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Just when some may have thought the dust has settled on AMD’s ‘new’ GPUs, we are seeing the first signs of the gaps being filled in with the R9 270 being released today. This, and perhaps a 250X and 260 should fill in the performance differences nicely between the already released 250, 260X, and 270X that we will see on our front page shortly. AMD markets this card as ‘the highest performing 150W card’, so let us see how that actually works out with our new suite of benchmarks!
Specifications and Features
Below is a list of very high level specifications for this card. What you are missing here is the number of shaders coming in at 1280. This may seem familiar to some 7870 users as they match exactly and seem to use the same rebranded, Pitcairn core. It should also be familiar to 270X users as well, as it is the exact same thing but with a lower clockspeed on the core (925 Mhz) and the same memory clocks (1400 MHz/5.6 Gbps quad pumped). The lower clock speeds and perhaps some binning allow this card to come in at the 150W threshold versus the 180W TDP of the 270X/7870. We see that it also requires a single 6-pin PCIe power connector to get things going. That said, a quality 400W PSU should easily power this unit, including overclocking an AMD FX Octo core.
As with the other cards, the R9 270 utilizes the Graphics Core Next 2 (GCN2) architecture along with the other Rx cards that have been released. While there are not any monumental changes from GCN to GCN2, some tweaks to it were done. The last part in this picture is the API support of DX11.2, OpenGL 4.3, as well as Mantle that AMD likes to talk up quite a bit. Once we have games released that use the Mantle API, (newest I know of will be a BF4 update next month, followed by Thief when it releases) that should be something to see at that time. As it is now, that API is just waiting in the wings to be utilized.
Next up we see some slides from the AMD Press kit for this card. As I mentioned, AMD positions this as the fastest 150W card that is out, and it may very well be. AMD expects to get around 35% more performance than its outgoing 7850 within that same power envelope. Though, to be frank, I really expect that a new generation card beats the older one at the same power use, maybe not by 35% but it should beat it out. I believe this should be because, for the most part, power use has remained the same or gone down for the past couple of generations of GPUs. We will look at the bigger picture which includes pricing, but without giving too much away too early, they are on to something there as you will read later.
Photo Op – Meet the AMD R9 270
First off, I am sure you will notice the HIS packaging. AMD shipped a reference clocked 270, but not an actual reference 270. About the only difference is the cooler as far as I know since we do not have any information about the power phases, or PCB in general for that matter. So, this is a HIS R9 270 IceQ X2 and not an AMD reference GPU, but that is of little relevance outside of the cooler because the hardware that resides underneath should be the same. We are familiar with their white and blue, frosty looking, IceQ retail packaging which you see below. On this packaging it shows the R9 270 name, its PCIe3 support, the included 2 GB of memory, and it being 4K ready.
The back goes over more features of the card like being cooler and quieter than, ironically, the reference card! Not too much to see on the sides other than system requirements on one side and a ‘what’s inside’ description on the other.
When you open up this package you are greeted with a matte black HIS box, which when opened up you see a layer of padding and the only included accessory (DVI to VGA adapter). Below that, the card fits snug inside an anti-static bag and form fitted padding.
I’ll leave out the picture of the DVI to VGA adapter which is the only included accessory. The side of the package mentions you will also get a driver disk.
At first glimpse, this card looks exactly like the HIS 260x IceQ X2 I have in a soon-to-be-released review. It looks that way because of the cooler of course, and its plastic cladding. A boxy design to be sure with its ~75mm dual fans as the prominent feature on the front. Their hubs advertise the iPower and iTurbo features along with some honeycomb accents flanking them on both sides. We cam see a glimpse of the CrossfireX connector in the upper left of the card so you can strap another 270x to it and go for CFx action! There isn’t too much to see on the backside really, but we do see the typical blue PCB from HIS.
The middle pictures are just different angle glamour shots, with the last two displaying the outputs and power plug requirements. The outputs on the card show two mini-DisplayPorts, a full size HDMI port, and a DVI-D. The reference model only requires a single 6-pin PCIe plug to get things moving.
A Slightly Closer Look
Taking the heatsink off the PCB exposes how the IceQ x2 cooler does its job. In this case, it is a mirror finish copper base with three heatpipes bending their way through the fin array, and under the two 75 mm axial fans. The Elpida ram IC’s or any of the power bits are not under heatsinks on this card, and will solely use the air from the fans to keep things cool. The fans with normal use are pretty quiet, but ramp up to pretty loud at 100% (not remotely needed to keep this unit cool as will be discussed later).
The power delivery appears to be a 4+1 setup on the reference card. Nothing special, but more really isn’t needed with the card not having voltage control (at least at this time) anyway.
Below we see the core used for this GPU. There really is not a discerning marking on it, but it is a Pitcairn found in the 7870 essentially.
Next up are the Elpida memory ICs. In this case we see it is using W2032BBBG-6A-F. Which according to its PDF, is rated at 6 Gbps at 1.6v. Seems like we should get some decent clocks out of these considering their starting point.
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:
- Intel i7 4770K @ 4 GHz, 1.1 V
- Gigabyte Z87-OC
- 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
- AMD R9 270 @ 925 MHz/1400 MHz, Overclocked @ 995 MHz/1551 MHz
- Windows 7 64 bit Operating System
- AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta 9 drivers
Other cards used for comparison are as follows (any links are to the reviews):
Note all testing below are using 1920×1080 resolution..
- All Synthetic benchmarks were at their default settings
- Unigine Heaven (HWbot) – Extreme setting
- Crysis 3 – Very High settings with 8xMSAA/16xAF (2nd level when you procure and use the Crossbow to get across the level and kill the Helicopter)
- Metro:LL – DX11, Very High, 16xAF, Motion Blur – Normal, SSAA Enabled, DX11 Tessellation – Very High, Advanced PhysX – Disabled, Scene D6
- Battlefield 4 – Default Ultra setting (Tashgar level – ‘on rails’ car scene)
- Bioshock: Infinite – Ultra DX11, DDOF (through Steam – option # 2, then option #1 assuming your are at 1080p)
- Batman: Arkham Origin – 8xMSAA, Geometry Details/Dynamic Shadows/DOF/Ambient Occlusion: DX11 Advanced, Hardware PhysX: OFF, the rest On or High
- Grid 2 – 8xMSAA, Ultra defaults + Soft Ambient Occlusion: ON
- Final Fantasy XIV:ARR – Default Maximum setting
- More detail is in our article: Overclockers.com GPU Testing Procedures
Taking a look at the latest GPU-Z confirm what we knew a bit earlier with the card having 1280 Shaders with 2 GB of memory sitting on a 256 bit bus, which seems appropriate for its target of 1080p gaming. The core clocks come in at the previously mentioned 925 MHz, and the memory is set to 1400 MHz.
Overclocking Software – Catalyst Control Center (AMD Overdrive)
Since this is the ‘reference card, we will show you Catalyst Control Center and its overclocking section called AMD OverDrive. There are limited but enough options in here to get a lot, but not necessarily the most, out of your AMD based GPU. We see the sliders to adjust the GPU clock, Memory clock and the now infamous Power Control. This card gives you a value of 20% more on the power limit. Remember, this is not a voltage adjustment but a power limit adjustment. As always with overclocking, just crank this value and worry about the clockspeeds.
I tried with both MSI AB and HIS’ own iTurbo to see if they had unlocked voltage but sadly, no voltage control in those apps either (beta 15 and 1.5 versions respectively).
I must first caution you about all the graphs in this review. As you may have read in other reviews, we are in the middle of moving towards a whole new set of games. After a few bumps in the road getting these games to work on the respective Editor’s PCs, I am breaking the list out in full graph form. You will likely notice the comparisons in this review may be a little thinner than in past reviews, and you are correct. As time goes on and we get to review more GPUs, more will be added to the list. We tried to go back a generation from both the AMD and NVIDIA camps to gather that data as well. Hopefully this brings you guys a good picture of the performance the cards we review when compared among each other. That said, please find the excellent article MattNo5ss wrote about our Overclockers.com GPU testing procedure for more details on the locations and settings used in the games.
Sadly, Batman:Arkam Origin did not make this review’s cut because the last update to the game broke the benchmark feature for the entire editing team! A quick Google search shows we are not alone. In time though, that should be fixed and will be added to the list. For this review, we couldn’t get the other cards that needed benched before it crapped out on us.
Keep a sharp eye out on the cards used in the comparison, especially between the synthetics and the games. We were able to go back a bit further on the synthetic side, so for this review I brought in a GTX 660 to see how it shaped up against the AMD’s R9 270 since the 660 is priced closely and performance should at least be in the ballpark.
So, enough babbling on about our new process, let’s look at some benchmarks!
First up are the synthetic benchmarks, the ones the Benchmarking Team love to see the most! We start with 3DMark Vantage and put this card up against the Nvidia GTX 660 and Reference R9 270X that Lvcoyote reviewed. The GTX 660 was in the price range while the inevitable thing to compare to was its bigger brother. Anyway, the R9 270 scored 28,125 at stock speeds besting the GTX 660 by a couple percent and being around 7.5% slower than the 270X.
3DMark11 shows a similar pecking order (as it will throughout) with the 270 scoring 7,800 with the GTX 660 being 9% behind while the 270X was around 10% faster in this more modern benchmark. When overclocking the gap closes on the 270x, but never quite gets there in both benchmarks.
Moving on to 3DMark Fire Strike, the 270 manages a solid 7,519 besting the GTX 660 by almost 9% again, and being down around 10% to the 270X. Overclocking again gets things close to, but not surpassing the 270X. Looking at Heaven, things change a bit here with the GTX 660 showing a surprising lead over the reference 270 by over 1.5% and down 15% to the 270x. Overclocking brings it a lot closer to the 270x, but still doesn’t quite get there with the clocks I used. With overclocking in Heaven the 270 easily takes the lead over the what feels like (but is not) an anomalous result of that GTX 660.
In this set of games, again, our first review showing the new games, we lose a couple of the cards above in the reference 270 and GTX 660. If you forced me to guess, I have to imagine performance differences among the cards would still be in the ballpark. That said, we still have a 270X, just a slightly overclocked version in the HIS IceQ X2 Turbo. The low end card is now the 260x.
Starting off with one of a couple GPU killers in this graph, we look to Crysis 3. Can it play Crysis 3? Well, sure it can but how well is really the question. At our settings the reference 270 manages to pull off 18.3 FPS which isn’t terrible, but certainly not what most would deem playable. But heck, even the 280x (7970) didn’t hit 30 FPS average! Some significant image quality sacrifices will be needed to make this playable at 1080p. Moving down to HIGH and 2xMSAA, or using FXAA can certainly make this game playable and still oh so pretty.
The other GPU killer in this lineup us Metro: Last Light. Here the 270 manages 22.2 FPS stock falling a couple of frames behind the 270x. Would you look at that, the 280x breaks the 30 FPS with our settings… nice! This game, like its predecessor will also require some image quality sacrifices to make things playable.
Last up in this grouping is my favorite series, Battlefield. In this case the newly released Battlefield 4. While the canned section we use does not have any fighting, it is a pretty stressful part of the game and this card managed a playable 37.9 FPS with our Ultra settings. Not too shabby at 1080p, ehh?
Next up in our new games is Bioshock: Infinite. Here the 270 performs very well at 1080p and gets 50.7 FPS on average, falling about 5 FPS or 10% behind the 270X. Not many would complain about these FPS really.
Moving on to Grid 2, the only other game I actually play out of the group to be honest, the 270 manages a buttery smooth 61.1 FPS with the settings cranked. It bests the seemingly lowly by over 13 FPS and is behind the 270x by 7 PFS.
The last new game benchmark we have is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. This benchmark does not give a FPS value but a TOTAL of FPS rendered through the entire benchmark. This makes it a bit difficult to graph among games that use FPS considering the much higher number. We will see what we can do about that if the time to run this benchmark is static we should be able to get an actual FPS value. Anyway, the 270 puts up a total of 8,299 frames in the benchmark smoking the 260x and as always lagging behind the 270x by close to double digit percent again. At no point in this benchmark did the performance seem choppy so I would assume very playable frame rates in this title as well.
Pushing the Limits
No voltage control here on this card either with MSI AB or HIS iTurbo, so we will not push the limits because I already pushed pretty darn close with the overclock settings used above. That would only leave the CPU doing most of the work and not really showing too much of anything real world.
One thing to mention though is the memory on this card just didn’t like being pushed past 1551 MHz. Assuming it’s voltage is 1.6v, it should be able to easily hit 1500 MHz (6.0 Gbps) and it did, but not much past it at all. I do hope board partners come out with voltage control on these cards or get their software to recognize the controller to enable it anyway. But that is the overclocker in me forcing its way to the surface.
Cooling and Power Consumption
Keeping things cool on this unit is the IceQ X2 cooler. Remember it does the work with the copper baseplate and heatpipes that snake through the fin array. To help move that heat away, two 75 mm axial fans handle the air movement. With the fan on auto throughout the testing and gaming session, it was quite quiet. It is not until it ramps up to the 50% area or so where it starts to become loud. 100% is for benchmarking though as it makes itself known at that speed! Temperatures hit a maximum of 64° C with the fan at 42%. Again, nice a quiet and kept things nice and cool.
In the power consumption department, AMD wanted this card to be the best performer at the 150W level. While I do not have the tools to measure the card’s power draw on its own, we can see the highest value turned in through our testing was in 3Dmark 11. With this class of card, the combined level showed the highest use at 212 Watts.
So AMD set out to have the best performing video card in the 150W class. The GTX 660 comes in around 140W, and the older 7850 (not graphed) at 150W. We saw from the results above the R9 270 is a faster card by a bit less than 10% over the GTX 660. In looking back at the 7850, the R9 270 beats it out significantly. So, from the power perspective, my thought is that AMD has succeeded.
What about on the price side of the market? The MSRP on the R9 270 will be $179.99. Even though this has a better-than-reference cooler, it’s available on Newegg right now for the MSRP of $179.99. The GTX 660 can be found for as little as $170, while the more mature 7850 can be found for as little at $139.99. That is a fairly big price range there and makes it a no brainer card to have over the GTX 660 and with the performance difference it has over the 7850.
AMD has presented the market a pretty solid filler card between the 260x and 270x SKUs in the R9 270. While you may not be able to play everything cranked at 1080p, this card wasn’t made for that either, but it can still play the most demanding modern games while making them look pretty darn good. With a sub $180 price tag, that should be in a lot of consumers wheelhouse as far as pricing goes, so it looks like AMD covered their bases well. This card is Overclockers.com approved!
~Joe Shields (Earthdog)