The MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming 3G graphics card anchors the $299 price point, down $100 from the old AMD Radeon HD 7970 it replaces. In doing so, it has been positioned to compete directly against the Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 and GTX 770 graphics cards. The R9 280X does just that—and does it rather well, earning our Editors’ Choice for midrange graphics cards.
In most ways, the R9 280X is a rebranded AMD HD 7970. It offers substantially similar clock speeds, total RAM (3GB, with a 384-bit memory path) and display hardware. There are a few fringe benefits that come courtesy of the new R9 series, like the ability to attach up to three displays to the DVI and HDMI ports simultaneously, rather than being forced to use DisplayPort for two of three panels. But the big news here is the $100 price cut—a deep enough slash that even an older part suddenly acquires a nifty new gleam.
The fact that AMD is rebranding the AMD HD 7970 says more about the state of the semiconductor industry than AMD itself, especially given that Nvidia rebranded its own high-end product line earlier this spring. The Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture at the heart of the R9 280X debuted nearly two years ago, while the GK104 chip at the heart of Nvidia’s mainstream GeForce parts is only a little younger. With 20nm designs still ramping at foundries like TSMC, both Nvidia and AMD have been forced to launch “new” GPU ramps that are tweaked versions of the previous family. More important than the question of newness is whether or not the R9 280X offers compelling performance at a fair price.
The R9 280X Gaming 3G is equipped with two DVI ports, an HDMI port, and a DisplayPort connection, but we want to note that there are a great many retail cards with different configuration options. Multiple cards carry one to two mini DisplayPort connectors, as well as the brace of DVI ports; AMD appears to be giving board partners considerable freedom to mix and match what kind of connection options they want to offer. But these are fairly modest changes obscure the R9 280X’s greatest single feature: a whopping price cut.
The AMD Radeon 7970 was a $400 card. Now, the R9 280X is a $300 card. Granted, that difference comes with some caveats—the AMD Radeon 7970 included the various Never Settle game bundles, including Never Settle Forever—but if you prefer a straight cash discount to mucking about with various games you might or might not want to play, the $299 price tag is going to be the major attraction. And to be clear, it’s a feature that puts the R9 280X in very competitive territory. Right now, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 is still parked up at $400, while the Nvidia GTX 760 is down at $249.
We tested the card on an Intel DZ77GA-70K motherboard with an Intel Core i7-3770K CPU and 8GB of DDR3-1600. We used Windows 7 64-bit w/ SP1 and all available patches. All games were tested at 1,920 by 1,080 using AMD’s Catalyst 13.11 Beta 1 drivers and Nvidia’s GeForce 331.40 driver (released September 30). All game benchmark tests were run at 1,920 by 1,080, with maximum details and 8x MSAA enabled.
In Civilization V’s Late Game View, the R9 280X turned in a score of 93 frames per second (fps) against the Nvidia GTX 770′s 90fps and Nvidia GTX 760′s 87fps. In Shogun 2, with all details maxed and soft shadows and tessellation both enabled, the R9 280X hit 53fps, compared with 50fps for the Nvidia GTX 770 and just 39fps for the GTX 760. Metro 2033 was another win for AMD’s $299 card, which hit 39fps, compared with 33fps for the GTX 770 and the GTX 760′s 29fps. The R9 280X and Nvidia GTX 770 tie in Bioshock Infinite, at 77fps and 78fps, respectively. The Nvidia GTX 760 fell behind at a still smooth 65fps—not bad by any means, but not quite up with AMD’s competition.
The Nvidia GTX 770 and GTX 760 are by no means bad cards, but AMD’s decision to whack $100 off its higher-end MSI R9 280X compared with the AMD HD 7970 has caught Team Green in a very tight spot. The GTX 770 simply isn’t any faster than its counterpart; it’s at best, competitive. With the MSRP on the R9 280X at $300 versus the GTX 770′s $329, the R9 280X has the midrange edge.
It has taken AMD two full years to reach this point. When the Tahiti core at the heart of the HD 7000/R9 200 series debuted, it was a $549 GPU. Today, it’s a $300 card with support for just-launched features like Mantle and better multi-monitor support. The 280X is for gamers who want more muscle in their game play than what entry-level cards can provide. It’s the best choice for customers looking to upgrade to a higher-end GPU. All this earns the MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming 3G our Editors’ Choice for midrange graphics cards.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc