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
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.
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.
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