ASUS R9 270X DirectCU II Top Graphics Card Review

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The ASUS R9 series of graphics cards is starting to roll in to Overclockers; and today, we have a chance to look at their R9 270X DirectCU II Top edition. All the familiar ASUS features we’ve come to expect from one of their enthusiast level video cards are present and accounted for in this release. Armed with the DirectCU II cooler, DIGI+ Super Alloy Power, and the TOP factory overclock, this offering should perform quite well. Right on the box it says “In Search of Incredible.” Let’s see if we found it.

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Specifications and Features

Here are the specifications associated with the ASUS R9 270X DirectCU II Top graphics card as pulled from the accompanying press deck we received. Of note is the 1120 MHz GPU factory overclock, which is a substantial increase from the reference design of 1050 MHz.

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A quick look at GPU-Z confirms what we see above.

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As is the case with most ASUS products, the marketing team provides a detailed feature list that they feel gives their product advantages over the competition. The large majority of the emphasized features have to do with the DirectCU II cooler and the DIGI+ VRM Super Alloy technologies. As you’ll see a bit later, ASUS’ GPU Tweak overclocking software has added a new feature or two, which is something else ASUS wants people to know about. We’ll dive in to each of these in more detail as the review progresses.

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On the gaming and benchmark front, ASUS performed some in-house testing that shows improved performance when compared to the reference design R9 270X.

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The DirectCU II cooler is something ASUS has always been proud of, and with good reason. I’ve reviewed several ASUS cards with the DirectCU II cooler and have always found it to be one of the best performing proprietary coolers out there. When compared to the reference design, it does a much better job of cooling at a respectable noise level. ASUS claims the DirectCU II cooler is 3X quieter than the reference design cooler, and I can tell you from experience that might actually be an understatement. The AMD reference design R9 270X I reviewed earlier this month had one of the loudest coolers strapped on it that I’ve heard in quite some time.

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ASUS touts 30% more stable overclocking potential and 15% better power efficiency because of their DIGI+ VRM Super Alloy power design. The claims are made when compared to the reference design’s power design.

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GPU Tweak has a full range of monitoring and overclocking options at your disposal. Additionally, ASUS has added streaming capabilities to the newest release.

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At this point, you should have basic knowledge of what the ASUS R9 270X DirectCU II Top has to offer, so let’s get it on the workbench and have a look!

Packaging and First Look

By the looks of the box front, ASUS is still contending with that wild creature wrecking havoc on their boxes. Luckily for them, the beastly damage seems contained well enough to allow plenty of information to be spattered about the box. The front and back of the carton lists many of the features touched on above, while the box sides are reserved for additional branding and the like. You’ll also find a multilingual list of high-level specifications and suggested system requirements on the back and sides respectively.

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Once inside the outer carton, we find an elegant looking black box housing the graphics card, accessories, and lots of protective foam padding. The card itself is sitting at the very bottom and wrapped in an anti-static bag. The overall packaging is well presented and does a nice job of protecting the contents.

The accessory pack includes an installation manual, driver/utility disc, Crossfire bridge, and a Molex to PCI-E power adapter.

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Photo Op

Before we perform the customary surgical procedure, here are a few pictures of the ASUS R9 270X DirectCU II Top just before it went under the knife.

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The ASUS R9 270X DirectCU II Top Up Close

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always been impressed with the DicrectCU II cooler, and I don’t expect that to change this time around. The DirectCU II cooler can easily be removed by taking out four screws located at the back of the card. Once removed, we can see the TIM was nicely applied and have a look at the three copper heatpipes that weave their way through the cooler. All three heatpipes work their way through the longer side of the aluminum fin stack and travel through the aluminum block. Once the heatpipes pass through the block, one is terminated and the other two continue on to weave through the shorter side of the fin stack. The three upper-most memory chips get covered by the thermal pad attached to the aluminum block. The rest of the memory chips reside under the fin stack and should get plenty of airflow from the fans.

The Direct CU II Cooler

DirectCU II Mounting Screws

DirectCU II Mounting Screws

DirectCU II Removed

DirectCU II Removed

DirectCU II Copper Pipes

DirectCU II Heatpipes / TIM Application

Heatpipes and Fin Stack

Heatpipes and Fin Stack

Direct CU II Heatpipes / Fin Stack

Heatpipes and Fin Stack

Heatpipes and Fin Stack

Heatpipes and Fin Stack

The ASUS R9 270X PCB

Moving on to the PCB layout, we find ASUS implements an eight phase power design (6 GPU & 2 memory). This ends up being an increase from the reference design power delivery of seven phases (5 GPU & 2 memory). We’ll never argue with more power!

PCB Layout

PCB Layout

PCB Layout

PCB Layout

Power Delovery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Power Delivery

Card Rear Power Delivery

Card Rear Power Delivery

Handling the VRM duties is the previously discussed DIGI+ VRM IC. The 2 GB of onboard memory sits on a 256 bit bus and is provided by Elpida W2032BBBG series GDDR5. It’s a bit disappointing that Hynix memory isn’t used like we found on the AMD reference card. History tells us that Hynix memory tends to overclock better than Elpida, but we’ll reserve judgment for now. The Elpida memory is rated for 6000 MHz (quad pumped) at 1.5 V. That should give us a little headroom for overclocking, but we’ll see. The last picture below gives you an up-close look at the AMD Pitcairn GPU core.

DIGI+ VRM

DIGI+ VRM

Elpida Memory

Elpida Memory

Elpida Memory

Elpida Memory

AMD's Pitcairn GPU Core

AMD’s Pitcairn GPU Core

Concluding our tour of the PCB, the first picture below shows you the two 6-pin PCI-E connections that bring the power to the graphics card. Lastly, worth noting is the bracket that runs across the top of the card, which provides a stiffening effect and helps to prevent board flexing.

Dual 6-Pin PCI-E Power

Dual 6-Pin PCI-E Power

Stiffening Bracket

Stiffening Bracket

All in all, we have a well-constructed and nice looking PCB layout here. It sure looks the part, so let’s get it installed and run it though the paces!

GPU Tweak Overclocking Software

On the included disc, you’ll find a copy of GPU Tweak to install. Everything you need for overclocking, fan control, and monitoring is available with GPU Tweak. In the case of the R9 270X, GPU Tweak offers a minor GPU core voltage increase (up to 1.3 V), but nothing for the memory. When the AMD reference R9 270X was reviewed, we had no voltage control at all. At least with this ASUS card, we have some GPU core voltage options.

GPU Tweak Tuning Section

GPU Tweak Tuning Section

GPU Tweak User Defined Fan Control

GPU Tweak User Defined Fan Control

GPU Tweak Live Update

GPU Tweak Live Update

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Settings

GPU Tweak Streaming is a new feature that allows you to stream to Twitch, UStream, or a customizable location. It’s a separate install from GPU Tweak, and you’ll also have to install the Adobe Flash Media Encoder for it to work.

GPU Tweak Streaming

GPU Tweak Streaming

GPU Tweak Streaming

GPU Tweak Streaming

Overclocking and Benchmarks

Test Setup

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 ASUS R9 270X DirectCU II Top Graphics Card
Cooling Swiftech Apogee HD CPU Water Block – 3X120 mm Radiator – MCP35X Pump

Overclocking for Stability

After tinkering a bit, I came up with 1250 MHz GPU core speed and 1500 MHz for the memory. That equates to a 11% GPU core increase and 7% for the memory. The GPU overclocked much better than the reference design card I reviewed, but the memory fell short of the 1600 MHz the reference card’s Hynix memory achieved. I’m not at all surprised as Hynix typically overclocks much better than Elpida memory does. I could get the memory to run higher, but for some reason, anything over 1500 MHz actually lowered benchmark scores. I double check for throttling issues and there were none, so it is what it is. That being said, we’ve heard from other manufacturers that Hynix memory can be difficult to source since one of their plants was destroyed in a fire. This could be why we see Elpida memory being used on this card.

3DMark Fire Strike @ 1250 GPU / 1500 Memory

3DMark Fire Strike @ 1250 GPU / 1500 Memory

HWBot Heaven @ 1250 GPU / 1500 Memory

HWBot Heaven @ 1250 GPU / 1500 Memory

Benchmarking Methods

Since the release of the Haswell/Z87 platform, 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. We’ll be piecing together additional benchmarks as comparison data becomes available in the near future, but the comparison samples may differ from our standard set of benchmarks until then.

System

  • i7 4770K @ 4 GHz
  • Dual Channel DDR3-1866 9-9-9-24
  • GPU @ stock
  • Monitor capable of 1920×1080

Benchmarks

  • 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

Beginning with the synthetic benchmarks, keep in mind that the R9 270X series is intended to directly compete against the NVIDIA GTX 660. As expected, it consistently out performs the EVGA GTX 660 SC and actually tops the ASUS GTX 760 a couple of times. Once overclocked, the card held very tight to the HD 7950 and GTX 670 as well. Pretty nice showing in our synthetic testing!

3DMark Vantage Results

3DMark Vantage Results

3DMark 11 Results

3DMark 11 Results

3DMark Fire Strike Results

3DMark Fire Strike Results

HWBot Heaven Results

HWBot Heaven Results

Moving on to the the gaming benchmarks, we see a similar pattern unfold. Not only did it beat the EVGA GTX 660 SC in every test, but it did so quite handily. The card scales quite nicely when overclocked and managed to hang tough with the higher end comparison samples when the overclock was applied. Again, nothing at all to complain about here either.

Aliens Vs. Predator Results

Aliens Vs. Predator Results

Batman: Arkham City Results

Batman: Arkham City Results

Battlefield 3 Results

Battlefield 3 Results

Civilization V Results

Civilization V Results

Dirt 3 Results

Dirt 3 Results

Metro 2033 Results

Metro 2033 Results

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%. As expected, the DirectCU II Cooler did a yeoman’s job at keeping the GPU cool under all testing scenarios. With the fan set to 100%, we see even better temperatures, as expected. Setting the fan speed to 100% results in a very non intrusive sound level, while still doing a great job of keeping things very cool. Chalk another one up for the DirectCU II cooler!

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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.

Pretty impressive stuff here on the power consumption numbers. Keep in mind, this is total system draw, not just the video card. I’m amazed every time I see how little power these modern systems use. It really is incredible.

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Pushing the Limits

This section is going to be short and sweet, I’m afraid. The card didn’t have anything left in the memory gas tank, but the GPU was able to complete a run of 3DMark Fire Strike at 1260 MHz. So, I coupled that modest increase with a system overclock of 4.6 GHz CPU and 2400 MHz memory. The other synthetic benchmarks failed with the GPU set to 1260 MHz, so it looks like I pretty much had all the card would give during the previous overclocked benchmark runs. When you consider the reference card GPU speed is 1050 MHz, and this one can be clocked to 1250 MHz… we’ll call that pretty darn good.

3DMark Fire Strike @ 1260 GPU / 1500 MHz Memory

3DMark Fire Strike @ 1260 GPU / 1500 MHz Memory

Conclusion

There is little doubt AMD succeeded when it singled out the GTX 660 as the R9 270X target point. Our test results show a resounding win for the Red Team in that regard. Now that the price war between the GTX 660 and R9 270X has settled a bit, they both land anywhere between $199 and $219 depending on vendor, applied factory overclock, and proprietary cooler installed on them. As far as the ASUS R9 270X DirectCU II Top goes, it currently sells for $209.99 at Newegg. That’s right where it should be when compared to similar offerings.

The DirectCU II cooler didn’t disappoint, yet again… It really is one of the premier proprietary coolers on the market. Its effective cooling performance at a very low noise level is a great feature. The addition of GPU Tweak Streaming to the GPU Tweak family was nice to see and gives the user another useful utility at their disposal. Overclocking was a bit of a mixed bag, mostly due to the memory overclocking limits. The GPU core overclocked quite well though, which is where the most performance gains are to be had anyway. We did manage a stable 100 MHz increase in memory speed, so it’s not a complete loss there. Even if you’re not the type that overclocks a video card, you still get a factory applied overclock on the GPU core. This will provide you a better out-of-box performance level than its reference design counterpart.

ASUS has provided a good option to consider if you’re in the market for a R9 270X graphics card. It’s priced right and has a great cooler in the DirectCU II. Being a Top version, it comes with a factory applied overclock and provides for a good amount of overclocking on top of that. It’s definitely worthy of consideration and our Overclockers Approved stamp!

Overclockers_clear_approvedClick the stamp for an explanation of what this means.

Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)

 

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Discussion
  1. EarthDog
    Every card is different, you will have to test it and find out. That is quite a high overclock though.

    Yes i understand that but i was asking the person doing the review as he/she overclocked it to 1250Mhz but didn't specify if it was stable.