Here we are back again to review another one of AMD’s latest Radeon R9 graphics card from their AIC partner HIS (Hightech Information Systems). Almost two and half years have been passed since AMD introduced their GCN core architecture and it shouldn’t be a surprise if I told you that the architecture is still being featured on AMD’s latest Volcanic Islands Radeon R7 and Radeon R9 series graphics cards.
The Volcanic Islands family is branded as the Radeon R200 series and takes performance and value to the next level. Technically speaking, the Radeon R200 series cards which include the Radeon R9 280X, Radeon R9 270X, Radeon R9 270, Radeon R7 265, Radeon R7 260X, Radeon R7 260, Radeon R7 255, Radeon R7 250X, Radeon R7 250 and Radeon R7 240 are GCN rebrands aside from the latest Hawaii based Radeon R9 290X and Radeon R9 290, with the addition of new features but rather than giving away the same cards at the same price ranges, AMD added a few new features which we will detail in this article and slashed the prices so much that the Tahiti chip that once was $549 can now be bought for $299 US.
Today, we will be looking at the HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X2 OC which is the latest GCN 1.0 rebrand featuring the Tahiti Core architecture. HIS gave us the non-reference Radeon R9 280 for the test which features their high-end IceQ X2 cooler and a beefy custom designed PCB to deliver more power over the reference models which would come handy to overclockers and enthusiasts. Boasting the well-known Tahiti Pro core which has been replaced by its successor aka the “Hawaii Pro”, AMD now offers the R9 280 (also call it a Radeon HD 7950) for $280 (now retailing for $249.99) compared with its original launch price of $449 US two years ago, surprising that the card and its price have the same number? Let’s find out whether the card lives up to the legacy that made Tahiti remain dominant in high-end and performance range for two long years.
AMD GCN (Graphic Core Next) Architecture
Before we get to detail the new card, let’s take a brief look at the architecture that has spanned over two years offering tremendous value to PC gamers – GCN. GCN or Graphics Core Next is based on the 28nm TSMC process across each variant.Originally debuted with the Radeon HD 7970 in December 2011, the GCN architecture was an giant step away from the older VLIW architecture featured on the Cayman ‘Radeon HD 6900′ cards. They did performed graphically well but their compute performance was crippled similar to NVIDIA’s GK104 lineup.
AMD took a bold step forward and introduced the GCN architecture with Graphics Compute Unit to handle the compute side of things basically delivering higher performance in compute and graphically intensive applications. The GCN architecture was the blend of both in a single die package aiming for high performance.
The AMD GCN architecture features 16-wide SIMD units with 64 KB registers addressed to each unit. Four of these SIMD units will form the basis of a Compute Unit or CU in short. 16-Wide design means that each CU will hold a total of 64 Stream Processors. The full GCN based Tahiti core features 32 Compute Units resulting in 2048 Stream Processors. The Radeon R7 280X we will be testing today has the same GCN die configuration since it is based on the flagship Tahiti core with 2048 stream processors which result in faster texture rendering and DX11 tessellation performance.
Additional specifications include:
- Upto 32 Compute Units w/ Dual Geometry Engines
- 8 Render Back-Ends/ 32 Color ROPs/ 128 Z/stencil ROPs
- Upto 768KB Read/Write L2 Cache
- 128-bit/256-bit/384-bit GDDR5 memory interfaces
In addition to the this, GCN architecture also features the GCN Tessellation unit which is the latest iteration of hardware enable tessellation units with increased vertex re-use, off-chip buffering improvements and larger parameter caches. These result in a 4 times performance improvement over previous generation non-GCN based chips.
We know that this is the most boring bit of details for some but it was essential to do a recap of the AMD GCN architecture since the new R200 series lineup except the two R9 290X and R9 290 are based off the same GCN architecture. So with the GCN reintroduced again, let’s take a look at the new (rebranded) graphic cards it has been fused inside this time.
AMD Radeon R9 Series – Built For 1440P Gaming
With the launch of the Volcanic Islands family, AMD announced two lineups – Radeon R9 and Radeon R7. The Radeon R9 are the high-performance graphic cards aiming the price range of $299 to $199. The other two R9 graphic cards aka Radeon R9 290X and Radeon R9 290 are yet to be launched but would be priced higher and would deliver higher performance.
Today we will be looking at the Radeon R9 Series tier ‘Radeon R9 280’ graphics card which retails at $280 price range. This positions the card between two products from NVIDIA, the lower cost GeForce GTX 760 which retails at $249.99 US and the more expensive GeForce GTX 770 retailing at $320 – $350 US range. The GeForce GTX 770 is essentially the competing part against AMD’s Radeon R9 280X “Tahiti Pro” which leaves the Radeon R9 280 to compete against the lower cost GeForce GTX 760 so an overclocked variant which will retail $20 higher than the reference variants would make much more sense since that comes equal to the cost of the Radeon R9 280 “Tahiti Pro” graphics card we are currently reviewing which is also an overclocked non-reference product.
We don’t want to go in the performance bits just yet but from official slides presented by AMD, the Radeon R9 280 comes at around 20% higher than the GeForce GTX 760 in 3DMark Firestrike while the card is relatively fast during gaming benchmarks but as indicated earlier, the pricing of the card suggests that it should be compared with an overclocked (non-reference) GeForce GTX 760 solution which should close in the gap but that remains to be checked out in the review.
The Radeon R9 series graphic card lineup starts off with the $179 Radeon R7 270 with 2 GB memory while the 4 GB variant would be available later on for a price of $199 (same as a Radeon R9 270X). It is followed by the Radeon R9 280 with 3GB memory and a price tag of $279 and lastly, the Radeon R9 280X which retails at $299 US and plus for the non-reference models. The Radeon R9 lineup also includes the flagship R9 295X2, Radeon R9 290X and Radeon R9 290 “Hawaii” GPU based graphics cards which are available for $1499 US, $549 US and $449 US respectively.
HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X² OC Specifications:
|HIS Radeon R9 280X IceQ x2||HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ x2||AMD Radeon R9 270X||AMD Radeon R7 260X||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660|
|GPU Codename||Tahiti XT||Tahiti Pro||Curacao XT||Bonaire XTX||GK104||GK104||GK104||GK106|
|Transistors||4313 Million||4313 Million||2800 Million||2080 Million||3540 Million||3540 Million||3540 Million||2540 Million|
|Core Clock||1000 MHz||847 MHz||1050 MHz||1100 MHz||1046 MHz||980 MHz||915 MHz||980 MHz|
|Boost Clock||1050 MHz||953 MHz||N/A||N/A||1085 MHz||1033 MHz||980 MHz||1033 MHz|
|VRAM||3 GB GDDR5||3 GB GDDR5||2 GB GDDR5||2 GB GDDR5||2 GB GDDR5||2 GB GDDR5||2 GB GDDR5||2 GB GDDR5|
|Memory Bandwidth||288.4 GB/s||240.0 GB/s||179.2 GB/s||104.4 GB/s||224.3 GB/s||192.3 GB/s||144.2 GB/s||144.2 GB/s|
|Memory Clock||6.00 GHz||5.00 GHz||5.60 GHz||6.50 GHz||7.01 GHz||6.00 GHz||6.00 GHz||6.00 GHz|
|Power Configuration||8+6 Pin||8+6 Pin||6+6 Pin||6-Pin||8+6 Pin||6+6 Pin||6+6 Pin||6-Pin|
|Launch Date||8th October 2013||4th March 2014||8th October 2013||8th October 2013||30th May 2013||25th June 2013||18th August 2012||13th September 2012|
|Launch Price||$319.99 US||$279.99 US||$199.99 US||$139.99 US||$349.99 US||$249.99 US||$249.99 US||$209.99 US|
HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X² OC 3 GB Graphics Card – Tahiti Lives On
The HIS Radeon R9 280 belongs to the Radeon R9 series which is aimed towards the high performance gaming audience. The Radeon R9 280 features the TSMC 28nm manufactured Tahiti Silicon which is essentially the same chip as featured on the Radeon HD 7970, Radeon HD 7970 GHz, Radeon HD 7950, Radeon HD 7870 XT, and the Radeon HD 7990. So we can come to the conclusion that the Tahiti chip has been rebranded quite some times but hopefully, the Radeon R9 280 would be the last graphic card from AMD to feature the Tahiti core since there’s no more configuration left for the Tahiti die and AMD is on the verge to launch a new generation of GPUs which will be aimed to replace the Pitcairn, Cape Verde and Tahiti rebrands reintroduced back in October 2013.
Unlike Bonaire and Hawaii, the new Tahiti Pro chip features no architectural enhancements since its based on the older GCN 1.0 core. This means that we won’t see technologies such as AMD TrueAudio or the full support of DirectX 11.2 effects in gaming titles. However, the AMD Radeon R9 280 has the horsepower required to drive DirectX 11.2 and OpenGL 4.3 effects along with AMD’s highly acclaimed Mantle and the upcoming DirectX 12 APIs which would leverage performance by low-level code access to decrease CPU overhead in titles.
Technically speaking, the Tahiti chip features a die size of 365mm2 with a total of 4.313 Billion transistors crammed inside it. The Radeon R9 280 features a total of 28 Compute Units which result in 1792 total Stream processors, 32 ROPs, 112 Texture mapping units. The card has a total compute performance of 3.34 TFlops. The Radeon R9 280 features 3 GB of GDDR5 memory that operates along a 384-bit memory interface. The memory pumps out a total of 240.0 GB/s bandwidth. The higher memory is specifically aimed towards gamers who play at resolutions beyond 1080P. It seems to be an increasing trend towards 2560 x 1440P resolutions by PC Gamers so the extra memory at $280 would really come in handy. All of our test results were done on the ultra high 2K and HD resolutions to give you a representation at what to expect from the Radeon R9 280X in terms of pure game performance.
Coming to the clock speeds, the HIS Radeon R9 280X has a max clock speed of 847 MHz and 953 MHz with Turbo Boost, the memory operates at a 1250.00 MHz or 5.0 GHz effective clock speeds. Compared to the reference models which operate at 832 MHz base and 933 MHz boost, this is a nice improvement especially the addition of Boost technology by HIS. This still leaves alot of room for overclocking since the card features a non-reference design and a better cooler.
HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X² OC 3 GB Exclusive Features:
The card has two bios, ensuring the card runs properly. You can always switch to the second Bios if the card does not run with the first Bios.
Enhances stability in critical gaming situations!
HIS cards are engineered with the highest standard of safety, preventing them any potential damages. Solid State Choke stabilizes the card and Full Solid State Capacitors ensures the best power quality and enhances the card’s stability in critical gaming situations!
Special Metal Rib
PCB might easily warped due to prolonged hanging on motherboard & casing, potentially causing cracks on BGA solder joints and resulting in malfunctioning of the card. The HIS special metal rib provides extra strength to the PCBs to avoid warpage, making the cards extra stable and durable. You can count on HIS cards to game hard for 24/7/365 for years!
The HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X² has a power draw of more than 250W of the reference model that is provided through 8+6 Pin connectors and the PCIe expansion slot. The extra power would boost the stability and power requirements needed to perform record breaking overclocks on the card. The display outputs include Dual-Link DVI, HDMI and dual Display ports which can be used to display Eyefinity too. The card comes with a dual CrossFire connectors which will allow Dual GPU CrossFireX functionality for upto four R9 280 cards together providing better performance. The slides for the reference model which included technical specs and a few performance charts can be seen below:
AMD Radeon R9 280X ‘Tahiti XT’ Features
The AMD Radeon R9 280X ‘Tahiti XT’ is virtually the same chip as featured on the last generation Radeon HD 7970 hence their are limited amount of technologies included with this part. The AMD Radeon R9 280X features support for AMD Mantle API, DirectX 11.2, OpenGL 4.3 and a few features as detailed below:
Ultra Resolution Gaming
Experience resolutions up to four times higher than HD and see everything your opponent throws at you — without sacrificing a single detail.
Primed to enable astonishing performance and breathtaking image quality, making it a top choice for gamers who expect the best.
There’s optimization, and then there’s Mantle. Games enabled with Mantle speak the language of GCN architecture to unlock revolutionary performance and image quality.
AMD App Acceleration
Improve performance of everyday tasks such as Web browsing, office applications and video rendering.
AMD CrossFire technology
With outstanding performance scaling, a system equipped with AMD CrossFire technology system keeps you fragging while everyone else is reaching for an upgrade.
AMD PowerTune technology
Enables intelligent power monitoring to enable higher clock speeds and better performance in your favorite games.
AMD ZeroCore technology
Allows your AMD Radeon GPU to consume virtually no power when in idle state.
AMD HD3D technology
Play 3D games, watch Blu-ray 3D videos, and edit 3D photos on your 3D monitor, TV or projector
You might be wondering whether or not these same features exist on the Radeon HD 7790, well they do but the technology support for True Audio will be unlocked later when AMD ships a driver update in the future. You may continue reading on as we detail the new True Audio and API support for AMD’s Radeon R9 and Radeon R7 series graphic cards.
AMD Tiled Displays, Eyefinity and Multi-Display Support
With the R200 series, AMD is bringing new visual experiences into the equation with support for multi-display, Eyefinity and tiled displays. Previously, users went into alot of hassle for using Eyefinity on a single card since it always required min Display port connector equipped displays and buying a separate HDMI/DVI to display port adopter or buying a Eyefinity version of the specific graphic card which were available in limited quantities and had a price tag alot more than the reference models.
AMD is fixing this issue with the R200 series allowing a wide range of display configurations to be made possible and Eyefinity multi-display configuration available to the masses. The entire Radeon R7 and Radeon R9 lineup comes with Dual-Link DVI, HDMI 1.4 and Display port 1.2 which would enable a wide variety of configurations to be accessed by users. Although the entry level card won’t actually be able to play games at such high resolutions, it will however become a cheaper way of having multiple displays for content creation, browsing and media boxes.
With the new display outputs in place, the Radeon R200 series cards would be able to support upto 6 simaltenous displays at once, three from the Dual DVI and HDMI ports and three from the single display port with the Multi-Stream Transport adopter technology which would enable support for three displays through a single display port
AMD is also bringing in a new VESA standard to enable support for Tiled displays which allows 4K monitors to stitch in a seamless single display experience. Currently, AMD only offers compatibility with two types of Ultra HD displays:
- Type 1: 30Hz and Below
- Type 2: 60Hz tiled into two halves 2K*2K @ 60 Hz
These features would enable high resolution gaming with Eyefinity technologies and 4K resolution for the ultra high-end enthusiasts. Its clear that both NVIDIA and AMD are aiming for the 4K resolution with their latest cards since it is the future upgrade path for PC Gamers. We are also currently looking at a growing trend towards 2560 x 1440 resolution. With new and powerful graphic cards available at great value, higher resolution and graphics would be push the boundaries of PC gaming further.
DirectX 12, DirectX 11.2, OpenGL 4.3, Mantle API
With the Radeon R200 Series, AMD is finally adding support for Microsoft DirectX 12, DirectX 11.2, OpenGL 4.3 and Mantle API. AMD has been working hard on Mantle API since a few years and just recently announced it at their GPU ’14 event. But before we get into that, let’s see what new enhancement DirectX 11.2 and OpenGL 4.3 have to offer!
Microsoft DirectX 12 – GCN Ready For Next Generation API
During the GDC 2014 press event, Microsoft popped the lid on their upcoming DirectX 12 API which aims to enhance GPU performance with low-overhead and adding new rendering features. Most of us were expecting that the new DirectX 12 API will require new hardware to fully support the technology but that’s not the case at all as revealed during the GDC event, DirectX 12 will support all current hardware from NVIDIA, AMD and Intel.
Image Courtesy: PCPerspective!
This is a great news for desktop users as the majority of PC audience use a variety of hardware configurations which include mainly three vendors – Intel, NVIDIA and AMD. All major hardware companies have announced that their current generation of products will fully support the new Direct3D 12 API which will improve the utilization of the hardware to its maximum potential so that applications get improve performance in gaming along with ease of development on developers end.
AMD’s Raja Kadouri was the first to announce DirectX 12 support for their GCN (Graphics Core Next) hardware. AMD has always been the first to adopt the latest DirectX APIs due to their partnership with Microsoft on GPU and API development. Since DirectX 7, their GPUs have been the first to feature support for the new APIs from Microsoft and they had been working closely with Microsoft in the development of DirectX 12. Bear in mind that AMD had already developed their own proprietary API known as Mantle which is available in DICE’s Battlefield 4 and recently came to THIEF from Square Enix a few days ago.
The DirectX 12 API would not be limited to desktop PCs but since AMD has hardware implemented in Microsoft’s Xbox One, the benefits of the latest Direct3D 12 API would be forwarded to the next generation console. Turn10 studios demoed a short video of FORZA 5 running with new API maintaining a smooth 60 FPS frame rate with all new rendering features implemented. Since Xbox One has full support of DirectX 12 API, we will see upcoming games for the console to offer improved performance.
Microsoft DirectX 11.2 and OpenGL 4.3 Support
Microsoft DirectX 11.2 is only fully featured on their Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 operating system so to take benefit of the new API, you would have to move over to the new OS. Recent reports also suggest that it is only the Radeon R9 290X, Radeon R9 290 and the Radeon R7 260X graphic cards which will fully support the DirectX 11.2 functionality while the others will support it but not deliver full functionality.
The DirectX 11.2 API makes use of 3D Tiled Resources and exposes AMD’s partially-resident texture feature. It also allows hardware managed virtual memory for the graphics processing unit and has several Tier-2 features supported such as Shader LOD clamp and mapped status feedback, mini/max reduction filtering and reads from non-mapped title returns 0.
The AMD Mantle API on the other hand is geared specifically towards the GCN powered Radeon graphic cards and is currently being integrated in Frostbite 3 based Battlefield 4 which DICE’s flagship title for 2013. Such is its fame that AMD even bundled their latest and top new Radeon R9 290X graphic card with the new title and those of you lucky enough to pre-order the GPU now would be able to redeem the game at no additional cost. So back to the API talk, currently developers have to operate through DirectX and OpenGL APIs to make games work but this doesn’t fully unleash the hardware capabilities of a PC nor do they allow ease of development to developers.
AMD Mantle High-Performance Low-Level API
The AMD Mantle API is being exclusively developed for GCN enabled Radeon graphic cards. This would allow developers to dig deep into the metal to bring console-level optimizations through ease of programming and faster optimizations over a coherent GCN chip architecture. This means that we would see better performance on the entire GCN architecture enabled AMD graphic card lineup ranging from the top Radeon R9 290X to the bottom R7 240.
The AMD Mantle API comes with a light-weight driver that allows direct access to GPU hardware for the developers allowing for easier a much easier game development process. Its no surprise that the tech is first coming with Battlefield 4 since it has been officially bundled with AMD’s flagship Radeon R9 290X GPU.
This enables upto 9 time more draw cells per seconds than other APIs such as DirectX 11 for instance by reducing the CPU over head load which is than tasked upon the GPU hardware since its easily accessible. It also allows developers to include more optimization work from next gen game consoles to PCs which in return means the benefit for PC Gamers.
So how does Mantle work?
The Mantle API is geared towards AMD GCN hardware which includes their Radeon HD 7000, 8000 and R200 series cards.While Mantle’s first focus would be the graphics processing unit utilization, from recent benchmarks we have come to the conclusion that Mantle’s initial focus would be to eliminate scenarios where the processor becomes the bottleneck of the entire system causing performance degradation. Mantle API helps by reducing the CPU load for better utilization of the system hardware.
This shows that performance improvements with be expected on both Intel and AMD processors based rigs since Mantle removes a lot of the load from the CPU to allow the GPU to run at its true potential. Users who are currently using Kaveri APUs along with GCN based graphics cards would expect a massive improvement as compared to users with FX CPUs or intel’s high-end range of processors. This is mainly since Kaveri APUs which compared to FX processors and Intel’s HEDT lineup are more limited in terms of x86 potential and total threads hence lesser load on the CPU side from different tasks would enable the GPU to better utilize the full potential of the Kaveri APUs. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to Kaveri since we haven’t received a sample yet so our testing would be done on our AMD test rig which includes a FX-8350 processor.
Do note that Mantle update doesn’t has any sort of restriction when it comes to CPU so gains are expected across both Intel and AMD based processors since it offers more in-depth utilization of the hardware.
Mantle is an API that is thought to be a direct competitor to Microsoft’s Direct X and Open GL. It allows for a high number of Draw Calls to be submitted per frame resulting in higher performance. The problem with this statement is that it was interpreted to mean that it would make AMD’s Graphic Cards more efficient without the CPU being a factor. Because we now know that it is actually designed to reduce the workload of the CPU, comparison against Direct X changes completely. The new variable that comes into play for comparison is whether or not a game is CPU-Intensive. If a game is CPU intensive and you have a CPU that is not naturally capable of dealing with the load then Mantle will help you, if not then don’t expect miracles.
Battlefield 4 is the first AAA title to feature support for AMD’s Mantle API and hence is our main benchmark to analyze Mantle’s real world advantages in gaming titles. We tested Mantle in both Single and Multiplayer scenes. In Multiplayer, we were able to get large improvement in performance with Mantle as opposed to Single player since CPU is under more effect when running the multiplayer tasks. For full insight on the Mantle API’s performance and how it works, please read our previous article here.
In addition to this, you will have the option to select between Mantle and DirectX 11 if you are using a GCN core enabled GPU. Frostbite 3 is on the road to become one of the new mammoth tech engines in the gaming industry powering a portfolio of 15 AAA titles which include:
- Battlefield 4
- Battlefield: Hardline
- Star Citizen
- Civilization: Beyond Earth
- Sniper Elite 3
- Command and Conquer
- Mirrors Edge
- Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare
- Need For Speed: Rivals
- Dragon Age: Inquisition
- Star Wars: Battlefront
- Mass Effect (New Title in the Franchise)
The AMD Mantle API not only allows GPU optimization but also gives the CPU a boost in performance since very low tasks are handled by the CPU such as rendering, loading and streaming (tasked upon the GPU) so this allows perfect parallel rendering that allows utilization of upto 8 CPU cores found currently on AMD’s FX processors. This also helps avoiding potential bottlenecks for the system that may occur if the CPU is under load which in the case of Mantle won’t happen at all.
Mantle API from AMD is surely a step forward from the traditional way in which games are developed by multi-plat studios and developers. The ease of use and unleashing the true power of PC hardware would provide high optimization to gamers which would result in a better and stable gameplay experience. Mantle would make its debut in December 2013 in Battlefield 4.
HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X² OC GPU – Unboxing
The HIS Radeon R9 280X IceQ X2 ships inside a large cardboard package which is hidden inside a cool plastic cover. Their are tons of labels and technical details regarding the HIS IceQ X2 cooler which is featured on the card. Like some of the high-end cards, HIS has equipped their non-reference graphic card with a dual-bios to revert back to the stock settings incase some mishap happens while overclocking. Other than this, we can see logos for Turbo Boost, PCI-e 3.0, 3 GB GDDR5, 4K x 2K Ultra HD and HDMI support.
The back side provides brief details on features such as the IceQ X2 design and the normal marketing material which tells that the card is cooler and quieter than the reference models thanks to a 5 Heatpipe heatsink that delivers more cooling performance for stability and overclocking. There’s also a mention of the 6 Dynamic Phase Control PWM IC, a part of the high-quality components used on the PCB. Rest of the logos include AMD Eyefinity, AMD Crossfire, AMD GCN Architecture and AMD App Acceleration Technology.
Out of the box, we can see the HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X2 graphic card which is massive in size with the PCB measuring 27cm long and the cooler measuring 30cm long. It will be slight bit of an issue to equip the card in some small cases so you better check the max graphic card length your casing can support before buying this graphic card. The cooler being a revised version of the IceQ X2 cooler features a Beige / Metallic Gold color scheme which is a new refreshing color scheme which hasn’t been previously used on a graphics card.
Display outputs on the card include a single DVI, full length HDMI and dual display ports which can be used with the multi-stream technology as detailed earlier. A large vent is placed right on top of the ports to push heat out side of the card so it stays cool and gets a fresh supply of cool air.
For cooling, the HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ x2 uses two 89mm dual axil fans that tend to get loud under load but are specifically designed to push lots of air into the heatsink so that the card stays cool even under massive loads and overclocked conditions. The Q&C fan blade increases air velocity make cooling more efficiently while keeping noise level at minimum.
HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X² OC GPU – A Closer Look
Before taking apart the cooler shroud and heatsink, we take a last look at the graphic card from the top. The black shroud coupled with the silver mesh looks great and does a great job hiding the PCB components. The X mesh in the middle represents the IceQ X2 cooler and we can see an embedded logo on the top left corner of the card. The silver X shroud goes well with the Beige metallic gold color the shroud is embedded in.
The Radeon R9 280 features two CrossFire connectors which allow multi-GPU functionality with upto four R9 280 graphic cards. CrossFireX mode allows for faster performance without spending more on dual GPU solutions such as the Radeon HD 7990 or GTX 690. We can also spot the Dual bios switch placed right next to the Crossfire connectors.
For cooling, HIS went with an absolutely gorgeous yet massive IceQ X2 cooler which features an enormous amount of aluminum heatsink fins crammed beneath the cooler shroud. The heatsink is a revised version of original IceQ X2 cooler offering superior cooling performance and thermal dissipation.
The main heatsink block features a 40 x 47.5 mm copper heatsink base which is equipped with two 8mm and three 6mm pure copper heatpipes which dissipate heat from the copper base to the aluminum fin array. The heatsink is cooled off with the dual 89mm axil fans which pushes the heat out of the card from the sides and the front exhaust panel.
The HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X2 OC is powered by a single 8 Pin + 6 Pin power configuration that feeds 250W of power to the GPU Core, memory and the rest of the components of the PCB. It should be noted that the non-reference design allows for more stability and much improved overclocking support than the reference variant.
Removing the cooler reveals a secondary PCB heatsink that is placed to provide additional cooling the PLL, memory chips, VRM, PWM and various other voltage and power revaluation chips. There’s a large support bracket on the side of the PCB to firmly hold the card in place to avoid any bends due to the heavy weight.
The main copper contact based for the GPU is equipped with five dense heatpipes which run across the large densely packed aluminum fins array which are cooled off by the dual axial fans located at the top of the cooling shroud.
Next up, we have the PCB itself with several components which we will detail in a short moment but the first thing we notice is the blue PCB. HIS Digital has been using blue colors for PCB for some time now since it suits the IceQ X2 design scheme but most people would disagree and a black PCB would be better off.
HIS has equipped their Radeon R9 280 IceQ X2 OC with 6+1+1 (6 Phase Core, 1 Phase Memory, 1 Phase PLL) phase power supply with DirectFET MOSFETs which delivers monstrous amount of power and voltage to the board resulting in higher stability and better overclocking over the reference models. In addition to this, the card comes with solid state capacitors, CHiL 8228G VRM controller and solid state chokes.
Below, we can see the legendary AMD Tahiti Pro core which has spanned a lifetime of 2 and a half years in the graphics industry and still going strong. Hopefully, this is the last time we would be looking at a Tahiti based GPU. The Tahiti chip features 4313 Million transistors crammed inside the 365mm2 die. You can see a IHS around the die which improves overall heat dissipation off the card.
For memory, HIS equipped their card with the SK Hynix made H5GQ2H24AFR-ROC memory modules (12 chips in total) which provide a VRAM of 3GB along a 384-bit memory interface. The modules are supposed to run at 5.00 Gbps with a stock voltage of 1.5V.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4770K @ 4.5 GHz|
|Motherboard:||Gigabyte Z97X SOC Force Motherboard|
|Power Supply:||Xigmatek NRP-MC1002 1000 Watt|
|Hard Disk:||Kingston HyperX 3K 90 GB (OS)
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.12
|Memory:||4 x 4 GB Kingston HyperX 2400 MHz
10th Anniversary Edition Memory Kit
|Case:||Cooler Master HAF 932|
|OS:||Windows 8 Ultimate 64-bit|
- All games were tested on 1920×1080 and 2560×1600 resolutions.
- Settings and visual configurations have been detailed for games on their benchmark charts.
- Games with PhysX were benchmarked with the setting either kept on Low or Off for fair comparison.
Graphics Performance and Benchmarks
3DMark from Futuremark further pushes the boundaries of benchmarking utilities going all out with cross platform support which include Windows, Windows Phone, iOS, MAC and even Android. The utility comes with three benchmark tests configured for different tiers of high-performance PCs, Mid-range PCs/Tablets and smartphone devices.
3DMark 11 Performance Test
Futuremark’s 3DMark 11 has been around for a while, being a comprehensive benchmark application to evaluate overall GPU and PC performance. 3DMark 11 as the name suggests makes use of DirectX 11 API and makes use of every DX11 feature at hand such as Tessellation, Depth of Field, Dynamic Lightning, Parallax Occlusion mapping, etc.
Batman: Arkham City
The second title in the Batman: Arkham series has also been developed by Rocksteady Studios. Batman: Arkham City takes place in (isn’t it obvious by the name?) Arkham City which is infested with all the super-villains and their minions which Batman has previously met past his journey.
Battlefield series is a name loyal to any PC gamer. Developed by DICE and published by EA, Battlefield 3 brings back the action, being one of the largest multiplayer launch titles of 2011. The game features both infantry and vehicular combat on some of the largest landscapes ever built in game with a total of 64 players pitted against each other.
Powering the game is DICE’s own Frostbite 2.0 engine. The successor to the original Frostbite engine that powered Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Battlefield 3 makes use of a highly detailed DirectX 11 engine, hardware accelerated tessellation and new lightning effects which deliver some of the most amazing visuals ever to be seen in a game.
Bioshock Infinite, the third title in the franchise developed by Irrational Games takes FPS and story telling to a whole new experience. The game puts us in the boots of Booker who in search of a girl named ‘Elizabeth’ ends up on Columbus, a bustling metropolis of the early 20th century that floats in the sky. The game uses a modified Unreal Engine making use of DIrectX 11 effects.
Borderlands 2, developed by Gearbox Studios is one of the hottest titles released in 2012. The game runs on a highly modified version of Unreal Engine making use of PhysX and rich DirectX 9 detail. During our test, we set the PhysX low for a fair comparison between the video cards.
The first things to pop up on forums after Crysis’s launch was ‘Can my system run Crysis’. Almost every forum in the world, gaming or tech related was filled with the same question. This was not because of any bug but because of the technical and graphical achievement Crytek achieved with Crysis.
In 2007, Crytek released Crysis, A Sci-Fi FPS set on a jungle. The first few scenes were enough to determine the graphical leap the game took over others available at its time and still remains one of the most gorgeous looking titles to date. The game quickly became a benchmark to test modern PC’s performance. Crysis is powered by CryEngine 2 which makes use of a highly modified DirectX 10 set with technologies such as Ambient Occlusion and Parallax mapping detailing the rich Jungle in Crysis.
Crysis 2 is the second title to be released by Crytek under their Crysis Franchise. The game is set in New York and revolves in the footsteps of Alcatraz who has to take out the Ceph and Cell along his path.
The game makes use of CryEngine 3 but at the time of its launch was shipped with DirectX 9 only. The game was later given DirectX 11 and High-Res textures through patches. We had our Crysis 2 with the latest DirectX 11 and High Res patch installed.
PC gamers and Crysis franchise have a long running bond that cannot be broken apart. Crysis 3 is the last title of the franchise that for one last time puts in the Nano suit taking the role of Prophet. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic New York that is now under the control of C.E.L.L utilizing the left over Ceph technology to take grab in their quest for global domination by means of debt enslavement. We set out to take apart the CEPH and C.E.L.L forces in one last finale.
Visually speaking, the game is by far the most graphically intensive title ever developed with hyper realistic effects, textures and an environment with a massive scale. So much is the power of the CryEngine 3 that the game can only be ran on DirectX 11 compatible cards with a feature list length that never ends. Crytek had already done it once with the original Crysis and they have done it again with Crysis 3. Let’s see if the 2013 lineup of GPUs from NVIDIA and AMD hold up in it.
Far Cry 3
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Far Cry 3 is one of 2012’s hit titles which makes us take the role of Jason Brody, a tourist stranded on a tropical jungle along with his friends which is filled with pirates and a mad man known by the name of ‘Vaas’.
Hitman Absolution is the fifth entry to Agent 47’s Hitman franchise. Developed by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix, the game revolves around 47 once again, betrayed by his former handler Diana in order to protect Victoria, a teen girl. Mystery solves about the girl as the game progress.
The game makes use of a highly improved Glacier 2 engine making use of DirectX 11 effects, Tessellation, Global Illumination and Depth of Field. Hitman Absolution is also one of the most demanding and visually impressive titles to be released in 2012.
Metro Last Light
Metro Last Light once again puts us in the foots of Artyom, a survivor of the nuclear holocaust that shattered Russia. Metro: Last Light is considered as the best looking game to be released to date making use of intensive DirectX11 Tessellation, High-Res Textures, Global illumination lightning and more.
Saints Row IV
Saints Row IV takes the fight straight to Zinyak, a hostile alien leader who has taken over the world and put the president in a virtual simulation to mess around with him. The game revolves around Bridgeport, the place we have all known since Saints Row 3 but re-purposed by Zinyak to suit his needs. The game uses advanced DirectX 11 effects which are quite taxing for even the modern graphic cards.
The Tomb Raider franchise was rebooted this year with the latest title in the long running franchise. The players start off their journey with a younger and under-trained version of Lara who goes off on her first survival action journey.
Temperature and Thermal Test
No graphic card review is complete without evaluating its temperatures and thermal load. The HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X² OC we were shipped features the revised IceQ X² cooler which delivers much better cooling and stability over the reference model. This coupled with a custom designed PCB which improves overall stability and power rating of the board.
IceQ X² is one of the quietest coolers, making the card quieter than the reference cooler. The card is below 28dB when watching movies, surfing Facebook, working. The card remains quiet whether you are gaming, online socializing, entertaining or working.
HIS IceQ X2 Technical Details:
- The super large 2x 89mm dual axial fans draws massive amount of cool air to cool the GPU directly.
- The Q&C fan blade increases air velocity make cooling more efficiently while keeping noise level at minimum.
- The fan is extremely durable with a life span of up to 50,000 hours.
- The 2x 8mm and 3x 6mm wide heatpipes optimize cooling performance by removing heat from the core area.
- The extra large 40 x 47.5 mm copper heatsink provides a large area to dissipate heat efficiently.
- The card also carries memory and mosfet heat sinks to provide extra heat dissipation from these areas.
- The card also features fan control and monitoring, you are able to read fan speed & Asic temperature from iTurbo or other softwares.
HIS has once again delivered an absolutely fantastic design and cooler on AMD’s latest Radeon series graphics card. The reference Radeon R9 280 holds nothing special in terms of performance since its a rebadged HD 7950 based on the Tahiti Pro die which was launched back in 2012. The Radeon R9 280 does come at a lower price of $279.99 US but given the performance difference, it would be better for one to invest in a Radeon R9 280X which can be bought for $299 US. The reference variants can be bought for $249.99 US if you can find one but the HIS Radeon R9 280 IceQ X2 for $30 more offers much superior cooling and a custom designed PCB that comes with a factory overclock.
The card faces the same issues as the Radeon R7 260X which (at launch) failed to deliver better results than the Radeon HD 7790 OC variants which were available at the same price. But due to limited production, AMD chose to slash that GPU off of the market to pave way for the new releases. The Radeon R9 280 replaces the HD 7950 which can be bought for a lower price (if you can find one) and delivers around the same performance as the new part but drivers are more optimized for the new cards so we will get improved performance in AMD Gaming Evolved and Mantle enabled titles as on the Radeon HD 7950. The card’s competitor which are the overclocked GeForce GTX 760 graphics card do offer similar and better performance depending on the title but unfortunately, we didn’t had access to the card at the time of this review yet we believe that even if the card managed to be faster, I would advise the Radeon R9 280X which costs $20 US more to be a better purchase.
The only real advantage the card has over its GeForce competitors is the fact that it makes use of 3 GB VRAM and a 384-bit bus interface which does impact performance when moving onto higher resolution displays. But still, there’s a major gap that separates the R9 280 from the R9 280X while the price difference is only $20 US. Users who are planning to upgrade should either get the Radeon R9 280X which is a better long term investment or wait for the new graphics cards which arrive in Fall 2014 as rumored.
Like I stated, the design scheme of the HIS’s Radeon R9 280 IceQ X2 OC 3 GB card and its IceQ X2 cooler are a massive upgrade over the reference variants however AMD has to be blamed for launching a rebrand card that doesn’t offer much in terms of performance.
Note – The Radeon R9 200 series cards including the Radeon R9 280 qualifies for the AMD Never Settle Forever bundle promotion (Gold Reward) which gets users access to three select AAA titles including Sniper Elite 3 and Murdered: Soul Suspect which adds $150 US of value to the graphics cards.