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A Review of the AMD Radeon R9 380X GPU

by on November 26, 2015
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AMD’s new R9 380X GPU is one of four different GPUs in the R9 300 series. It’s hot on the market only being launched November of this year. This GPU is priced at the midrange. It offers better performance than the R9 380, but still at an affordable price point. This GPU has four additional compute units enabled and its default memory has been doubled. Additionally, Radeon is due to release its new Crimson which will make the graphics OS significantly better. Finally, it will offer additional functionalities such as Frame Rate Target Control.

However, the R9 380X does come with some drawbacks. For one, the additional CUs being enabled do give the R9 380X a higher temperature which causes heat management concerns. Further, the core card hasn’t changed. Also, while additional features have been added and computing units enabled, it doesn’t mean anything new has been added in terms of technology advancements. Some see it as a way of AMD feeling like they needed to add a product line at that price to compete with NVIDIA’s product. While this is an overall good gaming graphics card, it seems to be providing an incremental improvement from the previous R9 380, as opposed to trying to lead the pack in its price range.

The Good

Its mid-range video card makes it perfect for the balance between affordability and performance. Before this launch, there was growing criticism that Radeon didn’t offer much in the mid-price bracket and performance. It was either basic or top of the line. With this pricing, the R9 380X is in line to compete with NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 960.

The GPU has all 32 compute units enabled. Previously, the R9 380 had only 28 CUs enabled. The card is built around AMD’s Tonga GPU which was also in the Radeon R9 285. Tonga has been around now for a year. However, previously, some of the CUs in older products were disabled. The R9 380X has every one of the CUs enabled.

It features 4GB of GDDR5 memory. In the R9 380, the default configuration was set to 2GB. However, the new R380X sees that number doubled. It also features slight increases to the memory clockspeed. In the R9 380, it was 5.5Gbps. The R9 380X is 5.7Gbps.

Radeon will be releasing Crimson which is a mini graphics Operating System that will be offering better stability, responsiveness and performance. While it doesn’t change the physical specifications of the R9 380X, it does offer a bit more incentive to those looking at NVIDIA vs AMD. Radeon Software Crimson Edition, as it’s being called, should be released before the end of the year. It is offering social media integration along with a new Game Manager.

This GPU boasts great features such as Frame Rate Target Control. This allows you to control your frame rate through Catalyst Control Center which will soon be replaced with the new Radeon Software Crimson. You can set a maximum frame rate from 55fps to 95fps. This allows you to reduce power usage and temperature. It will also help to reduce fan noise, an ever present issue.

The new 380X has another big trick up its sleeve. Its called AMD FreeSync technology. In some gameplay with other cards, there can be problems between the refresh rate of the 4k monitor and the GPU rendering, with the difference causing choppy gameplay. In most setups, the two don’t talk to one another and it would be left to the gamer to pick compatible products. However, FreeSync does away with this. If the monitor is compatible, the AMD APUs and GPU will take control over the monitor’s refresh rate. This delivers a significantly smoother gaming experience.

Check the Price of the Sapphire Radeon NITRO R9 380X 4GB on Amazon:

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The Bad

The 380X consumed more power than the NVIDIA competitor in benchmark tests. The power on the board is the same as the R9 380 which is 190W. The additional power consumption is due to the additional CUs being enabled. Of course, additional power also means additional heat. This becomes a problem for those with existing heat management problems in their computer cases.

There isn’t much material change to the card. Meaning, the R9 380X is essentially the same card as the R9 380 with the exception of the addition CUs being enabled. It’s the same ROPs backed by a 256-bit memory bus. Additional things have been added such as increased memory but it’s all built on the same core as other products.

Radeon is getting a small amount of criticism with the R9 380X. Some are seeing this launch as a way of AMD releasing a product that can sit in between two prices ranges without having to engineer a new well thought out product. Thus, among many critics, the R9 380x seems to be a creation based on a need to fill a segment of their product range, without them thinking through the unique attributes a mid-range GPU should have and what its target market would want from one.

To really get the full experience of what the R9 380X has to offer, some setup is required. Some models come factory overclocked. Depending on the model, the overclocking may be set at a different rate. For example, there is the Sapphire Nitro R9 380X and then there is the VisionTek Radeon R9 380X. Depending on who you buy the graphics card from, there will some variance in metrics. Some additional research may be needed to see which one you would prefer.

It’s also being launched as a starter card for those who love gaming. While the R9 380X will be able to handle the majority of games, it won’t handle most games flawlessly. It’ll also have to sacrifice performance in order to be able to handle higher demanding games. While it can be considered a drawback, it also shouldn’t come as a surprise with the price point of the card.

Final Opinion

For those who want a better performer than the R9 380 but don’t have the money to go to the high end of GPU’s, buy the R9 380X. It will double your memory if you’ve currently got the default 2GB in the 380. It will offer increased performance due to the additional four units enabled. The GPU will also allow you to get additional features such as Frame Rate Target Control. Additionally, you will get a major improvement to the graphics operation system when AMD releases Crimson to replace Catalyst later this year.

However, look elsewhere if you are looking for a high end graphics card. This GPU is taking the existing core hardware from the R9 380 and adding memory along with enabling existing computing units. It’s not offering radically new technology. Rather, it’s reconfiguring existing technology to compete at the middle pricing range. Oh, and if you do decide to buy this graphics card, watch the temperature as the increased performance of the four additional units will likely cause it to rise accordingly. Those who already have had problems in their tower or case may want to look into upgrading their cooling system in addition to buying this GPU.

In summary, if you are a gamer with a limited budget that wants a decent, good performance GPU and don’t mind a little configuration, get the 380X. If you have the money to spend, head on over and check out the GTX TItan Z or the more affordable GTX 980 TI.

Key Specs

Stream Processors: 2048
Texture Units: 128
ROPs: 32
Boost Clock: 970MHz
Memory Clock: 5.7Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width: 256-bit
VRAM: 4GB
FP64: 1/16
TrueAudio: Y
Transistor Count: 5.0B
Typical Board Power: 190W
Manufacturing Process: TSMC 28nm
Architecture: GCN 1.2
GPU: Tonga

Highlights

The major benefit to the R9 380X is the additional computing units being enabled. For those who are unaware, a GPU can be broken down into CUs or compute units. The more compute units, generally, the better the performance of the GPU. As R9 380X enables four additional units, it means that the GPU will be able to process more graphical data, and more efficiently.

The second major benefit is of course pricing. With a price range of $229 - $239, this puts the R9 380X in the affordable range but with a better performance to that of the 380. This allows it to compete head on with the NVIDIA GE Force GTX 960 which lost to various benchmark tests. All tests that were run came back with 380X as the winner on all attributes other than heat and power consumption.

There’s no point in having a better performing GPU if you can’t navigate through the interface to set up options and settings for optimum performance and preference. That’s why the updated graphical operating system stands out among the highlights. The reinvented Crimson promises to be everything Catalyst isn’t. It’ll be able to have a Game Manager interface with social media integration. This will be a major incentive to gamers who are regularly modifying video settings for games.

Check the Price of the Sapphire Radeon NITRO R9 380X 4GB on Amazon:

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Performance Benchmarks

General performance tests for gaming experience came back positive. The R9 380X performed solidly when it came to performing against the Radeon R9 285 and GeForce GTX 960. As far as overclocking is concerned, additional tests were done to see how he could stand up to higher clock speeds. It ended with an additional 1 Gbps data rate which places it at 6.7 Gbps from its advertised 5.7 Gbps.

However, it didn’t do as great for the areas of power consumption and heat. While it stood up to an average rate of 60W in idle, it was 10W higher than the R9 285 and 70W higher than the GeForce GTX 960. It used similar power consumption to that of the GeForce GTX 970. This higher power consumption did, unfortunately, result in more heat. However, when using the Sapphire Nitro R9 380X the temperature and noise was at a comfortable level.

Gaming at 4k Resolution

The R9 380X supports full 4k. The 380X also has support for VSR (Virtual Super Resolution). VSR re-renders games at higher resolutions, going all the way up to 4K. If the game playing doesn’t support it, it provides what is called a Super Sampling Anti-Aliasing feature. This means you can play lower resolution games at a higher resolution. However, understandably, to get the full benefit of 4K, both the game and the monitor have to be 4K.

Price

The card was just launched. Currently, the only available version is the Sapphire Nitro version which is retailing for $249.99 on Amazon.

Check the Price of the Sapphire Radeon NITRO R9 380X 4GB on Amazon:

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Positives

Attractive price point
32 compute units enabled
4GB of GDDR5 memory
Frame Rate Target Control
Good control centre & OS
FreeSync technology allowing superior refresh rate

Negatives

High power consumption
Produces a lot of heat
Only incremental improvement from 380
Large amount of tweaking required for optimum performance

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Bottom Line
 

The Radeon R9 380X is a solid mid-range GPU, and offers some significant benefits over the previous 380X, and hold up well against other mid-range GPU’s from the liked of NVidia. For the amount you pay for the 380X, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal that will offer you the speed, memory, features and overall performance the 380X does. You get a slightly faster Gbps data rate with the 380X than you would with the 380. Plus, the new Crimson operating system promises to be a much better interface that will add additional value to the graphics card even months down the road.

There are things to consider however. To really get the full benefit of what the Radeon R9 380X really has to offer, you have to overclock the system and get the Sapphire 380X. Otherwise, you’ll have a graphics card that is only slightly better in the market. Power consumption usually isn’t a problem, however the heat that comes with it can be, especially in the case of this GPU. Finally, we recommend if you are going to overclock the system make sure you only set it 8% higher to get the 6.7Gbps data rate.

Check the Price of the Sapphire Radeon NITRO R9 380X 4GB on Amazon:

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