SAPPHIRE R9 Fury X Review

👤by David Mitchelson Comments 📅05-07-15

Without doubt the Radeon Fury X is AMD’s most powerful single-GPU graphics card to date, over and above the recently released R9 390X 'Grenada', and this has been accomplished whilst also introducing a fundamentally new memory architecture. Its very design, characteristics and pricing make it a direct rival to NVIDIA’s GTX 980Ti, yet establishing a clear winner isn’t immediately possible.

You certainly get the impression that the Fury X was scheduled for release in a world where its chief competitor was NVIDIA's Titan X, and viewed through that lens the card makes a whole lot of sense. It would have been priced aggressively, feature innovative new technologies, have a build quality a cut above AMD's previous reference designs, and shown that AMD was back in the game with a clear price/performance winner at the very top. Unfortunately for AMD NVIDIA released the GTX 980Ti in May, knocking everything into a cocked hat.

The actual card is a breath of fresh air in a market known for somewhat staid design. Even setting aside performance figures the Fiji package, composed of GPU and 4GB of stacked memory, has a tiny footprint which steps away from big, cumbersome graphics cards and settles on a 7-inch wonder. However such a GPU is nothing without adequate cooling, and the inclusion of an all-in-one liquid cooler will either be a fantastic boon or an utter nuisance to deal with.

Without doubt AMD needed to take measured steps to improve their reference cooling, but the Fury X goes way beyond mere measured steps. This cooler transforms the shape and size of the card and delivers astounding thermal results, but will require a 120mm mounting spot within the chassis. Whilst the Fiji package will unlock new tiny form factors in the fullness of time, Fury X perhaps requires more consideration before installing than a typical GPU; if you’re already cooling your CPU by a similar method this will need to be factored in, and mITX chassis installation isn't quite the doddle you might hope for.

Regrettably, our sample wasn't immune to the widely reported pitfall of a faulty pump. The first-generation solution meant that we experienced a moderately horrendous noise profile that simply can't be lived with; thankfully AMD is addressing the issue and the unit can be RMA’d if found to be unacceptable, and it supposedly is only cropping up on some - rather than all - retail models. We're at a loss to explain how these units got past quality control, but what should have been a slam-dunk solution (especially compared to the Hawaii launch) has the potential to turn into an embarrassment.

Turning our attention to the performance, the R9 Fury X is clearly designed for ultra-high resolutions and image quality settings, and in isolation does a serviceable job in this arena. High Bandwidth Memory, as we outlined in our primer on the subject is a game changer when it comes to absolute memory bandwidth, and we never felt that the somewhat limited 4GB frame buffer held the card back. Looking across a wide selection of different benchmarks however reveals that it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

Certain benchmarks have the R9 Fury X equaling or even surpassing the performance of the rival GTX 980Ti, but in others it falls far short. Indeed at relatively low resolutions (for instance 1080p) the Fury X has trouble keeping up with cards in previous generations, indicating issues either with memory latency or immature drivers. Both the Fury X and 980Ti are flagships in this segment, yet it’s still evident that using high detail settings as well as high anti-aliasing at 4K resolution often yield unacceptable frame rates. We are yet to see a single-GPU configuration comfortably allow truly impressive experiences with 4K gaming, although both AMD and NVIDIA flagships excel at 2K/1440p.

The SAPPHIRE R9 Fury X and other cards just like it are priced at £550 GBP (inc. V.A.T.} / $649 USD (MSRP), placing Fury X at the same price-point as the arch rival GTX 980Ti. The nature of reference designs indicates that the Fury X will be identical across AMD's partner SKUs, using the same PCB, components and reference cooler; however differences emerge in bundled items and after-sales support – with SAPPHIRE we get a 3-year warranty and some handy cables/adapters which is great to see.

Even if AMD haven't staked a claim to an uncontested performance crown they've shown that they're back in the game with the Fury X. Priced to compete with NVIDIA's GTX 980Ti, the Fury X outshines NVIDIA’s card in the thermal solution concept, overall size and gaming titles which favour AMD architecture. Lingering launch issues need to be resolved before the card can be recommended, but it's an excellent launching board into a new graphics era for AMD. We look forward to the air-cooled Fury and Fury Nano designs to be revealed later this year.


+ Small footprint
+ Excellent build-quality
+ Low-noise operation
+ Great thermal results
+ DirectX 12 ready
+ Dual BIOS
+ 3 years warranty

- First batch suffer with pump faults
- Falls behind the GTX 980Ti
- Games still struggle with max. detail at 4K

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