ASUS Radeon R9 270X DirectCU II TOP 2GB Review
On Tuesday we took a look at a new model in ASUS Radeon product family, the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP. It is a factory overclocked version of AMDs 280X, a model which replaces the 7970. With a price point of around £275 it is heading towards enthusiast territory and a little too much for many so as is always the case AMD and their partners have models which bring as many of the features and as much of the performance as possible to a lower price point. So today we have one such model on our test bench. This is the R9 270X and our version is the ASUS DirectCU 2 TOP 2GB, an overclocked version of the card which we will be comparing to the closest NVIDIA model (pricing wise) in the form of the GTX 760. We’ll also throw in the ASUS 280X as well to show what that extra £90 or so gets us. We are testing on the latest i7-4960X CPU, Windows 8.1 and games such as Battlefield 4, F1 2013 and Total War: Rome 2 and by the end of the article it should give you an idea of which mainstream card is best for you… or whether you should go higher up the product family.
So what is this new R9 270X? Well, at its core, this is an enhanced Radeon 7870. It uses the Pitcairn GPU found in those cards however these are the latest revision of the GPU. That means enhancements to the base silicon and the potential to run at higher speeds. Add to that tweaks to the performance/voltage states and we begin to see an evolution of the 7800 design. As well as manufacturers being able to build their own PCB around the cards, enhancing the design over the 7870 there is one other key difference. The new R9 270X (and 280X) allow the use of Eyefinity without the need for a DisplayPort adapter… output configuration permitting. So in the case of the reference configuration of Dual DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort we can use 2xDVI and HDMI for Eyefinity. There is one caveat on the cards we have tested, the screens and system must be off when connected. Hot plugging displays will not enable Eyefinity without DisplayPort in Windows.
Taking a small tangent for a moment it is worth noting that the R9 in the 270X branding is shared by the other enthusiast cards (290X, 290 and 280X). At the sub $150 price point AMD begin pre-fixing their cards with R7… so R7-260X, R7-250. It is nothing more than an attempt to identify performance segments in a similar way to the naming used on their APUs.
Touching on the upcoming R9-290X (which uses a new GPU configuration) it too supports this new Eyefinity requirements, makes some changes to CrossFire which are not present in 280/270X and adds AMD TrueAudio which is also present in 260X. 280X/270X don’t support TrueAudio and to be fair current games don’t take advantage of it either. For that we need to wait on some upcoming titles and when utilised the TrueAudio tech takes the gaming audio processing task away from our CPU, uses graphics card resource to provide more advanced audio effects (such as improved virtual surround sound), and then passes it to our output device.
Using Thief, one of the first TrueAudio titles as an example of how the tech impacts game development the above slides show what Yves Breton, EIDOS Montreal’s Lead Sound Designer had to say.
So far we have a bit of a mish-mash of features across the R9/R7 range but one thing which is common across them all (and all GCN based GPUs including the 7900/7800 series) is Mantle.
Simply put, Mantle is AMD’s approach to providing the ideal platform for game developers to expose the features/performance of the AMD cards in their games. It is an approach similar to that found in consoles where developers can draw better performance out of the hardware than the PC equivalent… there is no need for the DirectX/OpenGL layer/overhead in the process. It’s GPU>Mantle API/Driver>Game. Using Battlefield 4 as an example there will be a patch released later this year which moves AMD users from the DirectX build to a Mantle build and gives Dice the opportunity to expose more graphics features and performance.
So that’s the basics on what AMD are beginning to launch this week… or what they pre-launched in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. Very much putting in place a platform now for developers to take advantage of later if they wish.
Let’s get started on the ASUS 270X!