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AMD's Radeon R9 270 graphics card reviewed


Pitcairn again
— 11:01 PM on November 12, 2013

AMD's Radeon R9 series is growing at an alarming rate. Just over a month ago, we were treated to the R9 280X and R9 270X. AMD followed up with the top-of-the-line R9 290X in late October and the slightly less top-of-the-line (yet much more compelling) R9 290 last week.

Today, AMD pulls back the curtain on the R9 270, which extends the R9 family down to the $179 price point. This is the family's most affordable member, and it's also the least power-hungry. It gets by with a single six-pin PCI Express power connector with a "typical board power" of only 150W, by AMD's count.

The R9 270 will face off against Nvidia's fastest sub-$200 card, the GeForce GTX 660. Nvidia slashed the GTX 660's price to $179 last month, although today, a Newegg search shows the card selling for $190 before mail-in rebates. AMD, then, has an opportunity to undercut Nvidia with a newer product. But will the R9 270 be better?

Pitcairn's latest gig
The Radeon R9 270 is based on the same Pitcairn chip as the 270X and the older Radeon HD 7800 series. As you can see in the table below, the R9 270 features a fully enabled version of the chip, just like the R9 270X and the older Radeon HD 7870.

GPU
base
clock
(MHz)
GPU
boost
clock
(MHz)
Shader
processors
Textures
filtered/
clock
ROP
pixels/
clock
Memory
transfer
rate
Memory
interface
width
(bits)
Radeon HD 7850 2GB 860 - 1024 55 28 4.8 GT/s 256
Radeon HD 7870 GHz 1000 - 1280 80 32 4.8 GT/s 256
Radeon R9 270 ?? 925 1280 80 32 5.6 GT/s 256
Radeon R9 270X ?? 1050 1280 80 32 5.6 GT/s 256

In fact, as far as I can tell, the R9 270 only differs from the R9 270X in its GPU clock speed and power envelope. The R9 270 runs about 75MHz slower (though its memory is clocked at the same 5.6 GT/s), and AMD has cut typical power consumption from 180W to 150W. The trimmed power envelope allows for this:

The R9 270 only requires a single six-pin PCI Express power connector, which is good news if you're stuck with a lower-wattage power supply. The R9 270X and Radeon HD 7870 both need two six-pin connectors, while the GTX 660 requires only one. So far, then, Nvidia has had a small flexibility advantage on that front.

Peak pixel
fill rate
(Gpixels/s)
Peak
bilinear
filtering
(Gtexels/s)
Peak
shader
arithmetic
rate
(tflops)
Peak
rasterization
rate
(Gtris/s)
Memory
bandwidth
(GB/s)
Radeon R7 260X 18 62 2.0 2.2 104
Radeon R9 270 30 74 2.4 1.9 179
Radeon R9 270 (Asus) 31 78 2.5 2.0 179
Radeon R9 270X 34 84 2.7 2.1 179
Radeon HD 7850 2GB 28 55 1.8 1.7 154
Radeon HD 7870 32 80 2.6 2.0 154
GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB 25 66 1.6 2.1 144
GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB (Asus) 26 69 1.7 2.2 144
GeForce GTX 660 25 83 2.0 3.1 144

Based on our theoretical numbers, the drop in clock speed doesn't put the R9 270 at much of a disadvantage versus to the R9 270X. The Asus version of the R9 270 that AMD sent us actually runs at 975MHz instead of the reference 925MHz, which helps narrow the gap even more.

Compared to the GTX 660, the R9 270 has, on paper, a higher pixel fill rate, a similar texture filtering rate, higher shader throughput, and much more memory bandwidth. Its only disadvantage is a rasterization rate about two thirds that of the GTX 660.

The R9 270 has another perk worth mentioning: it comes with a free copy of Battlefield 4. Or, at least, some versions of it do. Or, they're supposed to.

Yeah, this card's game bundling situation is clear as mud right now. AMD originally said that all R9-series cards would ship with BF4, but it now tells us that it will be up to retailers and vendors to decide which of their cards ship with the game. As of November 14, we can't find a single R9 270 in stock at Newegg with BF4 included.

The GeForce GTX 660, by contrast, ships with Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Splinter Cell Blacklist, plus a $50 discount on the purchase of an Nvidia Shield handheld console. This deal applies to all GTX 660s listed at Newegg. I don't know a lot folks interested in buying a Shield, and I expect serious PC gamers to log far more hours in Battlefield 4 than in the titles Nvidia offers. Still, an actual game bundle beats the promise of one.

But I digress. We've still got a whole suite of game benchmarks to show you—after a brief detour through our testing methods.