Single page Print

AMD's Radeon R9 380X graphics card reviewed

X marks the spot

If you're shopping for a graphics card in the $200 to $250 range these days, your choice mostly boils down to one question: 2GB or 4GB? Nvidia's GeForce GTX 960 comes with 2GB of RAM to start, and fancier versions come with four gigs. AMD's similarly priced Radeon R9 380 performs comparably and can also be had in 2GB and 4GB flavors. Simple enough.

AMD is shaking up that comfortable parallel today with the Radeon R9 380X. This card's Tonga GPU has more resources enabled than in the familiar Radeon R9 380. On the 380X, all of Tonga's 32 GCN compute units are turned on, for a total of 2048 shader processors. This card also packs 128 texels per clock of texture-filtering power, versus 112 in the plain 380. The Radeon R9 380X will come with 4GB of GDDR5 RAM clocked at 1425MHz for a theoretical bandwidth peak of 182 GB/s.

Sapphire's Nitro Radeon R9 380X

Aside from those slightly more generous resource allocations, the R9 380X's spec sheet looks much the same as the R9 380. This card maintains its counterpart's 32-pixel-per-clock ROP throughput and 256-bit memory bus. Since Tonga is one of AMD's newer GPUs, it also gives the R9 380X support for modern AMD features like FreeSync, TrueAudio, Virtual Super Resolution, and Frame Rate Target Control.

We've long suspected that a fully enabled Tonga would have a 384-bit memory interface, along with more ROP throughput (48 pixels per clock). In fact, several sources appear to have confirmed that fact. However, the 380X has "only" a 256-bit path to memory. We're not complaining, though. The 380X's price and likely performance look to be quite attractive, even if they're not exactly what we'd expected. Tonga's color compression capability ought to help wring the best possible performance out of the card's available memory bandwidth.

Here's a quick look at the R9 380X's specs, bracketed by those of the Radeon R9 380 and R9 390 for easy comparison:

R9 380 - 918 32 112 1792 256 5.5 GT/s 2GB/4GB 190W $210
R9 380X - 970 32 128 2048 256 5.7 GT/s 4GB 190W $239
R9 390 - 1000 64 160 2560 512 6 GT/s 8GB 230W $319

Those are AMD's reference specs, and as you can see, the 380X offers a little more juice than the R9 380 across the board.

What's more, AMD's board partners have already worked over the Radeon R9 380X with custom coolers and boosted clock speeds. Cards from those partners are the ones most builders will be using in their systems, and those cards are also the ones we'll be using to test the Radeon R9 380X today.

We already shown you Sapphire's Nitro Radeon R9 380X above. This card comes with an eyebrow-raising 1040MHz GPU clock speed out of the box. The company also gooses the card's memory clock to 1500MHz, for an effective speed of 6 GT/s. Sapphire's card arrived in our labs first, so it's the one we'll use to represent the 380X's performance in most of our tests.

Sapphire keeps the 380X's Tonga chip cool with one of its attractive Dual-X heatsinks. This cooler's twin ball-bearing fans can stop spinning under light loads for silent operation. From this angle, you can see this card's numerous copper heat pipes, too.

It might be unusual to note for a graphics card, but the Nitro feels hefty and dense in the hand. That weightiness, and the copper on display, suggests a top-shelf cooler under the Nitro's shroud. At about 9" long, this card should be able to fit into most cases without a fuss, too.

Sapphire reinforces the Nitro 380X's PCB with an attractively-finished aluminum backplate. The card draws power through twin six-pin PCIe power connectors. Sapphire tells us this Nitro 380X will carry a suggested price of $239.99. The company will also sell a reference-clocked model for $229.99.

Asus is also getting in on the R9 380X game, and it sent us one of its Strix R9 380X OC4G Gaming cards to put through the wringer. The Strix comes with a 1030MHz clock speed by default, and a setting in Asus' included software utility can push the clocks all the way to 1050MHz.

This card's brawny DirectCU II cooler carries heat away from the GPU with massive heat pipes that snake through an equally substantial fin array. Like the Sapphire card, the Strix can stop its fans at idle for silent running. Builders will want to double-check that their cases can swallow this card's 10.5" length without issue, though.

From the top down, we get a better look at this card's attractive backplate, that enormous heat pipe, and the twin six-pin power connectors. You can't see it in this picture, but Asus helpfully includes an LED near the power connectors that will glow red if you forget to plug in the required cables. The company also throws a one-year premium subscription for Xsplit Gamecaster in the box for the streamers out there.

 The hot-clocked OC4G Gaming card seen above will carry a $259.99 suggested price. Asus will also offer a reference-clocked Strix R9 380X with the same cooler for $239.99.

No, you're not experiencing deja vu. We've also included an Asus Strix Radeon R9 380 card in this review. This card will represent the slightly-less-powerful R9 380 on our bench today. For the unfamiliar, the R9 380 is essentially just a re-badged Radeon R9 285—only this one has 4GB of memory, versus the 2GB on most R9 285 cards.

From the outside, this card looks a lot like the Strix 380X. It's got a lot of the same perks from its more muscular sibling, like the semi-silent cooler and the Xsplit subscription. This version of the 380 sells for $219.99 on Newegg right now, and Asus is offering a $20 rebate card to sweeten the deal.