The AMD Radeon R9 270X & R9 270 Review: Feat. Asus & HISby Ryan Smith on November 13, 2013 12:01 AM EST
Bringing this review to a close, coming from the launch of the 280X and the 290 series, the 270 series is a much tamer and straightforward launch. Since AMD is taking their existing Pitcairn GPU and carving out newer, faster SKUs from them, we already have a solid frame of reference to work with, which is all the more important given how crowded the sub-$200 market can be. Neither the 270X or 270 will be game changers as neither gets the benefit of a generational leap in hardware or significantly lower prices than the competition (AMD included), but they still have a place in the bigger picture as AMD’s mainstream 1080p cards.
For the 270X, we’re looking at a straightforward spec up of the 7870, canonized at the $199 price point. Compared to NVIDIA’s current lineup it can’t consistently keep up with NVIDIA’s GTX 760. But at an average of 94% of the GTX 760’s performance it’s no doubt closer than NVIDIA would like, making the 270X a cheaper spoiler, a position AMD excels at. Plus the inclusion of the Battlefield 4 bundle on the AMD goes a long way towards countering NVIDIA’s own bundle, leveling the value proposition there. Otherwise against the GTX 660 the 270X is a full 20% faster on average, which puts the 270X in its own class ahead of the GTX 660. The GTX 660 still holds an edge in power limited scenarios, where its natural competition will be the 270 vanilla, otherwise there’s little reason to get the GTX 660 right now so long as you can afford to part with the further $15-$20.
Meanwhile against AMD’s 7000 series things are a bit murkier due to retailers’ close out pricing on the 7800 series. From a performance perspective, despite the minor GPU clockspeed bump the 270X ends up being 9% faster than the 7870, thanks to the combination of that GPU clockspeed bump combined with the memory clockspeed bump. It’s not a massive difference, but it makes the 270X the superior card. The catch is that the 7870 averages $30 (15%) less right now, making the 7870 a direct spoiler to the 270X. That situation will eventually go away, but in the meantime it’s going to be a tempting offer that makes 7870 the better (albeit slower) hand for the value seekers. But with that said, now that AMD has finally leveled the playing field by giving the 270X a very good bundle to offset the 7800 series bundle, the 7870 isn’t the incredible spoiler it was a week ago.
As for the 270 vanilla, let’s start with a high level view before getting to our individual cards. Unlike what we saw with the 7800 series, the 270 series cards are far closer in performance. And although they’re closer in price too, there is a bit of a spoiler effect going on. In fact the 270 ties the 7870 at 100% of the performance of AMD’s outgoing Pitcairn king, which means everything we’ve just written about the 7870 applies to the 270 too. So in that sense the 270 is a spoiler to the 270X, but it’s worth keeping in mind that past the 270 pricing will always go up faster than performance. So while this price segment naturally attracts the value seekers, the two cards are still distinct products depending on how much performance you need. 270X still has a bit of trouble with 1080p at maximum settings, so 270 is going to be a bit worse in that respect.
Anyhow, right now the 270 clearly is the card to beat in both its market segment and its power segment. As a $180 card it’s roughly the same price as the GTX 660 but it’s 10% faster, which is a strong hand in this market. Similarly, if we restrict our comparisons to 150W cards that can operate off of one PCIe power socket, then it’s the fastest thing in that segment. AMD has done a good job getting a fully enabled Pitcairn down to working off of 150W, so the status of fastest 150W card is rightfully theirs. But with that said, the lack of a blower option for 270 across any of AMD’s partners is going to hurt it. It has the low power requirements necessary for the 150W market, but a number of those same machines are going to have limited ventilation, which would typically call for a blower as the cooler of choice. To that end the 270 looks better in high ventilation machines, but if chassis cooling is questionable the GTX 660 is the safer option.
Otherwise to throw in a quick 7850 comparison, the 270 is over 22% faster. But with an average price under $150, 7850 is more competition for 260X on both a price and performance basis.
Finally, getting to our individual 270 cards, we’ll start with the HIS Radeon R9 270 IceQ X2. As our reference clocked sample, everything we’ve said about 270 in general is going to apply here. HIS has put together a solid card that should make the $180 price band happy, as it combines good performance for the price with a solid open air cooler. Going by the designs we’ve seen for 270 cards thus far, it should be a good example of what the class as a whole behaves like.
Otherwise looking at the Asus card we have another strong contender, though we’re holding our complete thoughts until we have final pricing (Update: it's $179, the 270 MSRP). From a performance perspective Asus is going to edge out any stock 270 due to the factory overclock, though not significantly so. Otherwise Asus’s true strong suit here is going to be their DirectCU II cooler, which at less than 40dB under all scenarios is nothing short of amazing. Asus has been impressing us with their coolers lately and their balancing temperature and noise, and their 270 DCUII OC continues that tradition. For the near-silent PC enthusiast community the Asus card is not to be ignored.