The (Cross)Fire And The Fury - Looking Ahead To AMD's Radeon R9 Fury X

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅18.06.2015 14:03:43

Fury is a name everyone had thought was long since retired from the AMD/ATI lexicon. Last appearing on the ATI Rage Fury MAXX, a 1999 vintage dual-GPU brute of a card, it was one of the final to use the Rage brand before the introduction of 'Radeon' in the following generation. Intentional reclamation of a old name or not, could there be a better time than now for AMD to come out swinging with new technology and a Fury-ous new card?

During Tuesday's E3 livestream dedicated to AMD technology AMD formally announced their latest GPU and graphics card lineup. Since then more information has been shared with the press ahead of a global release next week, although some detailed specification information remains in the hands of AMD until the cards hit the market. So, without further ado, let's talk Fury.

Fury - based on Fiji

AMD will come in for a lot of flack in the next few weeks for an effective rebranding of the 200-series GPU into the Rx 300-series (ostensibly to simplify the linedup and normalise DirectX12 support across the range), but lets make no bones about it: Fiji is brand new silicon. And it's an absolute beast.

AMD Fiji Block Diagram

Manufactured with perhaps the final high-end outing for TSMC's 28nm process, the Fiji is an 8.9m transistor monster measuring 596 square mm. However as the first GPU of any stripe to make the use of High Bandwidth Memory the overall package size is tiny, measuring just 1011 sq. mm when including the area of the memory chips and substrate rather than roughly 3x that. AMD believe that this will truly unlock new form factors, over and above what was possible when more bulky GDDR5 chips are arrayed around a high-performance GPU.

Fiji itself is a 4096-shader part, a little under 50% more shaders than the Hawaii-based R9 290X/390X; if you're counting in Compute Units it puts the Fiji at 64. This gives Fiji unprecedented processing power for an AMD GPU, especially considering the commensurately large number of Texture Mapping Units (256) and ROPs (64). It's built on a next-generation GCN architecture which will also make it marginally more efficient than Hawaii's older GCN 1.1 design, and naturally efficiency will be key in leveraging the best possible performance without blowing through power allowances.

Four HBM stacks are arrayed around the Fiji GPU, and with this first version of HBM you're currently limited to 1GB VRAM per stack, 4GB in total. Compared to other modern GPUs that doesn't seem like much - NVIDIA's TITAN X has a 12GB frame buffer, whilst AMD's only R9 390X will be shipped with 8GB GDDR5 - but it's worth noting that the performance of HBM is on a different level.

In total the memory bus width is 4096-bits wide, massive when compared to any GPU in its class. AMD are targeting a 512Gb/s Memory Bandwidth - 130GB/s more than the R9 390X, and almost 200Gb/s greater than that available to NVIDIA's Titan X - and that really changes the dynamic of high resolution gaming. Frame buffer will still be a factor, but presupposing the GPU can process the data quickly enough it may just be that the 4GB limitation will not be nearly as problematic at 4K as everyone is currently expecting.

Furthermore Fiji has a 4x memory bandwidth/watt improvement over the R9 290X, which allows more power to be funneled to the GPU when operating within a TDP envelope. That's critically important as GDDR5 hits diminishing returns at a certain performance level, costing ever more power to push frequencies ever higher, whilst the depths of HBM have yet to be plumbed. By being ahead of the curve AMD have the opportunity to steal a march in GPU efficiency, the first time they will have done so since the release of the HD 7970.

Reference Liquid Coolers - A sign of things to come?

AMD have dubbed their new Fiji-based card the AMD Radeon R9 Fury X, and it diverges significantly from previous releases. Available only in a water-cooled reference model, the Fury X is astonishingly compact thanks to Fiji GPU+Memory package being so small. A 7.5" long PCB is four less than the R9 290X reference design, and still only occupies two PCI-E slots thanks to a dual-slot cooler design. However it still needs to dissipate an immense amount of heat - the card is rated at a typical TDP of 275W, which would be extremely difficult with a standard air cooler. Enter the Fury X's party piece, a reference closed loop liquid cooler.

This is not the first time AMD have dabbled with a liquid cooler on their reference models; the R9 295X2 also included a hybrid liquid and air model, a necessity due to the cards two toasty Hawaii GPUs and the difficulty in dealing with this much heat solely through an air cooler. Moving to an liquid cooler on Fury X keeps the design compact - a major selling point of the card - as well as avoiding some of the pitfalls AMD encountered last time they released a reference air cooler.

Air cooled Fiji-based graphics cards will be known as the R9 Radeon Fiji, and will be the first round of cards with 3rd party coolers designed by AMD's AIB partners (GIGABYTE, ASUS, MSI and the like). At this stage AMD aren't willing to divulge anything meaty on Fury except to say that the specification is likely to be different from the Fury X, primarily to fit into a lower price bracket. Whether this means that partners will be relying on a lower-spec GPU for their own flagship AMD design's isn't clear, but we expect all this to be revealed closer to the Fury's projected July 14th release date.

Fury X - A Premium SKU, Designed For 4K Gaming

Returning to the Fury X, it's time to talk capabilities. Much like the new 8GB R9 390-series GPUs, AMD's new flagship is designed primarily for high-resolution gaming. Whether it be 4K, multi-panel Eyefinity, or a VR headset AMD want gaming on Fury X to be the best possible experience, and have extended that to the quality of the cooler, enclosure, and assuaging concerns over heat.

Interestingly, AMD have moved away from describing performance in terms of average frame rates. Instead they're taking a different tac with the Fury X, describing how smooth the 4K gameplay is and accentuating the fact that both average and minimum frame rates remain within a pretty tight window. You can see this in the slide below, describing Far Cry 4 performance at 4K remaining within an envelope with 43fps minimum frame rate. It will be interesting to see how well this holds up in the long-run, not only on systems without top-flight CPUs but also tracking it as we move into the DirectX12 era and its focus on reducing CPU load.

Fury X features three DisplayPort's (DP 1.2a, also supporting FreeSync and MST hubs for up to 6 simultaneous displays) and an HDMI 1.4a port. In practice this means that it's compatible with an immense range of modern and legacy high resolution displays, including 4K@60Hz where necessary. The inclusion of an HDMI 2.0 means that a new display isn't necessarily an automatic purchase, and a certain amount of future-proofing is on offer for new high-resolution HDMI displays.

Thanks to a liquid cooler AMD have a new target operating temperature for their flagship GPU. Despite a typical TDP of 275W (and peak of up to 375W via two 8-Pin PCI-E power connectors) the Fiji GPU should run at a cool 50C rather than the worrying 90C seen with the R9 290X. It should be pretty quiet too; a 120mm fan blows though the 120mm radiator, and in theory should no louder than a high-quality chassis fan. Also, due to its wider than normal diameter, the lower pitch of the fan noise compared to typical 72/80/92mm GPU fans will be more pleasant to most ears, even at the same DBM.

The Fury X's heat shroud doesn't escape a distinctly premium feel. Black soft-touch side-plates complement a black mirror-gloss aluminium supporting skeleton, making it the best-looking AMD reference card in, well, ever. Fan and cooler cables are braided for greater durability too; always a nice touch.

Taking a leaf out of the R9 295X2 is the inclusion of customisable LEDs. Not limited to simply a red LED 'Radeon' logo on the side, the card also adds eight configurable Red/Blue LEDs for the GPU Tach, and a single green LED to indicate when the card is in the low power 'AMD Zero Core' mode. Overclockers will welcome news that, as well as the immense potential power supplied the Fury X utilises 6-phase power and AMD's own SVI2 voltage regulators with full telemetry read back for core control.

If you're in the market for two R9 Fury X GPUs you'll be pleased to know that the card also supports XDMA (i.e. Crossfire over PCI-Express). That said, we should suggest waiting on stability information regarding this configuration before investing; multi-gpu setups are troublesome at the best of times, and jumping on it with brand new silicon feels like too much of a gamble.

Finally, and in common with all AMD Radeon Rx 300-series cards, the Fury X is a DirectX-12 ready part. AMD are shying away from describing the capabilities in terms of feature levels; instead they emphasis they fact that their cards support the key DirectX 12 features of Asynchronous Shaders, Multi-threaded Commander Buffer Recording and Explicit Multi-Adapter capabilities. With DirectX 12 very much in its infancy widespread support for every feature level could be more of a marketing tool than of any real value to gamers, and AMD certainly seem to be of that opinion as things stand.

Power Comes At A Price

The Radeon Fury X is AMD's highest performance GPU to date, but as you would expect it is priced accordingly. On June 24th the Fury X will line up aggressively at an MSRP of $649.99, identical to the GTX 980 TI, NVIDIA's GeForce flagship. The air-cooled Fury will follow on July 14th with an unknown set of specifications, priced at $549. At this time there doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to hold off for the Fury if the Fury X is within your budget, but as always waiting on review results will rarely be a mistake.

Our detailed thoughts on the Fury X and AMD's Fiji GPU will come with our review of the new card.


EDIT: Previously, we erroneously stated that the HDMI port adhered to a 2.0 specification. In fact it conforms to HDMI 1.4a.

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