Following the completion of AMD's Radeon R7 range last month with the R7 265 it was clear that the Red Team needed to address a heavy spike in demand for performance-level GCN-based cards in the last few months. Driven by strong performance in cryptocurrency mining as well as exceptional gaming price/performance ratios, R9 280X/290/290X availability has declined significantly and in some instances prices have ballooned to an untenable level. Unfortunately lead times being what they are it's pretty difficult to just fab more GPUs to satisfy demand, so something had to give. Into that context therefore comes the Radeon R9 280.
The AMD Radeon R9 280 is essentially a re-release of the HD7950, a high-end powerhouse from 2012 which was discontinued in October following the introduction of AMD's new naming scheme. Although the reference specifications have been tweaked slightly - the GPU is clocked at up to 933MHz rather than the 920MHz of the 7950 - under the hood you're still treated to a card built around a GCN-based Tahiti GPU with 3GB GDDR5 RAM, 384-bit memory bus and with overall speed of 5.0Gbps. Whilst only 1792 Stream Processors are used on the Tahiti core, the solution still has proven performance capabilities.
The expected performance range is well understood - by utilising most of the Tahiti GPU it should see frame rates well in excess of NVIDIA's GTX 760, especially at higher resolutions. A new factor to add to the equation however is Mantle; unavailable to the HD7950 for the entirety of its lifespan, AMD's 'close to metal' API is now being incorporated into Battlefield 4 and THIEF with more titles in the pipeline. Once this API has been optimised to the older generation of GCN cards (essentially every card which isn't the R9 290/290X) it should see some very significant performance gains in select titles.
As this is a veteran rather than brand new GPU we can expect to see partner variations with 3rd party cooling solutions enter the market immediately. In practice this should mean that overclocked versions are widely available, pushing performance to a higher level whilst keeping prices under control.
R9 280 Specifications
An MSRP of $279 is targeted by AMD, partially in an attempted to push more affordable GCN parts into the hands of gamers but also in recognition that demand has pushed other cards well out of reach of the average enthusiast in the US.
Barring reuse of the HD7870 XT - a card based around a yet more trimmed version of the Tahiti core - this should be the final entrant to AMD's desktop graphics product stack, a stack which with the exception of the two SKUs based around the Hawaii core looks remarkably like that for 2013 and much of 2012. In the mean time NVIDIA are introducing their power-efficient Maxwell architecture, albeit at 28nm and firmly at the point of entry-level gaming.
Although they may be currently happy with high demand thanks to the recent cryptocurrency boom AMD need to be mindful not to get left behind once mining moves to custom-designed ASICs. It's currently unknown just how strong their brand is in the the core gaming market, and it's possible they may be in for a series of nasty surprises if their position as general purpose mining king is supplanted. For the average consumer though that is by-the-by; the R9 280 should provide excellent 1080p frame rates in the majority of games as even if the architecture is old, it's still a heavyweight.
The Radeon R9 280 should start appearing for sale this week, with a stronger selection of cards available from next week. UK pricing is currently unknown but should be competitive with the GTX 760, although aftermarket cooling solutions may command a slight price premium. For more information on it and other AMD solutions visit AMD.com.