AMD R9 280X review
The AMD R9 280X is the first graphics card we’ve seen from AMD’s new R9 series, and it’s designed to play the latest games at high resolutions at the highest settings, or even power up to six monitors in Eyefinity mode. The R9 280X uses the same Tahiti core as the outgoing Radeon HD 7970. This means the new card has 2,048 stream processors, just like the Radeon HD 7970, but the R9 280X runs at a clock frequency of 1GHz instead of 925MHz and its 3GB of GDDR5 memory runs at 1,500MHz rather than 1,375MHz.
These higher clock frequencies help the R9 280X attain higher scores in our benchmarks than the Radeon HD 7970, but there's not a huge amount in it. The R9 280X produced an average frame rate of 97.1fps in Dirt Showdown at a resolution of 1,920x1,080 with graphics options set to Ultra and with 4x anti-aliasing. The Radeon HD 7970 produced an average frame rate of 95.5fps, which is so close as to make little difference. The two cards also scored similar results in our Dirt Showdown laptop test, which is run at 1,280x720 with High graphics quality settings. In this test, both cards produced an average frame rate of 112fps.
However, the R9 280X scored significantly higher in our Crysis 2 benchmark. At a resolution of 1,920x1,080 and with graphics quality set to Ultra, the R9 280X produced an average frame rate of 58.9fps, while the Radeon HD 7970 produced an average frame rate of 49.6fps in the same test.
Although Crysis 2 is still a complex game, it no longer presents the same challenge to higher end graphics cards, so we also tested the R9 280X with our new Crysis 3 benchmark. At a resolution of 1,920x1,080 and with all graphics options set to the highest possible value, the R9 280X produced an average frame rate of 24.3fps. This is frame rate is too jerky for comfortable play, but reduce a few settings and you’ll be able to play at average frame rates in excess of the 30fps comfort marker. Crysis 3 is a seriously challenging title, so an average frame rate of 24.3fps is nothing to be ashamed of, and it means you’ll have no problem playing most of the latest games at very high quality settings.
HIGHER THAN FULL HD
With the advent of Ultra HD (4K) screens and the increasing popularity of monitors with a native 2,560x1,440 resolution, Full HD gaming is no longer the resolution barrier that it once was. Such high resolutions place extra demands on graphics cards, but the R9 280X met the challenge admirably.
We ran our Dirt Showdown benchmark at a resolution of 2,560x1,440 with graphics quality set to Ultra and anti-aliasing set to 4x, and were pleased to see an average frame rate of 76.4fps. This is more than smooth enough for comfortable play and, although there is an understandable dip in the average frame rate compared to running the test at 1080p, it shows that the R9 280X wasn’t really fazed by the benchmark.
Sadly, the card didn’t cope as well in our Crysis 2 benchmark at Ultra quality and the same 2,560x1,440 resolution, scoring just 29.9fps. This is only just smooth enough for comfortable play, but reducing the graphics quality by one setting to Extreme produced a perfectly acceptable 49.1fps.
Given its performance at Ultra quality and a 2,560x1,440 resolution, it came as no surprise that the R9 280X only just passed our Crysis 3 benchmark at the same resolution, producing an average frame rate of just 15.7fps. You'll need to drop settings down a few notches to play this ultra-challenging game comfortably at such a high resolution.
The R9 280X is a great mid-range card that should let you play the latest games at medium-to-high graphics quality for the next couple of years, even if you own a 2,560x1,440-resolution monitor. It’s a good buy, but it's not a big step up from the Radeon HD 7970 it replaces. We've yet to receive final pricing for the R9 280X, but if the new card causes the previous model to drop in price, we'd recommend picking up an HD 7970 instead.
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