AMD Radeon R9 Fury X graphics card review: AMD's long-awaited 4K powerhouse

The long-awaited Radeon R9 Fury X is packed with power and loving design touches, but it's not quite a walk-off home run for AMD.

amd radeon fury x cooler

AMD’s Radeon R9 Fury X kicks ass.

It’s important to note that right up front, because AMD’s graphics division has had a rough year or so. The company’s been forced to watch Nvidia release not one, not two, but five new GeForce graphics cards—the entire GTX 900-series line—since the Radeon R9 285 launched last September. What’s more, those GeForce cards delivered so much performance and sipped so little power that all AMD could do in response was steeply slash prices of its Radeon R200-series graphics cards to stay competitive. And AMD’s “new” Radeon R300-series cards are basically just tweaked versions of the R200-series GPUs with more memory.

Through it all, the promise of the water-cooled Radeon R9 Fury X glimmered as the light at the end of the tunnel, first through unofficial leaks and then through official reveals. It’ll have cutting-edge high-bandwidth memory! It’ll have a new Fiji graphics processor with an insane 4,096 stream processors! It’ll have an integrated closed-loop water cooler! It’ll play 4K games and go toe-to-toe with Nvidia’s beastly Titan X and GTX 980 Ti!

And it’s all true. Every last bit of it. The Radeon R9 Fury X kicks ass.

It’s not quite the walk-off home run that Team Red enthusiasts were hoping for, however—and AMD’s claim that the Fury X is “an overclocker’s dream” definitely does not pass muster.

Let’s dig in.

AMD’s Radeon R9 Fury X under the hood

hbm memory

A diagram of AMD’s HBM implementation.

There isn’t much mystery to the Fury X’s technical specifications at this point. AMD long ago provided a deep-dive into the card’s HBM implementation and described the Fury X’s technical and design details with loving exactness just last week. We’ll cover the high points here, but check out our previous coverage if you’re looking for more details.

The most notable technical aspect of the Fury X is its use of high-bandwidth memory, making it the first graphics card to adopt HBM. AMD says it’s been developing the technology for seven years, and Nvidia’s not expected to embrace similar technology until 2016 at the earliest, when its Pascal GPUs launch.

HBM stacks DRAM dies one atop the other, then connects everything with the GPU using “through-silicon vias” and “µbumps” (microbumps). The stacking lets 1GB of HBM consume a whopping 94-percent less on-board surface area than 1GB of standard GDDR5 memory, which enabled AMD to make the Fury X a full 30-percent shorter than the Radeon R9 290X.

hbm space savings gddr5

While GDDR5 memory rocks high clock speeds (up to 7Gbps) and uses a smaller interface to connect the GPU—384-bit, or 512-bit in high-end graphics cards—HBM takes the opposite approach. The Fury X’s memory is clocked at a mere 1Gbps, but travels over a ridonkulously wide 4,096-bit bus to deliver effective memory bandwidth of 512GBps, compared to the GTX 980 Ti’s 336.5GBps. All that memory bandwidth makes for great 4K gaming, though it doesn’t give the Fury X a clear edge over the 980 Ti when it comes to games, as we’ll see later.

Technological limitations capped this first-gen HBM at just 4GB of capacity. While AMD CTO Joe Macri told us in May that’s all developers really need for now, it definitely proved to be a problem in our testing when playing games that gobbled up more than 4GB of RAM—Grand Theft Auto V, specifically. Gaming at 4K resolution can eat up memory fast once you’ve enabled any sort of anti-aliasing.

amd radeon fiji gpu

AMD’s Fiji GPU.

amd radeon fury x specs

The AMD Radeon R9 Fury X’s technical specifications.

Moving past memory, AMD’s new “Fiji” GPU is nothing short of a beast, packed to the gills with a whopping 4,096 stream processors—compared to the R9 290X’s 2,816—and 8.9 billion transistors. It’s clocked at 1,050MHz, promises 8.6 teraflops of compute performance, and draws 275 watts of power through two 8-pin power connectors that can draw up to 375W. Again, our previous coverage has much more info if you’re interested.

The Radeon R9 Fury X over the hood

AMD spared no expense on the physical design of the Fury X, either. The 7.5-inch card is built from multiple pieces of die-cast aluminum, then finished with a black nickel gloss on the exoskeleton and soft-touch black everywhere else. Everything’s covered, even the sides and back of the card. There’s not even an exhaust grille on the I/O plate, which rocks a trio of full-sized DisplayPorts and an HDMI port that’s sadly limited to the HDMI 1.4a specification. The decision not to go with HDMI 2.0 limits 4K video output to 30Hz through the HDMI port, so gamers will want to stick to using the DisplayPorts.

amd radeon fury x backplate

See the “GPU Tach” LEDs just above the two 8-pin power connectors?

You’ll find an illuminated red Radeon logo on the outer edge and face of the card, along with a new “GPU Tach” (as in “tachometer”) feature that places 8 small red LEDs above the power connections. The harder you push the card, the more LEDs light up. It’s super-dumb but honestly, it thrilled me to no end watching those little LEDs flare to life when booting up a game. There’s also a small green LED next to those that illuminates when AMD’s ZeroCore technology puts the Fury X to sleep. This thing screams “premium.”

That extends to the Fury X’s cooling system. Rather than going with a typical air-cooling solution, with a fan or blower, the Fury X utilizes an integrated closed-loop liquid cooler that’s basically a more refined version of the beastly Radeon R9 295x2’s water-cooling setup. It’s a slick custom design built in conjunction with Cooler Master, rocking a 120mm fan from Nidec on the radiator. AMD says the cooler itself is rated for up to 500W of thermal capacity.

amd radeon fury x with cooler

Deploying water-cooling indeed keeps the Fury X running nice and cool. Despite AMD’s claim that the fan stays more than 10 decibels quieter than the Titan X’s air-cooled blower, however, I was surprised by just how much noise it puts out. Subjectively—as I don’t have a decibel meter on hand—the Fury X’s radiator fan creates more sound than the fan on Nvidia’s reference GTX 980 Ti and AMD’s own R9 295x2, though I still wouldn't call it loud.

The braided cables connecting the radiator to the card itself are a nice touch and far more aesthetically appealing than the R9 295x2’s plastic tubes. Be mindful of where you place the discrete radiator/fan combo, however: At 2.5 inches of total width (the same as the R9 295x2’s), they jut far enough into the case of PCWorld’s GPU testing machine to bang against our CPU’s closed-loop liquid cooling. 

Final design note: You won’t be able to buy aftermarket variants of the Fury X with custom cooling or hefty overclocks applied by add-in board vendors like Asus or Sapphire. AMD says the Fury X is a reference design only, though the air-cooled Radeon R9 Fury scheduled for a July 14 release will have vendor-customized designs available.

Continue to the next page for overclocking results discussion and performance testing benchmarks.

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