Review Index:

AMD Radeon R9 280X Roundup: ASUS, MSI and Sapphire

Manufacturer: Various

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP

Earlier this month AMD took the wraps off of a revamped and restyled family of GPUs under the Radeon R9 and R7 brands.  When I reviewed the R9 280X, essentially a lower cost version of the Radoen HD 7970 GHz Edition, I came away impressed with the package AMD was able to put together.  Though there was no new hardware to really discuss with the R9 280X, the price drop placed the cards in a very aggressive position adjacent the NVIDIA GeForce line-up (including the GeForce GTX 770 and the GTX 760). 

As a result, I fully expect the R9 280X to be a great selling GPU for those gamers with a mid-range budget of $300. 

But another of the benefits of using an existing GPU architecture is the ability for board partners to very quickly release custom built versions of the R9 280X. Companies like ASUS, MSI, and Sapphire are able to have overclocked and custom-cooled alternatives to the 3GB $300 card, almost immediately, by simply adapting the HD 7970 PCB.

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Today we are going to be reviewing a set of three different R9 280X cards: the ASUS DirectCU II, MSI Twin Frozr Gaming, and the Sapphire TOXIC. 

Continue reading our roundup of the R9 280X cards from ASUS, MSI and Sapphire!!

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II 3GB

ASUS has a great track record in developing custom built graphics cards for both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs.  The new 280X DirectCU II take an existing cooler and apply it to the R9 280X all while bringing down the price.

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Part of the TOP branding from ASUS, this R9 280X comes overclocked out of the box. It is built on a non-reference PCB which engineers have poured a lot of design time into.  The DIGI+ VRM supplies more stable power to the GPU and components to help overclocking stability without drawing signifanctly more power from the PSU.

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ASUS has overclocked both the GPU and the memory frequencies over the default settings on the R9 280X.  The GPU will run at 1070 MHz rather than 1000 MHz and the memory is hitting 1600 MHz rather than 1500 MHz.  While modest overclocks, gamers will be able to push this card further thanks to the improved cooler and board design.

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The design of the ASUS R9 280X DCII should look pretty familiar to frequenters of PC Perspective because the cooler is nearly identical to the NVIDIA-based ASUS TOP card.  The dual fans are different from one another - the front one is a CoolTech fan able to move more air while remaining quiet at the same time.

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The heatpipe cooler design has also been revamped to improve thermal capacity by 40% compared to the reference from AMD.  The heatpipes have been bumped up from 8mm to 10mm diameter and thanks to a larger surface area on the cooler you should see much lower temperatures on this card than we saw with our reference 280X testing.

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Not satisfied with the standard PCB, ASUS improved on the R9 280X by integrating an 8 phase PWM configuration for the GPU and dual phase solution for the memory.  The DIGI+ VRM all digital power controller uses concrete alloy chokes to reduce power whine and supply a higher voltage threshold. 

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ASUS has gone with the standard output configuration for the R9 280X that includes a pair of dual-link DVI connections, a full-size HDMI port, and a full-size DisplayPort.

October 29, 2013 | 03:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

really haven't justified why the MSI didn't get the same award as the Asus.

October 29, 2013 | 04:03 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Not sure what this is tryingt to ask.  It DID get the same award?

October 30, 2013 | 05:54 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

MSI rocks as cooling and slient fan solutions are mandatory for performance of a processor atleast at a specified clock rate provided by manufacturer.Overclocking is secondary. Also power consumption is less.

October 29, 2013 | 04:15 PM - Posted by Xploder270 (not verified)

Nice roundup!
You tested the MSI card with the old BIOS though, with the alleged VRM overheating problems.

This is the new one (according to Tomshardware(DE) it's a lot louder):

October 29, 2013 | 04:21 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Hmm, interesting I'll take a look.

October 29, 2013 | 07:20 PM - Posted by Brett from Australia (not verified)

Nice write-up Ryan, I really like the look and design of the ASUS GPU, they really have put some thought and effort into the production of this card.

October 30, 2013 | 09:46 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

All good cards and a nice review, although the noise of the Toxic is disappointing considering the price premium. I would have preferred a presumably quieter 3-slot design like the Asus Matrix Platinum (also $350). Any plans on reviewing that?

October 30, 2013 | 11:35 AM - Posted by YTech

Under Metro Last Light :
What is the difference between the FRAPS FPS and Observed FPS chart?

Other than that, it was interesting to see how various brands tackle certain challenges.

In my opinion, Sapphire would learn a lot from ASUS for their next design. I find ASUS has the neater design for long-term performance.

October 30, 2013 | 06:58 PM - Posted by Paul Hockett (not verified)

Hey Ryan, great article.
I myself just got the toxic 280x about a week ago. I agree the performance is great but i'm having game shadow/ texture flickering as well as some general screen artifacts even out of the box... (crysis 3, heaven 4.0, BF4)as well as some noticeable coil whine.

Im on the latest drivers and believe I have a good enough psu
Thermaltake 750w bronze with a core i5 2500k. Temps are also under 70c when this is happening. Maybe just a bad egg?

October 31, 2013 | 04:52 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Still rocking the house with a gtx 570 SLI setup how does this card compare?

October 31, 2013 | 09:33 AM - Posted by Anonymous SimonB (not verified)

well im from Lithuania and in my country asus cost 100$ then toxic and it cant overclock so much so wait in my country toxic is better in every single aspect since if asus have same oc it would be as loud to maintain temperature at that point so faster cheaper cooler i dont care about sound while i have decent case with sound dapening and taking this bether card i take silver so dont get me wrong but from when silver is bether then gold since gpu toxic>asus in where i live sad to see such ratings just for noice while u knew well that that gpu has more horses compare with cars why ppl love ferary sound? becouse its faster ..... review is good awards not so much graps of fps in games totaly stupid why ? who makes 2 almost identical colors for graps of 4 cards? cant u put red blue green purple? ....... jesus

November 3, 2013 | 05:02 PM - Posted by Filippo Dinolfo (not verified)

I picked up the MSI and updated the BIOS straight away. Performance is nice and it runs quietly. The only thing is the coil whine, which apparantly a lot of customers on newegg are also mentioning. Not a deal breaker, but it is a little annoying at times.

November 3, 2013 | 11:22 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

@Paul Hockett

Saved me loads of time, cheers, as I thought this might just be mine. Flickery bars across textures and shadows in bioshock and chess boards and technicolour discos in crysis 3. I find it happens quite randomly and can game 8hrs without trouble then next day 30m in it starts so was gonna be a nightmare trying to figure which card was causing troubles. Real shame as when they work i'm enjoying everything at max at 1440p.

November 6, 2013 | 02:47 AM - Posted by Adam (not verified)

Anyone tested this card on Rome 2 ? How does it perform ?

November 11, 2013 | 02:42 AM - Posted by ChucklesNuts (not verified)

I know its' a bit late but i really wish you would have thrown in XFX's Double D R9 280X 1000MHz BOOST

I don't mean to sound like a fan boy for them of which I can only say why doesn't everyone buy an XFX GPU with a Lifetime warranty. This year it seems that what is going to happen is I will be drown back to an AMD GPU. Who pulled no punches this season. From a GTX 780 which I had nearly purchased when the AMD R9 280's were announced and reviewed.

Thanks for the Video Reviews on YouTube and also with This Week in Computer Hardware, with Patrick Norton.

December 4, 2013 | 02:45 AM - Posted by paullacon

So what are the other alternatives of it? I just wanna know more about maintenance..Find more on

January 15, 2014 | 06:44 PM - Posted by MrRez

Just bought one of these(ASUS) and its a beast, bang per buck it one of the best on the market. Well I think so anyway :)

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