UK price (as reviewed):£249.95 US price (as reviewed): Currently unavailable
A couple of days ago saw the launch of AMD's latest raft of graphics cards, the R9 and R7 series. Barring the flagship R9 290X and 290, a top to bottom lineup was unveiled and the cards are hitting retailer shelves as we type. However for our review of the R9 280X, R9 270X and R7 260X we were given not a reference 280X but an overclocked one made by an Add In Board (AIB) partner. As such, with our focus at launch always being on the performance and design of reference cards, we only assessed performance at stock speeds and not overclocking, cooling and other features. Instead that's what this review is for.
Another reason for not concentrating too heavily on the merits of this specific card at launch is that prices were bound to fluctuate a fair amount after the launch and the wait gives us a little time to see just where MSI's offering sits in the pack.
As of today we're seeing prices of around £235 for the basic R9 280X 3GB, whereas we've got our hands on the MSI Radeon R9 280X Gaming Edition OC, which is on pre-order for £250. Meanwhile, Radeon HD 7970 3GB cards, which use the same Tahiti GPU, are going for anywhere from £220 up to at least £260 for GHz Edition ones. The closest competition from Nvidia here is the GTX 680 2GB, which costs about £240, while GTX 770 2GB cards are hovering around the £300 mark. Naturally, this situation could still change within a few days, as prices are particularly fluid around new launches and Nvidia has already announced price cuts to its lower end cards.
Click to enlarge - The MSI R9 280X Gaming Edition OC 3GB
In case you missed our initial coverage, the R9 280X's 4.3 billion transistor, 28nm Tahiti GPU consists of 32 of AMD's compute units. It thus houses 2,048 stream processors and 128 texture units alongside 32 ROPs. The memory bus is rated at 384-bit thanks to its six 64-bit controllers, which are paired with 3GB of GDDR5.
For the Gaming Edition OC, MSI has pushed the card's maximum boost clock to 1,050MHz (a fairly minor 5 percent boost) and left the memory clocked at 6GHz. As such it shares the exact same specifications as the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. Indeed, prying the cooler off reveals that the 270mm long PCB is mostly unchanged even compared to the original HD 7970 3GB.
Click to enlarge - The PCB is largely the same as that of the HD 7970 3GB cards
MSI has gone with its own design for the card's outputs, with the standard combination replaced with two mini-DisplayPorts, a dual-link DVI-I and an HDMI connection. This means that MSI has reinstated VGA compatibility to the card, and indeed a DVI to VGA adaptor is supplied. There's also a mini HDMI adaptor too along with some PCI-E power cables and a single CrossFire bridge. One final thing of note is that the output arrangement means users of three monitors will need to use at least one mini-DisplayPort connection – in stock cards AMD says that the DisplayPort is no longer needed in such a scenario provided users have monitors with identical timings.
Click to enlarge - The card with its heatsink and cooling plate removed
The Twin Frozr IV cooler consists of two slimline 92mm fans atop a large, nickel plated copper and aluminium heatsink. Its four heat pipes are sandwiched between the GPU baseplate and the heatsink itself. The cooler and the plastic fan bracket both feel sturdy and well built, although note that nearly all hot air will be exhausted into your chassis rather than out the back. Also, it is around 2cm taller than a typical stock cooler so may not fit in some smaller cases.
A black metal plate cools the power circuitry as well as ten of the twelve 256MB SK Hynix memory modules by way of sticky thermal pads. The two remaining modules are uncovered so as to make way for the heat pipes. There's also an insulator affixed to the main row of capacitors. MSI makes no particularly grandiose claims for the board and indeed it seems a fairly typical design.
Click to enlarge - The two CrossFire connections and BIOS switch (left) and the voltage controller and seven power phases (right)
The card requires extra juice from a 6-pin and an 8-pin PCI-E power connection, which are found in their usual spots up top. Power is delivered via the CHiL CHL8228 controller, so voltage can be controlled via compatible software. We noted that there was originally room for an extra power phase on the 6-phase HD 7970 3GB PCB, and this has now been filled for the R9 280X cards. The seven power phases are divided into five for the GPU and two for the memory, which is the reference specification. A separate VRM is also found just behind one of the card's two CrossFire connections, as well as a small BIOS switch that can revert to a safe BIOS in case flashing goes wrong.
We're going to jump straight into testing the card's performance, overclocking and cooling on the next few pages so if you'd like to learn more about the features of the GPU at the heart of MSI's card - things such as Mantle - head to our R9 and R7 launch review.