ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP Video Card Review

We evaluate the new ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP video card and compare it to GeForce GTX 770 and Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. We will find out which video card provides the best value and performance in the $300 price segment. Does it provide better performance a than its "competition" in the ~$400 price range?


For our evaluation today we are reviewing the new ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP video card. If you are not yet familiar with what has been announced from AMD today, on October 8th, please read our "AMD Radeon R7 and R9 Series Introduction" article first. This will give you a full run-down of what is being announced today by AMD.

We will give a brief summary from the aforementioned article. AMD is re-launching the Radeon HD 7000 series and re-branding those video cards. The goal is to bring performance down to new price points, in new market segments, and also improve upon the custom board designs and heatsink/fan units for add-in-board partners. The R7 and R9 series of video cards consist of the R9 280X, R9 270X and R7 260X and even more under that. The R9 280X is essentially a re-imaged Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition (Tahiti GPU) video card. The difference is now this video card will have a lower MSRP of $299, making it extremely competitive.

The ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP is ASUS' high-end factory overclocked enthusiast model based on the R9 280X GPU. ASUS is setting the MSRP on this video card at $309, only a $10 premium over the $299 MSRP on standard R9 280X video cards. Considering all the customizations to the PCB design and components you get with the ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP, paying $10 over MSRP is not asking a lot.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP Specifications

Take all the specs you know about the AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition and apply those here. The same 2,048 stream processors, 32 ROPs, and 128 TMUs at 28nm. The reference specification for the AMD Radeon R9 280X is 1000MHz core clock speed with a boost to 1050MHz. The reference specification also calls for 6GHz on the memory.

The ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP is factory overclocked at 1070MHz, so it does give us a boost to the core clock, but it isn't as much as one would hope for out of a "TOP" product.

The memory on the other hand has a hefty factory overclock running at 6.4GHz. Therefore, on the clock speed front this video card should be slightly faster than a Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, and reference R9 280X, but not by much.

What truly separates the ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP from the competition is the attention to customization. ASUS has re-designed the printed circuit board (PCB) and installed high quality components to produce a more efficient, longer-lasting, and better overclocking video card.

Let's start with the hardware components. ASUS is using an 8 phase x 45A/phase GPU PWM configuration on the ASUS R9 280X DC2T. This is better than the reference R9 280X which uses a GPU PWM configuration of 5 phase x 60A/phase. This ensures 20% more power can be carried during overclocking. The memory/IO PWM is still configured with 2 phases, same as the reference R9 280X.

ASUS has employed its 10-phase super alloy power and DIGI+ VRM digital voltage regulation design. This allows a 30% higher voltage threshold for enhanced overclocking capability. Concrete alloy chokes are used, this means no more buzzing noises with weak chokes. These components combined increase the lifespan 2.5X that of the reference R9 280X. The digital voltage design allows lower power noise and more precise voltage changes. DIGI+ VRM intelligently transfers current among phases and results in less power loss. This actually brings the power consumption from the original 34.4W down to 28.7W.

Of course, ASUS has also equipped this video card with its newer design of its DirectCU II thermal design. This new design uses a larger and different layout for the heatpipes, and a new fan design. There are large 10mm direct-contact copper heatpipes for 40% more heat carried. The original 8mm heatpipes have a heat dissipating performance of up to 60W. The 10mm heatpipes have a heat dissipating performance of up to 85W. In addition, there is 2.2X larger heat dissipation surface area on this video card. Reference R9 280X has 1850cm2 of dissipation area, the ASUS R9 280X DC2T has 4112cm2.

There is a new fan technology on this video card ASUS has dubbed "Cooltech Fan Technology." This video demonstrates this hybrid fan technology.

The fan allows low acoustics with high airflow and a wide angle of airflow direction. ASUS claims 20% cooler GPU temperature with 3X less noise.

There are two dual-link DVI ports, one HDMI port and one DisplayPort on board. The video cards official dimensions are 11.2" x 5.7" x 1.5" in inches. It does support CrossFire, and it does need one 6-pin and one 8-pin power connector.

On the next page we have the complete ASUS presentation posted on this video card if you'd like to look at further details.

Comparison Video Cards

We need to talk about what to use as the comparison video cards to the ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP. The reference R9 280X is priced at $299, and the ASUS R9 280X DCT2 is priced at $309.

We have information directly from NVIDIA on its current pricing. We know many of you were hoping for a huge price drop from NVIDIA across the board; that is not happening. Some of the GPUs are getting a price cut, but not all. Straight from the horse's mouth we have the current pricing on NVIDIA GPUs.

NVIDIA has confirmed that the GeForce GTX 770 still has an MSRP of $399. This has not changed. NVIDIA has confirmed that the GeForce GTX 760 still has an MSRP of $249. This has not changed.

What has changed are the lower-end parts. GeForce GTX 660 will now be $179. GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB will be $149 and GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 1GB will be $129.

If we go simply by price, the R9 280X, and ASUS R9 280X DC2T align closer to the pricing of the GeForce GTX 760 than the GTX 770. This is important to know. However, in terms of comparing by performance the R9 280X matches closer to the GTX 770 than the GTX 760. We know this because the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition traded blows with the GeForce GTX 770 on performance.

Therefore, to do the R9 280X justice, we need to compare it to the higher-priced GeForce GTX 770. This comparison is going to show you something very cool potentially, and very helpful for gamers. If this works out as we think it will, R9 280X will be as fast as GTX 770, but for $100 cheaper. If that is true, then this is huge news. This is why we MUST compare the ASUS R9 280X DC2T to the GeForce GTX 770, even though it is $90 cheaper.

ASUS R9 280X DirectCU II TOP Pictures

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On the front of the box depicts that this is the TOP overclocked edition with 3GB of RAM and DIGI+ VRM. 20% cooler and 3X quieter are prominent selling points. Inside the box you will find the driver CD, manual, and CrossFire connector.

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You can see the unique 10mm heatpipes, very large. The hybrid fan is only used as one of the fans, the other one is a regular fan. The memory is exposed, no direct cooling on the memory modules. On the back of the video card you will find ROG connectors, VDDCI, MVDD, VDDC. There are also LEDs on the power connectors that let you know if the power cables are plugged in correctly.

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Thankfully ASUS has positioned the power connectors so that the clips are on the outside of the video card, and not on the inside towards the heatsink, else they would be hard to disconnect like we have seen on previous ASUS video cards.