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Sapphire R9 285 Dual-X OC Review

This is the second R9 285 we have looked at this week and it has been interesting to follow up on our initial launch article. Due to all the recent product launches we ran out of time in our earlier article before we could test power consumption. Our results today show that AMD have dropped power consumption since the R9 280 was launched – although Nvidia are still the clear leaders in this regard.

Many readers are confused when looking at the R9 280 and R9 285 side by side, and it is understandable – both cards have 112 Texture units, 1,792 Stream Processors and 32 ROP’s. The differences however are there, if you look closer.

AMD have dropped the memory interface from 384 bit to 256 bit, although they have managed to maintain a similar performance level thanks to recent architectural changes. Due to the new lossless delta colour compression algorithms the 256 bit product manages to perform very well.

AMD have also improved geometry performance. Their 4xPrim rate has improved tessellation throughput against the older R9 280 hardware. They have also enhanced the work distribution between geometry front end units and vertex re-use for better performance with many small triangles.

The Sapphire R9 285 Dual-X OC is an excellent graphics card that ships in a high state of overclock. Due to the 965mhz core speed it performs a little better than the Asus R9 285 Strix we reviewed earlier this week. Sapphire have also tweaked the GDDR5 memory a little, pushing it to 1,400mhz (5.6Gbps effective).

The Sapphire card responded well to manual overclocking in Catalyst Control Center – we achieved a close to 15% increase on the core, peaking at 1,108mhz. This actually pushed the overall performance past the more expensive. XFX R9 280X. Nothing to sniff at. It goes without saying that every card will overclock to different levels, but it certainly looks promising for Sapphire.

The Dual-X cooler holds load temperatures at 64c, although surprisingly it was slightly outperformed by the STRIX cooler on the Asus card. 1c is minimal, but it was repeatable under the same environmental temperatures. The noise levels of the Sapphire card were also slightly higher, although we would class both solutions as fairly quiet under load. Nvidia cards are generally quieter and cooler, but AMD architecture is hotter running, so the heatsink and fans will have a little more work to do to compensate.

As we said before, the new R9 285 brings some welcome additions to the fore. Like the R9 290 series of cards, the R9 285 gets bridgeless Crossfire support – removing the need for ugly looking bridge cables between multiple GPU’s in a Crossfire configuration. The R9 285 has the latest programmable audio pipeline. This TrueAudio technology is designed for game audio artists and engineers, so they can ‘bring their artistic vision beyond sound production into the realm of sound processing’. The new Unifed Video Decoder provides a full fixed function decode engine with support for H.264, VC-1, MPEG4, MPEG2 and MJPEG. It also adds support for high frame rate 4k H.264 content.

On a pure manufacturing level, the drop to 2GB of GDDR5 memory and the new tighter 256 bit memory interface will undoubtedly reduce production costs for AMD, enhancing their profit margins. They could argue that the new enhanced 256 bit memory interface means that the enthusiast will not suffer – but their primary reason for the move is to reduce their own manufacturing costs. All companies will enhance their architecture over time, so I wouldn’t consider it particularly unusual.

My biggest issue right now with the R9 285 series of cards is the pricing. These cards may be faster than overclocked GTX760 solutions, but AMD are actually causing themselves more issues right now than Nvidia in this sector.

The Asus R9 285 Strix is priced at £199.99 inc vat. The Sapphire R9 285 Dual-X OC is more competitively priced – Overclockers UK have stock for £179.99 inc vat. This is still around £30 more than some great deals right now on overclocked, custom cooled R9 280 solutions so it makes the R9 285 a little less attractive. You can also pick up a R9 280X for £199.99 inc vat if you want a more powerful solution.

Nothing has changed since launch day – we would hold fire on buying a R9 285 until the prices drop a little which we imagine they will do over the coming month.

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Pros:

  • excellent performance.
  • good overclocking headroom in software.
  • runs cool
  • reasonably quiet.
  • outperforms overclocked GTX760.

Cons:

  • facing competition from cheaper R9 280’s and faster R9 280X’s.
  • 1GB less memory than the R9 280.

Kitguru says: Another very balanced card from Sapphire, but there are many good deals right now between £150 and £200 – it really is best shopping around for the best deal.
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Rating: 8.0.

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