Graphics Cards Guide
ASUS ROG Matrix R9 280X Platinum 3GB GDDR5
A Platinum Standard Card
Having assessed the two other recently launched AMD Radeon R9 280X cards from ASUS and MSI, we now turn our attention to an over-the-top offering with the ASUS ROG Matrix R9 280X Platinum as the top-end offering from the Republic of Gamers graphics cards series. On this beast of a card, the GPU has been overclocked to 1100MHz, up 100MHz from the default ceiling of 1000MHz. Its video memory modules, with a total capacity of 3GB, have been rated to operate at 6400MHz, which is an increment of 400MHz over the default value of 6000MHz.
True to its ROG heritage the card boasts of several enthusiast grade features. For starters, the card features a 20-phase power delivery system, coupled with its Super Alloy Power capacitors, chokes, and MOSFETs, that drives ASUS' proprietary Digi+ VRM digital power delivery design that was first featured on its motherboard. To keep things running cool, the ROG Matrix R9 280X Platinum features the DirectCU II cooling system, coupled with a pair of 100mm cooling fans. However, that's not all that it has:-
On top of that, the card boasts some features that are truly up the alley of enthusiasts and power users - many of which debuted first on the ASUS ROG Matrix HD 7970 and are now conveniently brought over since the Radeon R9 280X is essentiall the former Radeon HD 7970. In any case, these features are as follows:-
- VGA Hotwire Connectors
These VGA hotwire connectors are useful if the power user is adept at using a soldering iron to attach wires, in the correct polarities, so that the user is able to monitor and adjust the voltages of the GPU core, memory modules and the Phase-Locked Loop (PLL) of the graphics card. For starters, the experienced user can solder these wires to the corresponding VGA hotwire connectors of the supported ROG Extreme motherboards like the ASUS Maximus VI Extreme. The user can also make use of the VGA hotwire connectors of the OC panel accessory from these top-tier motherboards.
This onboard feature consists of a set of buttons that allow the user to change the voltage of the GPU core. This will come in handy during overclocking efforts. We tried the buttons for ourselves but the our voltage adjustments weren't reflected in real time through the ASUS ROG GPU Tweak utility that we had installed on our graphics testbed.
While these handy controls might seem like a great idea, its accessibility and usability requires some caution as it's as readily accessible as they are seen on motherboards. You might even need to use your second hand to prop the card as you apply pressure to the buttons. Perhaps TweakIT should have been implemented as an add-on module, but given how it interacts so closely with sensitive components, its easier engineering-wise to present it as they are now (even though it's not the most elegant of implementations)
- Turbo Fan Activator
When activated, the button will trigger the dual cooling fans to operate at full speeds.
- Safe Mode
This button's function is akin to a pair of shorted Clear CMOS headers of a motherboard. The Safe Mode button resets the card's settings back to default levels. This is useful to get the card back to its original working condition and get the system working normally.
- Matrix LED Load Indicator
There is a LED indicator at the top of the card's fan shroud. It gives a color-coded visual cue that indicates the performance mode of the card. For starters, if the LED glows red, this means the ASUS ROG Matrix R9 280X Platinum is under extreme load. If the card is operating in safe mode, the LED will be green.
- Solder Pads
These solder pads, which when soldered, will allow the extreme enthusiast to bypass built-in safeguards for overheating and overcurrent protection.
The ASUS ROG Matrix card naturally came up on top of the rest of the competing R9 280X cards. This is due to its overclocked GPU core and video memory. The card also showed some promise during our Crysis 3 testing as it managed to churn out the highest average frame rates from the AMD camp.
Temperature, Power Consumption and Overclocking
Despite a higher overclocked GPU, the ASUS Matrix card had the same temperature under load as its DirectCU II counterpart. However, its power consumption was the highest at 483W! Even its idle power draw was the highest at 162W.
We expected the card to perform well when overclocked. We managed to push its R9 280X GPU core to an overclocked operating frequency of 1246MHz, an increment of 146MHz over the card's GPU core base of 1100MHz. As for the memory modules, we managed to overclock them to 7000MHz, an increment of 600MHz over the base frequency of 6400MHz. In short, the GPU core was overclocked by roughly 14%; while the video memory buffer was overclocked by about 9%.
According to our 3DMark scores, the overclocked card's performance gain was in the range of 10.5- to 11.4%. We were unable to overclock the memory modules any higher, unlike the ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II TOP. For the latter, we were able to push its memory modules to a high of 7600MHz. For the ASUS ROG Matrix R9 280X, we were actually able to overclock the GPU core beyond 1246MHz to a high of 1300MHz; however, the benchmark software suffered from video stutters and bad artifacting.
The ASUS ROG Matrix R9 280X Platinum is the current top-end card in terms of features and performance for the AMD camp. As we have highlighted a slew of enthusiast features, this card is meant for feats that aren't for the fainthearted. To achieve such feats would involve soldering contact pads to bypass the card's protection against overcurrent and overvoltage. In turn, this will permanently damage the card's PCB components in the event of unforeseen events. There are also high-end features like its 20-phase digital power design and DirectCU II cooling system; however, these features are packaged into the card that has unyielding dimensions of 284.5mm x 144.8mm x 53.4mm (length x width x height). Take note that this card occupies 2.5 slots due to its fan shroud, and will unwittingly occupy the neighboring PEG slot; hence, a pair of these cards in a 2-way AMD CrossFire configuration will fully occupy all expansion slots in a regular ATX motherboard.
In terms of its performance, it was within expectations and its cooling system actually kept it running reasonably cool at 64 degrees Celsius despite its factory overclocked GPU core. We were expecting more in terms of overclocking performance but it only managed to perform in line with the rest of the high-end AMD R9 280X cards. Out-of-the-box performance was only on average 3% better than a more basic R9 280X graphics card, which really isn't a lot considering its asking price and current level of results.
Its hefty price tag of S$699 makes this card more expensive than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 that has an average retail price of S$650. If you consider that the Radeon R9 280X performs somewhat in the ballpark of the GeForce GTX 770 (more benchmarks in our earlier article), then this over-the-top engineered ROG Matrix card from ASUS might not seem overly expensive. The reality is that the ASUS ROG Matrix R9 280X Platinum is just on average a few percent faster than a card that's over S$200 less than it (that's a 30% difference), such as the MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G. Given this outlandish difference in price, it's hard for anyone to consider the ROG Matrix R9 280X Platinum edition unless one is 1) an ASUS supporter, 2) a hardcore tweaker at heart ready for challenges, 3) has plenty of time and disposable income, 4) a graphics card collector for premium products. All these reasons point to the niche market for which this card was conceived. Even then, this exclusiveness might be short-lived as there could be a premium Radeon R9 290X based card waiting deep in their factory.
For all other tech geeks, you're better off investing the premium commanded by this card on a higher performing card that can give you a better mileage or simply get a pair of stock clocked R9 280X cards.