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AMD Radeon R9 280X Graphics Card Review

AMD Radeon R9 280X
by Rob Williams on October 8, 2013 in Graphics & Displays

Most next-gen GPU launches are a simple affair: Launch one model, then another, and then another. AMD’s latest series is a bit different. In advance of its forthcoming flagship R9 290X, the company decided to push all of its mainstream parts off of the truck at once. So, let’s get started, first with a look at the $299 R9 280X.


Can you smell that? No, not me! I’m talking about that fresh stack of AMD GPUs sitting on the desk over there *points to the right*. Sheesh.

That’s right; it’s GPU launch time again, and AMD sure had no intention of easing into things. For the first time in quite a while (if not ever; my memory is horrible), AMD isn’t releasing just one or two GPUs today, but four: Radeon R9 280X, R9 270X, R7 260X and R7 250. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at the R9 280X, with looks at the others to come soon.

You might recall that AMD held a “Tech Day” in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. Much was discussed there, so we’re not going to rinse and repeat what I’m sure you already know. Instead, we’ll wait for some of the technologies to become viable in the real-world so that we can test and relay our experiences.

AMD Radeon R9 280X
AMD’s Radeon R9 280X

The reason AMD held its event in Hawaii is because “Hawaii” is the codename for its next high-end part, which is bringing quite a bit to the table (not all of it which we can talk about at this point). The R9 290X will be AMD’s highest-end for this new generation, codenamed Hawaii XT. The R9 290 will sit just below that, codenamed Hawaii Pro.

AMD’s current and upcoming lineup can be seen in the table below:

AMD Radeon Cores Core MHz Memory Mem MHz Mem Bus TDP Price
R9 290X ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???
R9 290 ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???
R9 280X 2048 <1000 3072MB 6000 384-bit 250W $299
R9 270X 1280 <1050 2048MB 5600 256-bit 180W $199
R7 260X 896 <1100 2048MB 6500 128-bit 115W $139
R7 250 384 <1050 1024MB 4600 128-bit 65W $???

AMD is throttling the amount of information that can be revealed about the 290 and 290X, but what I can say is that they’re going to be pretty interesting in a couple of different ways. Whether or not what those cards will bring to the table will make NVIDIA quiver in its boots, I’m not quite sure. We’ll have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure: AMD is damned confident about its product.

While AMD sent us reference versions of its R7 260X and R9 270X to take a look at, the R9 280X we received came courtesy of PowerColor. Except for the PCB color and the back ports, the cooler on the card I received is identical to the one seen below. The particular card I have isn’t even listed on PowerColor’s site, but it runs at reference clocks. Instead of 2x DVI + HDMI + DP, my sample has 1x DVI + HDMI + 2x mini-DP.

PowerColor Radeon R9 280X

It’s not often that we hear (no pun) a GPU vendor talk about audio, but that was one of AMD’s major focuses at its event in Hawaii. With its DSP “TrueAudio”, the company (partnered with others) hopes to redefine our expectations of gaming audio. A common goal with audio is to allow us to pinpoint where a sound is coming from; that’s one of AMD’s goals here, but what makes it all the more interesting is that we’re meant to get that benefit even from stereo output. Color me intrigued.

AMD TrueAudio Advantages

I am not an audio guy – far from it – so there’s not a whole lot I can talk about at this point. There’s no way for anyone outside of AMD and its partner companies to test TrueAudio at this point, so right now, it’s just a waiting game until support gets here. Here’s the takeaway, though: Game developers have long had programmable shaders to work with; picture the same sort of flexibility with audio.

While not an issue on everyone’s mind, AMD is also taking advantage of this launch to bolster its 4K capabilities. The company is pushing for a new VESA standard that allows two outputs to drive two separate streams to a single 4K display. This would allow us to get over the hurdle of being stuck at 30Hz @ 4K, a typical problem at the moment (and obviously an issue that’s evident for gaming). Down the road, more advanced connectors should make this kind of work-around unnecessary.

Also on the display front, AMD’s latest GPUs continue to support 3 monitors off the same card, or 6 when a DisplayPort extender is used.

While there is much more we could talk about, such as AMD’s game push, this has been a rather intensive article to get out, and there are still other GPUs to be benchmarked. So, that said, let’s get right into a look at our (revised) GPU testing methodology, and then tackle our first results.

  • Jack Slater

    It’s good to see amd releasing nice new products, processors, GPUs, etc.
    It simply forces Intel and nvidia to go back to the drawing board, instead of sitting quiet, while their high-end products sell,without almost no competition.

    Intel haswell was supposed to be a ‘TOC'(or tic, can’t remember), and the new line of processors should be much more powerful. I have a 3770k, not oveclocked, and really was expecting the next processors would be real beasts, like +50% more powerful, for the same price. But a 4470k is like 10-15% faster, only. Only. If Intel really wanted, they could be doing NOW what their roadmap says they will do, in 2 or 3 years. But since amd doesn’t represent a huge danger, they go slowly on the r&d department. Thankfully there are the fx8350, which have like 90% of the Intel peers, but costs 200$ instead of 340$.
    I really hope next amd processor will be something amazing, even if it eats up 150W. It will force Intel to move their ass, and release much better processors, instead of simple revisions and upgrades.

    The same with the GPU and nvidia. Next 290x is going to eat titans for breakfast. If mantle drivers are what they promise and will really make a huge difference, the combo R9 + mantle + better price could simply atomize nvidia cards. It’s great, because once again, it will force nvidia, just like Intel, to invent new amazing products, and not follow their ‘lazy’ roadmap.

    Amd is gaining a huge momentum with next gen consoles, since they will be making the GPU/apu. With the R9 series, and the future mantle drivers, and their next CPU(I hope it will be a monster like 2x faster/better than a 4470k, for only 200-250$), all this is simply great.
    Competition is perfect for us, gamers, professionals, etc. Even if prices don’t get huge cuts,at least, for the same money, we will get much better specs. And manufacturers will move their butts on r&d, instead of only watching nice sales stats.

    • Rob Williams

      Great comments!

      It’s funny you mention the lack of Haswell gains… I was just talking to someone else about this yesterday. Technically, Haswell is an amazing chip, and truthfully, we’ve seen only 15% gains gen-over-gen for a while. But the problem is, we’ve reached a point where those performance gains really aren’t being put to good use, so a lot of people just don’t care. I think most people would be happier with more cores than just raw performance. Even then, most people wouldn’t be able to take advantage of those extra cores.

      I am with you on hoping AMD’s next products are really competitive… I think a lot of us feel that way. It’s nice that Intel has continued to innovate, but it’s focusing more on power than performance lately.. kind of a downer as an enthusiast ;-)