AMD XFX R9 280X Graphics Card Review

AMD is launching three graphics cards today, the R7 260X, R9 270X and the R9 280X. The 280X is the most powerful of the launching cards today and that’s the one we’re looking at here. The 280X isn’t new by hardware standards. Most people know it by its original name – the HD 7970. It’s higher clocked and cheaper this time around though, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

AMD Introduces the R9 280X

AMD is not only pushing graphics cards with the Rx launch, they are also pushing some Gaming Evolved enhancements. The most important one, at least in my opinion, is going to be Mantle. Granted, it will only be important if developers jump on the bandwagon, but if they can get big enough partners on board, Mantle may well be a game changer (heh). Mantle is a very low level API that game developers can use to talk directly to the GPU hardware, bypassing the more convoluted layers of API like DirectX 11.

Mantle API

Mantle API

The good thing is they can program directly for the hardware and it should improve efficiency both from a coding and from an execution standpoint. However, the drawback is that it will only work on AMD graphics cards. It remains to be seen how many developers will jump on this bandwagon – especially when it means they’ll basically have to code on two APIs. Gamers don’t just use AMD, they use both AMD and NVIDIA and people that own NVIDIA cards aren’t exactly going to be thrilled if they are unable to use games to their full potential.

If AMD is able to convince enough partners to jump on board the Mantle train – which is entirely possible considering they control the entire console market for an entire generation of consoles – this could be a major coup for AMD graphics performance. Mantle will make its first appearance in Battlefield 4 courtesy of a patch to the game that’s expected to drop in December.

Moving on, AMD appears to have compared the R9 280X to two and three generations past. Why, you may ask? Because the 280X is not new, not even close. It’s a re-badged HD 7970 clocked at 1 GHz. Yes, the 7970 that has been out for almost two years now. If they put the HD 7970 on here, the difference would be near non-existant.

R9 280X Generation Gap

R9 280X Generation Gap

You can’t really blame them though, because starting with the GTX 770 and down, NVIDIA did exactly the same thing. AMD is slated to release two more graphics cards (you’ll have to check out the rumor mill for info on them; we can’t share anything now), but just keep in mind NVIDIA has two cards above the GTX 770 that were new(ish) tech…and AMD seems to be mirroring those efforts.

AMD is putting the R9 280X against the semi-recently released GTX 760, which itself is a slightly weakened GTX 670.

Battlefield 3 vs GTX 760

Battlefield 3 vs GTX 760

Tomb Raider vs. GTX 760

Tomb Raider vs. GTX 760

Bioshock 3 vs. GTX 760

Bioshock 3 vs. GTX 760

The 280X, like the HD 7970 before it, comes with a 3 GB frame buffer.

Meets Battlefield 4 Memory Recommendation

Meets Battlefield 4 Memory Recommendation

Here we have the specifications. You can pretty well ignore the “Up to” 1 GHz part, our card is pegged at 1 GHz and stayed there throughout testing. There is little changed here from the HD 7970 other than the clock speed at 1 GHz, because there is little changed between the two GPUs period. The 280X is last generation’s flagship GCN product, just like the GTX 770 was last generation’s flagship Kepler product.

AMD R9 280X Specifications

AMD R9 280X Specifications

Meet the XFX R9 280X

The R9 280X that AMD sent us is an XFX model, and it’s a great looking card. It’s a bit fat, extending well past the PCIe bracket, but that’s because of the massive cooler and equally massive 100 mm fans.

XFX R9 280X

XFX R9 280X

XFX R9 280X Rear

XFX R9 280X Rear

Have a look around, you should be pleased. XFX did a great job making this card look great.

XFX R9 280X

XFX R9 280X

XFX R9 280X

XFX R9 280X

XFX R9 280X

XFX R9 280X

XFX R9 280X

XFX R9 280X

The XFX R9 280X is a dual-slot card, which leaves plenty of room for CrossFireX configurations on almost any motherboard.

XFX R9 280X Side

XFX R9 280X Side

Power comes courtesy two power connectors, one 8-pin PCIe and one 6-pin PCIe.

Power Connectors

Power Connectors

Video outputs are typical of the HD 7970 before it, with two DVI, one HDMI and two mini-DisplayPort connectors. For those that want to run three-monitor Eyefinity, remember you can only use one DVI port, so you’ll need an active Mini-DP adapter for the third if your monitor isn’t native Mini-DP.

Video Outputs

Video Outputs

In addition to the large XFX branding on the bottom of the heatsink, there are two other XFX carvings, one more on the side of the cooler and one carved into the PCIe bracket. You don’t need to worry about it blocking airflow since this isn’t a blower-style cooler.

Corner Branding

Corner Branding

Let’s take that massive cooler off and see what lies underneath.

Under the Hood

I mentioned before that this cooler was huge, and I wasn’t kidding.

GPU Cooler Removed

GPU Cooler Removed

There are two parts to the cooler, one that cools the MOSFETs and memory and the huge GPU cooler itself. I like how the supplemental cooler contacts all memory chips as well as the MOSFETs, but I do have to wonder just how much good it’s doing. It seems like it’s plastic, and plastic isn’t the greatest of heat conductors. I have attempted to get XFX’s contact information from AMD and will update in case I’m wrong about the material, but I don’t think I am. The PCB behind the MOSFETs was hot, so much so I couldn’t leave my finger on it. Now, MOSFETs can take heat so it might not be a problem, but long term that might not be so good on the FETs. The plastic was definitely warm and wicking heat, but plastic will never do as good of a job as aluminum would.

GPU Cooler & VRM/vRAM Coolers Removed

GPU Cooler & VRM/vRAM Coolers Removed

The GPU cooler has an impressive six heatpipes going into two separate fin assemblies with lots of heat dissipation area.

Six Heatpipe Cooler

Six Heatpipe Cooler

Six Heatpipe Cooler

Six Heatpipe Cooler

Cooler Base

Cooler Base

As mentioned before, the cooler has two 100 mm fans. I like coolers with larger fans such as this one; they tend to be quieter than coolers with smaller fans, and indeed this cooler is nice and quiet. Even at full blast, you hear a quiet whoooosh of air, no other noise.

2x 100mm Fans

2x 100mm Fans

If you had any doubt that this was an HD 7970 rebrand, I would direct you to the sticker on the underside of the cooler.

What's that say?

What’s that say?

What’s that say in the upper right there? Oh, yea, “797AXXCB”. Anyway…

The PCB on this 280X is good looking as well. It seems well constructed, with no obvious issues on either side.

XFX R9 280X PCB

XFX R9 280X PCB

XFX R9 280X PCB

XFX R9 280X PCB

As you’ve figured out (and been told) by now, the GPU is your standard HD 7970 GPU that we’ve come to know since December 2011.

R9 280X GPU

R9 280X GPU

R9 280X GPU

R9 280X GPU

The GDDR5 memory clocked at 1.5 GHz (6 GHz quad-pumped) comes courtesy Elpida.

Elpida GDDR5 vRAM

Elpida GDDR5 vRAM

Powering the R9 280X is a seven-phase power plane, with six phases dedicated to the GPU and one to the memory.

R9 280X Power Section

R9 280X Power Section

R9 280X Power Section

R9 280X Power Section

R9 280X Power Section

R9 280X Power Section

Well, the card itself looks good, no complaints from a hardware standpoint. Time to install it and see how it does!

Test Setup

Our test setup is the same across all our reviewers, featuring an i7 4770K Intel Haswell CPU and memory clocked at DDR3-1866/ 9-9-9-24.

CPU i7 4770K @ 4.0 GHz
MB ASUS Maximus VI Extreme
RAM G.Skill TridentX DDR3-2600 @ 1866MHz 9-9-9-24
GPUs EVGA GTX 760 SC
ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP
HIS HD 7950 IceQ X2
NVIDIA GTX 770
NVIDIA GTX 780
NVIDIA GTX TITAN
OS Windows 7 Professional x64
XFX R9 280X Installed

XFX R9 280X Installed

Now that it’s installed, let’s see how it overclocks.

Overclocking

Voltage control isn’t quite there on the recent version of Afterburner (beta 14). The slide works, but it doesn’t do a thing to the voltage, so we’re limited to the 1144 mV that is default on the 280X. Without any voltage control, the GPU managed to get to 1085 MHz for a stable, 24/7 overclock. It made it as high as 1100 MHz for easier benches, but for full stability, that had to be dropped a bit. The memory side was more forgiving, making it up to 1650 MHz (1700 MHz through some benches).

Overclocked Settings

Overclocked Settings

3DMark Fire Strike - Overclocked

3DMark Fire Strike – Overclocked

3DMark Fire Strike - Overclocked

3DMark Fire Strike – Overclocked

It’s not much of an overclock, even without voltage. The original HD 7970 didn’t have voltage control at the time either but it clocked to 1125 MHz perfectly stable. My guess is they reduced voltage a tad to get slightly better power consumption numbers out of the R9 280X.

Temperature & Power Consumption

The cooler on this GPU is huge and does a good job keeping things cool. We let the stock BIOS control fans when doing temperature testing and it kept the fans very close to silent, while keeping the GPU at very reasonable temperatures.

Temperatures

Temperatures

Power consumption is on par with the HD 7970 that came before. It saves several watts over the GTX 760 at idle, and the two are neck and neck under load.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

Cooling and power consumption are right where they should be, looks normal here.

Performance Results

Performance was measured per our GPU testing guidelines. Long story short – benchmarks are run at their default settings and games are run at 1080p with all settings (think MSAA, detail, etc) turned to their maximum.

Synthetic Benchmarks

If you’re not convinced that this is a rebrand of the HD 7970 that’s just clocked at 1 GHz, then you will be now. Just look at the score comparison to the ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP, which itself is, wait for it…clocked at 1 GHz.

Positioning wise though, AMD is aiming for the GTX 760. With the GTX 760 priced between $249 and $299+ depending on board partner, at $299 MSRP, the R9 280X performs perfectly for its price.

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

3DMark 11

3DMark 11

3DMark Fire Strike

3DMark Fire Strike

HWBot Heaven Xtreme

HWBot Heaven Xtreme

While the R9 280X doesn’t compete with the GTX 780 or TITAN, it’s not priced to compete with them.

Game Testing

As mentioned, all the games here are tested at 1080p (by far the most common gaming resolution) with all MSAA/detail/etc. settings turned to their maximum.

The R9 280X does exactly how you would expect it to do, within one to three FPS of the HD 7970 DCU TOP. The kicker here is that it is doing a solid job keeping up with the more expensive GTX 770 even with the 280X at stock.

Aliens vs. Predator DX11 Benchmark

Aliens vs. Predator DX11 Benchmark

Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3

Civilization 5

Civilization 5

Dirt 3

Dirt 3

Metro 2033

Metro 2033

Crysis 3

Crysis 3

The slightly lower priced GTX 760 doesn’t hold a candle to the 280X anywhere outside Civilization V. In all other metrics, the 280X is clearly ahead.

AMD Eyefinity / NVIDIA Surround

Unfortunately, my Eyefinity/Surround testing didn’t extend to the GTX 760, so there isn’t a head-to-head run at 5760×1080.

AMD Eyefinity / NVIDIA Surround

AMD Eyefinity / NVIDIA Surround

The R9 280X performs right where the HD 7970 did though, so no surprises here. Overclocked, it even comes close to competing with the GTX 780.

Final Thoughts & Conclusion

Well, if you came here hoping to be surprised, I’m sorry to disappoint. There isn’t a thing surprising here. As the rumor mill has been talking about for a while, the R9 280X is a HD 7970 refresh. Speaking of, the 7970s currently on the market are available for very good prices; some as low as $279.99 after rebate. Those won’t last very long there though, AMD anticipates they’ll be long gone before the holiday season arrives, so the R9 280X will be their go-to mid-range card for the foreseeable future at an MSRP of $299.

Now, with aftermarket coolers, you can expect a small price increase, around $10-$20 is my guess. At the $299-329 price point, the R9 280X is going to be a strong contender. Sure, there’s not much at all new about it (ok, other than the model number), but at this price it is very hard to beat. Slightly below it resides the GTX 760, from $50 below the 280X to about the same as the 280X. As you can see, the performance is well worth that difference. To get better performance out of an NVIDIA GPU – and in some cases to even get performance that’s on par – you have to jump to at least $399.

So while AMD isn’t bringing anything new to the table (yet, hint hint) with this release, they’re pricing them so competitively, it’s hard not to be impressed. Reviewers and hardware enthusiasts are going to understandably be disappointed with the lack of anything new, but we’ll all be hard pressed to complain about a price like $299. AMD expects the R9 280X, R9 270X and R7 260X to be available starting on October 11th.

Overclockers_clear_approved

Jeremy Vaughan (hokiealumnus)

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Discussion
  1. Ivy
    Still curious, so the 260X and the still hidden flagships are the only cards with the new audio chips, is that correct?


    Yes. It's not audio chips though, it is a feature built directly into the GPUs, which is why they're just in the 260X & 290/290X. If you could just add a chip, they may have added it to the 270X/280X, but since it's part of the GPU they couldn't re-use older GPUs that didn't originally come with the feature. The only reason the 260X has it is because the Bonaire core in the 7790s had it, it was just not enabled on those cards.
    I'm posting this just as a matter of interest.

    Went down to our computer mall in Hong Kong to see if the R9 290 had been released yet. But all I could see was the R9 280X. So I took a few photos (courtesy of the shop) for my son with the relevant price tags. The prices are in Hong Kong Dollars which is roughly US$1 = HK$7.75. And here they are:

    I might be getting the HIS IceQ X² depending on what the price of the R9 290 will be.

    HIS IceQ X² - HK$2,450 (US$316).



    XFX Dual Fan - HK$2,450 (US$316)



    Sapphire Dual-X - HK$2,550 (US$329)



    Sapphire Vapor-X - HK$2,750 (US$355)



    On the other hand, the HD7970 seem to be more expensive. Here is an XFX model going for HK$2,799 (US$361).



    The R9 280X supposedly comes with 1 game (but not BF4). BF4 will only be bundled with the 290.

    Does anybody have any opinion which is the best one to get out of the above? Thanks.
    Still curious, so the 260X and the still hidden flagships are the only cards with the new audio chips, is that correct?

    Well, im disappointed, this is a partial cheap rebrand game but cant truly blame AMD because Nvidia was doing the same stuff way sooner and was showing AMD a possible path. The true gain simply is that a 7970 chip can be gotten for less than 300$ soon (out of the box and fresh from vendor), so people who think that they cant afford good hardware may be wrong. Rebrands arnt new at all but it was usualy used on OEM hardware only, so the market has moved to a uncommon rebranding spot, a sign of weakness i assume. But i do believe that AMD will release truly new stuff at the same time Nvidia is releasing Maxwell. So they had in mind not to taunt Nvidia and executing the same hilarious game such as Nvidia for now.
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    hokiealumnus
    We don't have others published yet, but we have a HIS card and an ASUS card in for review. The HIS should publish soon (Lvcoyote is writing that one) but I haven't had a chance to start on the ASUS yet.
    also an msi gamer version.:attn:
    to bad you didn't get a non reference HIS to try out they make some pretty solid coolers and tend to oc well. but i suppose the voltage locks are still in place anyways.
    We don't have others published yet, but we have a HIS card and an ASUS card in for review. The HIS should publish soon (Lvcoyote is writing that one) but I haven't had a chance to start on the ASUS yet.
    Hello, which R9 280X would you recommend ? Do any of you have a comparision reviews of different model ? I'm looking for a silent model with decent performance. perhaps I should wait fore more model to come out.
    It has been revealed weeks ago how AMD is handling it... and that means, the same way just as Nvidia regarding the 700 series. Compared to the GTX 770, previously the archrival of the 7970, the GTX 760 cant hold a candle (thats well said) and the GTX 770 have to accept defeat and a price cut could be the result. But im truly not sure about the full testing conditions but even without OC, the GTX 770 is not able to match performance. Thats not different from the 7970 but the 280X is that agressively priced (300$) that it will be the better deal as long as Nvidia isnt catching up.

    Regarding performance, im not sure the clocks, its not fully visible. The TOP should be clocked to 1 GHz i assume? Thats not more than a standart GHz edition, confusing.

    Well as far as i can see, the only cards with a "true" improvement (known as GCN 2.0) is the 290 specced cards, comparable to GTX 780 + Titan. Of course thats rather disappointing but have to remember that Nvidia did exactly the same considering the 700 series and the "fans" was still hyping it like crazy. So far AMD didnt release any "bomb", because they are still hiding the two GCN 2.0 beasts from the public, for whatever reason. Bomb would mean: To beat 780 + Titan, thats the stuff most of the people want to know. In term its only a match... its at least "good news" but nothing able to nuke. When i look at the specs i know so far (shader count, ROP, memory bus, TFLOP*), its possible to have a "bomb attack". But those cards will surely surpass the price of the "mainstream old tech cards" by a clear margin (much higher priced), comparable to Nvidia.* Expected TFLOP for 290X is above 5 TFLOP (officially stated by AMD), while a GTX 780 is around 4.5 TFLOP, Titan slightly higher (prehaps 4.7 or so).
    Yesterday I received an ASUS Matrix Platinum R9 280X. Won't have time to get to it until next week, but it is pretty. Seems like it's nearly identical to the Matrix Platinum HD 7970, which stands to reason. I will try, but will probably be hard pressed to tell any differences aside from the model number. :)
    We have a bunch of threads about these cards so I hope this is not posted somewhere already but this has my attention. Not fond of the price point over normal 280x but its price to performance looks solid. http://www.anandtech.com/show/7406/the-sapphire-r9-280x-toxic-review/1
    EarthDog
    Nope. There are 680 varients with 4gb and varying clocks.

    @ xsuper - seen the contrary on H forum... But not sure if that wasn one sample or what bios...etc. here is to hopng!


    So Nvidia played the same game AMD is playing now w/the R9-280x?