AMD R9 Fury - Fiji, Without The X-Factor?

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅10.07.2015 14:13:44

AMD's Radeon R9 Fury X launched just a couple of weeks ago and the market has been busy adjusting to its presence ever since. However the Red Team aren't finished. As set out during their E3 Livestream additional SKUs based on the technology within Fury X will be released over the summer, the first of which is formally unvieled today. Yes, the R9 Fury is now stepping into the spotlight and having it's time to shine.

Radeon R9 Fury - Not Fat, Just Big Boned

As you might expect, the R9 Fury is a slight step down from the beast that is the Fury X, but AMD are betting that it's not so far of a step down that the card is overshadowed. At the heart of every Fury is the Fiji GPU, this time in the Fiji PRO form rather than the full-fat 'Fiji XT' present in the Fury X. Primarily based on a combination of their latest GCN architecture - a stalwart of AMD GPUs since the 7000-series - and brand new High Bandwidth Memory, it's still enough of an unknown quantity that performance isn't not predictable. Despite a lesser specification AMD's R9 Fury requires a much more elaborate cooling solution than its sibling, mainly due to eschewing an integrated water cooler. Hence, for the first time that we can recall, moving down in specification will actually mandate a physically larger card. More on that later; for now, lets get to the technical specifications.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the number of Compute Units (and hence stream processors) and Texture Units is down 12.5% compared to the Fury X to 3584 and 224 respectively, which is no minor figure. Also down is the engine (GPU) clock, but only very slightly - 5% all told. In isolation that would indicate an ~10-15% dip in performance, but there are so many factors involved when it comes to real-world benchmarking that this is only the coarsest of guides.

However the number of ROPs, amount of memory and memory speed is unchanged from the Fury X's reference specifications, indicating that high resolution and tessellation performance may not be as heavily impacted as you might think; that's pleasant to hear considering the brouhaha over NVIDIA's GTX 970 memory issues. Unsurprisingly 4K resolutions are once again a target for AMD's high-end cards, but it may well be that 1440p with higher image quality will be the sweet-spot for this new card.

Despite a lower specification Fury inherits Fury X's high TDP, which is a little counter-intuitive. AMD quote a typical board power of 275W, but the dual 8-pin PCI-Express power connectors speaks to the potential for this GPU to draw far more. With no integrated water cooler to fall back in Fury X will instead rely purely on traditional air-cooling techniques to keep the GPU under control, and improper implementation may see throttling and/or unacceptable noise. Thankfully here AMD have been uncustomarily canny.

Cooling - Resolving The Catch-22

Rather than release a reference cooler design, with all the risks inherent in doing so, AMD have instead chosen to let board partners do what they do best: manufacture graphics cards and create their own premium cooling solution. Sapphire, ASUS, MSI, GIGABYTE et al. will each be launching with their own designs featuring high performance air coolers and innovative manufacturing techniques, all with the aim of making their R9 Fury the very best one out there. Meanwhile AMD can concentrate on shipping GPUs and interposers, manufacturing their own Fury X, and creating new designs for their Fiji GPU.

The ASUS STRIX Radeon R9 Fury is one such design, from the biggest name in the graphics card manufacturing business. This new card is one of the first to make use of the ASUS DirectCU III GPU cooler, a comprehensive redesign of the immensely well-regarded DirectCU II which has been central to brand's success in the past few years due to low noise and high thermal efficiency.

The major innovation of ASUS's DirectCU technology remains unchanged in the latest iteration. In order to get maximum heat transfer from the GPU ASUS relies on heatpipes making direct contact with the chip, with no intermediate layer. DirectCU III builds on this by pushing heatpipe diameter up to 10mm, 'Super Heat Pipes' as ASUS calls them, and using an internal coating which combines the dynamics of sintered and grooved heatpipes; in all ASUS rate it at up to 68W maximum heat transfer per pipe, but from around 40-50 on a comparable 6mm heatpipe.

Heatpipes haven't been the only sources of inspiration for DirectCU III. New 'Wing-blade' fans are based on technology implemented in military aircraft, designed to improve air pressure at the wing tips compared to conventional designs (ASUS claim a 105% improvement). Not only that, the blades themselves are straighter and wider, increasing overall coverage and hence air flow and pressure.

Finally, ASUS's STRIX Radeon R9 Fury also comes equipped with 'STRIX Armour Protection', a GPU backplate designed to hold the card rigid and place the GPU socket and PCB under less stress. Plus, it looks pretty nifty within the chassis, and passively cools a number of surface mounted components.

This is just one implementation of the Radeon R9 Fury, and other manufactueres will ahve their own variants. Sapphire for instance are preparing their own Tri-X solution for retail R9 Fury models, and no doubt GIGABYTE and MSI will be equally well equipped on launch. AMD have successfully avoided a repeat of the R9 290X's 2013 launch, and for that they should be applauded.

Summing Up - The Competition And Looking Ahead

AMD have NVIDIA's GTX 980 firmly in their sights as shown by the direct comparisons between the two cards in marketing media. However it should be noted that many of these highlight 4K performance, which is perhaps optimistic for users in that market segment. Lower resolutions, most notably 1440p, with high image quality and even monitor-synced frame rates would perhaps be a better comparison, and we'll have to wait on reviews before seeing exactly how the card performs at these settings.

Considering that Fiji complete with High Bandwidth Memory is such a novel package one downside is that we won't have a repeat of the tiny form factor designs seen on the water-cooled Fury X. We will be waiting on the release of the R9 Nano, the third and final Fiji single-GPU SKU, later this year for a compact air-cooled card based around AMDs latest architecture.

So there you have it, AMD's Radeon R9 Fury. Initial pricing was set to be an MSRP of $549 and we've not had any word to indicate that this has changed, making it a little more expensive than the GTX 980 but far less than the GTX 980Ti and Fury X. The fortunes of the card will likely be tied to the quality of 3rd-party coolers, but don't be at all surprised to see it picked up by water cooling enthusiasts as and when waterblocks are available.