AMD's most recent video card launch was September of 2014, introducing the R9 285 ($243) on the slightly updated Tonga GPU. Tonga was laterally imposed to take the place of the Tahiti products, namely the HD 7970 and its refresh, the R9 280. The Radeon 7970 video card shipped in late 2011 on the Tahiti GPU, a die using TSMC's still-fabbed 28nm process, and was refreshed as the R9 280, then updated, improved, and refreshed again as the Tonga-equipped R9 285. At its core, the 285 would offer effectively identical on-paper specs (with some changes, like a 256-bit memory bus against the 384-bit predecessor), but introduced a suite of optimization that yielded marginally improved performance over the R9 280.
All of this is to say that it's been a number of years since AMD has introduced truly new architecture. Tahiti's been around four years now, Hawaii shipped in 2013 and was a node refresh of Tahiti (more CUs, ROPs, and geometry / rasterizer processors), and Fiji – the anticipated new GPU – won't ship for a short bit longer. Filling that space is another refresher line, the Radeon 300 series of video cards.
AMD's lull in technological advancement on the hardware side has allowed competitor nVidia to increase competition in some unchallenged market segments, like the high-end with the GTX 980 Ti ($650) and mid-range with the GTX 960 ($200). The long-awaited R9 300 series video cards have finally arrived, though, and while they aren't hosting new GPUs or deploying a smaller fab process, the cards do offer marginally increased clockrates and other small changes.
This review benchmarks the AMD R9 390 and AMD R9 380 graphics cards against the preceding R9 280, R9 290(X), GTX 960, and other devices. The R7 370 and R7 360 also launch today, but won't be reviewed here.
AMD R9 390X, R9 390, R9 380, R7 370, & R7 360 Specs
|AMD R9 390X||AMD R9 390||AMD R9 380||AMD R9 290||AMD R9 280|
|Memory Configuration||8GB GDDR5||8GB GDDR5||2 & 4GB GDDR5||4GB GDDR5||3GB|
|API Support||DX12, Vulkan,
Sapphire R9 390 & R9 380 Specs
The new 300-series of cards closely resembles the 200-series cards, utilizing the same years-old, matured architecture as found in the 290 and 280 cards. The core clock has been boosted slightly in the new series of cards – about 40-50MHz – and that's resulted in a slight boost to texture fill-rate (core clock * TMUs = texture filter rate). TDP is roughly the same at 275W for the *90 cards and ~190W for the *80 cards, power pin-outs are the same, and so forth.
Launch prices land lower than the initial pricing of the 200 series, but is still greater than the R9 200 series cards. The R9 390 launches for $330 and the R9 380 for $200, with the R9 290 available for roughly $264 (before rebates) and R9 280 available for $170 (before rebates). Both are accompanied by $20 MIRs depending on where they are bought.
Sapphire's “Nitro” branded gaming cards heavily market the affordable “gamer” market, a segment the company sees as hyper-focused on cost-effective gaming solutions that produce playable framerates.
This is normally where we'd spend a good deal of time discussing new architecture, but there's nothing new here. The 300 series uses tried-and-true Hawaii architecture, which resembles something like this:
The new 300-series cards support VSR, a feature that never made it to 200-series cards outside of the Tonga chips (R9 285) and 290X, despite promises contrary. We previously benchmarked VSR's scaling performance against DSR in this article.
AMD's Take: A Matured Design
AMD speaks big on Hawaii, Tonga, and Tahiti, despite their aging process and architecture. The company sees the architecture as “matured” and has indicated that this time has allowed for greater focus on optimizations to better take advantage of the hardware present. The company has continued to introduce new software into Catalyst – like its new frame limiter that's supposed to limit power consumption by capping framerates through drivers. The new limiter is branded as “Frame Rate Targeting Control” (FRTC).
FRTC isn't something we see getting practical use, but it's there. The reality is that, most likely, framerate will rarely exceed such a high output that it would be desirable to throttle the metric. Perhaps for older games or for the Fury cards, but it doesn't necessarily apply at the level we're reviewing today.
Sapphire's Take: A Gaming Card at Affordable Prices
Sapphire has spent considerable effort on its branding for the new AMD devices, labeling “gamer” class cards under a new “Nitro” branding initiative. The “Nitro” class devices will all be available around or below the $300 price-point, and emphasize offering enough power to game without venturing into overkill territory. The effort is admirable and, with an adequate web platform, could help less-informed buyers decide between the somewhat confusing lineup of SKUs between all vendors.
The AMD-exclusive board partner has also introduced its “Sapphire Nation” website, a content producing hub that hosts driver links, support and community forums, a card selection utility, and game optimization guides. Sapphire has expressed excitement about its venture into the games media space, producing regular podcasts and game streams for members of its community.
Sapphire-only servers are already hosted and access can be granted to participating community members.
The push to market gaming community organization and game-oriented value-adds corresponds with AMD's vocalized philosophy to sell “just enough” for gaming at high framerates. AMD continues to struggle in the thermal and TDP sectors, but levies that its focus is simply on fluid gameplay with lower – but present – regard for thermals and power draw.
We'll test AMD's ability to deliver its FPS promises on page 2.