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AMD Radeon R9 270 2GB Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
In what seems to be becoming a weekly tradition, AMD is once again releasing a new graphics card. This time it’s the R9 270, a product which targets the $179 price point in direct response to NVIDIA’s new cost structure for their GTX 660. According to AMD, this also makes it a prime upgrade candidate for gamers who want a budget-focused GPU that doesn’t necessitate a power supply upgrade as well.

The R9 270’s relative cost proximity to the $199 R9 270X shouldn’t come as any surprise since both use the same Pitcairn XT (now rebranded Curacao) core which was originally incorporated into the HD 7870 GHz Edition. In this iteration Curacao is equipped with 1280 stream processors, 32 ROPs and 80 texture units alongside a 256-bit GDDR5 memory interface which mirrors the R9 270X’s specifications in every way. The only real differences here are core clocks, which have been pushed downwards in order to achieve lower power boundaries and increased yields. In addition, unlike the R9 270X’s fluctuations through PowerTune, the 270 operates at a constant 925MHz.


On paper the R9 270 is supposed to replace AMD’s HD 7850 but from a specifications standpoint, it should actually lineup quite well against the HD 7870 GHz Edition. While it has lower core frequencies, its 2GB of GDDR5 memory operates at 5.6Gbps which is a substantial improvement over the GHz Edition’s 4.8Gbps. That’s a lot of horsepower for just $179 and 150W but like the other mid-range R-series cards, the R9 270 is nothing more than a rebrand with some updated specs to specifically target a given price point and more importantly, take on the GTX 660.

AMD’s positioning here is particularly interesting since even though the R9 270 is supposed to sit between the R7 260X and R9 270X, many will question why it exists at all considering the former’s already-low $199 price. With such close proximity AMD runs the very real risk of either marginalizing their slightly higher-end card or causing potential customers to completely ignore the R9 270 in favor of more performance for just $20 more. As we’ll see, that 125MHz gap really doesn’t translate into

Since this card is based off of AMD’s original GCN architecture, it doesn’t incorporate any of the more advanced features like PowerTune 2.0 and TrueAudio. However, AMD will be bundling a free copy of Battlefield 4 which is quite significant relative to the $179 R9 270. With it gamers can take advantage of Mantle, one of the inclusions that’s sure to define this mid-tier product’s performance in the coming year considering several A-list titles like Thief, Star Citizen and Battlefield 4 will all support it.


The R9 270 will be a board partner centric affair so it doesn’t have a reference design per se and companies have been given a free hand to engineer cards to their own specifications. As a result, many will be pre-overclocked and boast excellent cooling solutions. We received a PowerColor card which has a slight core overclock of 50MHz and a large heatsink with an axial fan. It comes with a single 6-pin power connector alongside AMD’s default backplate layout which includes native support for triple-monitor Eyefinity.

For the purposes of this review and to ensure we’re comparing apples to apples, a reference BIOS was flashed to the sample to replicate stock R9 270 results.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Test System & Setup

Main Test System

Processor: Intel i7 3930K @ 4.5GHz
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 32GB @ 1866MHz
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79 WS
Cooling: Corsair H80
SSD: 2x Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Samsung 305T / 3x Acer 235Hz
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Acoustical Test System

Processor: Intel 2600K @ stock
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3
Cooling: Thermalright TRUE Passive
SSD: Corsair Performance Pro 256GB
Power Supply: Seasonic X-Series Gold 800W


Drivers:
NVIDIA 331.70 Beta
AMD 13.11 v9 Beta



*Notes:

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 3 benchmark runs

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game and all GPU control panels were set to use application settings


The Methodology of Frame Testing, Distilled


How do you benchmark an onscreen experience? That question has plagued graphics card evaluations for years. While framerates give an accurate measurement of raw performance , there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes which a basic frames per second measurement by FRAPS or a similar application just can’t show. A good example of this is how “stuttering” can occur but may not be picked up by typical min/max/average benchmarking.

Before we go on, a basic explanation of FRAPS’ frames per second benchmarking method is important. FRAPS determines FPS rates by simply logging and averaging out how many frames are rendered within a single second. The average framerate measurement is taken by dividing the total number of rendered frames by the length of the benchmark being run. For example, if a 60 second sequence is used and the GPU renders 4,000 frames over the course of that time, the average result will be 66.67FPS. The minimum and maximum values meanwhile are simply two data points representing single second intervals which took the longest and shortest amount of time to render. Combining these values together gives an accurate, albeit very narrow snapshot of graphics subsystem performance and it isn’t quite representative of what you’ll actually see on the screen.

FCAT on the other hand has the capability to log onscreen average framerates for each second of a benchmark sequence, resulting in the “FPS over time” graphs. It does this by simply logging the reported framerate result once per second. However, in real world applications, a single second is actually a long period of time, meaning the human eye can pick up on onscreen deviations much quicker than this method can actually report them. So what can actually happens within each second of time? A whole lot since each second of gameplay time can consist of dozens or even hundreds (if your graphics card is fast enough) of frames. This brings us to frame time testing and where the Frame Time Analysis Tool gets factored into this equation.

Frame times simply represent the length of time (in milliseconds) it takes the graphics card to render and display each individual frame. Measuring the interval between frames allows for a detailed millisecond by millisecond evaluation of frame times rather than averaging things out over a full second. The larger the amount of time, the longer each frame takes to render. This detailed reporting just isn’t possible with standard benchmark methods.

We are now using FCAT for ALL benchmark results.


Frame Time Testing & FCAT

To put a meaningful spin on frame times, we can equate them directly to framerates. A constant 60 frames across a single second would lead to an individual frame time of 1/60th of a second or about 17 milliseconds, 33ms equals 30 FPS, 50ms is about 20FPS and so on. Contrary to framerate evaluation results, in this case higher frame times are actually worse since they would represent a longer interim “waiting” period between each frame.

With the milliseconds to frames per second conversion in mind, the “magical” maximum number we’re looking for is 28ms or about 35FPS. If too much time spent above that point, performance suffers and the in game experience will begin to degrade.

Consistency is a major factor here as well. Too much variation in adjacent frames could induce stutter or slowdowns. For example, spiking up and down from 13ms (75 FPS) to 28ms (35 FPS) several times over the course of a second would lead to an experience which is anything but fluid. However, even though deviations between slightly lower frame times (say 10ms and 25ms) wouldn’t be as noticeable, some sensitive individuals may still pick up a slight amount of stuttering. As such, the less variation the better the experience.

In order to determine accurate onscreen frame times, a decision has been made to move away from FRAPS and instead implement real-time frame capture into our testing. This involves the use of a secondary system with a capture card and an ultra-fast storage subsystem (in our case five SanDisk Extreme 240GB drives hooked up to an internal PCI-E RAID card) hooked up to our primary test rig via a DVI splitter. Essentially, the capture card records a high bitrate video of whatever is displayed from the primary system’s graphics card, allowing us to get a real-time snapshot of what would normally be sent directly to the monitor. By using NVIDIA’s Frame Capture Analysis Tool (FCAT), each and every frame is dissected and then processed in an effort to accurately determine latencies, frame rates and other aspects.

We've also now transitioned all testing to FCAT which means standard frame rates are also being logged and charted through the tool. This means all of our frame rate (FPS) charts use onscreen data rather than the software-centric data from FRAPS, ensuring dropped frames are taken into account in our global equation.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Assassin’s Creed III / Crysis 3

Assassin’s Creed III (DX11)


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The third iteration of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is the first to make extensive use of DX11 graphics technology. In this benchmark sequence, we proceed through a run-through of the Boston area which features plenty of NPCs, distant views and high levels of detail.


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Crysis 3 (DX11)


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Simply put, Crysis 3 is one of the best looking PC games of all time and it demands a heavy system investment before even trying to enable higher detail settings. Our benchmark sequence for this one replicates a typical gameplay condition within the New York dome and consists of a run-through interspersed with a few explosions for good measure Due to the hefty system resource needs of this game, post-process FXAA was used in the place of MSAA.


1920 x 1080


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Dirt: Showdown / Far Cry 3

Dirt: Showdown (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/IFeuOhk14h0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Among racing games, Dirt: Showdown is somewhat unique since it deals with demolition-derby type racing where the player is actually rewarded for wrecking other cars. It is also one of the many titles which falls under the Gaming Evolved umbrella so the development team has worked hard with AMD to implement DX11 features. In this case, we set up a custom 1-lap circuit using the in-game benchmark tool within the Nevada level.


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Far Cry 3 (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/mGvwWHzn6qY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

One of the best looking games in recent memory, Far Cry 3 has the capability to bring even the fastest systems to their knees. Its use of nearly the entire repertoire of DX11’s tricks may come at a high cost but with the proper GPU, the visuals will be absolutely stunning.

To benchmark Far Cry 3, we used a typical run-through which includes several in-game environments such as a jungle, in-vehicle and in-town areas.



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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Hitman Absolution / Max Payne 3

Hitman Absolution (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/8UXx0gbkUl0?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Hitman is arguably one of the most popular FPS (first person “sneaking”) franchises around and this time around Agent 47 goes rogue so mayhem soon follows. Our benchmark sequence is taken from the beginning of the Terminus level which is one of the most graphically-intensive areas of the entire game. It features an environment virtually bathed in rain and puddles making for numerous reflections and complicated lighting effects.


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Max Payne 3 (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/ZdiYTGHhG-k?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

When Rockstar released Max Payne 3, it quickly became known as a resource hog and that isn’t surprising considering its top-shelf graphics quality. This benchmark sequence is taken from Chapter 2, Scene 14 and includes a run-through of a rooftop level featuring expansive views. Due to its random nature, combat is kept to a minimum so as to not overly impact the final result.


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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Metro: Last Light / Tomb Raider

Metro: Last Light (DX11)


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/40Rip9szroU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The latest iteration of the Metro franchise once again sets high water marks for graphics fidelity and making use of advanced DX11 features. In this benchmark, we use the Torchling level which represents a scene you’ll be intimately familiar with after playing this game: a murky sewer underground.


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Tomb Raider (DX11)


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/okFRgtsbPWE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Tomb Raider is one of the most iconic brands in PC gaming and this iteration brings Lara Croft back in DX11 glory. This happens to not only be one of the most popular games around but it is also one of the best looking by using the entire bag of DX11 tricks to properly deliver an atmospheric gaming experience.

In this run-through we use a section of the Shanty Town level. While it may not represent the caves, tunnels and tombs of many other levels, it is one of the most demanding sequences in Tomb Raider.


1920 x 1080


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Temperatures & Acoustics / Power Consumption

Temperature Analysis


For all temperature testing, the cards were placed on an open test bench with a single 120mm 1200RPM fan placed ~8” away from the heatsink. The ambient temperature was kept at a constant 22°C (+/- 0.5°C). If the ambient temperatures rose above 23°C at any time throughout the test, all benchmarking was stopped..

For Idle tests, we let the system idle at the Windows 7 desktop for 15 minutes and recorded the peak temperature.



The PowerColor R9 270 we were sampled comes with a reasonably extensive heatsink and a large axial fan so core temperatures remain blissfully low.


Acoustical Testing


What you see below are the baseline idle dB(A) results attained for a relatively quiet open-case system (specs are in the Methodology section) sans GPU along with the attained results for each individual card in idle and load scenarios. The meter we use has been calibrated and is placed at seated ear-level exactly 12” away from the GPU’s fan. For the load scenarios, a loop of Unigine Valley is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 15 minutes.


With a large 92mm fan operating a low RPMs, the PowerColor R9 270 is arguably one of the quietest cards in this segment.


System Power Consumption


For this test we hooked up our power supply to a UPM power meter that will log the power consumption of the whole system twice every second. In order to stress the GPU as much as possible we used 15 minutes of Unigine Valley running on a loop while letting the card sit at a stable Windows desktop for 15 minutes to determine the peak idle power consumption.

Please note that after extensive testing, we have found that simply plugging in a power meter to a wall outlet or UPS will NOT give you accurate power consumption numbers due to slight changes in the input voltage. Thus we use a Tripp-Lite 1800W line conditioner between the 120V outlet and the power meter.


As AMD promised, the R9 270 is a frugal card which needs about 20W less than the faster R9 270X. This puts it even with NVIDIA’s GTX 660.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


The PowerColor R9 270 we received already had a minor 50MHz core overclock and we actually weren’t able to push things much further. The core topped out at only 1020MHz which is a far cry from the 1144MHz we achieved on the R9 270X while memory had a bit more overhead and could easily hit 6076MHz. These certainly aren’t the best results but they do point towards the possibility of lower default voltage being used in an effort to reduce the R9 270’s power consumption figures.


 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


After seeing what AMD’s engineering team did with the R9 290 and R9 290X, you’ll be forgiven if the R9 270 leaves a bit of an anti-climactic feeling at the back of your brain. It isn’t a product that will compete with NVIDIA’s best but as a mid-tier upgrade option for gamers on a shoestring budget, it works quite well. Just don’t expect blistering framerates from a sub-$200 card.

For a $179 product the R9 270 performs up to expectations. It outpaces the GTX 660, comes out well ahead of the similarly-priced HD 7850, trades blows with AMD’s outgoing HD 7870 GHz and has been parachuted in just below the R9 270X. AMD is continuing to move the performance per dollar goal-posts towards more positive territory with every release and the R9 270 continues the tradition. Not that long ago we were paying nearly $300 for similar framerates but we do have to wonder why this card was needed in the first place.


The R9 270 seems to have been created for one reason and one reason only: to compete against the GTX 660. It does that perfectly but more than any R-series GPU to date, it feels more reactionary than well thought out. With the R7 260X at $139 and the R9 270X providing a significant performance per dollar punch at $199, this new $179 card is largely unnecessary and ends up not only competing against NVIDIA’s alternatives but is in tough against AMD’s own lineup as well. Saturation of a given segment has never made sense to us and we’re seeing it here for the simple expedient of launching a card that sports an identical price as a competing solution.


Due to this situation, we don’t really know what to think about the R9 270. On one hand it is only 7% behind an R9 270X and sometimes closer in situations where the core’s frequencies play less of a roll. This makes it a fitting, lower-priced alternative to one of AMD’s marquee products. On the flip side of that equation, the 270X provides better overall performance, identical features, better perf per dollar and potentially more overclocking headroom for just $20 more. This leaves the R9 270 in a no man’s land,\; being a GTX 660 beater but maintaining nebulous existence in AMD’s product stack. Overclocked versions will muddy the situation even further depending on where they land within the pricing spectrum.

The R9 270 is an excellent little graphics card that provides an enviable combination of low price with good framerates along with a free copy of Battlefield 4. In a head to head battle against the GTX 660, it is a clear winner but with a mere $20 of separation between it and the R9 270X, most gamers would be better off buying its more capable sibling and ignoring the R9 270 altogether.
 
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