When AMD announced its potential “killer” of nVidia’s GeForce GTX 980 Ti – the Radeon R9 Fury X, the whole gaming community was quite intrigued whether it is going to be for real or not. Since then, we were all waiting impatiently for release to lay our hands on the “Red Fury” and find out. So, let us see what AMD has accomplished this time and whether they created a real competitor to nVidia GTX 980 Ti. Which is the best card to put in your custom gaming PC? Which one will let you play games at high frame rates and 4K?
Looking into the future
This is not the first time when AMD releases their new product with innovative features. As many of us may remember the famous Radeon HD-4870 – the world’s first graphics card that incorporated high-speed GDDR5 memory solution. This time, apart from a newest 28nm GPU built on Fuji technology, AMD comes first again with the High Bandwidth Memory video memory (HBM).
HBM is so-called stacked or “3D” memory technology, which was developed by AMD in cooperation with SK Hynix – unlike GDDR5, memory chips are stacked on the graphics card and no longer applied side by side. Actual communication with GPU is ensured by so-called interposer. Stacking the memory allows increasing a memory bandwidth and requires less physical space on the circuit board. AMD says that HBM may accommodate up to 94% less space in comparison with traditional GDDRR5 modules. HDM runs at relatively low voltage – 1.3V vs. 1.5V for GDDR5 and lower clock speeds – 500MHz vs. 1750MHz for GDDR5. The transfer rate is also slower than GDDR5 – 1 Gbps vs. 7 Gbps. However, exceptionally wide bandwidth makes it up for these attributes. Each DRAM die in the stack can transfer data by way of two 128-bit-wide channels. Each stack, then, has an aggregate interface width of 1024 bits (versus 32 bits for a GDDR5 chip). At 1 Gbps, that works out to 128 GB/s of bandwidth for each memory stack. Thus, the limitations that are valid for GDDR5 are easily will be avoided in the future. It can be boldly said that HBM is the evolutionary step for AMD’s products and for Fury X in particular. Although, current implementation is limited to 4GB capacity, it presents unbelievably high throughput on an unprecedented 4096-bit wide memory interface.
Thermals, Noise and Power and Performance
No doubt, R9 Fury X is cooler by every way than the reference air-cooled GTX 980 Ti due to pre-installed water-cooling system. But when it comes to non-reference designs of nVidia cards, like EVGA 980 Ti Hybrid, for example, results are surprisingly the opposite. R9 Fury X warms-up a bit longer, which just mean that it’s cooling less aggressively on the start, but the temperature continues to increase throughout the tests. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – it just means the cooler doesn’t attack thermals as powerfully as the nVidia solution.
As sad as it may be, a loud hum of the pump of R9 Fury X is always audible. Even in comparison with reference design on GTX 980 Ti equipped with fans, still the noise is quite notable. Not to mention GTX 980 Ti water-cooling solutions – yes, they hum as well, but their hum is more deeper and not that annoying as AMD’s higher-frequency noise.
As for power consumption, here we have almost similar picture between R9 Fury X (a bit less) and nVidia (a bit more) non-reference solutions with water-cooling. And in the opposite, reference design GTX 980 Ti would consume as much as twice more energy, which would require the customer to consider more powerful power supply unit.
Gaming performance is generally a step behind the reference GTX 980 Ti when played at 4K. As resolution decreases, the Fury X’s weak point – polygon and triangle limitations – is revealed as a bottleneck. The disparity widens measurably, nearly 2x in some instances, as AMD competes at 1440p and 1080p resolutions.
One of the advantages of AMD’s graphics cards was often their lower price compared to the Nvidia ones. Unfortunately, this time the Fury X can’t outscore GTX 980 Ti – 700 euros vs. 670, at the time, when AMD’s solution was considered as flagship video card. Given the higher performance and lower noise and power consumption, the price can be considered as post-primary. However, we give a credit to AMD for pioneering work that provides the manufacturer with the High Bandwidth Memory. This has been at the Fury X no significant added value compared to GDDR5 video memory, though bandwidth were increased significantly. Within the next few years HBM would prevail over older systems as a new standard and there would be no limitations of GDDR5. Until the Radeon R9 Fury X does not fall in price, you could seriously consider GTX 980 Ti as better performer.