GIGABYTE Radeon R9 280X WindForce 3X OC 3GB Review
Two days ago AMD allowed us to review, in a limited capacity, their new R9 280X. Today the review restrictions are released so we can now compare different versions of the card and that starts with Gigabytes R9 280X WindForce 3X model in its factory overclocked form. We will be comparing it to the two closest NVIDIA models (pricing wise) in the form of the GTX 760 and 770 (both OC models) as well as the part the 280X replaces, the 7970 GHZ. Added in is another 280X OC model and 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.
Before we look at this 280X though, here is a quick summary of some changes on the AMD platform for the current generation…
So what is this new R9-280X? Well, at its core, this is an enhanced Radeon 7970. It uses the Tahiti 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 7970 design. (NOTE: 270X is similar to and replaces the 7870, e.g. sharing the memory bus width used). As well as manufacturers being able to build their own PCB around the cards, enhancing the design over the 7970 there is one other key difference. The new R9-280X (and 270X) 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 280X branding is shared by the other enthusiast cards (290X, 290 and 270X). 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 doing in the current generation, with a little of what we can expect in the future. Essentially putting in place a platform now for developers to take advantage of later if they wish.
So, let’s see this Gigabyte 280X!