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MSI Radeon R9 280 3GB Gaming Review - Tahiti Continues Its Run

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Manufacturer: MSI

The Radeon R9 280

Though not really new, the AMD Radeon R9 280 GPU is a part that we really haven't spent time with at PC Perspective. Based on the same Tahiti GPU found in the R9 280X, the HD 7970, the HD 7950 and others, the R9 280 fits at a price point and performance level that I think many gamers will see as enticing. MSI sent along a model that includes some overclocked settings and an updated cooler, allowing the GPU to run at its top speed without much noise.

With a starting price of just $229 or so, the MSI Radeon R9 280 Gaming graphics cards has some interesting competition as well. From the AMD side it butts heads with the R9 280X and the R9 270X. The R9 280X costs $60-70 more though and as you'll see in our benchmarks, the R9 280 will likely cannibalize some of those sales. From NVIDIA, the GeForce GTX 760 is priced right at $229 as well, but does it really have the horsepower to keep with Tahiti?

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Continue reading our review of the MSI Radeon R9 280 3GB Gaming Graphics Card!!

The MSI Radeon R9 280 Graphics Card

If you remember the differentiation between the Radeon HD 7970 and the HD 7950, then the R9 280X and R9 280 battle will appear to be basically identical. Take a look at the reference specifications in the table below.

  Radeon R9 280X Radeon R9 280 Radeon R9 270X GeForce GTX 760
GPU Cores 2048 1792 1280 1152
Rated Clock 1000 MHz 933 MHz 1050 MHz 980 MHz Base
1033 MHz Boost
Texture Units 128 112 80 96
ROP Units 32 32 32 32
Memory 3GB 3GB 2GB 2GB
Memory Clock 6000 MHz 5000 MHz 5600 MHz 6000 MHz
Memory Interface 384-bit 384-bit 256-bit 256-bit
TDP 250 watts 250 watts 180 watts 170 watts
Peak Compute 3.4 TFLOPS 2.9 TFLOPS 2.69 TFLOPS 2.2 TFLOPS
MSRP Price $289 $229 $189 $229

The Radeon R9 280 has 1792 stream processors (GPU cores) compared to the 2048 of the R9 280X, giving the higher priced card a 14% advantage in raw compute power in addition to the slightly higher peak clock speed. But the R9 280 still includes the same 3GB frame buffer and 384-bit memory bus that help keep the powerful Tahiti GPU fed with data. 

With a price difference of $60 (26%), though, it's easy to see why the R9 280 is going to be a compelling option for 1080p gamers.

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The MSI R9 280 follows the same design queues as the other MSI Gaming series of graphics cards with a red and black color scheme that is incredibly popular today. The good news for MSI in this case is that it matches the color scheme of the Radeon brand - not so with the GTX cards they have released. The cooler is very efficient and is able to keep the Tahiti GPU at 73C or lower without raising noise levels over 33.5 dbA.

The MSI Gaming edition of the R9 280 is running in a slightly overclocked state compared to the reference specifications listed above. The GPU clock is set at 1000 MHz compared to 933 MHz - so you won't be getting much more out of the box (6-7%).

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Not much to see on the back side of the card except some of the added engineering that went into the power section of the PCB and the pair of CrossFire connectors if you want to run multiple R9 280 cards in a multi-GPU format.

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These two large fans, part of the MSI TwinFrozr cooler design, push air over the extended heatsink but rotate slowly enough to keep sound in check.

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Thanks to the heatpipes running from the GPU core out to the edges of the heatsink MSI is able to keep the Tahiti silicon at very reasonable temperatures even when overclocked. 

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Connectivity is great on the MSI Radeon R9 280 Gaming card with a single DVI connection, full-size HDMI port and a pair of mini DisplayPort outputs. Thought this does limit you to two 1080p monitors (without the need for active adapters), DisplayPort monitors or those pesky adapters will be necessary for three displays.

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MSI keeps all of that cooling inside the standard two-slot design specifications so you should have no issues running other cards up along side it. 

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Tahiti wasn't the most efficient product and, as such, you are required to use an 8-pin and 6-pin PCIe power connection. This isn't going to be a problem though for anyone with a PSU rated at 500 watts or more.

July 2, 2014 | 05:20 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No overvolting or memory overclocking? The card looks promising with Hynix memory and a good cooler.

$230 is great compared to its current competition, but it isn't too impressive considering that 7950s dropped to ~$200 quite a while ago, before the Bitcoin inflation.

July 2, 2014 | 06:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

In the video you say that the card has 2GB of VRAM when it actually has three.

July 2, 2014 | 08:37 PM - Posted by arbiter

Was a story AMD a new tonga named gpu to replace the r9 280 later this year.

July 3, 2014 | 12:49 AM - Posted by Cyclops

I'm kind of disappointed.

I looked at the past five graphics card reviews and none of them had the memory overclocked. As much as I like you Ryan, I think that's pretty ignorant of you to not even consider overclocking the memory.

I understand it doesn't improve the performance as much as overclocking the core does, but it's still free performance. You never know if a game has some sort of weird bottleneck that is alleviated after increasing memory frequency.

You should consider that in future reviews.

Much love, a hard critic.

July 3, 2014 | 11:49 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Pretty sure I overclocked the memory on my last review.  I know on NV cards often overclocking the memory causes the core to not overclock as well.  Some interesting push/pull situations with that...

July 3, 2014 | 12:15 PM - Posted by Cyclops

Ah, you did the review, Josh? Said the author was Ryan.

At any rate, Overclocking the memory to it's limit typically does reduce maximum core overclocking, but not by a significant margin. There's always a balance to be had between the two. I guess you just didn't have the time to find that balance. Kudos anyway.

July 3, 2014 | 11:13 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

To the last post, I would think that you would want to test the card as it was sold. It would be like ordering a card from a retailer and then being upset because it did not overclock well. It is either good for your needs as is or it is not as the manufacture sold it.

July 3, 2014 | 12:23 PM - Posted by Cyclops

As an enthusiast, I'd like to overclock things to their limit. It wouldn't have mattered if the memory didn't overclock at all. What bothered me was that there was no attempt to find that limit.

I had a pair of 7950s (XFX DDs) which is the same as R9 280 with similar clocks. Memory was set to 5 GHz out of the box. I managed to push them to 6.8 GHz, resulting in significant performance gains. Would have been nice to know what this card would have reached given that different manufacturers use different DRAM.

Another oddball was a reference GTX 760 from EVGA. Core overclocking was abysmal as I managed only 1150 MHz with 1.21V, but the memory went all the way to 7800 MHz from a stock 6000 Mhz simply because they used Samsung memory (Same as the stock memory on GTX 770) as oppose to Hynix which pretty much all other vendors used on their 760s.

July 5, 2014 | 06:39 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

when i'm building my new pc i wonder how am i going to start installing the OS ,when the motherboard doesn't have integrated graphics ........how should the display be able to show images if drivers of the gpu arent installed and there is not integrated graphics on motherboard and how i am going to install the drivers......??
And i have the same question for the other parts like the cpu,cd-room,,,,,,,in a new build pc do this parts start working automatically or what??

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