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AMD Radeon R9 380X Nitro Launch Review

Conclusion

Let’s skip the price and manufacturer-specific features for now and talk about performance. AMD says that its Radeon R9 380X is aimed at 2560x1440 gaming, while the vanilla 380 was supposedly intended for 1920x1080. Unfortunately, the new card isn’t that much more powerful than its predecessor.

Depending on the game and resolution, a comparison between a factory-overclocked version of AMD’s Radeon R9 380X and a factory-overclocked version of the Radeon R9 380 yields an improvement of between six and 16 percent. The average difference is approximately nine to 10 percent. That's enough to claim a difference, but not enough for the 380X to set itself apart.

Stated differently, games that don’t run well on AMD’s Radeon R9 380 aren’t going to run much better on the new 380X. Then again, a small performance boost might help sometimes, and it’s certainly always welcome if the price is right.

Consequently, AMD’s Radeon R9 380X is neither a revolution nor a real evolution. We might call it a mini-evolution. AMD does manage to position its card right between Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 960 and 970. You might argue that AMD’s Radeon R9 380 was already there, but its performance tends more toward the bottom of Nvidia’s two offerings.

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So, if the smaller Nvidia card is too anemic for you, and the larger one is too expensive (or you just don’t trust it after the whole memory issue came to light), then AMD’s Radeon R9 380X might be the compromise between performance and price that you were looking for. Sure, Antigua's efficiency can't match the Maxwell architecture or AMD's Fiji GPU, but a few more watts won't kill you either. And you do save some money up front.

Sapphire R9 380X Nitro

Sapphire's implementation of the 380X is successful, we'd say. The design of its backplate is fantastic. It’s so good, in fact, that we changed our usual testing procedure a bit to take a closer look. This way, we also finally got to satisfy our (and your) technical curiosity about the potential benefits of a design like this. The GPU would have certainly been happy to get a piece of the thermal pad as well, but there’s always next time...

The cooler and fan design, including the fan controller, are top-notch. They keep Sapphire’s newest card very quiet and relatively cool. There’s also practically no coil whine, except for a tiny bit during full load that fades into the background and is really barely noticeable. The card generally gets a bit noisier under full load, but this is due to the GPU, which needs to get rid of the waste heat from an additional 60W all of the sudden. This really doesn’t impact everyday tasks.

Final Thoughts

AMD’s Radeon R9 380X is an ideal replacement for the company's Radeon R9 380. Its performance places it right between Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 960 and 970. The only problem is that it's a bit late. Then again, maybe it's not too late. Is it in a class of its own compared to the 380? Definitely not. AMD started the week claiming this board would sell for $250. Apparently, it decided that was over-ambitious and is now using $230 as its jump-off, with overclocked partner boards in the $240 range. We'll keep an eye on where the prices eventually settle and update our findings in Best Graphics Cards For The Money.

  • ingtar33
    so full tonga, release date 2015; matches full tahiti, release date 2011.

    so why did they retire tahiti 7970/280x for this? 3 generations of gpus with the same rough number scheme and same performance is sorta sad.
    Reply
  • wh3resmycar
    this has all the features, freesync, trueaudio, etc.
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    Features, and power ratings are lower. Tonga is 190w, vs 250w for Tahiti.
    Reply
  • Eggz
    Seems underwhelming until you read the price. Pretty good for only $230! It's not that much slower than the 970, but it's still about $60 cheaper. Well placed.
    Reply
  • chaosmassive
    been waiting for this card review, I saw photographer fingers on silicon reflection btw !
    Reply
  • Onus
    Once again, it appears that the relevance of a card is determined by its price (i.e. price/performance, not just performance). There are no bad cards, only bad prices. That it needs two 6-pin PCIe power connections rather than the 8-pin plus 6-pin needed by the HD7970 is, however, a step in the right direction.
    Reply
  • FormatC
    I saw photographer fingers on silicon

    I know, this are my fingers and my wedding ring. :P
    Call it a unique watermark. ;)
    Reply
  • psycher1
    Honestly I'm getting a bit tired of people getting so over-enthusiastic about which resolutions their cards can handle. I barely think the 970 is good enough for 1080p.

    With my 2560*1080 (to be fair, 33% more pixels) panel and a 970, I can almost never pull off ultimate graphic settings out of modern games, with the Witcher 3 only averaging about 35fps while at medium-high according to GeForce Experience.

    If this is already the case, give it a year or two. Future proofing does not mean you should need to consider sli after only 6 months and a minor display upgrade.
    Reply
  • Eggz
    16976217 said:
    Honestly I'm getting a bit tired of people getting so over-enthusiastic about which resolutions their cards can handle. I barely think the 970 is good enough for 1080p.

    With my 2560*1080 (to be fair, 33% more pixels) panel and a 970, I can almost never pull off ultimate graphic settings out of modern games, with the Witcher 3 only averaging about 35fps while at medium-high according to GeForce Experience.

    If this is already the case, give it a year or two. Future proofing does not mean you should need to consider sli after only 6 months and a minor display upgrade.

    Yeah, I definitely think that the 980 ti, Titan X, FuryX, and Fury Nano are the first cards that adequately exceed 1080p. No cards before those really allow the user to forget about graphics bottlenecks at a higher standard resolution. But even with those, 1440p is about the most you can do when your standards are that high. I consider my 780 ti almost perfect for 1080p, though it does bottleneck here and there in 1080p games. Using 4K without graphics bottlenecks is a lot further out than people realize.

    Reply
  • ByteManiak
    everyone is playing GTA V and Witcher 3 in 4K at 30 fps and i'm just sitting here struggling to get a TNT2 to run Descent 3 at 60 fps in 800x600 on a Pentium 3 machine
    Reply