The “R” series of graphics cards is the latest in the lineup from AMD. According to all that I have been able to find, they are essentially rebranded current gen cards, with a few enhancements, namely a lower power consumption.
I updated from a Diamond Multimedia HD 7870 to the Gigabyte R9 280X; though there was nothing wrong with the card I was interested in seeing just what kind of performance boost I could squeeze out, and I was thinking of a 7970 anyway.
In my rig, cooling is always a concern. I am not into water cooling at the moment, and considering my CPU temp idles as low as 13 degrees Celsius (below room temperature, in other words), I really don’t see the need or have the desire to try it. I need a graphics card that is going to idle comfortably and cool efficiently under load.
The first thing you will notice is the three fans on top of the card, known as Windforce technology or “Triangle Cool” technology,the design of the cooling fans and heatsinks promises increased heat dissipation.
The usual AMD goodies are found here as well, Eyefinity Support, Crossfire Support and the upcoming Mantle and a good integration with AMD’s Catalyst Control Center add a little icing on the cake.
The Gigabayte 280X is nearly plug and play; when you first seat the card and power on your PC, you’ll hear the fans spool up to a higher speed. Windows will boot and you will be greeted with a pretty unoptimized interface, however the drivers will begin updating automatically. From there, reboot and enjoy. You may have to download Catalyst or update drivers, but if you are to the point of upgrading your GPU then you are already at a level where this is not a problem.
Using the Catalyst software is similarly easy as well, unless you want to use Eyefinity then you will have to learn a bit as you adjust bezel compensation and other little fine tweaks. But for standard use, Catalyst is a wonderful tool to not only adjust your video settings, but also overclock your GPU a little bit if you feel the need.
The card itself comes with a Mini Display Port to full size Display port adapter, Crossfire Bridge and some power cable adapters in case your PSU does not have the required connectors.
High end graphics cards are all pretty much similarly designed in outward appearance. The Gigabyte 280X features HDMI, two Mini Display Ports and a single DVI connector; if you run multiple monitors you will need the appropriate adapters. The plastic shroud makes the card look nice, but it is the heatsink and fans underneath that really help the design out. The heatsink pretty much occupies the entire length of the card, and the fans only have a few millimeters of space between them, making it a total cooling solution worthy of most aftermarket coolers.
I haven’t had the chance to put this card through the full range of testing yet. Until applications are designed or updated to utilize Mantle, there is simply no way to see how this GPU will perform to its fullest potential. I was waiting for Battlefield 4 to update so that Mantle would be incorporated, but that has not happened yet. So until then, I am left with the feeling akin to running Regular Unleaded in a Ferrari.
In other areas, the base GPU clock for the Gigabyte 280X is 1100 Mhz on the GPU and 1500 Mhz on the 3 GB memory. I’ve been able to run Battlefield 4 on Ultra Settings with no problem whatsoever (as long as we are talking Graphics only…).
The temperature of the Gigabyte 280X at idle runs comparably with other cards; I use three monitors in my home setup, so the card has to work a little harder. I was surprised however, at its temperatures under load. Running under a 98% GPU load, the temps did not get above 68 degrees Celsius. While that is still hot, it is well within acceptable limits. Even more surprising was the noise level; with most graphics cards the single fan running at 75% speed sounds like the deck of an aircraft carrier during launch, not so with the Gigabyte 280X.
When I tried using the card in a Hybrid PhysX setup in conjunction with an EVGA Nivida 460, I did have some serious issues. Granted, most Hybrid PhysX solutions using an AMD main card and Nvidia dedicated PhysX card are piecemeal hacks that require modifying system files, registry, or running older drivers. Still, I had not run into this issue with the 7870; using the Gigabyte 280X as a main card with the 460 powering the two outer monitors and running PhysX caused a BSOD every time the card was under heavy load, or a complete screen freeze if I walked away and let the PC idle too long. I’m sure there is a solution, but I do not have the time to research it.
Until now, I have not used Gigabyte graphics cards at all. Again, we are looking at a fairly standard level across all cards. However in fairness, I have to say that approximately 25% of the customer reviews I have seen are extremely bad, mainly for the lack of Customer Service Support on the part of Gigabyte, while I have not had any experience with their Customer Service staff, I can say getting Gigabyte to answer any emails is like trying to teach a Private how to Land Nav. I’ve had zero issues with this card however, and have been using it for approximately one month. As a single card solution, with no mods or tweaks applied, it has performed within all expectations.
Right now this card is expensive; when I first purchased it I managed to score it for less than 400 USD, now both it and its 7970 cousins are running above that, with some reaching as much as 500 USD and the R9 290X as high as 700. While the likelihood of you needing a GPU update anytime soon is low, the up front price makes this card something to think carefully about.
As I mentioned, this card is essentially an optimized HD 7970 with some extra goodies and a lower power requirement.; until recently it was showing up in various hardware monitor programs as a 7970. According to every bit of research I have found on the subject, you could Crossfire this card with a HD 7970 or 7950 series GPU but would need to set the 7970 or 7950 as the main card, and the 280X as a secondary card. While this may be a good solution for someone short term, you probably would be losing some performance under this setup.
Upgrading your GPU is always something you have to think carefully about. Moving from a 7970 or 7990 series card into the R9 series may not be the best decision right now. But if you are upgrading from anything lower, the R9 is the way to go. With its lower power consumption and excellent heat dissipation, the Gigabyte R9 280X is a choice I am glad I made.