AMD Radeon R9 Fury X: Australian Review

After a year of rumour, months of speculation and weeks of breathless anticipation, AMD’s newest and most powerful single-GPU graphics card is here. The $979 AMD Radeon R9 Fury X uses AMD’s gutsiest graphics chip yet, has watercooling straight out of the box, and uses a brand new memory technology that promises four times the performance of last year’s graphics gear. The R9 Fury X is doing a lot more with a lot less, and that’s very exciting.

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What Is It?

  • Base Clock: 1050MHz
  • Memory Clock: 1.0Gbps
  • Memory: 4GB High Bandwidth Memory
  • Memory Bus: 4096-bit
  • Power: 275W, 8pin + 8pin

Based on AMD’s long-awaited Fiji graphics chip, the new Fury graphics cards — including this Fury X — all feature a single 4GB stack of AMD and RAM manufacturer Hynix’s super-fast High Bandwidth Memory — featuring much larger memory bus width than any previous GDDR5-based card, and with memory bandwidth of 512GBps — around a third faster than even the fastest previous AMD and Nvidia graphics cards (which topped out around 320 to 340GBps).

Importantly, it’s the high bandwidth memory stack that cuts down on space needed for individual DRAM chips, and that allows the cards to be much smaller than their competitors from Nvidia. Miniaturisation is the future of computing — smartphones and tablets getting thinner and thinner is evidence enough of that — and I’m hoping the Fury X is the first move to bring that radicalisation to the desktop PC.

Where the GeForce flagship 980 Ti is 10.5 inches long (267mm), the new AMD Radeon Fury X is three inches shorter at 7.5 inches (190mm). That smaller size means good things for system builders, who’ll be able to stick the (water-cooled) Fury X into micro-ATX rigs and even mini-ITX systems; at the Fury’s launch party AMD showed off a small form factor system called Project Quantum with dual Fury X GPUs inside. This is the kind of thing you can do with a Fury X card and a small form-factor PC:

The Fury X has a recommended retail price of $979 in Australia, making it roughly equal — within $20 — of the retail cost of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti which its equal-stakes competitor. Since it’s an effectively brand new card, though, you can expect to see (sometimes significantly) higher prices for the next month or so as pre-orders are filled and more stock starts to flood into the country for specialist retailers to pass on to passionate gamers like you and me. So it’s very slightly cheaper than the competition, but only just.

Since it’s a High Bandwidth Memory card, the Fury X only has 4GB of RAM onboard versus the 980 Ti’s 6GB and the ridiculous GTX Titan X’s 12GB. Being a flagship card, it’ll obviously handle the 4K resolution of your favourite super-detailed monitor with ease, or you can hook it up to multiple monitors — although I’d still recommend they be 1080p or 1440p rather than 4K if you want to get some solid multi-screen EyeFinity gaming done. The Fury X has four connectors on its back panel — three DisplayPort 1.3 and one HDMI 2.0 1.4a — but there’s no mini-DisplayPort and no legacy VGA or DVI connectors. (Thank God — they need to be killed off already.)

What’s It Good At?

I recorded excellent frame rates from the R9 Fury X on a suite of recent (2014 and 2015) triple-A games like Battlefield 4 and Far Cry 4. For the most part, the newest and (currently) most powerful Radeon outstrips the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, but remains neck and neck with the GeForce GTX 980 Ti, pulling ahead with the most demanding games at 4K resolutions some of the time. It is, for all intents and purposes, equal with the GTX 980 Ti for the majority of gamers, although there’s probably a fair bit of work that AMD can do in optimising the Fury X for these titles that Nvidia has already used to its advantage in previous months. I did see a significant improvement from AMD’s most recent driver update, so I’m expecting good things in the near future.

AMD Radeon R9 Fury X: Average Frame Rates

Far Cry 4 (Ultra): 1080P: 94FPS 1440P: 78FPS 2160P: 44FPS
Battlefield 4 (Ultra): 1080P: 100FPS 1440P: 54FPS 2160P: 56FPS
Crysis 3 (Very High): 1080P: 109FPS 1440P: 54FPS 2160P: 47FPS
Metro: Last Light (Very High): 1080P: 70FPS 1440P: 53FPS 2160P: 48FPS
Tomb Raider (Ultimate): 1080P: 196FPS 1440P: 111FPS 2160P: 100FPS

Although it has its downsides too, the Fury X being watercooled is, I think, a good move from AMD — and it points to some really interesting potential for high-end graphics cards. For one, the watercooling system is both quieter and more effective at keeping the Fury X’s system temperatures down than any air-cooling situation that I’ve tried in the past, even good ones like Gigabyte’s WindForce and ASUS’s DirectCU II. There’s the issue of packaging — where do you put it in your case? — but that’s down to individual buyers to fix. A card like the R9 295X2 needed watercooling, but the Fury X benefits from it nonetheless. And, within a couple of CPU and GPU generations, imagine if you could hook up your AMD components in one big watercooling loop straight out of the box without having to buy a third-party cooling solution?

AMD’s drivers deserve special mention, too. They’re so much improved from a couple of years ago, to the point that I don’t think that’s an advantage that Nvidia (and its passionate users) can push as a clear one-up over AMD. The install and uninstall process is clean, AMD’s own Raptr desktop app takes the most useful parts of Nvidia’s GeForce Experience including recording and game optimisation, and there was no huge performance gap that I measured between the previous GTX 980 Ti that I was testing and the Fury X. That itself is evidence of the emphasis on development and optimisation that AMD has made in recent years.

What’s It Not Good At?

In contrast to Nvidia’s newest generation of powerful and flagship-grade GPUs, the R9 Fury X consumes slightly more powerful than the last generation of AMD’s graphics chips, including the Radeon R9 290X and R9 290. It’s not significantly more power-hungry; 275 Watts versus 250 Watts, but the 8-pin plus 8-pin PCI-E connectors used where competitors use eight plus six. I actually had to dig around in the hidden cable section of my case to find that second 8-pin connector that I didn’t have to use for the GeForce 980 Ti. Hardly a big deal, but vaguely representative of the two chipmakers’ different attitudes to getting more and more frames out of the existing 28-nanometre process.

The Radeon R9 Fury X dumps a fair proportion of that 275 Watts as heat, as any other high-powered graphics card does. The card itself is smaller than previous models, but you have to take into consideration the fact that you’ll have to find a home for the Fury X’s sizeable 120mm watercooling radiator. In my open-plan case, I was able to use one of the front fan grilles as a temporary solution, but for a more permanent solution you might find yourself having to get rid of an existing 120mm intake or exhaust fan in your rig. The pre-measured tubing, too, may turn out to be a little more restrictive than you might like. Since it’s a closed loop, altering those tubes is not a great idea.

It’s really expensive, too. That much is obvious, since it’s a flagship card, has that fancy new high-bandwidth memory onboard, and has surprisingly effective watercooling straight out of the box — these are all very good things to have if you want to enjoy the newest games at the highest levels of graphical detail. But it’s also expensive compared to the current price of previous-generation cards from AMD, as well as Nvidia’s incredibly aggressively priced GeForce GTX 980 Ti. And that’s a real problem because unless you have any significant loyalty to AMD, you’d be right to be very tempted by the better value-for-money solutions out there.

I should make it clear that the R9 Fury X is a great card, and it’ll run your games incredibly well at 1080p and 1440p and is the card to beat at 4K. This much is absolutely and objectively true. But no graphics card exists in a vacuum, and now is a very good time to buy a low-end or a mid-range graphics card, or even two of them in CrossFire or SLI at a lower price, for comparable performance. The R9 Fury X’s main threat is the fact that there are so many other good graphics cards out there right now — walk into a PC store and you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Should You Buy It?

AMD Radeon R9
Fury X

Price: from $979

  • Geforce GTX 980 Ti-equalling performance.
  • Watercooling out of the box.
  • Enough power for single-screen 4K.
Don’t Like
  • Expensive (for AMD).
  • Watercooling requires extra space.
  • Competition from cheaper cards, GTX 980 Ti.

If you want a graphics card that is a technical feat along the same lines of the (still amazing) Radeon R9 295 X2 — a watercooled monster, a high-resolution frame-spitter that handles the latest games and delivers beautiful graphics smoothly and surely — then the Radeon R9 Fury X is an excellent choice.

It delivers excellent graphics, much improved with a recent driver update, and I can only imagine things will remain on an upward trajectory as AMD spends more time and effort optimising its newest chips and ensuring that modern titles are similarly tweaked for best performance.

It’s a flagship card, but its flagship competitor from the other guys is just a little bit cheaper while offering broadly similar performance. AMD has, in recent years, been the competitor that pushed prices down, making beautiful games more accessible to the everyday gamer, but that’s not true — at the moment, at least. You have to take into account the Fury X’s currently unreasonably high price.

I wouldn’t buy one at the prices I’ve seen around the ‘net, where early adopters are being gouged by middlemen purely while demand outstrips supply. But at a more reasonable, Nvidia-equalling price tag, I’d be far more tempted.

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