Last week AMD launched their R9-285 and we took a look at it here. There is of course more than one way to design a card and today we have two alternative models, from Sapphire and PowerColor, on our test bench for part 2 of our Radeon R9-285 review.
Before we get started with the card section of this Radeon R9-285 review it is worth taking a moment to talk about the bundle AMD are currently offering. They are branding the bundle “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.
Radeon R9-285 Review – What is the R9-285?
In case you missed our original R9-285 review, lets just quickly cover the basics of AMDs new GPU again… The easiest way to sum that up 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.
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).
Radeon R9-285 Review – Sapphire
Sapphire stick with familiar branding for their R9-285 cards and this particular box has plenty of logos noting the key features of the card. Inside we find a mousepad, documentation, software CD (and case sticker), DVI to VGA dongle, power cable, HDMI cable and a mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort convertor.
Where as the Radeon R9-285 review we published last week saw a standard, full length, approach to card design Sapphire start this article off with something a little different. This is a compact (17cm) card designed for use in mini-ITX systems, although it will work in full sized builds too. We get a compact plastic shroud over a single fan and block of aluminium fins. Sapphire pass four copper heatpipes through the heatsink and flipping the card round we can see that the back is fairly packed with components, though we note all the memory is front facing and the card uses bridgeless CrossFire. A button on the top edge of the card also allows us to switch between legacy and UEFI BIOS if required.
Round at the card outputs our second R9-285 Review finds that this is a card differs from the last time round with dual mini-DisplayPort, HDMI and Dual DVI featuring here, compared to DP, 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. Sapphire also change the power inputs from two 6pin power connectors at the top edge of the card to 1x8pin on the back end, assisting the PCIe 3.0 slot in providing our 190w of board power.
In terms of key specifications the reference R9-285 uses a 28nm Tonga GPU which features 1792 stream processors, 112 texture units and 32 ROPs. The engine clock for the reference design is 918MHz with 2GB of GDDR5 clocked at 1375MHz. For their card Sapphire go with the same memory speed but overclock the core slightly to 928MHz.
Radeon R9-285 Review – PowerColor
PowerColor go with TurboDuo branding for their R9-285 and note on the box that it is an overclocked model with unique fan design. Inside our sample had no bundled items of note, however like the Sapphire card it does qualify for AMDs Never Settle promotion.
For PowerColors R9-285 we get a full length black PCB and to the front they attach a metal shroud. Two fans make an appearance here and they use double blades to maximise airflow through the aluminium fins. Then three copper heatpipes and a copper GPU plate assist in cooling the GPU. Again we note that this is a card with all memory on the front surface and that it supports bridgeless Crossfire.
In terms of power inputs PowerColor stick with the standard 2x6pin layout on the top edge of the card and round at the outputs we again see the normal configuration, DisplayPort, HDMI and dual DVIs. That of course allows us to run display set-ups such as 5760×1080 or 4K with ease.
The PowerColor R9-285 uses a 28nm Tonga GPU which features 1792 stream processors, 112 texture units and 32 ROPs…just like the others and here the engine clock is 945MHz (vs 918Mhz standard) and our 2GB of GDDR5 is clocked at 1375MHz.
Radeon R9-285 Review – Conclusion
*Performance figures after the conclusion*
In our first Radeon R9-285 review we noted the following about AMDs new GPU:
“… the Tonga GPU 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.”
None of that changes here and essentially the same can be said of performance against the GTX 760 OC. The Radeons compete well with that card when gaming at 1080p and also stack up well in other areas such as power use and thermal performance.
What do we think of the individual card designs? Well thinking back to the original MSI model the PowerColor is closest to that. It is slightly more compact but follows a metal shroud and dual fan design which looks nice too. The those two cards have very similar OC specifications and perform within 1-2fps of each other at all times. That said the MSI version does run noticeably cooler while being equally quiet. Moving to Sapphire we don’t get the metal cover but we do gain a more compact form factor. Interestingly the card compares very well in framerates, again just 1fps or so off the PowerColor and Sapphire offer lower temperatures and power use at load.
In the end it all depends what you want from a card. Each of the R9-285 models that we have reviewed have their selling points, the most obvious being the compact Sapphire card for those building a small system as it offers the fastest performance available in the compact/ITX format. If that isn’t important then search around for the best deal and have that confirm your purchase.
Radeon R9-285 Review – Test System
Sapphire Radeon R9-285 Compact ITX
PowerColor Radeon R9-285 TurboDuo OC
MSI Radeon R9-285 OC Edition with Twin Frozr IV
Gainward GeForce GTX 760 Phantom OC
Installed on a Dimastech EasyXL Test Bench
Intel Wireless AC 7260
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate
ASUS 120Hz/3D Display
Windows 8.1 64-bit
AMD Drivers: 14.8 Beta
NVIDIA Driver 340.52
Rome 2: Total War
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.
Radeon R9-285 Review – Performance
3DMark FireStrike Extreme
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Battlefield 4 1920×1080 Ultra Detail
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DOTA2 1920×1080 Ultra
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Rome 2: Total War – 1920×1080 Medium
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Thief 1920×1080 Max
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GRID Autosport 1920×1080 Ultra 8xAA
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