MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G Video Card Review

By now we have all seen the many reviews published on AMD’s ‘new’ GPU lineup. Outside of the 290 and 290x, the mid-range and down were essentially a refresh of the last generation cores. Most of what Overclockers.com brought to you was of the reference type, outside of the HIS R9 280x. This time around, we have an MSI R9 280x Gaming card to take a look at. This card uses the same Twin Frozr IV cooler found on previous generation cards, so we should have a cool, quiet running card on our hands. Let’s take a look at MSI’s offering and see how it stacks up!

Specifications and Features

Below is a list of the specifications from the MSI website. As you can see, outside of the clockspeeds, this is a HD 7970 rebrand as we know from previous reviews and again by looking below. Not too much to see here honestly, but of note are its 1000 MHz Core “boosting” to 1050 MHz out of the box and the 384bit memory bus coming in at 1500 MHz (GDDR5 6000 Quad Pumped).

As far as AMD boost goes, it’s not like NVIDIA’s that is for sure. While GPU-Z reports the base clock on NVIDIA cards which then boost to their final clockspeed, AMD cards show the boost out of the gate. I personally like this transparency a lot better than having to use software graphing or logs to figure out the exact boost value. It also takes some effort to get the AMD card to drop off its boost clocks too. I have rarely hit the power limit and almost never hit the temperature threshold either.

MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G Specifications
Graphics Engine  R9 280X
Bus Standard  PCI Express x16 3.0
Memory Type  GDDR5
Memory Size(MB)  3072
Memory Interface  384 bits
Core Clock Speed(MHz) 1000MHz Core (Boost Clock:1050MHz) (OC mode)
1000MHz Core (Boost Clock:1020MHz) (Gaming mode)
1000MHz Core (Boost Clock:1000MHz) (Silent mode)
Memory Clock Speed(MHz)  6000
Shader Units / ROP’s 2048 / 32
Outputs 1 (Dual-link DVI-I)1 (version 1.4a)2 Mini DisplayPorts
 HDCP Support Y
 HDMI Support Y
Dual-Link DVI Y
Dispaly Output (Max Resolution)  2560×1600
RAMDACs  400 Mhz
DX Version Support 11.2
OpenGL Version Support 4.3
Crossfire Support  Y
Card Dimensions(mm / inches)  269x128x34mm / 10.6″x5.0″x1.3″

Below is a list of a few features. The images were sourced from the MSI website of course.

As always with this class of card, MSI brings you their Military Class 4 components using tests from the MIL-STD-810G standard. From the Solid Caps, to the HI-C Cap, and finally the Super Ferrite Chokes, these parts all make up the MC4 hardware. MSI claims these parts are ‘…proven to be able to withstand the torturous circumstances of extreme gaming and overclocking’.

MSI also strapped on their Twin Frozr IV cooler on the 797…excuse me, R9 280X Gaming 3G to help keep this card cool. Sporting large dual fans, Superpipe technology (8mm pipe to be exact), along with airflow technology in the fin array help to guide the air to where it is needed most. The cooling design helps make Twin Frozr IV a much better cooler than the stock blower design in both functionality and noise levels.

The last feature I would like to make mention of is the MSI Gaming App. This small, lightweight app gives users very high level control over the card’s clockspeeds. When running this app, one can choose between three modes – Silent, Gaming, and O/C mode. Each mode has their own clockspeeds and fan profiles to give you a choice between silence, and performance (which is still quite silent). While this is a neat application, I would have liked to see an actual overclock come out of it. As it sits, the “O/C mode” merely gives you the boost clocks you get anyway with just a slightly more aggressive fan profile. Oh well, I guess that is what MSI Afterburner is for, right?

icomilc4

MILITARY CLASS COMPONENTOne of the deciding factors in performance is the quality of the components used. That is why MSI only uses MIL-STD-810G certified components for its Gaming cards because only these components have proven to be able to withstand the torturous circumstances of extreme gaming and overclocking.SOLID CAPOne With their aluminum core design, Solid CAP’s have been a staple in high-end design mainboard designs and provides lower Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) as well as its over-10-year lifespan.Hi-C CAPA Hi-c CAP is a very small, but super-efficient capacitor. Besides ensuring enough spacing around a CPU socket to install large coolers, it also allows for 93% energy efficiency. Thanks to Hi-c CAP’s MSI mainboards are the most energy efficient in the market.NEW SUPER FERRITE CHOKESNew Super Ferrite Chokes use a Ferrite core that is Super-Permeable. This allows the Super Ferrite Chokes to run at a 35 degree Celsius lower temperature, have a 30% higher current capacity, a 20% improvement in power efficiency and better overclocking power stability.

 icotwinfrzr

ADVANCED TWIN FROZR IV       MSI’s Twin Frozr has been the industry defining graphics card cooler. The first Twin Frozr kicked of the dual-fan trend and today MSI stays true to its dual-fan dual-slot design where others have to resort to less effective means.The other part that the Twin Frozr cooler uses is a large Aluminium fin grid array that provides a huge amount of surface area for cooling. Heat from the GPU is transferred to the fin grid array by virtue of heat pipes with MSI’s special SuperPipe technology. SuperPipes transfer heat twice as fast as regular heat pipes enabling an MSI GAMING graphics card to stay cooler than the competition.Futhermore, MSI provide all new Airflow Control technology on Twin Frozr. This new thermal tech. is leading airflow to heat pipe by spcial deflector on heatsink, so it can deflect more airflow to heat pipes directly. In addtion,This exclusive heatsink design is increasing the area of heatsink so that enhancing the efficiency of dissipation much more.

 icogamingapp

GAMING APP EASY TUNE, EASY PLAYOC Mode • Tune up core clock and fan speed to gain a best performance.Gaming Mode • Provide a stable gaming experience with higher core clock.Silent Mode • The best operating environment with fabulous low noise.

 

Photo Op – Meet the MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G

Retail Packaging

Below we get our first glimpse of the retail packaging for the MSI R9 280X gaming. In typical MSI Gaming fashion, we see the black box and red trim with their sweet looking dragon and their “Gaming Series” badge prominently displayed on the front. At the bottom left hand corner, we can see this card does have a slight overclock as noted by the “OC” badge.

On the backside, we see some features listed like the Military Class 4 hardware and the TwinFrozr IV cooler among other items.

Do I need to describe what is on the sides? Naa!

When you open up the box, you are greeted with another box which houses the included accessories. Below that, is where the card rests in its anti-static bag nestled in form fitting foam, which keeps the product secure (and it does).

Retail Packaging - Front

Retail Packaging – Front

Rear

Rear

Side 1

Side 1

Side 2

Side 2

Box in a Box

Box in a Box

Our First Glimpse

Our First Glimpse

 Accessories

As you can see, we have a pretty full accessory stack that includes a Crossfire bridge, Molex to PCI-E power connectors, a quick users guide, and the driver disk.

Accessories

Accessories

The Card

Alright folks, here we have it, the 797… shoot sorry, the MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G. As we know, it sports the more than acceptable Twin Frozr IV cooler doing its thing on top of the Tahiti based core. On the back side of the card, there isn’t too much to see there. This card uses a 6 pin and 8 pin power connectors to get power to all the parts. If you look close enough you may be able to see the dual BIOS switch, just in case someone wants to get saucy and start editing the main BIOS for whatever reason.

That last shot just shows a glimpse of the pipes coming out of the cooler.

MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G - Front

MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G – Front

Rear

Rear

Alternate 1

Alternate 1

Alternate 2

Alternate 2

Pipes...Super, pipes.

Pipes…Super, pipes.

As far as the outputs go for this card, like its twin brother the R9 280X Gaming has two Mini DisplayPorts, one HDMI port, and a DL DVI port with a maximum resolution of 2560×1600.

We can see in the second picture the aforementioned 6 pin and 8 pin PCI-E power required to get this card rocking and rolling. Hopefully you have skinny fingers to get the 8 pin connector off. There is very little room there for sure.

The last picture in this grouping just shows a closeup shot of the BIOS switch. There is nothing to gain clockspeed-wise when using the other BIOS. It exists for redundancy purposes only since a lot of people like to tinker with their BIOS.

Outputs - 1 DL DVI, 1 HDMI (1.4a), 2 Mini Displayports

Outputs – 1 DL DVI, 1 HDMI (1.4a), 2 Mini Displayports

6 pin and 8 pin PCIe power required

6 pin and 8 pin PCI-E power required

Bios Switch

BIOS Switch

Taking the card apart, we see a familiar PCB and power section (6+1 GPU and Memory). The memory and power bits are cooled by the heatsink that covers them up, while the core is cooled by the Twin Frozr IV and its fans blowing down through the fin array. The cooling solution works quite well and is silent (though the VRMs do get quite toasty… more on that later). We then took off the VRM/Memory heatsink and have presented the card in its birthday suit. The last shot is of the memory IC’s used, in this case the generally good clocking Hynix (H5GQ2H24AFR) rated at 6GB/s with 1.5 V input. I’d ask why they are not on the GTX 780 Lightning, but I realize these are probably from old 7970 stock anyway that already had it on them (sorry MSI… that thorn is pretty painful for me). Needless to say, we did get a pretty solid overclock out of these as well hitting 1900+ MHz!

Heatsink removed

Heatsink Removed

Card with VRM/Memory cooling plate on

Card with VRM/Memory Cooling Plate On

Card with VRM/Memory plate removed

Card with VRM/Memory Plate Removed

Hynix IC!!! H5GQ2H24AFR to be exact

Hynix IC!!! H5GQ2H24AFR to be Exact

Here are some token shots of the power delivery area. Plenty of hardware here to make heat/core be the limiting factor in overclocking.

Power bits

Power bits

More power bits

More power bits

 

Performance and Overclocking

As we all know by now, Overclockers.com utilizes multiple resources to review their hardware. In order to ensure the results are the same no matter who reviews the item, we have a specific test system set up and methods/settings as follows:

Test System

  • Intel i7 4770K @ 4 GHz, 1.1 V
  • MSI Z87 XPower
  • Kingston Hyper X Predator 2 x 4 GB 2666 MHz CL11 @ 1866 MHz 9-9-9-24
  • 240 GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD
  • Seasonic 1000 W PSU
  • MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G @ 1050/1400, Overclocked @ 1190/1590
  • Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
  • AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta 1 drivers

Other cards used for comparison are as follows (links are to the reviews):

Benchmarking Method/Settings

  • All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings
  • Unigine Heaven (HWbot) was run with the “extreme” setting
  • Alien vs. Predator – 1920×1080 with highest settings offered (4x AA, textures set to highest)
  • Batman: Arkham City – 1920×1080, 8xMSAA, MVSS and HBAO, Tessellation HIGH, Detail Level: Extreme
  • 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, Vysnc OFF, High Detail Strategic View: Enabled, Other Settings: High, using full render frames value ( / 60)
  • More detail is in our article: Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures

GPU-Z

Here is what GPU-Z says about the R9 280X. As we can see, it confirms the specifications listed earlier. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the ‘boost clock’ is seemingly a permanent feature as GPU-Z reports the base clock speed as the boost clocks.

GPUz v7.3

GPUz v7.3

Overclocking Software – MSI Afterburner

Not too much to see here really. No doubt, by now we all know about MSI Afterburner and what it can do. For the image below I chose to show the range of voltage settings available. The core will go up to 1.3 V with the memory hitting 1.7 V. That is plenty of headroom for cranking up the clocks.

MSI Afterburner Beta 15

MSI Afterburner Beta 15

Synthetic Benchmarks

I will be upfront here. All of these cards perform where they are supposed to. This MSI R9 280X has the same clocks as the HIS 280X card Lvcoyote tested, so they are within the margin of error throughout. The reference card usually sits a couple of percentage points behind it. When comparing it to the $385+ GTX 770, the R9 280x beats it hands hands down and does so at $85 cheaper. When matching up the cost to the card, that brings the GTX 760 in the picture. This card sits no less than 10% slower and sometimes a lot more. NVIDIA really should respond here with some price cuts on those cards to compete.

EDITORS’ NOTE: And respond NVIDIA has. We just received a press release stating the price of the 770 will drop to $329.99 MSRP. That makes things a lot more interesting in this segment, that is for sure.

 

3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11

3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11

 

3DMark (Firestrike) and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

3DMark (Firestrike) and Unigine Heaven (Hwbot)

Gaming Benchmarks

In the gaming benchmarks, the story here does not change in the least. This card sits right with its same clocked brother from another mother, beats the lower clocked reference card and the GTX 770 by a few FPS, and smokes the GTX 760 priced at the same level.

Alien vs. Predator, Batman:Arkham City, and Battlefield 3

Alien vs. Predator, Batman:Arkham City, and Battlefield 3

About the only anomaly here is the solid showing the GTX 760 and GTX 770 show in Civilization V. Here the GTX 770 handily beats the R9 280x, and the GTX 760 is within one frame in our testing. So if you predominately play Civ V, you can take a look at one of their offerings.

Even in Metro 2033 we get well over the magic 30 FPS number. So, anyway you slice it, this like its twin, is quite a powerful card indeed.

Civilization V, Dirt 3, and Metro 2033

Civilization V, Dirt 3, and Metro 2033

Just to add a little something, OCF is thinking about moving to some more modern and relevant gaming titles in the near future. In the meantime, I have run a couple that will make the cut for your viewing pleasure. All settings were at Ultra/Maximum at 1080p.

New Game Benchmarks (AVG FPS or Score)
Crysis 3 26.5
Metro: Last Light 34.7
Bioshock: Infinite 77.2
FF XIV: ARR 11,922
Grid 2 88.0
Batman: Arkham Origins 78.0

Pushing the Limits

Here we go folks! Hang on to your hats! It is time again to crank up the juice on the CPU (4.9 GHz) and squeeze some more MHz out of the card to see where we land. In 3DMark Firestrike, I managed to hit clocks of 1235 MHz on the core and a wicked fast 1907 MHz on the memory, which pushed the score up to 9,761 for this test. I could run Heaven, but with a bit lower clocks on the core. Since that doesn’t respond well to CPU clocks and the GPU clocks were not terribly higher, I just left you with Firestrike results.

3DMark Firestrike - 9,761

3DMark Firestrike – 9,761

Cooling and Power Consumption

So, how did the Twin Froz IV do? Pretty well on the core as we can see here. Per usual I left the fan to its own vices and used the Auto profile. At these temperature the Twin Frozr IV’s fan ramped up to a quiet 26% at most (Heaven Overclocked). Nearly dead silent. Without a doubt I could not hear it over the five Yate Loon Highs I have going at ~800 RPM.

While core temps were solid with PLENTY of headroom, the VRM section was another story. While the version of MSI AB I used was unable to read the temps, they were warm (stock) to hot to the touch (overclocking). Mind you this is on an open air test bench with nearly zero direct airflow, but there were other cards that touching this area may have gotten warm but not hot to the touch. Inside a case with decent airflow this should not be a big concern, but it is something worth mentioning for those that may be on an open air test bench with no airflow.

Temperatures

Temperatures

Moving on to power consumption, we do not see much of a difference from the 7970 as we expected. The highest value we see here is a power sipping (for this caliber card) 359 Watts at the wall, which Unigine Heave produced. A quality 500W power supply is what just about everyone needs (sorry AMD FX-8xxx users, you may want 550W!) for a single CPU and single GPU setup with overclocking both heavily.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

Conclusion

AMD’s release of the lower end of the new cards really came and went with much ado about nothing. Well AMD made a big hullabaloo, but that was about it really. As we now know, their midrange and lower are mostly rebrands. As much grief as I have been giving the rebrands; the reality is from a business standpoint, it is a brilliant move. For the consumer, technology standing still is not good. But, all is not lost to me. The fact of the matter is, (no matter what you call this card) the performance you can get from it at its $300 price is nothing short of amazing to me, especially at a common resolution of 1080p.

Getting down to the card at hand, MSI’s R9 280X Gaming 3G, we see MSI has chosen to put the Twin Frozr IV cooler on it, which is a solid cooler. Quiet yet effective at low RPM, and will move some air at high RPMs to help keep things cool. Just keep an eye on the VRMs if you run into instability when overclocking as they may get warm, especially in a open air benching station.

About the only two things I want to mention in a negative light is to reiterate the point about the lack of space between the heatpipe and the 8 pin connector. So tough for me to get that connector off there needs to be a couple more mm of space in there. The only other concern I had with this sample was the coil whine. In certain benchmarks it did tend to squeal a bit. It didn’t always happen, but it was there and worth mentioning.

MSI packages their card with the MSI Gaming App, which allows for downclocking the card when you want silence. Honestly, with this card/cooler it isn’t needed, but the ‘app’ is certainly a value add no doubt. When you really need to crank things up, there is the old standby MSI Afterburner to help push the clockspeeds up. The Hynix memory on this card really has a ton of headroom as well, so that is a good thing too.

Pricing on this card comes in at $309.99 + SH at Newegg.com. That pricing comes in a full $10 less than the HIS card with the same clockspeeds on it, and $10 more than the cheapest reference card, so that seems like a decent deal there. Looking at the big picture, a few 7970s are coming in a bit below that after MIR, Some even come with the three free games, though most are in the $330+ range. So, choose your poison there. In the end, the pricing is where it needs to be in my opinion. So, without further rambling this card is Overclockers.com approved!

 

Overclockers_clear_approved

 

- Joe Shields (Earthdog)

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3 Comments:

Xeon_KI's Avatar
Nice clocks there! My 7970's won't do 1200 without artifacting hard.
Nice read too
SF101's Avatar
yes but many 7970's were capable of 1250-1300 core and 1800-1950 mem

while i like how well the mem oc'd on this the 1225 core seems to be just meh really but respectable.

my only problem is that considering these are revisions or rebrands i half expected slightly better performance than the previous gens or better binning perhaps / more refined considering its going to be in production for another year or two.

its respectable no doubt but nothing new or ground breaking to me.
ivanlabrie's Avatar
These mine very well, those Hynix chips are awesome...easy 760kh/s with lowish clocks and volts.

Price is really good, and a pair in xfire would be an ultimate setup
I didn't know the new Twin Frozr was so good, wow.
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