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The AMD Radeon R9 380X Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
It has been a while since we’ve seen a new graphics card launch, the last of which was AMD’s capable little Nano. Historically, the time right before and during key events in the retail calendar like Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season is low time for new GPU products but high time for A-list game releases. GPU vendors typically hunker down with their existing wares and avoid launching anything new into an environment that’s rife with heavily discounted merchandise. AMD is bucking that trend by introducing the R9 380X, a $230 card that may prove to be a lynchpin within their lineup in the coming months.

With the R9 380X, AMD is trying to thread a very thin needle with a product many had expected months ago. A price of $230 for reference-clocked versions and up to $260 for higher performing models means (if everything goes according to plan) it should be able to overcome the lower priced $210 GTX 960 4GB while plugging a gap between the R9 390 and R9 380 in AMD’s product stack. However, overclocked versions come perilously close to the pricing structure of AMD’s R9 390 ($290-$300) and NVIDIA’s GTX 970 ($299 after rebates, with a free game) and that could pose a problem as gamers seek an optimal price / performance ratio for their purchases. This is a pricing segment that has been oddly underserved in the last year or so and with good reason: it is book-ended by extremely capable options.

On the subject of pricing, we have an interesting situation as well. While AMD’s own PR team has pegged the R9 380X as starting at $230USD and running to $240USD, most board partners and even retailers we’ve spoke to agree with the $230 to $260 range we’ve indicated in the paragraph above. Since they’re ultimately the ones who set the final price and AMD’s numbers use the nebulous “starting at” moniker so we’ll side with the folks on the ground on this one. The ASUS R9 380X STRIX OC we were sampled rings in at a cool $260.

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The core being used in the R9 380X hasn’t been seen before in its fullest form, which is a surprise given how much of AMD’s lineup consists rebrands. This is a fully enabled version of the 28nm Antigua architecture or the artist formerly known as Tonga. In this iteration it has four additional Compute Units cores spread across the core’s four shader engines. That results in 2048 cores and 128 texture units. Meanwhile, the back-end operations remain the same as previous Tonga-based cores with 32 ROPs and a 256-bit GDDR5 memory interface.

In addition to this, Antigua -like Tonga before it- incorporates all of the additional power and rendering efficiency optimizations found in other GCN 1.2 cores. That leads to improved instruction set handling, better tessellation performance, enhanced lossless delta color compression algorithms so memory bandwidth is more effectively utilized and a number of other improvements over the GCN 1.1-based Hawaii generation. Perhaps most importantly for this class of part, it incorporates decode / encode of 4K H.264 video.

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Past the obvious design changes and where this card falls in relation to AMD’s current product stack, there has obviously been a concerted effort to distinguish the R9 380X from previous generations. Currently, the R9 280X occupies the coveted $250 price bracket and it actually has nearly identical specs. However, while the core, Texture Unit and ROP counts are the same, the Tahiti-based card actually has a higher amount of theoretical memory bandwidth and comes with faster clock speeds.

On the flip side of that equation, the Antigua core incorporates a noteworthy number of design updates which are specifically meant to do more with less while also offering a wider feature set. As a result this card has a TDP envelope that has been drastically reduced in comparison to previous designs and elements like VSR, full DX12 / Vulkan support and FreeSync compatibility have been included.

From a competitive analysis standpoint, the R9 380X really can’t be compared directly against anything in the NVIDIA stable. The GeForce lineup has purposely avoided wading into the wide segment between $200 and $300 in order to keep some performance separation between the GTX 960 and GTX 970. Obviously, this choice hasn’t impacted their sales in any way. While there are some overclocked GTX 960 4GB SKU’s that edge up to the aforementioned $210 to $215 range, their pricing is generally trending downwards these days. The same can be said of AMD's own R9 380 and R9 390.

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The $260 ASUS R9 380X STRIX OC we received for this review follows the design guidelines of this well-received series to perfection. With a double slot cooler and a length of 11” this certainly isn’t a compact card by any stretch of the imagination but ASUS’ DirectCU II heatsink should be worth the sacrifice in size. Its dual fans are meant to remain at idle during reduced load scenarios and spin up to very low RPM levels due to the inherent efficiency of AMD’s core design. It’s a great cooler and one we’ve raved about in the past.

Under the heatsink is an 8-phase all digital VRM design with ASUS’ signature Super Alloy Power components. That means upgraded MOSFETS, capacitors and chokes.

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Specifications are right in line with expectations as well; that means a mildly overclocked core and reference-spec memory are being offered. According to ASUS this leads to performance that’s on average 4% better than a reference card in their standard mode and about 1-2% higher than that when using their GPU Tweak software in its OC Mode.

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The STRIX’s underside is covered in a full-length backplate even though there aren’t any mission-critical components located hereabouts. Meanwhile power input needs are covered by a single 8-pin connector and the rear I/O plate houses an HDMI 1.4a, a single DisplayPort connector and two DVI outputs.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Montreal
Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time

Performance Consistency & Temperatures Over Time


The R9 380X's Antigua XT core is rated for just 190W of thermal output while ASUS' DirectCU II cooler is one of the best currently on the market. This should be a match made in heaven and we have absolutely no concerns over the results. May as well get onto them.

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The first indications are pretty good considering the STRIX heatsink only turns on its fans when the core gets to a certain temperature. It's a great design that allows for completely silent computing in lower load tasks while also capping temperatures before they get out of hand.

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Clock speeds are consistent but unlike NVIDIA's Boost, AMD's PowerTune algorithms don't allow the core to take advantage of additional cooling capacity to push frequencies even further. Luckily, the STRIX hits that 1030MHz mark and remains there.

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Performance is what it is. There's nothing really interesting to see here other than proof that we're seeing consistent framerates.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Acoustics / Power Consumption

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, Hitman Absolution is used in order to generate a constant load on the GPU(s) over the course of 15 minutes.

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Again, we didn't expect anything but one of the quietest cards on the market and received exactly that. The STRIX goes into silent mode when idling but even when under the highest load, it remains blissfully quiet.


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.

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Truth be told, these results are a bit surprising but likely stem from the fact that ASUS has overclocked their card to relatively high frequencies. Remember that according to AMD's specifications a good 60W separates the R9 380X from its predecessor, the R9 280X but we are only seeing about 26W here. This also leads to the STRIX OC coming within 20W of the GTX 970. AMD still has some room to grow in the performance per watt area with these slightly older architectures.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup



Processor: Intel i7 4930K @ 4.7GHz
Memory: G.Skill Trident 16GB @ 2133MHz 10-10-12-29-1T
Motherboard: ASUS P9X79-E WS
Cooling: NH-U14S
SSD: 2x Kingston HyperX 3K 480GB
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Monitor: Dell U2713HM (1440P) / ASUS PQ321Q (4K)
OS: Windows 8.1 Professional


Drivers:
AMD 15.11.1 Beta
AMD 15.10 Beta (for Far Cry 4)
NVIDIA 358.91 WHQL


*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 2 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, other than 4K.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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1080P: AC:Unity / Battlefield 4

Assassin’s Creed: Unity


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8V96SFIvFKg?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

While it may not be the newest game around and it had its fair share of embarrassing hiccups at launch, Assassin's Creed: Unity is still one heck of a good looking DX11 title. In this benchmark we run through a typical gameplay sequence outside in Paris.

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Battlefield 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/y9nwvLwltqk?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

In this sequence, we use the Singapore level which combines three of the game’s major elements: a decayed urban environment, a water-inundated city and finally a forested area. We chose not to include multiplayer results simply due to their randomness injecting results that make apples to apples comparisons impossible.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
1080P: Dragon Age: Inquisition / Dying Light

Dragon Age: Inquisition


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/z7wRSmle-DY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the most popular games around due to its engaging gameplay and open-world style. In our benchmark sequence we run through two typical areas: a busy town and through an outdoor environment.

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Dying Light


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MHc6Vq-1ins" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Dying Light is a relatively late addition to our benchmarking process but with good reason: it required multiple patches to optimize performance. While one of the patches handicapped viewing distance, this is still one of the most demanding games available.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
1080P: Far Cry 4 / Grand Theft Auto V

Far Cry 4


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sC7-_Q1cSro" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

The latest game in Ubisoft’s Far Cry series takes up where the others left off by boasting some of the most impressive visuals we’ve seen. In order to emulate typical gameplay we run through the game’s main village, head out through an open area and then transition to the lower areas via a zipline.

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Grand Theft Auto V


In GTA V we take a simple approach to benchmarking: the in-game benchmark tool is used. However, due to the randomness within the game itself, only the last sequence is actually used since it best represents gameplay mechanics.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
1080P: Hitman Absolution / Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Hitman Absolution


<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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Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/U1MHjhIxTGE?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

With its high resolution textures and several other visual tweaks, Shadow of Mordor’s open world is also one of the most detailed around. This means it puts massive load on graphics cards and should help point towards which GPUs will excel at next generation titles.

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
1080P: Thief / Tomb Raider

Thief


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/p-a-8mr00rY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

When it was released, Thief was arguably one of the most anticipated games around. From a graphics standpoint, it is something of a tour de force. Not only does it look great but the engine combines several advanced lighting and shading techniques that are among the best we’ve seen. One of the most demanding sections is actually within the first level where you must scale rooftops amidst a thunder storm. The rain and lightning flashes add to the graphics load, though the lightning flashes occur randomly so you will likely see interspersed dips in the charts below due to this.

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Tomb Raider


<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.


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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
1080P: Total War: Attila / Witcher 3

Total War: Attila


Total War: Attila is the only strategy title in our benchmarking suite simply because it is one of the most resource-hungry. It gobbles resources with good reason too: this game happens to be one the best looking of the series thus far. Our benchmark sequence uses the in-game tool since, after hours of gameplay, it seems to show a perfect blend of in-game elements.

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Witcher 3


<iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EBSQMEqpqro?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>​

Other than being one of 2015’s most highly regarded games, The Witcher 3 also happens to be one of the most visually stunning as well. This benchmark sequence has us riding through a town and running through the woods; two elements that will likely take up the vast majority of in-game time.

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