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

Old GPUs Ride Again, But That’s Not A Bad Thing

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

AMD’s GCN architecture debuted almost two years ago in the Tahiti GPU. I’ve mentioned this before, but I paid $550 each for two Radeon HD 7970s to do my own CrossFire testing. And Tahiti lives on today, now at the heart of R9 280X selling for $300. The Pitcairn GPU followed a few months behind in March of 2012. That GPU gets reused today as well in the R9 270X. Bonaire is a much more recent development, emerging in March of this year as Radeon HD 7790 and again today as R7 260X. It’s the only card currently available with AMD’s TrueAudio technology, and it’s the only board in today’s round-up that employs a more sophisticated version of PowerTune able to switch voltage and clock rate very quickly for finer-tuned response to environmental variables.

Unfortunately, when you don’t have higher-performing products to talk about, your only option is to beat up the pricing to attract new buyers. That’s been going on for a while now, and it’s really the reason why R9- and R7-series cards don’t look like great deals compared to the boards they replace. The good news is that AMD’s story doesn’t end today. We still have R9 290 and 290X cards to look forward to, and those are based on new silicon.

There’s another positive in all of this for AMD: in the process of hacking away at its flagship’s price tag, the company pushed Tahiti into a price band Nvidia doesn’t service. True, R9 280X is slower than the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. But the card is also about $30 cheaper. At $300, there’s a $50 premium over GeForce GTX 760, but that board doesn't handle QHD resolutions as well with detail settings cranked up. If I was building a PC to game on a 2560x1440 display and wanted to get in the door as inexpensively as possible without sacrificing graphics quality, the 280X would be my card. That value is why I’ll hand the Tahiti-based board our Smart Buy award. There’s certainly something to be said for revisiting a GPU when it's selling for $200 less than the last time you reviewed it.

I’m not as impressed with the other two cards. R9 270X is a slightly faster Radeon HD 7870 priced as much as $30 more than its predecessor. We know those 7870s won’t last much longer, but for the time being, who’s going to want the 270X at its introductory price? I’m sure Don will let everyone know in his monthly column when the good deals on prior-gen products run out. Until then, the R9 270X is a “meh”, even if it has no trouble blowing past Nvidia's GeForce GTX 660. I'll take a 7870, thank-you-very-much.

The same goes for R7 260X, except this time the pressure is external. AMD is introducing the 260X at the same price as existing 2 GB Radeon HD 7790 boards, which are a bit slower. However, right before launch, Nvidia announced a cut on its 2 GB GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost down to $150—a $10 premium. For that $10, you get card that's notably faster in a number of benchmarks. Although AMD now offers its TrueAudio technology on R7 260X, developers haven’t done enough with the feature to make it something we can test. Until then, Nvidia has the advantage for its card’s performance.

The R9 290 and 290X will feature TrueAudio, too. Will either of those cards have what it takes to do battle with GeForce GTX Titan or 780? Time will tell, and those are the boards we're most looking forward to.

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.