AMD Radeon R9 280X, R9 270X, And R7 260X: Old GPUs, New Names

Tahiti, Pitcairn, And Bonaire Show Up For An Encore

Back in 2000, a gentleman by the name of Brian Hentschel called my dorm room at UCLA to ask my opinion of brand names. Brian was a marketing manager at ATI, and the company was looking for something catchy to succeed its Rage family. I had owned every single Rage-based desktop graphics product up until that point, and was pumped to provide feedback on the company's next-gen nomenclature.

Thirteen years later, I cannot remember the other options ATI was throwing around, but I distinctly recall liking Radeon least of all. Clearly I have no future in marketing, because I’ve been reviewing Radeon-branded cards ever since.

With its latest generation, AMD maintains the Radeon legacy, but changes everything that comes after. According to the company’s PR team, the new naming scheme makes positioning easier—and I’d have to agree. Our own writers were mistyping combinations of Radeon HD 7990, 7970, 7790, and so on. Now, we have the high-end Radeon R9 and mainstream R7 families, which are sub-divided into three-digit models suggesting performance levels.

Say Goodbye To The Old Names And Hello To The Old GPUs

At its press day in Hawaii, two weeks ago, AMD publically announced the Radeon R7 250, R7 260X, R9 270X, R9 280X, R9 290, and R9 290X. There’s also an R7 240 the company didn’t mention. How on earth will you ever memorize all of the corresponding specifications of each card in a timely manner? It’s easy: although we’re looking at new model names, all of the products AMD is talking about today employ GPUs already found in the Radeon HD 7000-series line-up.

Take that R9 270X, for example. With 1280 shaders spread across 20 compute units, it employs the same Pitcairn GPU introduced on the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition in March of last year. Or how about the R9 280X? Its 2048 shaders, 1 GHz engine frequency, and 384-bit memory bus should remind you of the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, sporting the Tahiti GPU.

Let's at least keep it real, guys. These aren't new GPUs.

Of course, taking existing technology, tweaking it a bit, and giving it a shiny new-sounding name is an old practice. Much of the Radeon HD 8000 family is a replicate of the 7000s, shipped off to OEMs in the hope that folks buying tier-one machines don’t know any better. And don’t think I’m picking on AMD here. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 700M series has Fermi-based models in it with core configurations dating back almost three years. The GeForce GTX 770 and 760 employ the same GK104 GPU found at the top of the 600-series. This sort of thing seems to happen a lot in the graphics market.

The good news for today is that familiar GPUs make our job quite a bit easier. Doubly-so because the two products based on never-before-seen silicon, R9 290 and 290X, still aren’t ready for their public debut. This leaves us with the remainder of AMD’s R9 and R7 line-ups, well-known (and tested) technology, and price drops across the board. Positioning becomes the main focus of today's discussion, then.

Just don't be quick to marginalize what AMD is doing. Most Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition cards currently sell for somewhere around $375. R9 280X is going to debut at $300. The GeForce GTX 770 that Nvidia launched to replace its GTX 680 still sells for $400. Remember when the original 7970 sold for $550? Boy, that escalated quickly.

Let’s take a closer look at the R9 280X—for now, the highest-end board in AMD’s re-branded portfolio.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • CaptainTom
    Wow what's with the AMD hate? As it stands they are doing the same thing Nvidia did except without the outrageous prices. The GTX 770 wasn't a great deal when the 7970 was $50 cheaper. Have fun trying to run BF3 with 2GB of VRAM...
  • slomo4sho
    Nothing revolutionary but better prices I suppose.

    The MSI R9 280X Gaming at $299 appears to outperform the GTX 770 at 1600P and is within margin of error at 1080P according to Techpowerup. Not a bad value at $100 less and still overclocks well:
  • jimmysmitty
    So long story short, if you have a HD7970GHz then these do nothing for you.

    Best to hold out till the reviews on the R9-290X I guess. But considering the specs I hope for at least 20% performance increases over a 7970.
  • Shankovich
    What happened to Chris? I didn't see this kind of hate with all of the 700 series rebrands. Also, to the Canadians here, grab the $270 7970 GHz edition cards while you still can.
  • BigMack70
    I don't like this new strategy AMD and Nvidia are taking of rebranding an old series at improved price points and then releasing only one new chip at a stupidly expensive price point.

    Are the days of (nearly) annual simultaneous full line GPU launches from $100-500 with a dual GPU chip to follow at $750-1000 really over?
  • cangelini
    Hate? The R9 280X won an *award*. I think Tahiti at $300 is pretty much brilliant.

    I wrote one of the least flattering GTX 780 stories out there. I only identified a couple of situations where a Titan made any sense at all. And although the 760 *did* change the balance at $250, that card still didn't get an award. I liked the 770 for the simple fact that it delivered better-than-680 performance for close to $100 less.

    The rest of AMD's new line-up is a lot like what exists already. Again, the 7870 is a better value than 270X. So what are you getting worked up over? The fact that I'm pointing out these aren't new GPUs? They're not. ;)
  • Shankovich
    Ok Chris, I agree with you, sorry for the over reaction. But I really don't like how nVidia made price increases for some of the rebrands. Looking forward to your 290 and 290X reviews :D
  • ingtar33
    i'll take a 7950 at $129 thank you very much (or two). There is a major retailer selling them for that this week. Best buy all year. two 7950s for the price of one r9-280x? yeah... i'll do that all day every day.
  • tomfreak
    Radeon 7790 has true Audio = but not enabled boooooo = as a 7790 owner I somewhat disappointed :( . Anyone have any idea if we can crossfire 1GB 7790 and 2GB 260x?
  • net_nakul
    By the time a R9 380X comes out, the GCN Tahiti XT achitecture may be 4 years old (assuming end of 2015). AMD better come up with an awesome new architecture by then, considering the R&D time they have.

    That goes to you too Mr. NVIDIA