AMD Radeon R9 Fury X 4 GB Review 348

AMD Radeon R9 Fury X 4 GB Review


Value and Conclusion

  • The AMD Radeon R9 Fury X will retail at $650.
  • Great performance at 4K
  • Low gaming noise
  • Compact form factor
  • Low temperatures
  • Power efficient gaming
  • HBM memory, tons of bandwidth
  • Multi-monitor power consumption greatly improved
  • Backplate included
  • ZeroCore power
  • Dual-BIOS
  • Support for AMD FreeSync
  • Supports AMD Virtual Super Resolution and Framerate Target Control
  • Slower than expected in sub-4K resolutions
  • Pump emits permanent high-pitched whine
  • Some coil noise
  • Could be much quieter in idle
  • 4 GB of VRAM
  • Lack of HDMI 2.0
  • No memory overclocking
  • Radiator takes up extra space
  • No DVI / analog VGA outputs
Finally it is here! AMD has released their first new high-end GPU in one and a half years. The new Fiji silicon's architecture is based on Tonga, but with twice the amount of shaders and support for HBM memory. HBM is the way forward for graphics cards memory as it offers very high bandwidth in a very compact form factor with large improvements to power consumption.

When run through our benchmarks, the R9 Fury X shines at 4K resolution, almost matching the GTX 980 Ti as there is just a 3% difference. NVIDIA's GTX Titan X is still 8% ahead, but the performance is extremely game dependent. Most of our titles have the Fury X head to head with NVIDIA's offerings. Sometimes even slightly ahead, there are also some games where the Radeon falls behind a lot. If we were to cherry pick and exclude Project Cars or World of Warcraft, the Fury X would almost exactly match the GTX 980 Ti at 4K, but consider that the next game release you want to play might have similar problems. The performance gap suddenly widens as soon as we start looking at lower resolutions; 4K vs. the GTX 980 Ti: -2%, 1440p: -9%, 1080p: -14%, 900p: -18%. This means that for anything below 4K gaming, which includes 1440p, the Fury X can not compete with NVIDIA's offerings. So if you are thinking about 144 Hz 1080p gaming, the GTX 980 Ti is the way to go. For 4K gaming, the Fury is good, though, and it looks as though AMD's driver team has gotten more active, too, as a driver for Batman: Arkham Knight was released shortly after the game's launch, a welcome improvement that will hopefully last.

AMD's Fury X "only" comes with 4 GB of HBM memory, which is a technological limitation as there are no bigger HBM chips available at this time. My numbers show that at this time, there is no need for more than 4 GB of VRAM when targeting playable framerates. While I can't predict the future, I doubt properly optimized games will need more than that. Sure, there will be lazy game developers that will fill all the VRAM up with unnecessary junk, but those games will be the exception, not the norm. The bigger issue for AMD here is in the perception of the less-educated user base; I'm sure forums will be full of "don't buy Fury X, 4 GB VRAM is not enough" posts that might affect the buying decisions of consumer-level-orientated gamers. On the other hand, 6 GB on the GTX 980 Ti is more, no matter how you look at it, which in some way is more future-proof because you would be immune to these odd titles with exceedingly large VRAM usage.

AMD's previous "Hawaii" cards were notorious for their high power draw which required large powerful thermal solutions to keep temperatures at acceptable levels. Fiji is different in that regard as its power consumption is improved in large part due to HBM memory, and the GPU has also seen improvements which result in an overall 30% improvement in gaming efficiency. I'm also happy to report that multi-monitor power consumption is finally at sane levels, although Blu-ray power draw is still quite high. Overall, AMD has caught up to NVIDIA Maxwell's power efficiency, getting close without beating it.
AMD still opted for a watercooling solution, which is not the worst move. NVIDIA's GTX 980 Ti and Titan X reference designs were far from quiet, and the Radeon Fury X is much quieter during gaming and runs extremely cool, reaching only 60°C in games. However, I feel as though the watercooler isn't the ideal implementation as the pump emits an annoying high-pitched whine that is definitely more frustrating than the fan, which runs very quietly. In addition, the card exhibits some coil noise, depending on the game and framerate, but it's definitely there, and combined, the two effectively overpower the fan's noise levels. Idle fan noise could also be lower, and in Zero-core, neither the fan nor the pump turn off completely. Recent NVIDIA cards introduced an idle-fan off mechanism which is also missing on the Radeon.

Combined, the improvements from HBM memory and watercooling enabled AMD to create a super-compact card that's only 19 cm long. This means you can build a compact low-noise gaming PC for the living room that has enough power to play all the latest games. However, the HDMI output is only version 1.4a, so your UltraHD TV will only be driven at 30 Hz, which isn't enough for serious gaming. A minor drawback of the watercooler is that you need to mount the radiator somewhere, which could become an issue in really small cases or cases that already have watercooling. The watercooling loop comes pre-filled and is maintenance-free, with sleeved tubing that is extremely kink resistant, so newbies: don't be afraid.

Overclocking potential of the card is slim, and memory overclocking has been disabled completely. I suspect that the BIOS and driver just haven't been designed for memory overclocking at this early stage of HBM usage. I'm also not sure if there is any benefit at all from overclocking HBM memory because bandwidth seems plenty. What I am more concerned about is the GPU's limited overclocking potential. The GM200 GPU on the GeForce GTX 980 Ti and Titan X overclocks much better, which means that with both cards overclocked to the max, the GTX 980 Ti will have a large performance lead over an overclocked Fury X.

AMD's pricing of $650 for the Fury X matches that of GeForce GTX 980 Ti exactly. I'm not fully convinced that AMD's Fury X can win at this price level. While the card introduces cool new technology like HBM and watercooling in a compact form factor, its performance is not high enough to conclusively beat NVIDIA's offerings, especially the factory overclocked models. The low gaming noise is a definite plus, but it is offset by the pump's noise, higher idle noise, and the fact that custom, slightly more expensive GTX 980 Ti designs will certainly reach similar noise levels with air cooling. Just like the Titan X, AMD does not allow any custom variants of the Fury X, but NVIDIA's GTX 980 Ti is being customized by all of their board partners, which means individual products can target the more specific needs of a smaller customer segment.

I think a more appropriate price point for the Fury X would be $599, but this raises the question of supply and demand. If we go by the extremely limited amount of samples and the even shorter time we had to write the review, there's not gonna be many of them; on the other hand, we do hear of retailers that have stock available right now.
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