The AMD Radeon R7 260X ($139 list), a refresh of the Asus Direct CU II Radeon HD 7790 that we reviewed last year, is the company’s main strike against Nvidia’s lock on the budget graphics card market. Like the Asus HD 7790, the R7 260X is based on the company’s Bonaire GPU, with 896 stream processors, a 128-bit path to main memory, 56 texture mapping units, and 16 render outputs. The graphics card features two DVI ports, an HDMI port, and a DisplayPort and can drive up to three monitors off one card.
The R7 260X improves on the Asus HD 7790 in three ways. First, it doubles its onboard RAM buffer, up to 2GB, from 1GB. Second, it’s clocked higher—the HD 7790 was clocked at 1GHz core clock and 1,500MHz memory, while the R7 260X clocks in at 1,100 MHz core and 1,625MHz for a gain of 10 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Third, it’s cheaper, with a base price of $139 for a 2GB card, as opposed to $149 for the 1GB card. Open and shut case, right?
Not exactly. This is where things get a little complicated. While the R7 260X is a straightforward refresh of the Radeon 7790, it turns out that the Bonaire GPU core that powers both cards isn’t just a slimmer version of the AMD Radeon 7850/ AMD Radeon R9 270X. This budget GPU shares multiple features with the AMD R9 290X, which is AMD’s highest-end, most powerful GPU when it launches later this fall. These features include:
TrueAudio: AMD spent much time talking up its new TrueAudio technology in the R9 290X. The company has integrated a DSP from Tensilica that card—and, as it turns out, into Bonaire as well. Thus, the R7 260X , AMD Radeon 7790, and R9 290X will be the only AMD GPUs to support this capability—the AMD R9 270X and MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G won’t have it. AMD has talked up the use of this onboard DSP as a game changer for audio processing, but there aren’t any games or even tech demos that can be used to objectively evaluate the capability.
More flexible display options: Thanks to some board-level changes, the R7 260X can support output from both DVI ports and the HDMI port at the same time if all three monitors are of the same type. AMD HD 7000 cards, in contrast, have two DVI ports and one HDMI port, but cannot use all three at once. If you want to run three displays off a Radeon 7000-class card, at least one of them has to use DisplayPort. Now, that restriction has been lifted, at least somewhat.
Improved shader efficiency: AMD has been extremely coy on this one. We know that the Bonaire GPU contains some mathematical capabilities and improvements on this front.
Comparing the Radeon 7790 to the R7 260X is also complicated by another factor: shipping clock speeds. Asus Radeon 7790 card we reviewed came with a 1,075MHz core clock and a 1,600MHz memory clock. The sample the company shipped us for the launch, on the other hand, is clocked at just 1,100MHz and 1,625MHz. In other words, the gap between our two sample cards isn’t 8 to 11 percent— it’s more like 2 to 3 percent.
The other added wrinkle is from Nvidia’s side of the fence. When AMD launched the Radeon 7790 last spring, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 Ti wasn’t much of a competitor, but the Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost, which launched just a few weeks later, outperformed the HD 7790 and won our Editors’ Choice award. Does the R7 260X change this?
We tested the card on an Intel DZ77GA-70K motherboard with an Intel Core i7-3770K CPU and 8GB of DDR3-1600. Windows 7 64-bit with SP1 and all available patches was used. All games were tested at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution using AMD’s Catalyst 13.11 Beta 1 drivers and Nvidia’s GeForce 331.40 driver (released September 30, 2013).
Our benchmark results illustrate two trends. First, the R7 260X isn’t much faster than the older Asus HD 7790, despite the additional memory. The 128-bit memory interface on this GPU remains a limiting factor, and we only see an uplift in Shogun 2: Total War.
The other troublesome fact for the R7 260X is that the GeForce 650 Ti Boost is slightly faster in almost every game we tested. An 8% performance difference in Metro Last Light and 14% in Metro 2033 is going to be noticeable—the lower the baseline frame rate, the more noticeable improvements in that framerate are.
Power consumption is another area where the R7 260X and HD 7790 trailed the Nvidia GTX 650 Ti Boost. All three cards idle at very low power—62W for the two Radeon cards, and 59W for the Nvidia GTX 650 Ti Boost. In Civilization V’s Late Game View test, the Radeon 7790 with 1GB of GDDR5 drew 185W, the R7 260X drew 200W thanks to its 2GB frame buffer, and the GTX 650 Ti Boost drew just 155W. If you care about keeping power consumption as low as possible, the Nvidia 650 Ti Boost is going to be the better card.
When the Nvidia 650 Ti Boost launched, we noted that it squeezed the AMD 7790′s price/performance ratio pretty hard. That continues to be the case with the AMD Radeon R7 260X. The Nvidia 650 Ti Boost has gotten harder to find at retail, but it offers better performance than the R7 260X.
In short, the R7 260X is squeezed at the bottom by the GTX 650 Ti Boost and at the top by the Radeon 7850. Nvidia’s GTX 650 Ti Boost is the stronger card overall, and the performance benefit one might anticipate from adding an extra GB of RAM to the 7790 hasn’t materialized. At 1,920 by 1,080, modern titles simply aren’t pushing a 1GB frame buffer.
All of this leaves the R7 260X in a tough position. The company’s upcoming Mantle API could give the 7790 an edge over the GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost, but only in games that use the capability. TrueAudio could prove to be a game changer, but there’s no way to objectively evaluate such claims. A new Never Settle bundle would also give the R7 260X a leg up over older HD 7000 cards, but while such an offer is likely in the works, it isn’t available yet.
Given that reviews need to evaluate a product based on what it can do today, not at an unspecified time in the future, we can’t count any of these as must-have features. If you’re a devoted Team AMD fan and need a cheap card that can still play modern titles, the R7 260X will offer a decent experience, but there are better ways to spend your gaming dollars.
|Includes DVI-I-to-VGA converter?||no|
|Bundled Software - Games||none|
|Video Interfaces||DVI, HDMI|
|Bundled Software - Business, Utility, Media||none|
|Requires Power Connector?||no|
|Video Outputs||DVI, HDMI|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc