AMD’s fans wanted to see an ultra-high-end powerhouse capable of creaming GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Its detractors assumed a series of delays meant it’d be too hot and slow. In reality, neither group can claim clairvoyance.
Instead, the Radeon R9 Fury X delivers performance surreally similar to Nvidia’s 980 Ti. Sure, the GM200-based board tends to finish ahead at 2560x1440, while the Fury’s massive memory bandwidth gives it the advantage at 3840x2160. In either case, though, you’d have a tough time telling the two cards apart.
So let’s say performance is a wash. Price, too, is comparable—the Radeon R9 Fury X is expected to sell for the same $650. What’s left to base a recommendation on? Power? Form factor? Features? Functionality?
We're pleasantly surprised at the power results we recorded. Going in, the assumption was that a larger, more complex GPU would make Hawaii look tame in comparison. But it seems like a combination of HBM, plus a refined approach to PowerTune, domesticates the GCN architecture and, at least under average workloads, helps Fury X put up impressive numbers against GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Even under load, our sophisticated power setup makes it quite clear that Fiji is a different beast entirely. It's only when you launch into a stress test that Fiji really chugs power. You just aren't going to see that when you're playing games, though.
And then there’s the size. At 7.5” long, Fury X definitely looks special. No fan on the card? Sealed off I/O bracket? Cool and cool—certainly unlike any graphics board we’ve seen before. But then there’s that big radiator to find a home for. AMD almost certainly needs the closed-loop cooler to enable its short card, minimize leakage current and keep acoustics in check. Those “features” of Fury X would have been significantly more difficult to achieve on air. That’s fine, except for the fact that some enthusiasts won’t have room in their cases. We’ve collectively grown to accept the high-end CPU’s need for a big heat sink or liquid cooling system. But graphics cards are most often self-contained. Many of us own a chassis with room for one radiator up top and another exhausting out the back. What of CrossFire, though? These cards support four-way arrangements. Meanwhile, getting even two of them into a tower case is going to require creativity. For that reason, I’m most looking forward to the Fury Nano, which leverages the architectural advantages of Fiji and HBM, fits on a six-inch PCB and should get us back to a traditional two-slot form factor.
AMD does introduce a couple of new features beyond the lower-level hardware. GPU Tach is interesting to glance at in much the same way you’d check out Crucial’s Ballistix Tracer memory. Under load, though, the LEDs are mostly just a solid bar. Frame Rate Targeting Control is a more promising addition, particularly for a board already pushing big power numbers. We love the idea of deliberately capping performance at a user-defined “good enough” to keep consumption at bay, selectable on demand. Of course, maintaining a smooth experience is a must. But based on our limited time with FRTC, there’s still work to be done.
A lack of HDMI 2.0 support is a somewhat problematic omission, particularly for Fury Nano to shine as an HTPC-oriented solution. Then again, if Fiji really did tape out many months ago, it makes a little more sense why the company didn’t rework its display controller. Nvidia is going to flaunt the fact that its second-gen Maxwell GPUs support DirectX feature level 12_1. However, AMD has some DirectX functionality Nvidia is missing, so it remains to be seen whose implementation benefits end users more. AMD contends that because it's in the current-gen consoles, developers are going to gravitate toward GCN's capabilities naturally. Finally, there’s the debate over whether 4GB of HBM is enough. In all of the tests we ran, memory was not a problem. To the contrary, HBM proved to be a boon as Fury X reversed several slight losses and turned them into wins. It took a highly contrived combination of settings in Grand Theft Auto to push Fury X over the edge, and those settings wouldn’t have been smooth anyway. In today’s games, at the detail levels modern GPUs can handle at 4K, 4GB is fine. Whether you’ll be able to put two cards together and run more exotic resolutions like 7680x1440 remains to be seen.
In the end, AMD has plenty to be proud of. By combining a more resource-rich GPU and our first taste of HBM, it successfully leapfrogs the GeForce GTX 780 Ti, which first cast a shadow over Radeon R9 290X, and the GeForce GTX 980 that sat in a class of its own for several months, landing right next to GeForce GTX 980 Ti.
There, sitting alongside Nvidia’s gaming champion, Radeon R9 Fury X now shares the throne. It’s not faster, it’s not cheaper and it’s certainly not any more elegant. The card is just enough to yield a bit of parity. And for the AMD faithful, that’s enough to warrant a purchase. We have to wonder if the company stopped just short of the gold, though. More speed, a lower price, some sort of game bundle—it could have gone in several directions, really, to convince enthusiasts that Fury X is the better buy.
Chris Angelini is a Technical Editor at Tom's Hardware.