Radeon R9-285 Review (MSI Twin Frozer IV OC)

Radeon R9-285 Review (MSI Twin Frozer IV OC)

During a recent webcast AMD teased a new addition to their range of GPUs, the R9-285. That was further exposed by some of their partners at the end of last week. Today AMD allow us to publish results from the new GPU, so lets get on with our R9-285 Review which focuses on the MSI Twin Frozr IV, Overclock Edition.

r9-285-review-box r9-285-review-bundle

 

As noted above, for this R9-285 Review we are focusing on MSI’s version of the card. As expected they go with the GAMING family branding on the box with a  familiar dragon logo and the front of the box notes some key info on the card, such as its enhanced cooler and Overclocked state. Inside the box we find a software CD, which includes their Gaming App for monitoring and manual overclocking and there is also a short manual along with DVI to VGA dongle.

Then things get much more interesting. That is because AMD are revising their Never Settle bundle. Now they are branding it “Never Settle: Space Edition” and adding a free copy (via download when released) of titles such as Alien: Isolation and the first Star Citizen module. Other older titles such as Napoleon Total War, Deus EX Human Revolution and Sleeping Dogs are also available and to really cap things, we get to choose three titles from the list when purchasing a R9-285.  (R9 cards allow 3 games from a choice of 29, R7 260 cards its 2 games from 28 and 240/250 cards give users one free game from a choice of 18).

Here is a graphic which explains that, and you can also visit the Never Settle page for more info.

r9-285-review-never-settle-space

The R9-285 Review Card – MSI’s Twin Frozr IV OC Edition

r9-285-review-card r9-285-review-back

So what is this Radeon R9-285? Well the easiest way to sum that up in this R9-285 Review is to say that AMD have taken some of the features from the R9-290 series and added them to a GPU of similar speed to the R9-280 series while enhancing some other aspects of the existing GPUs. This means a card which is ideal for 1080p gaming (though AMD suggest 1440p is achievable), with support for Mantle, DirectX 12 and AMD TrueAudio. The usual support for CrossFire and PowerTune are present also. AMD also note that the card is capable of 4K H.264 Decode support as well as working with Project FreeSync which aims to enhance the display quality of games by reducing tearing and smooth out our gameplay experience.

r9-285-review-core-diagram

Also worthy of note when comparing the R9-285 to the R9-280 series is that the memory bus has changed from 384-bit on 280 down to 256-bit on 285. This is due to revisions AMD have made to their Graphics Core Next GPU architecture. Essentially they have optimised aspects such as frame buffer colour data compression to increase memory bandwidth efficiency by 40% on R9-285. Geometry processing has also been boosted (4 primitives per clock cycle for 2-4x tessellation throughput over 280) and the 285 receives instruction set updates for 16-bit floating point and integer instructions which benefit low power GPU compute and media processing tasks. That’s in addition to changes to data parallel processing instruction changes, improved task scheduling and tweaks to the scaler tech (e.g. a new pre-scaler improves high ratio downscaling quality).

In terms of MSI’s version of the R9-285. we start with a black PCB and to that they apply their Military Class 4 technology. That means enhanced build quality in areas such as Hi-C Cap which provides enhanced stability through higher conductivity (uses rare metal). Then there are the solid capacitors designed for long lifespan, lower thermals, extremely low ESR and higher efficiency. MSI also attach an enhanced cooler to the front of the card, branded Twin Frozer IV. This cooler uses dual fans, a chunky metal shroud, block of aluminium fins, heatsink on the memory and four heatpipes.

r9-285-review-outputs r9-285-review-top

Round at the card outputs our first R9-285 Review finds that this is a card with DisplayPort, HDMI and Dual DVI. As is common on AMD cards we can take advantage of Eyefinity for multi-screen gaming (e.g. 5760×1080 which is 3x1920x1080) if 4K doesnt take our fancy. Two 6pin power connectors can be seen at the top edge of the card, assisting the PCIe 3.0 slot in providing our 190w of board power.

In terms of key specifications the R9-285 uses a 28nm Tonga GPU which features 1792 stream processors, 112 texture units and 32 ROPs. The engine clock is 918MHz and our 2GB of GDDR5 is clocked at 1375MHz. For their card MSI go with the same memory speed but overclock the core to 973MHz.

r9-285-review-gpuz

The R9-285 Review Conclusion

Full performance figures can be found after the conclusion.

We could start this R9-285 Review conclusion with some observations about how R9-280 SE would have been a better name for the card in AMDs product stack… but we wont. Instead lets move on to the more important features of the card. Those start with the Tonga GPU which has received a decent set of revisions when compared to the GPU used on R9-280 series cards. Some of them may only appeal to specific consumers, such as the tweaked media functionality but other like the revised memory bandwidth efficiency are a welcome addition… and something which bodes well for future high end cards from AMD. Overall though, despite the initial observation that the memory bus has been reduced vs. 280, we see no concerns in real world use from this change.

In this R9-285 Review we used MSIs version of the card and true to form they have delivered a solid version of the card. We get a nice stylish black PCB, some red flashes which match their Gaming motherboards and the choice of outputs is as expected. MSI continue with the use of high quality components on the build and the cooler used performs well. In fact it is fantastically quiet when gaming on a R9-285. It also overclockes nicely, boosting performance further without any significant impact on noise.

In terms of value, the R9-285 will sit beneath the R9-280X for now, and in the short term at least will be above the R9-280 non-X in price terms, though AMDs slides would seem to indicate the 280 will go end of life sales wise. The RRP of $249 and £170 puts it in direct competition with the GTX 760 from NVIDIA and while the two cards offer many similar features, with AMD having Mantle and NVIDIA having PhysX a key differentiator, the value battle really does have to go to the Radeon. The new revision of the Never Settle promotion adds some potentially great titles to the mix and with this particular model we can download two of the biggest games being released in the next month or so and still have a download available to use on another title.

So that brings us to performance. In this R9-285 Review we see that the Overclocked version of the card competes well with an overclocked version of the GTX 760. There are limitations at this level of GPU, for example 4K use in more demanding (newer) titles requires reductions in detail levels and very demanding games such as Rome 2 need us to drop down below Extreme/Ultra to get playable framerates but at 1080p which most gamers will use performance is otherwise flawless. As is common, there are games which suit one GPU over another so NVIDIA win on DOTA 2 and (surprisingly) Thief as a couple of examples. The AMD/MSI card wins in areas such as 3DMark, Battlefield 4 and Grid AutoSport.

So that brings us to the award. We thought long and hard about this and while we could award “Value” for this R9-285 review, we will go with Recommended. If the Never Settle games appeal to you, this really is a great value product. Even without them it is also a well priced, competitive GPU for 1080p gaming. (And one which would have been more appropriate as the 280 series than re-branding 7900 cards.)

Recommended Award

R9-285 Review Test System and Performance

MSI Radeon R9-285 OC Edition with Twin Frozr IV
Gainward GeForce GTX 760 Phantom OC

Intel Core i7-5960X Gigabyte X99-Gaming 5
16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2800
Samsung 850 Pro 512GB 
Corsair AX1500i Antec Kuhler 1250

Installed on a Dimastech EasyXL Test Bench

Intel Wireless AC 7260
Razer DeathAdder
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate
ASUS 120Hz/3D Display

Windows 8.1 64-bit
AMD Drivers: 14.8 Beta
NVIDIA Driver 340.52
Battlefield 4
DOTA 2
GRID Autosport
Rome 2: Total War
Thief
3DMark

The test system was built from scratch, a format of the hard drive was performed (NTFS) and then Windows 8.1 was installed. Following the completion of the installation, the video drivers were installed. All windows updates were then installed as were the latest builds of the benchmarking tools. Finally, the hard drives were de-fragmented (where appropriate). For each test, the video drivers were set to default quality/optimizations (unless otherwise stated).

Good Benchmarking Practice

Where possible, each benchmark was performed three times and the median result for each resolution/setting is shown in the tables that will follow. All applications had their latest patches applied and all hardware features the latest BIOS/Firmware.

3DMark FireStrike Extreme
r9-285-3dmark 

Overclocking
r9-285-3dmark-oc 

Thermals
r9-285-temp 

Battlefield 4 1920×1080 Ultra Detail
r9-285-battlefield 

DOTA2 1920×1080 Ultra
r9-285-dota 

Rome 2: Total War – 1920×1080 Ultra
r9-285-rome2 

Thief 1920×1080 Max
r9-285-thief 

GRID Autosport 1920×1080 Ultra 8xAA
r9-285-grid 

 

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