AMD Radeon R9 Fury X graphics card review: AMD's long-awaited 4K powerhouse

The long-awaited Radeon R9 Fury X is packed with power and loving design touches, but it's not quite a walk-off home run for AMD.

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The elephant in the room

Normally, this is where I'd leap into gaming benchmarks, but I wanted to talk about a more advanced issue first: overclocking.

With power pins capable of sucking down 100W of additional energy, a liquid-cooling solution rated for up to 500W of thermal capacity, and a redesigned AMD PowerTune/OverDrive that gives you more control over fine-tuning your card’s capabilities, the Radeon R9 Fury X seems tailor-made for hefty overclocking. Heck, AMD even touted the card’s overclockability (that’s a word, right?) at its E3 unveiling. “You’ll be able to overclock this thing like no tomorrow,” AMD CTO Joe Macri said. “This is an overclocker’s dream.”

That’s… well, that’s just not true, at least for the review sample I was given.

I was only able to push my Fury X from its 1,050MHz stock clock up to 1100MHz, a very modest bump that added a mere 1 to 2 frames per second of performance in gaming benchmarks. You can’t touch the HBM’s memory clock—AMD locked it down. And any time I tried upping the Fury X’s power limit in AMD’s PowerTune utility, even by 1 percent, instability instantly ensued.

amd radeon fury x split view

An AMD representative told me that “We had a very limited number of OC boards.” When I asked whether there will be different variants of the Fury X, given this “OC board” talk, I was told that there will only be one SKU, and it’s the usual “silicon lottery” when it comes to your GPU’s overclocking capabilities. (Overclocking capabilities vary from individual GPU to individual GPU; another Fury X could have much more headroom than ours, for example.)

All that said, we’ve heard through the grapevine that we’re not the only ones experiencing disappointing overclocks with the Fury X, either. So if you’re considering picking up a Fury X, peruse the following gaming benchmarks knowing that you may not be able to eke out additional performance via overclocking.

AMD Radeon R9 Fury X gaming benchmarks

Enough preamble! Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty.

As with all of our graphics card reviews, I benchmarked the Radeon R9 Fury X on PCWorld’s GPU testing system, which contains:

As far as the games go, we used the in-game benchmarks provided with each, utilizing the stock graphics settings mentioned unless otherwise noted. We focused on 4K gaming results for this review. 

I’ve compared the Fury X against Nvidia’s reference GeForce 980 Ti, GeForce 980, and the $1000 Titan X, as well as AMD’s older Radeon R9 290X and the Radeon R9 295x2, which packs two of the “Hawaii” GPUs found in the R9 290X. I’ve also included some benchmarks from a card that we won’t have a formal review for until later this week: EVGA’s $680 GeForce GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+, an aftermarket version of the GTX 980 Ti that sports EVGA’s popular ACX 2.0+ dual-fan cooling system.

evga 980 ti superclocked

Spoiler alert: EVGA’s custom GeForce GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ with ACX 2.0+ cooling.

EVGA sent me the GTX 980 Ti SC+ on the same day AMD passed me the Fury X—pure coincidence, I’m sure. We’ll dissect it in full detail in our review later this week, but basically, the ACX 2.0 cooler helps EVGA’s model run a full 9 degrees Celsius cooler than the 980 Ti reference design, which in turn let EVGA crank the GPU’s core clock up to 1,102MHz base, which boosts to 1,190MHz when needed. The stock GTX 980 Ti packs 1,000MHz base and 1,075MHz boost clocks, for reference.

Spoiler alert: This EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti Superclocked+ is a beast that outpunches both the Fury X and Titan X itself—something EVGA was no doubt aware of when it sent me the card just in time to coincide with the Fury X launch.

But remember: Even if the EVGA card is more beastly, the Fury X still kicks ass.

Housekeeping notes: You can click on any graph in this article to enlarge it. Note that only 4K results are listed here due to time constraints, but I can drop 2560x1440 resolution benchmarks for the Fury X in the comments if anybody’s interested. (With the exception of Sleeping DogsDragon Age, and GTA V on ultra settings—all of which hover in the 40 to 50 fps range—the Fury X clears 70 fps in every other tested gaming benchmark at that resolution.)

Let’s kick things off with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. This nifty little game gobbled down tons of industry awards and, more importantly for our purpose, offers an optional Ultra HD textures pack that is only recommended for cards with 6GB or more of onboard memory. That doesn’t hinder the Fury X’s ability to come out swinging with slightly higher frame rates than the reference GeForce GTX 980 Ti—no small feat, especially when the game opens with a splash page championing Nvidia technology.

The game was tested at Medium and High quality graphics presets, then by using the Ultra HD Texture pack and manually cranking every graphics option to its highest available setting, which Shadow of Mordor’s Ultra setting doesn’t actually do. The R9 295x2 consistently crashes every time I attempt to change Mordor’s resolution or graphics settings, hence the zero scores. (Ah, the joys of multi-GPU setups.)

shadow of mordor fury x

Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition absolutely murders graphics cards when the graphics settings are set to Extreme at high resolutions. Only the dual-GPU Radeon R9 295x2 hits 30 fps at 4K resolution, though the Fury X hangs with its Nvidia counterparts.

sleeping dogs fury x

The Fury X also hangs tight with the reference GTX 980 Ti in Metro Last Light Redux, which we test with PhysX and the frame rate-killing SSAA options disabled. EVGA’s version of the GTX 980 Ti trumps all single-GPU comers, though the dual-GPU Radeon R9 295x2 fires on all cylinders in this title.

metro last light redux fury x

Again, the Fury X and reference 980 Ti are neck and neck in Alien Isolation, a game that scales well across all hardware types and falls under AMD’s Gaming Evolved brand.

alien isolation fury x review

The gorgeous Dragon Age: Inquisition also partnered with AMD at its launch, but Nvidia’s cards maintain a clear lead here. Note that the R9 295x2 apparently doesn’t have a working CrossFire profile for the game, so it drops down to using a single GPU.

dragon age inquisition fury x

The same goes for Sniper Elite 3. Note that we didn’t have a chance to test the reference GTX 980 Ti here.

sniper elite 3 fury x

We also tested the Fury X and EVGA’s 980 Ti Superclocked+ in Grand Theft Auto V, because the game is notorious for demanding more than 4GB of memory—HBM’s top capacity—at high resolutions.

We tested the game three ways at 4K resolution. First, by cranking all the sliders and graphics settings to their highest settings, then enabling 4x MSAA and 4X reflections MSAA in order to hit , of RAM usage; then, using the same settings but disabling all MSAA to drop the memory usage to 4,029MB, just under the Fury X’s limit; and then by testing the Fury X’s chops at normal graphics settings with MSAA disabled, which consumes 1,985MB of memory. (We didn’t have time to benchmark any other cards, alas.)

gta v fury x

The EVGA card pounds the Fury X here—no wonder GTA V wasn’t included in the reviewer’s guide benchmarks AMD provided for the Fury X last week. But the frame rate averages alone don’t show the full experience: When GTA V was pushed to consume more memory than the Fury X has onboard, the experience became extremely stuttery, choppy, and graphically glitchy as the card offloaded duties to system memory, which is far slower than HBM.

That’s to be expected when a game’s memory use exceeds the onboard capabilities of a graphics card, however, which was a big part of the reason gamers were in such a tizzy over the GTX 970’s segmented memory setup earlier this year, in which the last 0.5GB of the card’s 4GB of RAM performs much slower than the rest.

Continue to the next page for the conclusion of our Fury X performance testing, and final thoughts about AMD’s new flagship.

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