AMD XFX R9 280X Graphics Card Review

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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. lost stability after 1100mhz due to voltage lock?
    barely more clock for clock efficient than 7970..
    If this is the case im pretty disappointed with these results most 7970's were stable to around 1200 atleast.
    can only hope they get those voltages unlocked soon otherwise i don't see much point in buying this over the 7970s kicking around ive seen some down to 250-225$ on sale.
    except the 7970 stock will probably be sold out soon. so you will only be able to buy them used. this much power coming from a mid range card seems kinda good to me.
    edit: err im kinda confused by the numbering. is this mid range or high end? would be kinda dumb to use a refresh of the last series as anything more than a mid range...
    SF101
    lost stability after 1100mhz due to voltage lock?
    barely more clock for clock efficient than 7970..
    If this is the case im pretty disappointed with these results most 7970's were stable to around 1200 atleast.
    can only hope they get those voltages unlocked soon otherwise i don't see much point in buying this over the 7970s kicking around ive seen some down to 250-225$ on sale.

    This:
    wagex
    except the 7970 stock will probably be sold out soon. so you will only be able to buy them used. this much power coming from a mid range card seems kinda good to me.

    Voltage control wasn't available on the 7970s at first. Afterburner will be updated eventually and we'll have voltage control over these too. Of the three 7970s to pass through my hands, only one would do over 1200MHz - and it stopped at 1280MHz. The other one would do 1200 and the worst did ~1150. This 280X isn't a great chip at stock voltage, but I'm quite sure it would do what every other HD 7970 would do given voltage control.
    In any case, if you missed it, this is literally a HD 7970, just clocked at 1000MHz and selling for cheap. If you think you'd have better luck with a 7970, buy one now before they're gone - but don't buy one that costs more than $299 (ok, probably $319 with a good cooler), because the 280X will be a better deal.
    Even then, its nice to see the 7970 / 280X doing so well against the GTX 770 in so many benchmarks - nothing new ofc... :)
    I know this is just the beginning of the fun, but seems to me AMD have really stepped up their strategic side of the game for this round!
    and really... R9 290 for perhaps only $399 going by that recent rumoured slide... and a bunch of Free games I seem to own none of that I actually want too!
    Think I am going to go and quickly put my Asus 7950 Direct CUII TOP up for sale ^_^
    ...kinda missed my trusty old modded fanless 8800GT anyways xD
    wagex
    not to mention the 7970 wont support mantle if / when it releases.

    This:
    Humanoid1
    Mantle is supported by any GCN GPU ;)

    All GCN GPUs will support Mantle. :thup:
    Side note: We're working to add some more games as time goes on (though we won't be re-testing all previous GPUs). The XFX R9 280X managed 73 FPS in Bioshock: Infinity.
    so basically.. R9-280x is about the same as GTX 770.. its counterparty.. but a little cheaper?
    ... I guess I will wait for 290X's performance before making a conclusion, but for now.. very underwhelming... ...
    ...
    so im still kind of confused like if these were the 9xxx series would this pretymuch be the 9870 (mid range?) still folowed by the 290/x290x (9950/9970) (high range?) so wouldnt this be expected performance?
    wagex
    so im still kind of confused like if these were the 9xxx series would this pretymuch be the 9870 (mid range?) still folowed by the 290/x290x (9950/9970) (high range?)

    That kinda makes sense. Does anyone remember launch prices for the 7950/70?
    Janus67
    I thought I read that Mantle worked on all graphics cards (AMD+nVidia) as it is an open API?
    Not sure on that, but I know it isn't used now and will make its debut by the end of the year in BF4 with an update to the game. :thup:
    Nice review, by the way. LOL at the 797AXXCB sticker :)
    EDIT: Also, anyone else notice that the 7950 (and maybe 7970?) prices went up by 2-5% recently?
    6970 was as fast as the 7870 cept in the freakish games of dirt 3 and civ v it was very similar performance.
    "mid range" "9870"(280x) being (literally) same as "7970" i dont think its too far off and therefor don't see a reason to be disappointed by performance, im guessing people are just getting confused that the flagship gpu's NDA still aren't to release for another week.
    bluezero5
    so basically.. R9-280x is about the same as GTX 770.. its counterparty.. but a little cheaper?
    ... I guess I will wait for 290X's performance before making a conclusion, but for now.. very underwhelming... ...
    ...

    Heh, R9 280X is about the same as GTX 770, but is also powered literally by a HD 7970. There's nothing new here, just a MSRP price drop, higher stock clock speed and eventually Mantle, which also works on a 7970.
    AMD isn't calling it a rebrand, just like NVIDIA didn't call the GTX 770 & 760 rebrands, but the rest of us can call a spade a spade. There isn't anything here that's meant to be really exciting other than the reduced MSRP. I guess what I'm saying is to save your judgement for the 290/290X, about which I know nothing. Nothing I tell you!
    wagex
    so im still kind of confused like if these were the 9xxx series would this pretymuch be the 9870 (mid range?) still folowed by the 290/x290x (9950/9970) (high range?) so wouldnt this be expected performance?

    That's a pretty good analysis if they kept with the old naming scheme. You can also look at it as the same thing NVIDIA did. Maybe I should have put a chart in the review. Disregarding higher clocks and/or slight optimizations/knee-cappings, this is how both companies "new" lineups break down:
    NVIDIA
    GTX TITAN - New
    GTX 780 - New
    GTX 770 = GTX 680
    GTX 760 = GTX 670
    AMD
    R9 290X = New
    R9 290 = New
    R9 280X = HD 7970
    R9 270X = HD 7870
    R7 260X = HD 7790
    Janus67
    I thought I read that Mantle worked on all graphics cards (AMD+nVidia) as it is an open API?

    Not quite sure how it would. Mantle is specifically designed to give hardware-level access to GCN GPUs and is not an open source project as far as I understand it.
    ninjacore
    That kinda makes sense. Does anyone remember launch prices for the 7950/70?

    The HD 7970 had no competition when it launched (GTX 680s hadn't come out yet and it trounced the GTX 580). It was priced at $549.
    EarthDog
    Not sure on that, but I know it isn't used now and will make its debut by the end of the year in BF4 with a game patch. :thup:

    FTFY. :)
    thanks hokie, i was just making sure i had it all right. so no reason to complain about performance people, flagship is still to come :) i suspect it will be rather well considering how its looking now.