; and given the similarities to the HD 7850 and 7870, we believe it to be a beefed up variation of the “Pitcairn” core.
Overclocking and Benchmarks
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus VI Formula|
|CPU||Intel i7 4770K Haswell|
|Memory||G.SKill TridentX DD3-2666 MHz 2x4GB|
|SSD||Kingston HyperX 3KSSD 240 GB|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX1050 Professional Series|
|Video Card||AMD R9 270X Graphics Card|
|Cooling||Swiftech Apogee HD CPU Water Block – 3X120 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump|
Overclocking for Stability
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a utility that allowed the GPU or memory voltage to be manipulated. When I got around to trying MSI’s AfterBurner software and finding it didn’t have the option either, I figured it just wasn’t possible at this time. All is not lost though as the R9 270X overclocked quite well, even without the ability to raise voltages. I was able to raise the GPU core speed +165 MHz and the memory +200 MHz. This landed us at 1215 MHz core and 1600 MHz memory, which equates to a 14% GPU overclock and a 13% memory overclock. Not bad at all.
Because I don’t have the ability to manipulate voltages, there won’t be a “Pushing the Limits” section of this review. I spent quite some time getting the most I could with no voltage manipulation options, but still I was quite pleased with the results. About all I can do now for minimal increases in benchmark scores would be to raise the CPU and system memory speeds. However, any benchmark increases would be based solely on that and not indicative of added GPU performance. I wouldn’t completely rule out forthcoming voltage manipulation options as AMD partner cards might well add the feature with their overclocking software. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Since the release of the Haswell/Z87 platform earlier this year, we have been using our new “GPU Testing Procedure.” If you are not yet familiar with it, click the provided link to learn more. Below is the down and dirty version of the new procedure.
- i7 4770K @ 4 GHz
- Dual Channel DDR3-1866 9-9-9-24
- GPU @ stock
- Monitor capable of 1920×1080
- All Synthetic benchmarks set to their default settings
- Unigine Heaven (HWbot) is run using the “extreme” setting
- Aliens vs. Predator – 1920×1080 with highest settings offered (4x AA, textures set to highest)
- Battlefield 3 – 1920×1080 at Ultra settings (4xAA/HBAO by default)
- Dirt 3 - 1920×1080 with 8x MSAA and all settings enabled and at Ultra where possible
- Metro 2033 – 1920×1080, DX11, Very High, 4x MSAA/ 16x AF, PhysX OFF, DOF enabled, Scene: Frontline
- Civilization V – 1920×1080, 8x MSAA, VSync OFF, High Detail Strategic View: Enabled, Other Settings: High, using full render frames value ( / 60)
- Batman: Arkham City – 1920×1080, VSync off, 8xMSAA, MVSS and HBAO, Tessellation set to high, Extreme Detail Level, PhysX Off
Starting off with the synthetic benchmarks, we see the R9 270X consistently topping the EVGA GTX 660 SC just as AMD said it should. We don’t quite see the huge increases that AMD touts in their testing, but that’s undoubtedly due to AMD using a reference design GTX 660 in their testing. The EVGA GTX 660 SC we used for comparison is clocked higher than a reference design card and is a much better card overall than the reference design. However, even “SuperClocked”, the GTX 660 couldn’t keep up with the R9 270X. Things got even more interesting when we overclocked the R9 270X as it consistently beat up on the GTX 760 card in our comparison chart. Heck, it even manged to squeak out a win over the HD 7950 a time or two. Obviously, the R9 270X scales nicely when overclocked as you can see in the below graphs.
Absolutely nothing to complain about in the synthetic benchmarks, so let’s move on to the game benchmarks.
We pretty much see the same pattern as above with the game benchmark results. The R9 270X dominated the GTX 660 SC in every test here and kept right up with the GTX 760 as well. Most impressive to me was the 30+ FPS achieved in Metro 2033, which meets our “playable” threshold! We even saw both the GTX 670 and HD 7950 occasionally fall victim to this card when it was overclocked. It’s nice to have the ability to overclock a card like this and watch it compete with other more expensive offerings from both NVIDIA and AMD. That equals bang for the buck!
Temperatures and Power Consumption
Our temperature testing procedure entails running HWBot Heaven at both stock and overclocked settings. The results are normalized to 25 °C ambient. Testing included the fan control set to auto, and then again with the fan speed set to 100%. The temperatures got pretty warm with the fan speed set to auto, but I noticed the fan never ramped up past 33%. It’s not a big deal because you can always set the fan speed manually in order to keep temperatures more inline. With the fan set to 100%, we see vastly improved temperatures as expected. Setting the fan speed to 100% results in the noise being obnoxiously loud, but it really moves a lot of air! However, setting the fan speed at around 50% ~ 60% does a good job of keeping things cooled off at respectable noise level.
Our power consumption testing is done with a Kill-a-Watt and wattage usage recorded at idle and load. We run both HWBot Heaven and 3DMark 11 (Combined Physics Test) to hopefully get the maximum power draw the video card can produce. I take this testing one step further and also provide results while the video card is overclocked.
In a nutshell, the power consumption test results show the R9 270X will be kind on your power bill. Even with the card overclocked and the fan running at 100%, the total system draw never even sniffed 300 watts. Idle power draw was equally impressive with a mere 101 watts sitting idle at stock speeds. Good stuff here!
Value and performance are the name of the game when it comes to the R9 270X, and it delivers on both fronts. Unfortunately for AMD, the Green Team managed to steal a little of their thunder by announcing price drops on a few of their offerings, which should come as no surprise to anyone. The direct competing GTX 660 was reduced to $179, which makes it a little less expensive than the R9 270X now. Given the performance advantage the R9 270X has, I don’t think the price drop will be enough to sway AMD fans to go green. Let’s not forget, in many cases the R9 270X did a nice job holding tight to the GTX 760, especially when overclocked where it actually came out on top in most cases. But hey, we all like a little price war right? The consumer stands to benefit with good performing hardware at an even better price.
The R9 270X overclocks extremely well, even with no option to raise voltages. Hopefully, partner cards will have voltage options we enthusiasts crave, which should raise the performance level even a bit more. So, in the end, AMD has done a nice job beefing up the Pitcairn GPU core to perform well beyond previous cards sporting the same core. If you’re in the market for a great performing video card in the $200 price range, the R9 270X definitely needs to be on your radar.