The ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II TOP 3GB GDDR5 is the first graphics card from the company to feature the new AMD Radeon R9 280X GPU. But this isn't the top-end GPU from the new Radeon R9 series. The top dog is the R9 290X GPU, while the R9 280X is the second in line. According to our article detailing how the new Radeon R9 and R7 series stack up and the features they boast, the Radeon R9 280X is part of the enthusiast series of gaming graphics cards that are designed to please users who intend to game at a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels with good graphics details. In terms of specifications, it tends to look like an updated Radeon HD 7970 and that's pretty much where AMD has set the launch price to be in US dollars at $299 - the same price point as the currently retailing Radeon HD 7970.
Fortunately, the ASUS DirectCU II TOP edition of the Radeon R9 280X doesn't resemble anything like a reference card and comes with a custom design PCB, a better 8-phase PWM design for the GPU (compared to a 5-phased edition on the reference model), and most visibly apparent ASUS' signature cooling technology.
While only the R9 290 series with the new GPU core features the enhancements made to its PowerTune technology that make use of environment variables, together with user-input parameters to determine the optimum clock speed of the GPU, AMD is taking this opportunity to restructure how the core clock speeds are marketed across the entire R9 and R7 series by stating what the GPU is rated to perform up to rather than defining a fixed clock. As such, the R9 280X GPU is rated to perform up to 1000MHz. For the ASUS card, it rolled off the factory line with a slightly raised performance ceiling of 1070MHz. For its memory modules, they have been overclocked to 6400MHz, up 400MHz from the default clock speed of 6000MHz.
As we have mentioned earlier, the R9 series is targeted at serious gamers; and we expect the R9 280X GPU to come with all the bells and whistles like any enthusiast level product. However, it lacks support for AMD TrueAudio Technology. This new exclusive aural feature is touted by AMD to deliver an immersive audio experience through the use of an on-die digital signal processor embedded with the GPU. However, this feature is only available for the Radeon R9 290X, R9 290 and R7 260X.
For the ASUS card, the company has included its DirectCU II custom cooler with CoolTech cooling technology. This cooling fan technology makes use of a CoolTech fan (which allows a wider angle of air flow dispersion), and a regular 80mm one to dissipate heat from fin-stack of the DirectCU II cooler. There are a total of five copper heatpipes that are in direct contact with the GPU of the ASUS card - four of which are a mix of 6mm and 8mm diameters while the last one is thicker than usual at 10mm in diameter.
In terms of video connectivity, there are two dual-link DVI ports, one HDMI port and one DisplayPort output. Unlike the previous generation Southern Island cards, there are no mini-DisplayPort options, which is better as it offers direct connectivity to monitors without requiring an adapter. We expect most cards of the new series to follow this set of display outputs. The GPU can still directly control up to 6 monitors via the use of a MST hub through the DisplayPort connection to expand the number of connection options.
As the R9 series GPUs are targeted at gamers, the Radeon R9 280X has been positioned to compete directly with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760. The newer Radeon GPU is priced at US$299 that is between the suggested retail prices of the NVIDIA GTX 770 at US$399 and the GTX 760 that's priced at US$249. This makes the newer card an attractive upgrade option. Not to mention the card has a wider memory interface of 384-bit and 3GB of video memory buffer. This is a direct improvement over the features of the GeForce GTX 760 card. For the GTX 770, it has the same memory interface as the new Radeon, but its video memory size is determined by the add-in partners, and these GTX 770 cards come in 2GB or 4GB versions. Specific to the ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II TOP 3GB GDDR5, it has an SRP of S$549, which is an attractive price point.
Since we've not been able to secure reference class cards for the new Radeon graphics cards, we shall make our observation of the newcomer against its direct competitors through the overclocked ASUS variant on review in this article.