Whilst we wait for the R9 290X to be freed from the non-disclosure agreement, we're reviewing the advance guard of the R9 280X and the R9 270X. The R9 280X is a rebranded HD7970 but, as we saw in our first review, still capable of producing the goods thanks to that Tahiti core.
The R9 270X that we're looking at here is either based around the Tahiti LE core, which first appeared in the HD7950, an incredible overclocker, and then the very limited edition HD7870LE. The HD7870LE was the perfect blend of price and performance and proved so popular that they almost instantly sold out. The alternative is that it's the Curacao XT core from the HD7870. The trouble with putting old GPUs on new PCBs is that it's hard to get a handle on what exactly is in your hands.
However, it makes perfect sense that AMD have kept such a hugely popular card such as the HD7870 as part of their line-up and retained that low price and re-released it as the R9 270X. Unlike the 280X we just have a reference model here, so with very little to talk about in terms of the cards looks, let's get straight down to the benchmarks.
With 2GB of 256bit GDDR5 and 1280 stream processors, the R9 270X keeps tightly to the HD7870 formula that proved so successful. Coming it at exactly the same price as the HD7870LE too, this could be the way to get your hands on such a limited edition card without having to hunt through the dark corners of the internet to find one still in stock.
AMD R9 270X
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.6GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Corsair Dominator Platinum
Corsair Neutron GTX
Windows 7 x64
3D Mark Vantage
The Club 3D HD7870 was one of the best price to performance cards we tested from the last generation, and it's great to see that the 270X matches it stride for stride. The GTX760 just has the edge in PC Mark Vantage, but the 270X still gives some good scores.
3D Mark 11
3D Mark 11 gives a similar set of results, with the AMD R9 270X nearly identical to the HD7870 and only in the Extreme preset does the GTX760 gain the upper hand. It's very closely fought.
Although the R9 270X is lacking a little oomph in the very basic Ice Storm test, once the intensity is increased it matches the GTX760 as similarly as their relative price tags. Certainly the synthetic benchmarks are showing well for the AMD card, so let's see how it performs in some games.
It might not be the most strenuous benchmark around, but AvP still looks the business. The 270X is almost inseparable from the HD7870, and the nVidia GTX760 keeps up it's slightly higher performance from our 3D Mark testing.
Batman Arkham City
For the first time in a long while we have a card that doesn't quite hit the 60FPS mark in the 1920x1080 testing. We know that Arkham City prefers the nVidia cards because of the PhysX, and that explains our slight performance drop here. The 270X clearly starts to run out of puff once you increase the resolution to 2560x1440, but this isn't the card for such extreme resolutions and doesn't pretend to be.
Normally with a midrange card we don't bother with our higher resolution testing because graphics cards as this price point aren't intended for 27" monitors. However the 270X manages to maintain a playable frame rate in BioShock Infinite, which is a surprise. Of course it's not the smoothest experience around, but a match for the consoles. At the more regular 1920x1080 it nearly gives us the magical 60FPS, and certainly is smooth and playable even with a Handyman right in your face.
Obviously if you're buying a midrange GPU you should run at midrange settings, so with the knowledge that we maintain the maximum possible image quality it's clear that the 270X isn't enough graphics card for Crysis 3. The GTX760 is 50% better and even the lowly GTX650Ti matches its mere 20FPS.
Far Cry 3
The gap between the GTX760 and the R9 270X tightens in Far Cry 3. Despite it only pushing around 30FPS, the pace of the game is such that it's smooth in all but the most explosive outpost battles, although moving up to 2560 taxes it too much.
Demonstrating once again that the Radeon cards have a excellent anti-aliasing performance, the 270X still manages 30FPS in the difficult Hitman Absolution, even with 8xMSAA. Considering that even the best overclocked GTX780 only obtains 55FPS it shows that with some careful image quality choices you can get a very smooth game.
Resident Evil 6
At 1920x1080 the R9 270X still gives the all-important S rank in Resident Evil 6. It's only when we move to the higher resolution that it finally dips down to an A performance grade, although that's still far from poor.
Still the most frustrating title since the dark days of Crysis Warhead, Metro 2033 isn't too bad at all on the 270X, managing to match the 40FPS from the much more expensive GTX770.
Metro Last Light
So far Last Light has been a depressing demonstration of poor optimisation, and so it continues with the R9 270X. 17 FPS is appalling, and to reach single digits in 2560x1440 is ridiculous. However, we're almost certain this is entirely the fault of 4A Games who must have Quad-SLI GTX Titans in their QA rig.
You can really see the difference between the more powerful 280X and the 270X in Sleeping Dogs. 37FPS average on the AMD R9 270X isn't too bad, although we know that just dropping the AA down to 2x would make a huge difference.
We're big fans of the Tomb Raider reboot here at OC3D and you can see why AMD have it as part of their Never Settle bundle, as it performs admirably on the R9 270X. Better than an overclocked GTX760 is not bad going at all, even if the difference is slight.
The 270X struggles to produce decent numbers in CatZilla, regardless of the resolution used. The GTX760 comprehensively bests it, and even the old GTX650Ti isn't far behind.
Unigine Valley is another test which doesn't show the 270X in a good light, or at the least demonstrates that the GTX760 has more potential for decent frame rates. Even the difference between the 280X and the 270X are like night and day.
It's been a long while since we saw a card fail to reach the 60FPS average in the zero anti-aliasing test of Unigine Heaven. The 16FPS it loses when you add 8xAA is very handy though, as it shows how well the R9 270X handles anti-aliasing, and also the type of performance benefit you could expect to see in our gaming benchmarks if you used an amount of MSAA more in keeping with the price-point of the card.
When looking at the performance of any graphics card you always have to take into account the price of it. After all, none of us would expect a £100 GPU to perform as well as a £800 one. For a long while it was the case that £200 got you into the game, and £300 had you maximising the settings and spending your days grinning.
Recently graphics cards have had a major price hike, with £300 now being the middle ground and, amazingly, £200 now considered low to midrange. The R9 270X has a SRP of £179, so counts as a good value option.
It proves to be exactly that. Our testing is always done at the maximum possible settings to ensure that we have consistent results even when reviewing the most powerful setups. This does, for cards such as the 270X, lead to scores which appear to be too poor to be worth gaming with. However, dollops of anti-aliasing and high shadow quality can make an extreme difference to the performance and so with some careful choices in the settings menus there is a smooth gaming experience to be had from the R9 270X.
There is a lot of debate about what exactly lies beneath the cooler and AMD are understandably reticent to confess. Largely because no company wants to let on that they have merely rebranded an existing product. It's Apple's business model after all. Is it the Curacao XT or the Tahiti LE? Who knows. From looking at our graphs the R9 270X nearly perfectly matches the performance of the HD7870 either way, and so you can be sure that this is right in the performance/price sweet spot.
You can get a lot of GPU power for your money these days, even with the entire range from both manufacturers having a price-hike, and the R9 270X is no exception. Not quite as good as a GTX760 but slightly cheaper, you're almost getting exactly what you pay for. If you're a gamer on a budget you could certainly do worse than check out the 270X as, with some careful settings choices, it's capable of running all but the most demanding titles in a smooth manner. For that reason we will award it our OC3D Gamers Choice.
Now enough of these rehashed old models, AMD. Bring on the all new Hawaii based R9 290X.
Thanks to AMD for supplying the R9 270X for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.