AMD Radeon R9 280X Targets The $299 Price Point

When the AMD Radeon HD 7970 was introduced in 2011 it cost $549 and made short work of NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 580 video card. The AMD Radeon HD 7970 uses the Tahiti GPU that has 2,048 stream processors built on the TSMC's 28nm process technology with 3GB of GDDR5 memory on a 384-bit bus. If someone would have told us back in 2011 that this video card would be re-branded and still being sold in 2014 we would have laughed, but here we are nearly two years later. The AMD Radeon 200 series will be headed up by the Radeon R9 290X, but that flagship card has not been released just yet. The second fastest card is the AMD Radeon R9 280X and that is the re-branded Radeon HD 7970!

AMD Radeon R9 280X Specs

Not too many people like re-brands, but who doesn't like price cuts? AMD has slashed the price of this card down to $299 and has made some minor adjustments to the clock speeds and have slapped on an improved GPU cooler. It is said to see a card that once held the performance crown being demoted, but this is a testament of how well designed this card was as it is still viable solution here in 2013 and moving into 2014.

 

 Radeon R9 280XRadeon HD 7970 GHzRadeon HD 7970
Release Date October 2013 July 2012 December 2011
Original SRP $299 $499 $549
GPU Tahiti Tahiti Tahiti
Process 28nm 28nm 28nm
Transistors 4.31 billion 4.31 billion 4.31 billion
Stream Processors 2048 2048 2048
Clock Speed 1000 MHz 1050 MHz 925 MHz
Frame Buffer 3GB 3GB 3GB
Memory Width 384-bit 384-bit 384-bit
Memory Clock 1500 MHz 1500 MHz 1375 MHz
Compute Performance 4.1 TFLOPS 4.3 TFLOPS 3.79 TFLOPS
Texture Units 128 128 128
ROPs 32 32 32
Typical Board Power 250W ~250W 250W

 

 When compared to the original AMD Radeon HD 7970 we can see that the core and memory clock speeds are slightly increased and that has increased the compute performance up to 4.1 TFLOPS. AMD later introduced the AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and as you can see the reference clock speed is actually lower. So, if you have an AMD Radeon HD 7970 or Radeon HD 7970 GHz edition card you are in good shape as your GPU lives on. We have confirmed that you can enabled 'mixed CrossFire' and run a Radeon R9 280X and a Radeon HD 7970 together in one system. 

Radeon-280X-Roundup

Our friends at ASUS, MSI and XFX sent us retail cards for us to take a look at.  Each of the cards are running at various clock speeds, so it should give us all a pretty good idea of what we can expect from the AMD R9 280X lineup.

 ASUS Radeon R9 280XMSI Radeon R9 280XXFX Radeon R9 280X
Series Top Edition Gaming Double Dissipation
Model Number R9280X-DC2T-3GD5 R9 280X GAMING 3G R9-280X-TDFD
SRP $309.99 $299.99 $309.99
Stream Processors 2048 2048 2048
Base Clock 970 MHz 1000 MHz 850 MHz
Boost Clock 1070 MHz 1050 MHz 1000 MHz
Memory Clock 1600 MHz 1500 MHz 1500 MHz
Memory Size 3GB 3GB 3GB
Number of Fans Two Two Two
Fan Blade Diameter 95mm & 93mm 95mm 85mm
Heatpipes Five Five Six
Power Phases 8+2 5+2 5+2
Length 11.25 inches 10.60 inches 11.06 inches
Warranty 3-year 3-year Lifetime

 The XFX Radeon R9 280X Double Dissipation is clocked at the AMD Radeon R9 280X reference clock speeds, but comes with with higher quality components, a beefed up 'Double D' GPU cooler and an insane limited lifetime warranty if you register the card within 30-days. This cards GPU cooler design is very interesting as it has six heatpipes and uses vertical aluminum cooling fins on the two heatsink arrays. This means that the IP-5X dust free fans are blowing air across them and the exhaust is going vertical and not along the length of the card. Note that the base clock speed is just 850MHz and that the boost clock is 1000MHz.  This is a 250MHz gap, which is the largest of the group.

Next up we have the MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming, which is the shortest card of the bunch at 10.6" in length. This card is similar to the XFX Radeon R9 Double D in the sense that it uses the standard 5+2 power phase design (Five phases for the GPU and 2 phases for the memory and I/O), but it has a 50MHz higher core clock speed and a Twin Frozer GPU cooler with five heatpipes with a pair of heatsinks with fins going in the traditional horizontal direction.

Lastly we have the ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II Top Edition. This card comes clocked at 970MHz base and 1070MHz for the GPU boost clock, while the memory is clocked at 1600MHz (6400MHz effective). This is the highest clocked card of the bunch and is clocked 120MHz (14%) higher on the base clock, 70MHz (7%) for the boost clock, and 400MHz (7%) for the memory overclock. This card is the most radical of the bunch and features a beefed up 8+2 power design, Cooltech fan technology and a GPU cooler that has five heat pipes. One of the five heatpipes is 10mm thick, which is the largest that we have ever seen on a video card!

Radeon-280X-Angle

All of the cards feature a black PCB with black fan shrouds and black fans.  The accent color on all of these Radeon R9 280X's just happens to be black.

Radeon-280X-Roundup2

Usually around the $300 price point you see some backplates being used, but ASUS, MSI and XFX opted not to use a backplate on any of these models. Each company is using their own PCB design, so there are no similarities in layout design. Each company is using solid-state capacitors and beefed up chokes, so the build quality should be excellent for each. 

Radeon-280X-Power

Looking down at the top of the cards we can see that all have a pair of 6-pin and 8-pin PCI Express power connectors that are needed for proper operation. It should be noted that the ASUS Radeon R9 280X TOP Edition card has had the power headers flipped for easier removal. ASUS also includes LED lights (red and green) that show if the power is properly connected. All of the cards have a pair AMD CrossFire interconnects for pairing of more than one card together. Next to the CrossFire connectors you'll find a BIOS switch on the MSI card and it is the only card to have such a switch.

Note the large 10mm heatpipe stick out of the ASUS DirectCU II GPU cooler and that the vertical fin arrangement used by XFX on their Ghost 2 GPU cooler.

Radeon-280X-outputs

When it comes to video outputs each company did something a little different. Starting from the top we have ASUS with a pair of dual-link DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort 1.2 video outputs (all standard sized ports).  Next up we have MSI with a single dual-link DVI, HDMI and a pair of mini DisplayPort connectors. Lastly we have XFX with a pair of dual-link DVI, HDMI, and two mini DisplayPort 1.2 video outputs.

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

 

ASUS Radeon R9 280X TOP Video Card GPU-Z Information:

asus-r9-280x-gpu

asus-r9-280x-idle

MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming Video Card GPU-Z Information:

msi-280x-gpuz

msi-280x-idle

XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D Video Card GPU-Z Information:

xfx-280x-gpuz

xfx-280x-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 280X is looking good in BF3 and the ASUS Radeon R9 280X was running 81FPS in BF3 at 1920x1080 and 52FPS at 2560x1600. This is very competitive with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 series cards that are running $399 and higher. For example the MSI Gaming N770 2GD5/0C was faster in BF3, but costs $100 more at $399. Right off the bat it looks like AMD has a price versus performance winner here as at $299 it falls between the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 and GeForce GTX 770.  The XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D Edition features the AMD reference clock speeds and still has very respectable scores of 80FPS at 19x10 and 49FPS at 25x16.

AMD said that the AMD Radeon R9 280X will be able to play Battlefield 4 at 2560x1440 with maximum quality settings. This game title isn't out yet to test, but we tried it out on the beta and it appears to be true.

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 280X again has solid performance and the three cards we tested were running around 105FPS at 1920x1080 and ~62 FPS at 2560x1600! This card can easily play games at 2560x1600 with the image quality settings cranked up in most game titles.

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.

farcry

Benchmark Results: In Far Cry 3 the AMD Radeon R9 280X was able to hold its own and we can see that the R9 280X cards with the higher clock speeds perform better.

Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution is an action-adventure stealth DirecX 11 video game developed by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix. It is the fifth entry in the Hitman game series, and runs on IO Interactive's proprietary Glacier 2 game engine. This game title uses the Glacier 2 game engine and was released on November 20th, 2012.

hitmanabsolution_550.

We benchmarked Hitman: Absolution with Ultra Settings.

hitman

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 280X overclocked card by ASUS was just 3-5 FPS behind the mighty NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 video card that is powered by the Kepler GK110 GPU! Not bad considering this is a $299 video card and a GeForce GTX 780 will set you back a solid $659! 

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-ll

Benchmark Results: In Metro: Last Light the AMD Radeon R9 280X was again behind the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 and trading blows with the more expensive NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770.

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: The AMD Radeon R9 280X cards are again impressive with performance close to the GeForce GTX 780, but for a fraction of the price. You could basically get two Radeon R9 280X cards for the price of one GeForce GTX 780!

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:

3dmark-firestrike

Benchmark Results: The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark has the XFX Radeon R9 280X scoring 7165, the MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming scoring 7551 and the ASUS Radeon R9 280X Top scoring 7666. There is a 500 point difference between the cards due to the clock speeds being so different.

Fire Strike Extreme:

3dmark-firestrike-extreme

Benchmark Results: The same performance gaps are shown with the extreme setting.

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 XFX Radeon R9 280X scored 4820 points in the 1440P Catzilla benchmark and the ASUS Radeon R9 280X scored 4929.

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

ASUS Radeon R9 280X TOP 3GB Video Card Idle Temperature:

asus-r9-280x-idle

MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming Video Card Idle Temperature:

msi-280x-idle

XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D Video Card Idle Temperature:

xfx-280x-idle

All of these AMD Radeon R9 280X video cards have custom dual-fan GPU coolers, so we were expecting to see some good performance numbers when it came to idle temperatures. The XFX Radeon R9 280X with the Ghost2 GPU cooler came in the lowest at just 29C!  The ASUS Radeon R9 280X Top came in second with 30C and the MSI Radeon R9 280X came in last with an idle temperature of 31C. No one really lost here as just a 1-2C difference was noted between the cards in a room that was 22.0C (72F).  Fan speeds varied between 960-1050RPM on all of the cards.

ASUS Radeon R9 280X TOP 3GB Gaming Temperature:

asus-r9-280x-gaming

MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming Temperature:

msi-280x-gaming

XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D Video Card Gaming Temperature:

xfx-280x-gaming

When playing Far Cry 3 and Battlefield 3 for about 30 minutes each we took a look at load temperatures and found some very significant differences between the cards.  The XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D was hands down the winner by topping out at just 59C when gaming. It should be noted that the fans were spun up to a rather high 2120RPM though and it was the loudest of the bunch. The MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming card topped out at 69C, but the fans were spinning ~850 RPM slower at just 1264RPM. The ASUS Radeon R9 280X was found to reach 68C with the fans spinning at 1168RPM.

temp-testing

The XFX Radeon R9 280X Double Dissipation Edition card is one of the coolest cards that we have ever tested at load!  The ASUS and MSI Radeon R9 280X cards fall back in the middle of the pack and are in-line with other cards when it comes to load temperatures.

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
The XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D was hitting 48.1 dB when gaming, which is 3 dB higher than the MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming. The MSI Radeon R9 280X Twin Frozr Gaming and ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II Top were within a couple tenths of one another, which isn't significant. All are on the quieter side, but there is a major difference between the noise of the XFX card when gaming versus the coolers used on the ASUS and MSI cards.

Power Consumption

Radeon-280X-Angle

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: Power numbers look pretty solid across all three AMD Radeon R9 280X video cards. The entire platform ranged between 105-108 Watts at idle and 366-383 Watts at load.  The ASUS Radeon R9 280X Top Edition card used the most power at 383 Watts, which is 15-17 Watts more than the cards by XFX and MSI. The ASUS card has more power phases, which is likely why is uses more power.

AMD Radeon R9 280X GPU Overclocking

A video card review isn't complete without some overclocking, so we'll be taking a look at overclocking each of the three AMD Radeon R9 280X video cards. To overclock we used a 3rd party overclocking utility to adjust the the power control settings to +20% and to raise the GPU and memory clock settings as high as possible. We left the fan control on auto and did not adjust the voltages on the card.  It should be noted that the the XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D has a voltage that can not be adjusted, so it is set at 1.2V no matter what. The MSI and ASUS cards have voltages that can be adjusted higher and thus further overclocks are highly likely.

xfx-280x-overclock

First up we have the XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D!  We were able to take this card from 1000MHz to 1095MHz on the core and the memory from 1500MHz to 1800MHz. When running at 1095MHz core and 7200MHz effective memory we were able to run 3DMark Fire Strike at 7852 3DMarks, which is a big jump up from the stock run of 7165 3DMarks! 

msi-280x-oc

The MSI Radeon R9 280X was able to reach 1110MHz core and 1615MHz memory (6460MHz) before things would get unstable.  This core clock helps it reach 7883 3DMarks in Fire Strike and made it a tad faster than the XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D card.

asus-280x-overclock

The best overclocker of the bunch was the ASUS Radeon R9 280X Top as we were able to hit 1165MHz on the core and 1770MHz on the memory (7080MHz effective). This very nice overclock was enough to turn in a score of 8319 in 3DMark FireStrike!

The AMD Radeon R9 280X series appears to be easy to overclock and we were able to get noticeable performance gains by doing so.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

 

Radeon-280X-Roundup

The AMD Radeon R9 280X is one heck of a graphics card for $299. It is very competitive with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 that is available for $349 and makes short work of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 in most benchmarks. The AMD Radeon R9 270X is the fastest video card for $199 and now the AMD Radeon R9 280X is the fastest video card available for $299! The AMD Radeon R9 280X is basically just a re-badge of the AMD Radeon HD 7970, so the big news with the launch of this card is the lowered price point and the price versus performance value that you get.

 ASUS Radeon R9 280XMSI Radeon R9 280XXFX Radeon R9 280X
Series Top Edition Gaming Double Dissipation
Model Number R9280X-DC2T-3GD5 R9 280X GAMING 3G R9-280X-TDFD
SRP $309.99 $299.99 $309.99
Stream Processors 2048 2048 2048
Base Clock 970 MHz 1000 MHz 850 MHz
Boost Clock 1070 MHz 1050 MHz 1000 MHz
Memory Clock 1600 MHz 1500 MHz 1500 MHz
Memory Size 3GB 3GB 3GB
Number of Fans Two Two Two
Fan Blade Diameter 95mm & 93mm 95mm 85mm
Heatpipes Five Five Six
Power Phases 8+2 5+2 5+2
Length 11.25 inches 10.60 inches 11.06 inches
Warranty 3-year 3-year Lifetime

The custom cards we looked at from ASUS, MSI and XFX were found to be solid cards.  Let's take a second and talk about each card.

The MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming is priced the lowest at $299. This card has a well designed Twin Frozr GPU cooler that kept the card cool and quiet. The performance was solid in all of our testing, but we hoped to get a bit more from it when came to overclocking. If space is a concern, note that this is the shortest length card of the group at just 10.6-inches. If you're looking for the best $299 AMD Radeon R9 280X  video card, this one would be hard to pass up.

The ASUS Radeon R9 280X is a beast at 11.25-inches in length, but you can really tell that ASUS put a ton of thought in this card. The reversed power connectors, LED power connection lights, 10-phase super alloy power, CoolTech fan and the crazy 10mm thick heatpipe on the DirectCU II cooler are all testament to this. This card performed the best in our group of three and it also overclocked the best. The only downside is that it consumes more power when gaming than the others! ASUS marked this card up $10 over there SRP, so it is available for $309. If you are looking for a fast factory overclocked card or want to overclock it even more, this is the card for you.

The XFX Radeon R9 280X Double D features reference clock speeds and was the slowest card of the bunch. Overclocking proved tough for this card as the voltages are locked down and the core overclock we got was the lowest of the bunch. The Ghost2 GPU cooler helped this card run the coolest of the group when gaming, but it also happened to be the loudest of the group.  The price on this card is $309, which makes it a tough sell compared to the other two cards. The one big highlight of this card is the lifetime warranty on it that you get if you register it within 30 days.

Radeon-280X-Angle

At the end of the day the real winner here would be gamers. You've never been able to get so much performance for $299!  It is rather amazing that you can pick up a $299 video card and play your favorite game titles at 1080P, 1440P and 1600P. Once the 'newness' wears off, you'll likely find rebates and other promotions on these cards before the holiday season. Could you imagine any of the cards down in the $275-$279 price range? AMD also says that the Radeon R9 280X can play Battlefield 4 at 1440P with the maximum image quality settings, so this fall is proving to be a good one for gamers.

If you are a serious gamers and have $299 to spend, the AMD Radeon R9 280X is hard to ignore. We would easily recommend any of these cards.

LR Recommended Award

 

Legit Bottom Line: The AMD Radeon R9 280X is a re-branded Radeon HD 7970 that has had a few things adjusted along with a major price reduction!