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The Radeon R9 Fury X card
Frankly, I think most discussions of the physical aspects of a graphics card are horribly boring compared to the GPU architecture stuff. I'll make an exception for the Fury X, though, because this card truly is different from the usual fare in some pretty dramatic ways.

Radeon R9 Fury X 1050 MHz 4096 4 GB HBM 2 x 8-pin 275W $649.99

The differences start with the card itself, which is a stubby 7.7" long and has an umbilical cord running out of its belly toward an external water cooler. You can expect this distinctive layout from all Fury X cards, because AMD has imposed tight controls for this product. Board makers won't be free to tweak clock speeds or to supply custom cooling for the Fury X.

Instead, custom cards will be the domain of the vanilla Radeon R9 Fury, due in mid-July at prices starting around $550. The R9 Fury's GPU resources will be trimmed somewhat compared to the Fury X, and customized boards and cooling will be the norm for it. AMD tells us to expect some liquid-cooled versions of the Fury and others with conventional air coolers.

Few of those cards are likely to outshine the Fury X, though, because video card components don't get much more premium than these. The cooling shroud's frame is encased in nickel-plated chrome, and the black surfaces are aluminum plates with a soft-touch coating. The largest of these plates, covering the top of the card in the picture above, can be removed with the extraction of four small hex screws. AMD hopes end-users will experiment with creating custom tops via 3D printing.

I'm now wondering if that liquid cooler could also keep a beer chilled if I printed a cup-holder attachment. Hmm.

The Fury X's array of outputs is relatively spartan, with three DisplayPort 1.2 outputs and only a single HDMI 1.4 port. HDMI 2.0 support is absent, which means the Fury X won't be able to drive most cheap 4K TVs at 60Hz. You're stuck with DisplayPort if you want to do proper 4K gaming. Also missing, though perhaps less notable, is a DVI port. That omission may sting a little for folks who own big DVI displays, but DisplayPort-to-DVI adapters are pretty widely available. AMD is sending a message with this choice of outputs: the Fury X is about gaming in 4K, with FreeSync at high refresh rates, and on multiple monitors. In fact, this card can drive as many as six displays with the help of a DisplayPort hub.

Here's a look beneath the shroud. The Fury X's liquid cooler is made by Cooler Master, as the logo atop the water block proclaims. This block sits above the GPU and the HBM stacks, pulling heat from all of the chips.

AMD's decision to make liquid cooling the stock solution on the Fury X is intriguing. According to Graphics CTO Raja Koduri, the firm found that consumers want liquid cooling, as evidenced by the fact that they often wind up paying extra for aftermarket kits. This cooler does seem like a nice inclusion, something that enhances the Fury X's value, provided that the end user has an open emplacement in his or her case for a 120-mm fan and radiator. Sadly, I don't think the new Damagebox has room for another radiator, since I already have one installed for the CPU.

The cooler in the Fury X is tuned to keep the GPU at a frosty 52°C, well below the 80-90°C range we're used to seeing from stock coolers. The card is still very quiet in active use despite the aggressive temperature tuning, probably because the cooler is rated to remove up to 500W of heat. Those chilly temps aren't just for fun, though. At this lower operating temperature, the Fiji GPU's transistors shouldn't be as leaky. The chip should convert less power into heat, thus improving the card's overall efficiency. The liquid cooler probably also helps alleviate power density issues, which may have been the cause of the R9 290X's teething problems with AMD's reference air coolers.

That beefy cooler should help with overclocking, of course, and the Fury X's power delivery circuitry has plenty of built-in headroom, too. The card's six-phase power can supply up to 400 amps, well above the 200-250 amps that the firm says is needed for regular operation. The hard limit in the BIOS for GPU power is 300W, which adds up to 375W of total power board power draw. That's 100W beyond the Fury X's default limit of 275W.

To better facilitate overclocking, the Catalyst Control Center now exposes separate sliders for the GPU's clock speed, power limit, temperature, and maximum fan speed. Users can direct AMD's PowerTune algorithm to seek the mix of acoustics and performance they prefer.

Despite its many virtues, our Fury X review unit does have one rather obvious drawback. Whenever it's powered on, whether busy or idle, the card emits a constant, high-pitched whine. It's not the usual burble of pump noise, the whoosh of a fan, or the irregular chatter of coil whine—just an unceasing squeal like an old CRT display might emit. The noise isn't loud enough to register on our sound level meter, but it is easy enough to hear. The sound comes from the card proper, not from the radiator or fan. An informal survey of other reviewers suggests our card may not be alone in emitting this noise. I asked AMD about this matter, and they issued this statement:

AMD received feedback that during open bench testing some cards emit a mild "whining" noise. This is normal for most high speed liquid cooling pumps; Usually the end user cannot hear the noise as the pumps are installed in the chassis, and the radiator fan is louder than the pump. Since the AMD Radeon R9 FuryX radiator fan is near silent, this pump noise is more noticeable.

The issue is limited to a very small batch of initial production samples and we have worked with the manufacturer to improve the acoustic profile of the pump. This problem has been resolved and a fix added to production parts and is not an issue.

That's reassuring—I think. I've asked AMD to send us a production sample so we can verify that retail units don't generate this noise.