Following last week's AMD R9 280X launch and our analysis of the first card based off the ASUS DirectCU II TOP edition, we take MSI's R9 280X graphics card for a spin. The MSI R9 280X Gaming 3G card is the first AMD-based product from the company’s Gaming series. We were hoping to see the R9 290X debut in this series, but since that's not yet official at the point of publication, we had to settle for seconds, with the R9 280X GPU.
To recap about the R9 280X - it's basically a Radeon HD 7970 (Tahiti core) derivative and it performs very much like a Radeon HD 7970 GHz edition as we found out while testing the ASUS card. So the Radeon R9 280X is more of a re-branding effort than anything else to get in line with the new gaming and API development initiatives along with the new R9 290 series that will feature a new GPU core. One thing that AMD wanted to stress is that the new R9 series will have the ability to run 3x DVI/HDMI connections simultaneously (the older Radeon HD 7000 series could only support any two of them). As such, there are hardware-level differences, but not much from the GPU core perspective. For AMD fans, the new GPU series brings some excitement to the gaming scene, but unfortunately, not a lot in terms of big and immediate changes (minus the possibility of older Radeon HD 7000 series to go for a discounted price).
According to MSI, the R9 280X card features a 6+1+1 power system; with 6-phase going to the R9 280X GPU core, 1-phase for the 3GB GDDR5 video memory modules, and one for the phase-locked loop (PLL) of the card’s board. The GPU core comes with a slight overclocked headroom of only 50MHz, rated at 1050MHz. Out of the box, the card is actually running 1020MHz (called the Gaming mode), but using the provided utility, you can quickly notch it up to 1050MHz (although this is still lower than the ASUS TOP edition running at 1070MHz). Memory is however not overclocked and rated at the default speed of 6000MHz.
The card’s fan shroud sports the now familiar color scheme of the series; with its red and black hues splashed on. The fan shroud is a part of the card's Twin Frozr IV cooling system that features dual 100mm fans and five copper heatpipes in direct contact with the GPU.
The card features Military Class IV components in order to ensure the stability of the card’s operation during intense gaming or overclocking. These components are also used in the MSI N780 Lightning and the MSI GeForce GTX 780 Twin Frozr Gaming 3GB GDDR5 OC graphic card. In addition, the PCB of the card features a metal plate that should offer some passive cooling to the PCB's components as well as prevent the board from flexing.
Unlike the new R9 reference cards that have dual dual-link DVI ports, a HDMI and a DisplayPort, the video connectivity options of the MSI card consists of two mini-DisplayPort ports, a HDMI port, and one dual-link DVI-I port (which is exactly the same as the old Radeon HD 7900 series).
In term of software utilities, besides MSI's Afterburner tool, the card also comes bundled with the Gaming App tuning utility which enables gamers to toggle between high-performance OC, Gaming, and Silent modes. By toggling these modes, the application modifies the GPU clock to either 1050MHz, 1020MHz or 1000MHz respectively.