ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Review

ccokeman - 2013-12-05 19:14:29 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: March 9, 2014
Price: R9 270 DC2 = $259, R9 280X DC2 = $479

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Introduction:

If you have been a gamer for a while, ASUS DirectCU II cards have earned a reputation for delivering excellent performance with higher-than-baseline clock speeds for the generation of the card. Staying cool under fire, the direct contact heat pipe cooling solutions employed to manage the thermal load, have traditionally been high-end to say the least; with large heat pipes and newer fan technologies that deliver lower noise along with the improved cooling. This generation is no different.

The two cards I get to look at today are the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP and the R9 270 DirectCU II OC. Both feature factory clock speed increases, the R9 280X DirectCU II is a TOP variant of the R9 280X, which features the highest clock speeds out of ASUS R9 280X product stack. In this case, 1070MHz on the specially selected core and 1600MHz on the GDDR5 memory. The R9 270 DirectCU II is a factory overclocked version that comes with a 950MHz base clock and 975MHz boost clock to go with the 1400MHz memory clock speed. Both cards have advantages besides the cooling from ASUS by using its own proprietary Digi+ VRM and Super Power Alloy components to deliver the current needs to the card cooler and more efficiently for a longer lasting card.

Priced at $259 for the R9 270 DirectCU II OC and $479 for the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP, each card is neither the most expensive nor the least expensive when searching our favorite e-tailers. Let's start the article by taking a look at how the card reaches the consumer by looking at the packaging.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Closer Look:

The packaging used by ASUS for this pair of AMD-based video cards look almost identical with the front view on both showing claw marks across a black background. Highlighted features include the DirectCU II cooling solution employed on each card with the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP solution being touted as 20% cooler and 3X quieter than the reference cards, while the solution used on the R9 270 DirectCU II OC is touted again as 20% cooler and vastly quieter. You get the point; reference cards are loud!

Each of these cards are part of the DirectCU II lineup. The R9 280X is a TOP version while the R9 270 is an OC edition. Windows 8 support is shown on the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP, but not on the R9 270 DirectCU II OC, although both will run fine with Windows 8. It comes down to the UEFI support on the card and how it interacts with Windows 8. The back side of the package illustrates the benefits of the DirectCU II cooling solution, Digi+ VRM, and Super Alloy Power components, as well as a quick look at ASUS' own GPU Tweak software package. Outside of the size of the package and actual card name, there is not much to distinguish the two boxes. Each has consistent messaging for the consumer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Internally, you start to see some differences, just due to the clear size differences between the two cards and the marketing concepts used. The R9 280X DirectCU II TOP comes in black with a slim cardboard box containing the accessory bundle, while the R9 270 DIrectCU II OC comes in a slimmer white box having most of the accessory bundle under the foam or in a cutout below the R9 270 DirectCU II OC.

 

 

 

The accessory bundle is kind of slim on both cards. Each gets a driver disk that has the latest GPU driver at the time of packaging and ASUS GPU Tweak software. A "Speed Setup" guide is included in case you need direction on how to install the cards. A CrossFire bridge connector is included, in case you ever decide that just one card is not enough for your gaming needs. The R9 270 comes with a DVI to D-Sub adapter in case you are still running a monitor equipped with a D-Sub connection. Sure its slim, but it gets the job done.

 

 

Past experience has shown that ASUS puts together a very stout package when it comes to its DirectCU II based lineup, regardless of whether you are looking at an AMD or NVIDIA based video card. In this case, I get to look at a pair of AMD cards in the R9 series. Let's dig into the cards and see how well they perform, stock and overclocked.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP Closer Look:

There is no doubt about it that the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP is loaded for bear with a ten phase power delivery system, a big factory overclock, and one of ASUS' DirectCU II cooling solutions to keep the thermals in check. Built on the same 28nm Tahiti-based silicon as the HD 7970, we are not seeing a whole lot new when comparing cards of the same DNA. Where we do see a little something new, is with the fan package used on this card, which uses the Cooltech technology to deliver the airflow through the heat sink for temperatures that are up to 20% cooler than the reference design. Measuring 11.2 x 5.7 x 1.5 inches, the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP is a full size package that will occupy a pair of PCIe worth of space, while only using one 16x PCIe 3.0 slot in the motherboard.

The front view shows the card caries that red and black theme that is still so popular with the gamers. A pair of massive fans occupy most of the shroud with a quartet of heat pipes emerging from under the fin array. On the back side, the black PCB is covered in surface mount electronics. From the factory, ASUS covers most of the connection point with covers to protect them during and after the shipping to the consumer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Display connectivity includes a pair of DVI ports, one DVI-I, one DVI-D, an HDMI Port, and a single full size DisplayPort connection. The back end of the card initially does not look like there is much going on, until you flip the card over to see that the fin array overhangs the PCB by about half an inch. But that's not all you see. In the middle of the PCB are voltage measurement points and solder points to connect to a motherboard, such as the Rampage IV Extreme or Maximus VI Extreme that supports ASUS VGA hot wire functionality. This feature allows the user to solder on leads to the PCB to enhance the voltage control to the on-board components. A feature that sets this card apart from those of ASUS' competitors.

 

 

 

Power connectivity for the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP includes a 6-pin PCIe and 8-pin PCIe power connector to deliver up to 225 watts on top of the 75 watts pulled from the PCIe slot. A power supply of 600 watts should be at the low end of the requirement for this type of card. Under each power connection on the PCB are a pair of LEDs, which indicate whether or not you have an active power connection to the card. This is one of ASUS' Protective Design features. Red means you may not have gotten the power plug into the socket fully or not at all, while showing green means all is good as far as the power supply is concerned.

A pair of CrossFire bridge connections allows up to four cards to be used in a CrossFire configuration as long as your motherboard, power supply, significant other, and wallet are all on the same page. Keeping the PCB from developing a case of the bends, is a brace across the spine of the card that keeps the PCB all in one plane to prevent cracked traces in the PCB from ruining your day. At this point the robust cooling solution used on current generation video cards make this feature almost mandatory.

 

 

The direct contact based cooling solution comes off the PCB by removing the four spring loaded screws that hold it against the core. Underneath the cooling solution, we get to see what makes the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP tick. ASUS' Digi+ VRM controller is used with a ten phase (8+2) Super Alloy Power circuit to deliver gains in operating efficiency, overall life span of the components, and a reduction in card electronic noise thanks to the Super Alloy Power concrete filled chokes. By using this feature set you get a 30% increase in voltage stability for improved overclocking, a 15% overall gain in power efficiency, and a 2.5x boost in the lifespan of the SAP capacitors. A large aluminum cooler covers the mosfets and receives the bulk of its cooling from the pair of 100mm Cooltech fans. At the back end of the PCB is the Digi+ all-digital VRM controller, which enables the user to tweak the voltages and clock speeds, as well as monitor critical operating parameters through software utilities such as ASUS' own full-featured GPU Tweak application.

 

 

 

The ASUS DirectCU II cooling solution is very robust on this card. There are a total of five nickel plated copper heat pipes, including a massive 10mm heat pipe that carries up to 85 watts of thermal load compared to the 60 watts carried by an 8mm heat pipe. On this design, ASUS uses one 10mm pipe, two 8mm heat pipes, and a pair of 6mm heat pipes to carry the thermal load from the Tahiti XTL core to the large aluminum fin array. The contact surface is comprised purely of the copper heat pipes, unlike some solutions that separate the heat pipes with part of the aluminum base, which is a less efficient design. Compared to a reference cooler, ASUS' cooling solution offers almost 55% more surface area available for cooling the GPU core and board components.

 

 

On the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP, ASUS uses what it calls Cooltech technology fans to deliver improved airflow through the heat sink. To do so, they used a new fan design that combines the best attributes of a blower and axial fan to improve cooling performance without increasing noise levels. What we see in use is a hybrid fan paired with an axial fan, both of them 100mm in size that, when combined, deliver a 20% improvement in cooling over the reference design. Noise levels take a 3x reduction when compared to a reference design as well.

 

 

This card is built upon 28nm Tahiti XT silicon much like the HD 7970 was built using an earlier DNA sequence. Outside of special edition cards like the Matrix, Mars, or Poseidon, ASUS TOP video cards often have a better binned core that allow it to achieve higher clock speeds right out of the box. In that respect, ASUS equips the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP with a core clock speed of 1070MHz from the factory. Not as high as I have seen with other cards, but fully stable at 1070MHz, of course with some overclocking headroom left for the enthusiast; even more with the use of ASUS' VGA Hotwire feature set.

Specs wise, we see the same 2048 streaming processors, 128 texture units, and 32 ROPS we are used to seeing with the R9 280X. On-board GDDR5 memory is from SK Hynix in a 3GB capacity running through a 384-Bit bus. These Hynix modules, part number H5GQ2H24AFR R0C, are rated for operation at 6.0Gbps using 1.5v. ASUS puts a little squeeze on them from the factory, running the memory at 6.4Gbps. Even so, there still is a little meat on the bone it seems on this card.

 

 

The R9 280X DirectCU II is factory-equipped to run the numbers and deliver a great gaming experience. Let's see if the R9 270 DirectCU II OC has the same special feature sets.

ASUS R9 270 DirectCU II TOP Closer Look:

At first glance the R9 270 makes you think it belongs in the R7 product stack, but then you dig a little deeper to see that it does indeed belong with the big cards. The ROG inspired look goes well with the shroud and thematic used on the R9 270 thanks to the jet black PCB and red accents. Measuring 9.2 x 4.9 x 1.5 inches, the R9 270 DirectCU II will fit into smaller chassis than its larger cousin, the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP. This card is built around the 28nm Pitcairn series core from AMD, much like what I have seen on the R9 270X and HD 7870/7850. Although the raw specifications vary slightly, they fall in that range.

ASUS is using a pair of dust resistant 70mm fans to provide the airflow through the dual direct contact heat pipe equipped fin array. The shroud does not make it to the I/O plate, but in past iterations, it has proven to not be a factor in cooling the core. The back side of the PCB is fairly clean minus the surface mount electronics on the black PCB. The ASUS R9 270 DirectCU II OC can be used in motherboards that support the PCIe 3.0 standard, as well as being backwards compatible. From the top and bottom view you can see the card is slightly curved, creating opportunity for trace breakage internally. I have seen plenty of video cards last well past their prime like this, but I am surprised to not see a brace down the spine of the card. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Display connectivity on the R9 270 DirectCU II OC mirrors that of the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP with two DVI ports (one DVI-I and one DVI-D) along with an HDMI Port and single full size DisplayPort connection that can support a three-screen Eyefinity panel. The back end of the card is not all that exciting with nothing really of interest. The shroud and heat sink overhang the PCB by about an inch, allowing a pathway for the airflow out of the shroud.

 

 

The ASUS R9 270 requires a single 6-pin PCIe power connector to supply the power above the 75 watts supplied by the 16x PCIe 3.0 slot for a maximum draw of 150 watts. One of ASUS' key features, is its protective designs feature set, manifested here as a pair of LEDs on the back side of the PCB under the power connection. These light up either red or green to let the end user know whether or not you have power properly connected to the card. It's a quick and easy visual wake up call when you forget to plug in or just miss getting the power plugged in all the way. A single CrossFire bridge connection shows a CrossFire configuration of two cards is supported in motherboards with two or more 16x PCIe slots.

 

 

ASUS' direct contact cooling solution is easy to remove, unlike the solutions employed by some of its competitors. A quartet of spring loaded screws are all that holds it. Under the heat sink we get to the PCB that uses ASUS' exclusive Digi+ VRM and Super Alloy Power components. A six phase power supply circuit is used to provide the power for this factory overclocked R9 270. ASUS' Super Alloy Power circuit is built to deliver gains in operating efficiency, overall life span of the components, and a reduction in card electronic noise thanks to the Super Alloy Power concrete filled chokes. Using this feature set, you get a 30% increase in voltage stability for improved overclocking, a 15% overall gain in power efficiency, and a 2.5x boost in the lifespan of the SAP capacitors. The SAP mosfets for the six phase power circuit are air cooled via the airflow from the pair of 70mm fans driving airflow through the heat sink.

 

 

Not as physically robust as the cooler used on the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP, the direct contact cooling solution on the R9 270 DirectCU II OC is equipped with a pair of 8mm nickel-plated copper heat pipes to carry the thermal load from the 28nm Pitcairn core to the aluminum fin array. This design is common on just about all higher end video card products not using a blower style fan. This cooling solution improves cooling performance by 20% over a reference solution. On top of that number, you also see a massive improvement in the noise level this card produces when compared to a reference cooling solution.

 

 

A pair of 70mm dust-resistant PWM fans from FirstD, part number FD7010H12S, are used to provide the cooling airflow through the aluminum fin array. Instead of being mounted to the fin array, these fans mount to the shroud in a more traditional configuration.

 

 

The R9 270 is built upon AMD's 28nm Pitcairn core that is packed full of 2.8 billion transistors, 1280 streaming processors, 80 texture units, and 32 ROPs. Base clock speeds on this card from ASUS are 975MHz on the core and 1400MHz (5600MHz effective) for the 2GB of GDDR5 on-board memory. Specifications wise, it matches up well with the HD 7870, but comes with a higher effective data rate on the memory. Elpida is the supplier of the 2GB of GDDR5 memory that runs through a 256-bit bus. Elpida, part number W2032BBBG-6A-F, is designed for use at 1500MHz (6Gbps effective) using 1.5v. This leaves some overclocking margin left for the enthusiast to drive the frames a little higher.

 

 

So far we have a pair of factory overclocked cards that come with non-reference cooling solutions that are built to last. The key is how well do they perform by comparison to the competition? They should do well based on the specifications.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Specifications:

R9 270 DirectCU II:

Graphics Engine
AMD Radeon R9 270
Bus Standard
PCI Express 3.0
Video Memory
GDDR5 2GB
Engine Clock
GPU Boost Clock : 975 MHz
GPU Base Clock : 950 MHz
Memory Clock
5600 MHz ( 1400 MHz GDDR5 )
Memory Interface
256-bit
Resolution
DVI Max Resolution : 2560x1600
Interface
DVI Output : Yes x 1 (DVI-I), Yes x 1 (DVI-D)
HDMI Output : Yes x 1
Display Port : Yes x 1 (Regular DP)
HDCP Support :
Yes
Power Consumption
up to 150W / 1 additional 6-pin PCIe power required
Accessories
1 x CrossFire cable
1 x DVI to D-Sub adaptor
Software
ASUS GPU Tweak & Driver
ASUS Features
DirectCU Series
OC Series
Super Alloy Power
Dimensions
9.2 " x 4.9 " x 1.5 "

 

ASUS R9 280X DC II TOP:

 

Graphics Engine
AMD Radeon R9 280X
Bus Standard
PCI Express 3.0
Video Memory
GDDR5 3GB
Engine Clock
1070 MHz
Memory Clock
6400 MHz ( 1600 MHz GDDR5 )
Memory Interface
384-bit
Resolution
DVI Max Resolution : 2560x1600
Interface
DVI Output : Yes x 1 (DVI-I), Yes x 1 (DVI-D)
HDMI Output : Yes x 1
Display Port : Yes x 1 (Regular DP)
HDCP Support :
Yes
Power Consumption
up to 150W / 1 additional 6-pin PCIe power required
Accessories
1 x CrossFire cable
1 x DVI to D-Sub adaptor
1 x Power cable
Software
ASUS GPU Tweak & Driver
Dimensions
11.2 " x 5.7 " x 1.5 "

 

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Features:

ASUS R9 270 DirectCU II OC:

 

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP:


 

All information Courtesy of ASUS @ http://www.asus.com/us/Graphics_Cards/AMD_Series_Products/

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Testing of the ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP and R9 270 DirectCU II OC will consist of running them and comparison cards through the OverclockersClub.com suite of games and synthetic benchmarks. This will test the performance against many popular competitors. Comparisons will be made to cards of a range of capabilities to show where each card falls on the performance ladder. The games used are some of today's newest and most popular titles, which should be able to provide an idea of how the cards perform relative to each other.

The system specifications will remain the same throughout the testing. No adjustments will be made to the respective control panels during the testing to approximate the performance the end user can expect with a stock driver installation. I will first test the cards at stock speeds, and then overclocked to see the effects of an increase in clock speed. The cards will be placed in order from highest to lowest performance in each graph to show where they fall by comparison. The NVIDIA comparison cards will be using the 334.69 drivers while AMD-based cards will be using the Catalyst 14.1 beta drivers. The results generated in my testing were reached by utilizing the latest FCAT tools to illustrate the true picture of the gaming experience. To do so will require a second PC setup to capture the data stream generated by the compared video cards.

 

Testing Setup:

FCAT Capture Setup:

 

Comparison Video Cards:

 

 

Overclocking:

 

First let's talk about the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP. Overclocking Tahiti-based silicon, like we get with the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP, does not change much for this generation when you look at the usual clock speed envelope that the cores traditionally end up reaching. Looking backwards, the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP actually delivers better clock speeds than the HD 7970 DirectCU II I looked at in late 2012. You can use any one of the many utilities available online to reach the best compromise between performance, thermals, and noise, but why not use what ASUS has put together in the GPU Tweak software package. TOP series cards from ASUS traditionally have binned cores that sometimes seem limited in their clock speed potential, even though out of the box, they come with much improved baseline clock speeds.

To reach the fully stable 1170MHz core clock, I set the core voltage to 1300mv in GPU Tweak and started raising the core clock speed until my testing failed, and then backed off 10MHz. At 1170MHz, it still leaves performance on the table when compared to Sapphire Toxic edition, but it takes time and the luck of the draw to bin cards that high. Considering this card comes with a 1070MHz baseline core clock speed increase of 100MHz, or just under 10% improvement in clock speed, is not a stretch expectation. From the factory, the memory clock speed is running at 1600MHz. Boosting up the clock speed on the GDDR5 memory was accomplished using the same process as on the Tahiti core and essentially delivered an identical 100MHz boost in memory clock speed improvement for your time and effort. These are not the highest clock speeds I have seen on a Tahiti-based card, but do offer up another level of performance if you spend the time to work for it.

Now looking at the R9 270 DirectCU II OC, I found that GPU Tweak ultimately limited the clock speed of the card to 1100MHz on the core and 1600MHz on the memory. GPU Tweak usually has all the tools you need to monitor and overclock your GPU, but in the latest version I was limited in the maximum clock speeds I could set, even after digging through the settings menu. I was simply capped at 1100MHz on the core and 1600MHz on the GDDR5 memory. For the R9 270 DirectCU II OC, I used a combination of GPU Tweak to set the voltage parameters and Afterburner to adjust the clock speed higher than the limits in GPU Tweak. Hey, it's all about finding out what works best. By setting the voltage to the maximum level of 1190mv, I was able to boost the clock speed on the Pitcairn-based R9 270 DirectCU II OC to 1220MHz, or over 20% higher than its 975MHz baseline clock speed setting. The memory speed was not quite as flexible, but still was able to deliver a 104MHz increase over the 1500MHz baseline. If the R9 270 DirectCU II OC does not give you enough performance up front, then overclocking margin is there for that extra few frames.

 

 

 

 

Maximum Clock Speeds:

Testing for the maximum clock speed consisted of looping Unigine Heaven 4.0 for thirty minutes each to see where the clock speeds failed when pushed. If the clock speed adjustment failed, then the clock speeds and tests were re-run until they passed a full hour of testing.

 

 

  1. Metro: Last Light
  2. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist
  3. Bioshock Infinite
  4. Crysis 3
  5. Far Cry 3
  6. Battlefield 4
  7. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
  8. Batman: Arkham Origins
  9. Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0
  10. 3DMark
  11. Ultra HD

 

  1. Temperatures
  2. Power Consumption

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Part first-person shooter, part survival horror, Metro: Last Light is the follow-up to the extremely popular game Metro 2033. Developed by 4A games and published by Deepsilver, this game uses the 4A game engine. In this game, set a year after the missile strike on the Dark Ones, you continue on as Artyom as he digs deeper into the bowels of the Metro.

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

The ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP matches up well with the Sapphire Toxic edition card in this game, especially at 5760x1080. Sapphire's higher clock speed pays dividends in an out-of-the-box race, but when you get down to running identical clock speeds, the performance is going to be identical. The ASUS R9 270 DiretCU II OC gets a little left behind here. At 1920x1080 it is right on the cusp of 30FPS. Tweaking the settings a little will easily get you up and over that number for some pretty decent 1080p gaming. Our FCAT results didn't show anything unexpected in this series of results.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the sixth installment in this franchise. Released in mid August 2013 in the US, it is published and distributed by Ubisoft. This game is built around the Unreal 2.5 game engine and uses Havok Physics. A new feature in this third person perspective game, is a new game mechanic called Killing in Motion.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

Each of ASUS' DirectCU II cards offer playable frame rates in this game, even at 5760x1080. Comparing the performance of the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP and R9 280X Toxic, again, shows higher clock speeds offer higher performance. In the FCAT results, there is nothing out of the ordinary for the ASUS card while the Sapphire card shows a bunch of spikes that we did not see using previous drivers.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Bioshock Infinite, much like the first two installments of the franchise, is a first-person shooter known for its strong story and atmosphere. This third installment of the franchise no longer takes place in the underwater world of Rapture, but in the could city of Columbia. Utilizing many of the gameplay characteristics of the original games, Bioshock Infinite has garnered critical acclaim. Taking the player through a maze of outdoor and indoor scenarios, the action is not constrained by territory. Developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games, this iteration uses the Unreal 3 game engine.

 

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

The ASUS R9 270 DirectCU II OC offers butter-smooth game play at 1920x1080 using the ultra preset. At 5760x1080, the FPS drops to 24, but still feels smoother than the results indicate. That being said, the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP delivers results better than the GTX 770 in both resolutions. In the FCAT results, there are some frame time spikes, but all of the cards seem to suffer from this around the same time in the benchmark sequence. Outside the spikes, frame times are relatively tight and provide that smooth gameplay experience.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

This third installment of the Crysis franchise, developed by Crytek and distributed by Electronic Arts, uses the CryEngine 3 game engine and requires a DirectX 11 ready video card and operating system due to its demanding graphics engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

Can it play Crysis? Sure it can. Both the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP and R9 270 DirectCU II OC deliver playable frame rates in Crysis 3. At 5760x1080, none of the cards can get over 30 FPS with the settings used. ASUS' lower clock speeds, again, impact performance against higher clocked examples; though that is the expectation when you get down to it. Clocked identically, the results are indeed identical. The FCAT results show that both the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP and the R9 270 DirectCU II OC deliver pretty tight frame times through the benchmark run.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Far Cry 3 is the latest iteration in the Far Cry series. Released in the US in early December 2012, it uses the Dunia 2 game engine and is published and developed by Ubisoft. This action-adventure, first-person shooter offers both single player and multi-player modes.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

In Far Cry 3, both of ASUS' cards perform up to their abilities at 1920x1080. At 5760x1080, the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP narrows the performance gap the Sapphire Toxic edition enjoys at 1920x1080, mirroring a recurring theme. The frame time variances in this game run in a very narrow band that illustrates the smooth gameplay.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Battlefield 4  is a first-person shooter developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. Battlefield 4 uses the Frostbite 3 game engine as a step up from the Frostbite 2 engine used in BF3. As the successor to Battlefield franchise the graphics are improved. Following a set release cycle Battlefield 4 was released for the PC in North America in October 2013 supporting DirectX 11 and now after multiple patches AMD's Mantle API.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

Running under the DX 11 API, both the R9 280X and R9 270 DirectCU II based cards deliver frame rates well above 30 FPS at 1920x1080. To get to 30 FPS at 5760x1080, you need a little more oomph in the form of the R9 290X. If that's out of reach, using less aggressive settings can help. One other option that exists to improve performance for AMD based cards, is to change the API from DX 11 to Mantle. Even using the ultra preset, the gameplay was smooth in both resolutions shown by the tight frame time variances.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a historical action-adventure open world video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag was released for PC in November of 2013 and uses the AnvilNext game engine. Set in the Caribbean, it follows the adventures of Edward Kenway over land and sea.

 

Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

1920x1080     5760x1080

 

At 1920x1080, you get playable frame rates in Assassin's Creed IV with both the R9 280X and R9 270 DirectCU II cards. Performance can be improved easily with less aggressive setting.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Batman: Arkham Origins is the third installment of the Batman: Arkham series released in October 2013. This action-adventure game, based on DC Comics Batman super hero, was developed by Warner Bros. Games Montréal and released by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Batman: Arkham Origins continues to use the Unreal 3 game engine.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080   5760x1080

 

1920x1080   5760x1080

 

Playing through Batman: Arkham Origins at both 1920x1080 and 5760x1080 is a smooth experience with the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP. The R9 270 DirectCU II OC delvers FPS results close to the performance of the GTX 760 and R9 270X.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on the Unigine engine. This was the first DX 11 benchmark to allow testing of DX 11 features. What sets the Heaven Benchmark apart is the addition of hardware tessellation, available in three modes – Moderate, Normal, and Extreme. Although tessellation requires a video card with DirectX 11 support and Windows Vista/7, the Heaven Benchmark also supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11, and OpenGL 4.0. Visually, it features beautiful floating islands that contain a tiny village and extremely detailed architecture.

 

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FCAT Results:

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

1920x1080 5760x1080

 

The results in this benchmark show a similar level of performance between the ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP and Sapphire R9 280X Toxic. The frame time variances are really tight in this benchmark.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

3DMark: The just-released version of Futuremark's popular 3DMark suite is designed to let a wider range of the user base make a comparative analysis of the gaming prowess of their systems from entry level PCs, to notebooks, and extreme gaming PCs.

 

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Stock and overclocked, the Sapphire Toxic R9 280X was faster in this benchmark than the ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP. The higher factory boost clock and additional cooling capacity make the Toxic hard to improve upon, but ASUS is right behind it.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

As GPUs become more capable of pushing higher pixel densities, the use of panels supporting ever higher resolutions are hitting the market with prices dropping as better technology hits the market. Monitors supporting resolutions up to 4K are available, but can be pricey depending on the screen size you are looking for. If you look at some of the non-name branded parts, you can find some tremendous bargains at the 2560x1440 resolution and even find some deals on Ultra HD televisions that can be had as low as $700. I will be running six games through the UHD testing to see just what each card will do with high settings and reduced anti-aliasing levels. The test setup is the same as the one used for the balance of the GPU Testing with the exception of the switch to an ASUS PQ321Q 4K capable panel. The settings used for each game can be seen in OCC's 4K testing article.

Setting up the FCAT tools to be able to measure the output signal to the display creates some challenges in measuring the raw data just due to the screen size and is more along the lines of measuring the results when running a 5760x1080 resolution. You can take a look back at our introduction to FCAT for a more in-depth look at the technology and hardware required to pull these results. While FRAPS is a valid measurement for what it does, it does not give an accurate picture of what is actually hitting the screen. For that reason we choose to stay with FCAT as our method for capturing FPS and illustrating anomalies in performance from one manufacturer to the other. To capture the data stream going to the PQ321Q, the setup is a bit different than capturing the data at lower resolutions. Since we basically have a two-monitor setup with the UHD panel, we can hook up the hardware-based capture solution as indicated below to keep the data stream at a manageable level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaming Tests:

 

Batman: Arkham Origins:

 

 

Battlefield 4:

 

 

Crysis 3:

 

 

Far Cry 3:

 

 

Comparing the performance of ASUS' R9 280X DirectCU II TOP to that of the Sapphire Toxic Edition R9 280X, shows that the clock speed differences between these two cards defines FPS performance at a resolution of 3840 x 2160. Depending on the game, the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP FPS results are either comparable or slightly lower.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Temperature testing will be accomplished by loading the video card to 100% using Unigine Heaven Benchmark Version 4.0, with MSI Afterburner overclocking utility for temperature monitoring. I will be using a resolution of 1920x1080 using 8xAA and a five-run sequence to run the test, ensuring that the maximum thermal threshold is reached. The fan speed will be left in the control of the driver package and video card BIOS for the stock load test, with the fan moved to 100% to see the best possible cooling scenario for the overclocked load test. The idle test will involve a twenty-minute cooldown, with the fan speeds left on automatic in the stock speed testing and bumped up to 100% when running overclocked.

 

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At stock speeds, the ASUS DirectCU II equipped R9 280X easily kept pace with the Tri-X cooled R9 280X Toxic at both idle and under load, showing off the strengths of ASUS' design. The R9 270 fits right within that cooling envelope by comparison. Neither of the three offer the lowest idle temperatures, but show how effective they are under load.

Overvolting the core drives up heat even higher. ASUS plans for this eventuality, as many gamers will look for that last FPS as the card ages, by building a cooling solution that can take the increased thermal dump added voltage and core clock speed bring to the table. The ASUS DirectCU II equipped R9 280X TOP actually cools slightly better in my tests by a single degree over time. Pretty impressive when you look at how well the Sapphire card does in this metric.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Testing:

Power consumption of the system will be measured at both idle and loaded states, taking into account the peak voltage of the system with each video card installed. I will use Unigine Heaven Benchmark version 4.0 to put a load onto the GPU using the settings below. A fifteen-minute load test will be used to heat up the GPU, with the highest power usage recorded as the final result. The idle results will be measured after fifteen minutes of inactivity on the system with the lowest recorded power usage as the final result.

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Not wholly unexpected, the R9 270 Direct CU II OC does well in the power consumption tests and is the most power friendly card in the comparison field. The ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP at idle is the card that uses the most power even after a fifteen-minute idle period. However, when you look at the load results, it redeems itself by using significantly less power than the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP & R9 270 DirectCU II OC Conclusion:

As an AIB partner, ASUS sells plenty of reference video cards. What sets the brand apart are the cards it builds that improve upon what the GPU makers spec out as the reference design. The two cards I have looked at today fall into that non-reference mold in a big way. The ASUS DirectCU II equipped cards usually come with a custom PCB, all-digital power circuit, and a host of ASUS improvements.

Let's start with the cooling solution employed on the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP and R9 270 DirectCU II OC. The R9 280X DirectCU II TOP uses a five heat pipe (including a large 10mm pipe) direct contact cooling solution to keep the thermals down below 70 °C using the card's PWM to control the Cooltech 100mm fans. Spinning the fans up to 100% adds another 10 °C improvement in cooling performance. The dual heat pipe solution on the R9 270 DirectCU II OC is not as robust, but it really does not have to be to get the job done. Under an overvolted, overclocked scenario, it does not show the improvement we see with the solution used on the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP, but the temperatures still stay below 70 °C as well.

If you do not care about the noise level generated by your video card, you can stick to a reference design. Nothing beats the sound of a squirrel cage fan at full song right? Wrong! ASUS takes great care to ensure that the noise profile of the cards are kept at the lower end of the spectrum, but still deliver enough airflow to move the thermal load out of the silicon and into the air stream through the chassis. ASUS touts the cooler design as being 20% cooler than a reference design and 3X quieter. When compared to a reference 7970 (I had to dig back a ways), I saw a 10 °C improvement, or about a 13% improvement, over that card. As far as the 3X quieter statement, inside a chassis, where the cards will be during use, you cannot hear them in a normal household with kids. Cranking the fans up lets you know the card is there, but again, no where near the levels you get with a squirrel cage fan. In fact, I could not even hear the fans spool up on the R9 270 DirectCU II OC.

Both the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP and R9 270 DirectCU II OC are factory-overclocked variants that are built on custom PCBs equipped with ASUS Digi+ VRM and Super Alloy Power technology; an all-digital power control circuit using improved components. A digital controller offers more robust voltage controls, as well as the ability to be controlled via software tools like ASUS' own GPU Tweak tuning and monitoring application. Super Alloy Power components such as solid caps will extend the useful life of the parts by 2.5x. The Super Alloy Chokes feature a metal alloy shell around a concrete core to prevent the coil whine and buzz so common on high-end video cards these days; especially on reference designs. It all adds up to increased lifespan and a more stable power plane to help improve overclocking.

Overclocking offered up a mixed bag of results with both cards. Each is already equipped with a healthy overclock right out-of-the-box, but ASUS left some meat on the bone for those of us that feel the need to tinker with what they gave us. The R9 280X DirectCU II TOP was able to reach 1170MHz on the core and 1700MHz on the GDDR5 memory. Each a bonus of 100MHz over the as-delivered speeds. The R9 270 DirectCU II OC reached 1220MHz on the core and 1604MHz on the memory, or a massive boost of 245MHz on the core and 204MHz on the memory. Impressive for a card in this range. Overclocking definitely adds to the average FPS totals, but only if you do the work to get there. ASUS has an application called GPU Tweak, which is included, and does more than just monitoring and tuning the performance level of the installed video card. You get widget monitoring, Live Update (to keep the software, drivers, and BIOS up to date), embedded ASUS skinned GPU-Z, and live streaming.

When you look at what you get with these two ASUS DirectCU II offerings, you get performance relative to their clock speed out-of-the-box with a good bit of overclocking headroom left over for the enthusiast. Both the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP and R9 270 DirectCU II OC have that distinctive look, which sets the DirectCU II lineup apart from it competitors and looks, oh so right, sitting in an ASUS ROG motherboard, such as the Maximus VI Gene I just looked at.

Pricing for the Tahiti-based R9 280X DirectCU II TOP has been kept artificially inflated due to high demand by crypto coin miners, but with the recent insolvency of the Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange the prices seem to have eased a bit. This is evidenced by the $40 drop over the past week for the R9 280X DirectCU II TOP, coming in today at $479. The R9 270 DirectCU II OC however, has kept a solid $259 price point. If you are in the market for a new video card, these two examples from ASUS offer excellent performance, good looks, and long term build quality that should allow them to remain on your rig well past the typical three-year upgrade cycle.

 

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