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?

Specifications
  • 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
91

Price: from $979

Like
  • 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.


Comments

    i'm confused - all the current pricing i see in australia have the Fury X at a comparable price to the 980 ti (gamedude and others etc) starting at $1049-ish

      Yup, because there aren't many around at the moment! :)

        So just so i'm clear.. cause i'm no fanboy but i'm eyeing off a fury x at the moment, your summary facts that they are the same price (per my searches 980 ti and fury x are average at $1050ish) and equal performance to the 980 Ti.. its still overpriced?

        So i should wait until the price drops once cards are more readily available? If so what would you consider the right price for it?

          I would say it's overpriced at that price. But still tempting.

          I'd be thinking maybe more the $750-800 range?

            Cheers :) might hold onto my cash for a little longer and see if there is an influx of stock that might drop the price, the 980 TI has more than a few options out there, so might need to look into that further but the fury x has had my eye since release so we'll see what happens when i can't hold out any longer :)

              Have a look at some of the well-known benchmark websites (I mentioned a few in my post below), their testing largely disagrees with the performance conclusions of this article and puts the R9 Fury X halfway between the 980 and 980Ti on performance. This card is definitely a big jump in AMD's chasedown of Nvidia, but the amount of hype AMD drummed up before release made it seem like it was going to leap ahead and it really doesn't do that at all.

              That doesn't mean it's not worth buying, it's definitely capable. It's an interesting card and it'll be interesting to see how it affects future development for both companies. For this generation though, Nvidia seems to still have the edge.

              Edit: I forgot to mention, the R9 Fury X also can't be overclocked because of its memory architecture. What you get out of the factory is what you get.

              Last edited 13/07/15 3:27 pm

                Those websites could well be out of date now with their benchmarks. There was a new driver just released (which was mentioned in the article) that said it further boosted performance.

                All in all I haven't seen any new benchmarks yet with this new driver. But its fair to say that there will be many driver updates to boost performance as this is a much newer chip and memory architecture. I still expect to see performance increase.

                  There isn't any benchmark in this article either, unfortunately. I realise that's not the kind of website this is, but I would have liked a little more evidence supporting the comparison. This is the only website I've found to date (old articles or new) that makes the claim the R9 Fury X is equivalent to the 980Ti. The lack real overclocking is a detail sorely missing from the article too and something people forking out $1000 for a video card are likely to be particularly interested in.

                Mentioned it below but I wanted to point to that again, the imminently-released drivers made a noticeable difference.

                agreed. bring up live recordings of benchmarks and you see every single one is the Fury X hitching really bad!
                its drivers, and possibly the clock speed of the memory sure its got a wide bus. but thats like saying you have a core i7 running at 500mhz max! I seriously think this iteration of HBM is limited and untested . and you cant get above 4GB

              My advice - hold out. When the R9 290X hit I didn't buy due to the insanely high price (as much as I wanted too). Unfortunately, fate intervened and my HTPC card died so had to choose the best option at the time.

              If you can wait another 1-3 months you should see the price drop and availability pick up. That's when I will be upgrading my gaming rig with one.

          My suggestion based purely on history and experience;

          Wait for the second generation of this card or go the 980.
          NEVER EVER buy first generation gfx cards.

            I'll admit i'm definately in the market for a new card and update of my powercolor 7970 - the Fury X and the evga watercooled 980 ti are at the top of my list.. Thxs for the review Campbell (and comments from everyone else) I'm still fencesitting but as i have a week or so until i have the cash in hand to buy i'll stick it out a bit longer and see whats available and viable :)

    I just want to build a computer for less than that haha

    any news on how the high bandwidth memory could be utilized in the future.
    ive seen some people saying that even though its 2GB Ram less than the 980Ti, it should be able to out perform due to them not being directly comparable.

    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

    This is an odd statement, considering all the major reliable benchmarkers (eg. Tom's Hardware, HardOCP, Anandtech, etc.) all put the Fury X around 10% lower than the 980Ti and in some cases closer to the 980, with only really Metro: Last Light being the exception.

    Benchmarks are only useful for comparison if they're run on the same testbed. Did you test the 980Ti on the same system you tested the R9 Fury X? If not, what benchmarks did you use for comparison?

      Exactly the same testbed, mate -- i7 4790K, 16GB of DDR3-2133, Asus Z97I-Plus, 1TB Samsung 850 Evo, Antec AX1200 Gold. Very similar to the rig that I've been testing with since I started at Gizmodo, but identical to the one I used for the 980Ti review.

      The big difference between me and the earlier guys was that I tested with AMD's newest drivers -- literally the newest, delivered to me via email on Friday afternoon, that I could get. I was told to expect 5 to 10 per cent performance boosts and that's what I got -- the gap between the 980 Ti and Fury X would have been larger otherwise.

        Good to see actual driver improvements from AMD =) Do you have some side-by-side figures with the latest drivers for both cards? Your 980Ti review was a month and a half ago and didn't include any benchmark figures.

    I just bought a MSI 980ti gaming edition from BHPhoto in New York. At the conversion rate as of july 1 it cost me a total of 900 delivered but thats with slow delivery. It will be here tomorrow if my tracking is to be believed. This card will outdo the FuryX at least 10% and the fact that most of them clock higher than 1500, it will eat fury x. Highly recommend BHPhoto to anyone in Aus.

    I find it interesting as nvidia is reducing power consumption and heat. Amd is going the other way with a few cards now requiring watercooling.
    2 different approaches for the same goal.

      Lower heat usually means more overclocking overhead though. Which just makes it all the more strange that they went with hardware-locked memory clock and no voltage control on this card, where the water cooling would have come in useful.

        Actually the memory is not hard locked, It can be fully overclocked now, have had the ability for a couple weeks.

        The voltage is not locked either... this has been confirmed.
        We are just waiting on software tools.
        Last I saw the guys are Rivatuner(no rivatuner no afterburner) don't even have a card yet.

        Also Campbell- That is not a HDMI 2.0 port on the back...

          You're absolutely right, whoops. Big oversight by AMD?

            YES! very much so!

            Though there is talk of adding driver support for a "close enough" hdmi 2.0 like Nvidia have to older models.

            Though I will not hold my breath, currently have a DP to HDMI 2560x1600 converter running to my 4k TV.

          No it can't. The confirmations are based on reported values, not actual values. AMD responded to the article where people seemingly found a way to overclock the memory and stated that even though GPU-Z reported the increased clock speed, it was false data, and that the memory clock is locked by the hardware. From OCaholic:

          According to AMD's technical PR lead, Robert Hallock, the reported raised frequency in GPU-Z is false and that frequency can't be raised via software, since it is determined in hardware.

          And from WCCFTech:

          UPDATE : We’ve confirmed with Robert Hallock, technical PR lead at AMD, that while the GPU-Z tool is reporting an increase in memory frequency in reality the frequency did not change.

          Memory clock is hardware locked and cannot be changed. Voltage control is currently locked but may be made available in the future.

            A newer post on WCCFTech..... By the same author no less says counter.

            However memory frequency adjustments aren’t enabled by default, nor was memory overclocking advertised for Fury X due to the relative immaturity of HBM technology. So while you can overclock Fury X’s memory “unofficially” so to speak using 3rd party overclocking tools, do it at your own risk.

            They even provide performance benches....

            http://wccftech.com/unlock-memory-overclocking-amd-r9-fury/

              They mention in the original French article that the clock increase affects memory and appears to be frequency-linked to it, but isn't necessarily the memory clock. That fits with Robert Hallock's statement that the memory clock is not software-configurable. It also explains why an 8% memory clock change results in a 0.8-1.5% change in performance. The original article also indicates they got artifacting as they increased the memory clock, which fits with articles on the topic before the card released that said AMD had difficulty getting stable behaviour when the memory frequency was changed (and why they made it hardware locked in the first place).

              The problem with HBM is it's basically rushed to market for this card. There are a lot of first generation limitations that they probably should have held back on. The reason the card only has 4GB of memory is because HBM doesn't support more than that.

              Thanks for the link, in any case. Looks like there's still a lot of uncertainty about the issue.

              Last edited 14/07/15 1:40 pm

    If my budget for building a PC was large enough, this or a 980 Ti would probably be the way to go. On my current budget, I'm still tossing up between a 390 or a 970 (although I'm pretty much sold on the 390 right now).

    Is it viable these days to have 2 of the high end cards running in SLI or crossfire config and future proof yourself in a way?? I was thinking of buying a system where there are 2 GeForce 980 ti in a SLI format......is it overdoing it just to run most the games at the highest quality you can?

    So ended up picking up the Fury X and (so far) an Acer 28" 4k monitor - extremely happy with the result, tho dual screening from a 4k monitor over to a 1080p monitor (Benq GW2750hm) is annoying me enough i'm aiming to get another 4k monitor :)

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