At any given time, we have one GPU in our inventory that holds the title of “loudest card in the office.” The current title-holder is the PowerColor Radeon HD 7970 Vortex, which sounds like a jet engine. That’s just how the Radeon 7970 GHz cards are; their boosted clock speeds drum up a lot of heat, making them much louder than their Nvidia counterparts. Given this pedigree, imagine our surprise when we fired up the Asus Radeon R9 280X, which rocks the exact same Tahiti XT chip used in the 7970 GE boards. As we leaned in close to our test bed expecting to hear that oh-so-familiar fan noise, we were greeted instead with a barely audible whirring sound. It’s truly miraculous what AMD and Asus have done with this formerly unruly chip, making it whisper-quiet and also surprisingly affordable at $310, which is roughly half what it used to cost.
The R9 280X is a heck of a lot more quiet and affordable than the original HD 7970 GE.
Like the previous Asus boards we’ve reviewed, this is a DirectCU II card, so it has a fancy custom PCB, high-end components for improved stability, longevity, and overclocking, as well as a hulking two-slot cooler we’ve seen before (and loved). This is a 28nm Tahiti card, with 2,048 stream processors, a 384-bit-wide memory bus, and 3GB of GDDR5 memory. This card will be competing with the more expensive Nvidia GTX 770, which costs $400 as we went to press, with no indication that Nvidia will lower its price. Perhaps after reviews of this card appear, Nvidia will rethink that proposition.
This is a TOP card, which means it’s overclocked, but not by much at 1,070MHz, only 70MHz higher than stock. Asus also has a super-premium version of this card named the Matrix Platinum, which has a three-slot cooler and a much higher price tag. One interesting note is that, unlike the flagship R9 290X cards with their new dies that don’t require a CrossFire bridge, this card still requires a bridge in multicard configs. Thankfully, Asus threw a bridge connector into the box along with a driver CD. The card measures 11 inches long and includes two DVI connectors, one HDMI, and one DisplayPort connector.
When we ran the R9 280X through our gauntlet of PC benchmarks, two things immediately surprised us. The first was just how quiet the card was, as it is barely audible at any time, even under heavy load. The second was that it was trading blows with the GTX 770, which costs $90 more. Sure, the GK104 and Tahiti chips have always been comparable, so this is expected, we suppose, but given this card’s low pricing (by comparison), it was hard to wrap our heads around the fact that it’s punching above its weight class. It also handily spanked the $250 GTX 760, giving it the best price-to-performance ratio in its price segment.
In the end, this is the go-to card for ultra settings at 1080p, no question. It smokes the more expensive GTX 770 and also spanks the GTX 760, as it should. If the performance delta isn’t enough to sway you, there’s word that the Never Settle Forever game bundle will be coming to the 200-series cards soon, too, making this card almost irresistible. The only fly in the ointment is the Asus GPU Tweak software, which looks and feels antiquated, and is difficult to examine at a glance. Thankfully, third-party options are available, making this only a minor blemish on an otherwise perfect GPU.
Very fast; silent; aggressively priced; includes CF bridge.
GPU Tweak software is meh.
Asus Radeon R9 280X DC2T
GTX 770 (Reference)
GTX 760 (Reference)
3DMark Fire Strike
Unigine Heaven 4.0 (fps)
Unigine Valley (fps)
Crysis 3 (fps)
Far Cry 3 (fps)
Tomb Raider (fps)
Metro: Last Light (fps)
Battlefield 3 (fps)
Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is a 3.33GHz Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition in an Asus P9X79 motherboard with 16GB of DDR3/1600 and a Thermaltake ToughPower 1,050W PSU. The OS is 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate. All tests are run at 1920x1080 with 4X AA except for the 3DMark tests.