Asus STRIX R9 380X OC review

Good things come to those who wait

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Our Verdict

The R9 380X is a great little 1080p card, but often struggles running at the 1440p level AMD is aiming it at. Asus has undoubtedly made a great version of the card though, with quality cooling and almost silent operation.

For

  • Great 1080p performance
  • Decent price
  • Excellent Asus cooling

Against

  • Middling 1440p prowess
  • Limited extra OC performance
  • Much quicker GPUs aren't much pricier

The new AMD Radeon R9 380X is the very latest midrange graphics card from the big Texan GPU maker, and should be filtering into shops and onto the e-shelves as you read this.

Asus' STRIX brand is its gaming-centric option and, as such, this owl-eyed version of the R9 380X comes with a little factory overclocking and a very tasty cooling array.

But to really call the R9 380X itself a new card is something of a misnomer.

That's not to say the R9 380X's Tonga XT chip isn't an advanced graphics core. In fact, after the Fiji GPUs that have gone into AMD's R9 Fury, Fury X and Nano cards, it's the most advanced chip AMD has got in its armoury.

The fact this GPU could have been launched around a year ago, when AMD first released the Tonga processor, does show something of how the company is progressing its graphics silicon. Given the missed production shrink down to a 20nm lithography AMD has largely had to stick with the same 28nm Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture it used for the last few generations.

This year then is more about supporting those newer Fiji-based cards and testing the water with its advanced – though relatively thin – High Bandwidth Memory frame buffers.

And that's why every card below those top-tier options are essentially refreshes of the last generation of Radeon cards.

Though that can't quite be said for this R9 380X, because AMD never did release the R9 285X which would have sported the same Tonga XT GPU as this latest midrange effort. It almost did – I had a good few conversations with one of AMD's main graphics cards partners about it before the R9 285X was seemingly canned.

We can't talk about AMD's cards without sparing a thought for the big green Nvidia competition, however, and where AMD has positioned the new R9 380X shows it's been thinking about the opposition carefully too.

In Nvidia's graphics stack there's nothing sat in between the £160 (around $250, AU$340) GTX 960 and £250 (around $380, AU$530) GTX 970, which is exactly where AMD has aimed this latest midrange card.

Hardware

So, what's the recipe for a Tonga GPU then? Silicon-wise we're still talking about the same GCN architecture AMD has been using since 2012, but the configuration is a little different.

The R9 380 and R9 380X cards' Tonga GPUs use the same basic configuration as the Tahiti chips fitted in the top cards of the last generation as well as the Grenada chips seen in the R9 390 and 390X cards.

Asus STRIX R9 380X OC in situ

And here's how it looks nestling inside a PC

The R9 380X though is sporting the Tonga GPU's full complement of 2,048 GCN cores, with 128 texture units. The straight R9 380 though has a slightly cut-down version of the chip with 1,792 cores and 112 texture units, exactly like the original R9 285 it's based on.

That means it's got the GPU skills to cope with the extra geometry which the latest game engines, featuring heavy tessellation, throw at graphics silicon.

The 256-bit memory interface, however, seems a little lightweight on the face of it, especially in comparison with the 512-bit setup of the cards on the next rung up its product stack. But with Tonga's modern, and still impressive, colour compression algorithms its memory interface actually becomes pretty capable. And with a full 4GB framebuffer to boot the R9 380X is well set for today's high-res gaming.

Asus STRIX R9 380X OC GPU

You get the Tonga GPU's full complement of 2,048 GCN cores

Features and spec

Alongside the hardware comes AMD's suite of graphics and GPU-based features, which includes its Powertune overclocking software, soon to be pushed through into its new software and driver system, Crimson.

Alongside that is the rather familiar Virtual Super Resolution (VSR) feature. This offers you the fidelity improvement – by smoothing out the edges – of a higher resolution on monitors which aren't able to deliver them natively. It's familiar because Nvidia released its Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) tech last year, which had a similar effect.

On games where the GPU isn't being particularly taxed, upscaling the resolution can make things look sharper, but does have the same impact on performance as playing at that resolution would normally have.

With AMD's setup though you can have VSR set at either the game level or on the Windows desktop itself. It's a neat way to boost the desktop real-estate of a lower-res monitor.

Here are the core specs of the Asus STRIX R9 380X OC as provided to techradar:

  • GPU: AMD Tonga XT
  • GCN cores: 2,048
  • Lithography: 28nm
  • Clock speed: 1,030MHz
  • Memory capacity: 4GB GDDR5
  • Memory bus: 256-bit
  • TDP: 190W

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Components Editor

Dave (Twitter) is the components editor for TechRadar and has been professionally testing, tweaking, overclocking and b0rking all kinds of computer-related gubbins since 2006. Dave is also an avid gamer, with a love of Football Manager that borders on the obsessive. Dave is also the deputy editor of TechRadar's older sibling, PC Format.

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