What is the best video card for $199?

When it comes to discrete graphics, the $199 price point is known as the gamer's sweet spot by both AMD and NVIDIA. This is arguably the front line in the battle for your money when it coming to gaming graphics cards.  The AMD Radeon R9 270X is AMD's offering to gamers at this competitive price point. The Pitcairn GPU is used on both the AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition and the Radeon R9 270X, so this is more or less just a re-brand of the AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition with higher clock frequencies and an improved cooler. The AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition video card was originally released in March 2012, so most gamers should be familiar with card. 

r9-270x

Since the new AMD Radeon R9 270X uses the same exact 28nm Pitcarin GPU as the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition there are no major architecture changes to talk about.  The Pitcarin GPU features features 1,280 stream processors, 32 ROPs and either 2GB or 4GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit memory bus. AMD did increase the clock frequency on both the core and memory, so that is the key change between thee two cards. The AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition was clocked at 1000 MHz on the core and 1200 MHz on the memory. The new AMD Radeon R9 270X runs at 1050 MHz on the core and 1400 MHz on the GDDR5 memory. These new clock speeds help the card have 2.69 TFLOPS of compute performance versus 2.56 TFLOPS before. The typical board power went up from 175W to 180W due to the higher clock speeds.

 Radeon R9 270XRadeon HD 7870 GHz
Release Date October 2013 March 2012
Original SRP $199 $349
GPU Pitcarin Pitcarin
Process 28nm 28nm
Transistors 2.8 billion 2.8 billion
Stream Processors 1280 1280
Clock Speed 1050 MHz 1000 MHz
Frame Buffer 2GB 2GB
Memory Width 256-bit 256-bit
Memory Clock 1400 MHz 1200 MHz
Compute Perf 2.69 TFLOPS 2.56 TFLOPS
Texture Units 80 80
ROPs 32 32
Typical Board Power 180W 175W

 

    Here is a quick table that compared the key specifications for both cards. Now that you know what the key changes are between the 'old' AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz edition and the 'new' AMD Radeon R9 270X, we can dive into the review! radeon-r9-270x-cards 

Today we'll be taking a look at the AMD Radeon R9 270X reference card that runs $199 and the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X 2G GDDR5 with Boost (Part number 11217-02).  Sapphire will be offering three AMD Radeon R9 270X video cards and this will be the fastest and most expensive of the bunch:

The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X 2GB runs $239, which is $40 more than base model, but features an extreme factory overclock, the new Sapphire Tri-X GPU cooler (3 Fans and 3 10mm Heatpipes), 10-phase power and higher quality components for reliability (double sided chokes and solid capacitors).

 

 AMD Radeon R9 270XSapphire Toxic R9 270X
SRP $199 $239
Clock Speed 1050 MHz 1150 MHz
Memory Clock 1400 MHz 1500 MHz

As you can see the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X 2GB video card has the core and memory clock speeds overclocked 100MHz over the reference card, so this card will certainly be faster in game titles! This is also the lowest priced 'Toxic' card every released by Sapphire!

sapphire-amd-r9-270x

Both AMD Raedeon R9 270X video cards feature dual-slot coolers and share the same GPU and amount of memory and that is where the similarities end. Sapphire created an entirely custom PCB, fitted it with higher quality components (IE: Black Diamond Chokes and Solid Capacitors rated at 5000 Hours) and then topped that all off with an insanely huge triple fan GPU cooler! The AMD Radeon R9 270X reference card measures 9.5-inches in length and the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X is a full 12-inches long (PCB Measures 10.25-inches, but the fan shroud extends past the PCB). The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X is by no means a small card and it won't fit in all PC cases, so be sure to check your measurements if you are thinking about ordering one of these beasts in.

radeon-270x-video-outputs

When it comes to video outputs you have a pair of DVI connectors (DVI-I and DVI-D), Display Port and HDMI. Both cards have high-airflow exhaust brackets to reduce noise and improve airflow for better cooling.

sapphire-toxic-270x

Both cards feature a GPU cooler with copper heatpipes, but the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X uses three massive 10mm thick heatpipes that go to one aluminum cooling fin array and two smaller 7mm heatpipes that connect back to the main cooling fin array that sits directly above the GPU.  This GPU cooler better perform good as it has two cooling fin arrays and a total of five heatpipes. How much do these cards weigh?  The AMD Radeon R9 270X weighs 1.85 pounds and the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X weighs 2.25 pounds!

270x-power-connectors

Both cards have a pair of 6-pin PCI Express power connectors located along the top edge of the video card for a combined total of 150 Watts of additional power. Sapphire recommends a 550W or greater power supply with two 75W 6-pin power connectors for this video card to operate properly. If you wanted to run AMD CrossFire at some point in time, the recommended PSU is a 600W or greater model. Notice that the AMD Radeon R9 270X has a single CrossFire interconnect on top for pairing it with another graphics card and the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X has two. We aren't sure why this card has two interconnects and have asked both Sapphire and AMD for clarification.

It should be noted that the word Sapphire along the top edge of the Toxic R9 270 does light up when the card is turned on and the is a burnt orange color.

radeon-r9-270x-back

The back of the AMD Radeon R9 270X reference card doesn't have a backplate, but the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X does!  We really like backplates on video cards as it makes them look more finished in the case and reduces the chance of hurting the card when installing and removing it from the chassis. It should be notice that with this backplate on the card it is technically a 2.2-slot card, so if you have a chipset right behind your primary PCIe x16 slot you might have some clearance issues.

270x-video-card

The AMD Radeon R9 270X and Sapphire Toxic R9 270X are two good looking cards, but how do they perform? Let's put them both to the test and see how they do!

 

Test System

Before we look at the numbers, let's take a brief look at the test system that was used. All testing was done using a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running.

Video Cards & Drivers used for testing:

Intel X79/LGA2011 Platform

GPU-Test-System

test-system

The Intel X79 platform that we used to test the all of the video cards was running the ASUS P9X79 Deluxe motherboard with BIOS 4401 that came out on 09/02/2013. The Corsair Vengeance 16GB 1866MHz quad channel memory kit was set to 1866MHz with 1.5v and 9-10-9-27 2T memory timings. The OCZ Vertex 3 240GB SSD was run with firmware version 2.25.

 

The Intel X79 Test Platform

 

Component

 

Brand/Model

 

Live Pricing

 

Processor

 

Intel Core i7-3960X

 

Motherboard

ASUS P9X79 Deluxe

 

Memory

16GB Corsair 1866MHz

 

Video Card

 

Various

 

Solid-State Drive

 

OCZ Vertex 3 240GB

 

Cooling

 

Intel RTS2011LC

 

Power Supply

Corsair AX1200

 

Operating System

 

Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

 

AMD Radeon R9 270X Video Card GPU-Z Information:

270x-gpuz

270x-idle

Sapphire TOXIC R9 270X Video Card GPU-Z Information:

sapphire-270x-gpuz

sapphire-270x-idle

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3 Screenshot

Battlefield 3 (BF3) is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. The game was released in North America on October 25, 2011 and in Europe on October 28, 2011. It does not support versions of Windows prior to Windows Vista as the game only supports DirectX 10 and 11. It is a direct sequel to 2005's Battlefield 2, and the eleventh installment in the Battlefield franchise. The game sold 5 million copies in its first week of release and the PC download is exclusive to EA's Origin platform, through which PC users also authenticate when connecting to the game.

Battlefield 3 Screenshot

Battlefield 3 debuts the new Frostbite 2 engine. This updated Frostbite engine can realistically portray the destruction of buildings and scenery to a greater extent than previous versions. Unlike previous iterations, the new version can also support dense urban areas. Battlefield 3 uses a new type of character animation technology called ANT. ANT technology is used in EA Sports games, such as FIFA, but for Battlefield 3 is adapted to create a more realistic soldier, with the ability to transition into cover and turn the head before the body.

bf3

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 270X was powerful enough to run Battlefield 3 at 1920x1080 at 60 FPS on average and even pushed our 30-inch monitor running 2560x1600 at an impressive 37FPS on average! It is pretty wild to see a $199 video card running BF3 so well at UHD resolutions. The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X was running at 65 FPS at 19x10 and 41 FPS at 25x16, so it just goes to show you that the extra 100MHz on the core and memory clock speeds really does help performance. The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X runs $239 and it was clipping the heels of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 reference card that runs $249.

It should be noted that the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti is discontinued, so you have the direct competition for the AMD R9 270X is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 at $179 and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 at $249.  The AMD Radeon R9 270X makes short work of the factory overclocked EVGA GeForce GTX 660 SuperClocked video card that we have in our charts, but the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 proved to be a bit much.

Bioshock Infinite

BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter video game developed by Irrational Games, and published by 2K Games. BioShock Infinite is the third installment in the BioShock series, and though it is not part of the storyline of previous BioShock games, it does feature similar gameplay concepts and themes. BioShock Infinite uses a Modified Unreal Engine 3 game engine and was released worldwide on March 26, 2013.

Bioshock Infinite

We tested BioShock Infinite with the Ultra game settings.

bioshock

Benchmark Results: In Bioshock Infinite the AMD Radeon R9 270X and Sapphire Toxic R9 270X performed great and were running ~80 FPS at 1920x1080 and ~45 FPS at 2560x1600!

Far Cry 3

Farcry3 Game Screenshot

Far Cry 3 is an open world first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is the sequel to 2008's Far Cry 2. The game was released on December 4th, 2012 for North America. Far Cry 3 is set on a tropical island found somewhere at the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. After a vacation goes awry, player character Jason Brody has to save his kidnapped friends and escape from the islands and their unhinged inhabitants.

FarCry 3 Quality Settings

FarCry 3 Video Quality

Far Cry 3 uses the Dunia Engine 2 game engine with Havok physics. The graphics are excellent and the game really pushes the limits of what one can expect from mainstream graphics cards. We set game title to 8x MSAA Anti-Aliasing and ultra quality settings.

farcry3

Benchmark Results: In Far Cry 3 the AMD Radeon R9 270X was just slightly faster than the EVGA GeForce GTX 660 SC!

Metro Last Light

Metro: Last Light is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features action-oriented gameplay with a combination of survival horror elements. It uses the 4A Game engine and was released in May 2013.

Metro: Last Light

Metro Last Light was benchmarked with Ultra settings

metro

Benchmark Results: In Metro: Last Light the AMD Radeon R9 270X averaged 41 FPS at 1920x1080 and the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X averaged nearly 45 FPS at the same resolution. Note that in some benchmarks the Sapphire Toxic R9 270 was able to pull ahead of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 at 1920x1080!

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider

On March 5th, 2013 Square Enix released Tomb Raider, billed as a reboot of the franchise. In Tomb Raider, the player is confronted with a much younger Lara Croft who is shipwrecked and finds herself stranded on a mysterious island rife with danger, both natural and human. In contrast to the earlier games Croft is portrayed as vulnerable, acting out of necessity, desperation and sheer survival rather than for a greater cause or personal gain.

Tomb Raider Settings

The game has been built on Crystal Dynamics's game engine called the "Crystal Engine" and the graphics look fantastic. AMD and Crystal Dyanmic's worked on a new technology called TressFX Hair, which AMD describes as “the world’s first in-game implementation of a real-time, per-strand hair physics system” for this game title. We set the image quality to ultimate for benchmarking, but we disabled TressFX Hair under the advanced tab to be fair to NVIDIA graphics cards that don't support the feature.

tomb-raider

Benchmark Results: In the new Tomb Raider PC game we saw the AMD Radeon R9 270X run nearly 10 FPS faster than the EVGA GeForce GTX 660 SC at 1920x1080! We also found that in this benchmark that the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X was able to beat the GeForce GTX 760 at both resolutions for the very first time! These cards are both between $239-$249 and they do trade performance wins!

3DMark 2013

3Dmark Fire Strike Benchmark Results - For high performance gaming PCs

Use Fire Strike to test the performance of dedicated gaming PCs, or use the Fire Strike Extreme preset for high-end systems with multiple GPUs. Fire Strike uses a multi-threaded DirectX 11 engine to test DirectX 11 hardware.

3DMark Fire Strike

 

Fire Strike Benchmark Results:

firestrike

Benchmark Results: The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark has the AMD Radeon R9 270X scoring 5556 and the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X scoring 6037. AMD scores well in 3DMark, but we were shocked to see the AMD Radeon R9 270X reference card scoring the exact same as the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760!

Fire Strike Extreme:

firestrike-extreme

Benchmark Results: 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme benchmark found the AMD Radeon R9 270X scoring 2740 and the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X scoring 2994.

Catzilla

Catzilla is a relatively new benchmark that is made the Polish demoscene group Plasticis. It is being produced in collaboration with Polish post production company, Plastige. Plastige is the company that worked on Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition and some of the developers there were behind the PlayStation Network game Datura. The benchmark uses a parallel graphics engine that takes advantage of multi-core CPUs. This isn't a benchmark being made in some kids basement and it doesn't appear to be bought off by any companies yet, so it should be a good benchmark to use.

catzilla-benchmark

While this benchmark is in beta phases, we still have found that Catzilla is a good cross-API benchmark. You also can't go wrong with a benchmark that has a giant animated cat nuke cities with its laser eyes as you do. You can watch a video of the benchmark in action below.

We purchased Catzilla Advanced and ran the full Catzilla benchmark at 2560x1440.

catzilla

Benchmark Results: The Radeon R9 270X scored 3388 points in the 1440P Catzilla benchmark and the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X scored 3684.

Temperature & Noise Testing

Temperatures are important to enthusiasts and gamers, so we took a bit of time and did some temperature testing on both Radeon R9 270X video cards

AMD Radeon R9 270X 2GB Video Card Idle Temperature:

270x-idle

Sapphire Toxic R9 270X 2GB Video Card Idle Temperature:

sapphire-270x-idle

The AMD Radeon R9 270X had an idle temperature of 30.0C in a room that was 22.0C (72F) and the single fan was spinning ~1180 RPM. The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X 2GB was running at just 28C, but the fans were spinning faster at 1380RPM.

AMD Radeon R9 290X 2GB Gaming Temperature:

270x-gaming-load

Sapphire Toxic R9 270X 2GB Gaming Temperature:

sapphire-270x-gaming

When playing Far Cry 3 and Battlefield 3 for about 30 minutes each, we hit 73C on the AMD Radeon R9 270X and 57C on the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X 2GB! The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X runs 16C cooler than the AMD reference card when gaming, which is very impressive.  Seeing your GPU running in the 50's at full load is something that is usually unheard of, so kudos to Sapphire for doing a great job with the new Tri-X GPU Cooler!

temperatures

The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X is actually the coolest running card of any of the ones that we have tested in recent months!  Very impressive! The AMD Radeon R9 270X reference card falls into the middle of the pack and is pretty average.

Sound Testing

We recently upgraded our sound meter to an Extech sound level meter with ±1.5dB accuracy that meets Type 2 standards. This meter ranges from 35dB to 90dB on the low measurement range, which is perfect for us as our test room usually averages around 36dB. We measure the sound level two inches above the corner of the motherboard with 'A' frequency weighting. The microphone wind cover is used to make sure no wind is blowing across the microphone, which would seriously throw off the data.

noise-testing
The AMD Radeon R7 270X is a very quiet card at both idle and load, but the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X is pretty damn quiet as well.  Neither of these cards will be heard over the other fans in your system when gaming, so everything is good when it comes to acoustics.

Power Consumption

sapphire-amd-r9-270x

For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Kill-A-Watt power meter. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers we ran three games at 1920x1080 and averaged the peak results seen on the power meter.

power-consumption

Power Consumption Results: Guess what?  The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X and the PowerColor AX7870 DEVIL are right next to one another! That is because both share the same core! Power numbers are right where we expected them to be.  The AMD R9 270X reference card was observed at 104 Watts at idle and then hit a maximum of 314 Watts when gaming. The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X is factory overclocked with more components, so we figured it would use more power and it does. This card was found to use slightly more power - 100 Watts at idle and 332 Watts at load.

AMD Radeon R9 270X GPU Overclocking

To take a quick look at overclocking we fired up AMD Catalyst Control Center and used AMD Overdrive to overclock these two Radeon R9 270X 2GB video cards.

270x-ccc

The AMD Radeon R9 270X 2GB comes clocked at 1050MHz on the core and 1400MHz on the memory. You can go up to 1400MHz on the core and 1625MHz on the memory in AMD OverDrive.

radeon-270x-overclock

We were easily able to overclock the AMD Radeon R9 270X to 1205MHz on the core and 1625MHz on the memory. The limit in AMD OverDrive is 1625MHz on the memory, so we might be limited by the utility on this clock speed.  Let's take a look at some Futuremark 3DMark scores with the Fire Strike Extreme preset to see what happens with performance when the card is overclocked.

270x-3dmark-oc

With this overclock we ran a quick run of 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme and found our score went up from 2,740 3DMarks to 3,110 3DMarks, which is an improvement of 370 3DMarks or 13.5%. This is a solid overclock, but what can the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X overclock to?

trixx-oc-utility

To overclock the Sapphire Toxic R9 270X video card we used Sapphire's TRIXX overclocking utility. We were sent TRIXX v4.6.3 beta to try out and it appeared to work fine.  This utility goes way beyond the clock settings found in AMD OverDrive, so it will be interesting to see how far we can push this card. We were a bit dissapointed to find that the GPU Voltage (VDDC) was already set to the max by default, so all we could adjust was the GPU and memory clock speeeds.

 

270X-toxic-overclock

After playing around for a couple hours and crashing the system a dozen times with failed overclocks, we were able to get 1260MHz on the core and 1652MHz on the memory (6608MHz Effective). This is 55MHz higher on the core that we could get from the reference card. This isn't much higher than the reference card and guess what?  We've gotten slightly higher overclocks on AMD Radeon 7870 GHz Edition cards in the past when it comes to GPU clock speeds!   Our 3Dmark Fire Strike Extreme score went from 2,994 to 3,191 with this overclock.  The performance gap when overclocked is under three percent between the two cards. 

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

The AMD Radeon R9 270X is a solid gaming graphics card and we were very impressed by how it performed at 1920x1080 and even at 2560x1600. The AMD Radeon R9 270X is priced at $199 and we found this card made short work of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 that just had its price slashed from $199 to $179 this very week. It is a good thing that NVIDIA reduced the price of that card as the AMD Radeon R9 270X really did mop the floor with it. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 was slightly ahead of the AMD Radeon R9 270X reference card in our testing, but it retails for $249. NVIDIA has no card to fill the gap between the GeForce GTX 660 at $179 and the GeForce GTX 760 at $249, so there really is no direct competition at the $199 price point for the AMD Radeon R9 270X. There are rumors of NVIDIA releasing new mid-range cards called the GeForce GTX 760 Ti and GeForce GTX 765, but for now those are just rumors.

270x-video-card

At the end of the day the 'new' AMD Radeon R9 270X behaves and performs pretty much how the 'old' AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz edition cards did.  They are essentially the same cards, so that was expected and predicted by many in the gaming community. The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X is a great example of a fully decked out Radeon R9 270X and shows the cards full potential. At $239 you are getting all the bells and whistles and an epic video card that performs great, runs cool and is nearly silent. Sapphire did a great job on the Toxic R9 270X 2GB video card. The only issue that we can see with any Radeon R9 270X cards in $239 price range is that for $249 you are starting to get into the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760cards and they do perform better. If you aren't brand loyal, you have a tough choice to make as you can go with a top-of-the-line Radeon R9 270X or a GeForce GTX 760 that is likely based off the reference design. The Sapphire Toxic R9 270X is one of those cards that have you purchasing a custom designed video card with less performance in order to have the low temperatures and silent operation.

amd-200-lineup

At the end of the day the AMD Radeon R9 270X is the best $199 graphics card on the market today.  This is known as the gamer's sweet spot and a huge victory for AMD and for the gaming community.  Keep in mind that the AMD Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition used to run $349 when it was released in 2012 and now you can pick up the Radeon R9 270X with higher clock speeds for just $199! Not a bad price for a card that can easily run most game titles at 1920x1080 with smooth frames and the image quality maxed out!

LR Recommended Award

 

Legit Bottom Line: The AMD Radeon R9 270X is the best performing video card for under $200!