XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition Review

For many enthusiast gamers, the ‘sweet spot’ price point for a graphics card is around the £200 mark. For this kind of cash you can get a solution capable of powering the latest Direct X 11 games at 1080p, and some even at 1600p. We recently had a look at the excellent MSI R9 280 Gaming Edition and the PNY GTX760 XLR8 cards, both priced around £185 inc vat. We had a lot of readers ask about the XFX R9 280 Black Edition, clocked at 1GHZ and available at a very attractive £179.99 from Scan. Is this a good card to shortlist?

There is no doubt, the XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition is a ‘looker’. We will take a closer look at the hardware on the next page, but we certainly find the appearance of the latest XFX cards to be genuinely appealing.

The XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition is overclocked to 1000mhz and the 3GB of GDDR5 memory is overclocked to 1,300mhz (5.2GBps effective).

The XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition ships in a tall box which doesn’t show an image of the card inside.

The bundle inside includes a Crossfire cable, some power converters and literature on the XFX range of power supplies. We advise you to install the newest drivers directly from the AMD website, rather than using potentially outdated drivers on a disc.

This is certainly an eyecatching card. The matt black colour of the colour is enhanced with the silver/chrome style edges and red stickers on the fans. XFX have ensured the black PCB matches the overall appearance.

The card looks great from any angle, and would look fantastic displayed as part of a build in a windowed chassis with LED lighting.

The R9 280 Black OC Edition is Crossfire capable.

It takes power from a single 6 pin and a single 8 pin power connector.

Two DVI connectors, a full sized HDMI connector and two mini DisplayPorts. It is EyeFinity capable, as we would expect.

The cooler is removed easily, exposing the PCB underneath – which is passively cooled by some heatsinks in key positions. The cooler itself is formed around a substantial copper base with 6 heatpipes. These heatpipes run straight into a rack of aluminum fins on one side. Two of them bend backwards into another, smaller, completely separate heatsink.
On this page we present some high resolution images of the product in our studio. These will take much longer to open due to the dimensions, especially on slower connections. If you use these pictures on another site or publication, please credit Kitguru.net as the owner/source. You can right click and ‘save as’ to your computer to view later.

Today we test with the AMD Catalyst 14.6 Beta driver and the Nvidia Forceware 337.88 driver.

We are using a test rig supplied by PCSPECIALIST and built to our specifications. If you want to read more about this, or are interested in buying the same Kitguru Test Rig, check out our article with links on this page.We are featuring results today with an Apple 30 inch Cinema HD Display at 2560×1600 and 1920×1080 resolutions.

Other Graphics cards:
Palit GTX780 JetStream 6GB (902 mhz core / 1502mhz memory)
AMD R9 295X2 (1018mhz core / 1250mhz memory)
Nvidia GTX Titan Black x2 (890 mhz core / 1,750 mhz memory)
Gigabyte GTX780 Ti Windforce OC (1020mhz core / 1750 mhz memory)
Palit GTX 780 Ti Jetstream OC (980 mhz core / 1,750 mhz memory)
Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X OC (1080mhz core / 1410mhz memory)
Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X (1010mhz core / 1250 mhz memory)
Club3D R9 290X RoyalAce Superoverclock (1050mhz / 1350mhz memory)
Sapphire R9 290 Vapor-X OC (1030mhz core / 1400 mhz memory)
Sapphire R9 280X Vapor-X OC (1100mhz core / 1500 mhz memory)
MSI R9 280 Gaming Edition (972mhz core /1250mhz memory)
PNY GTX760 XLR8 (980mhz core / 1502mhz memory)

Windows 7 Enterprise 64 bit
Unigine Heaven Benchmark
Unigine Valley Benchmark
3DMark Vantage
3DMark 11
Fraps Professional
Steam Client

Tomb Raider
Metro: Last Light
Battlefield 4

All the latest BIOS updates and drivers are used during testing. We perform generally under real world conditions, meaning KitGuru tests games across five closely matched runs and then average out the results to get an accurate median figure. If we use scripted benchmarks, they are mentioned on the relevant page.

Some game descriptions edited with courtesy from Wikipedia.
Futuremark released 3DMark Vantage, on April 28, 2008. It is a benchmark based upon DirectX 10, and therefore will only run under Windows Vista (Service Pack 1 is stated as a requirement) and Windows 7. This is the first edition where the feature-restricted, free of charge version could not be used any number of times. 1280×1024 resolution was used with performance settings.

The XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition scores 36,914 points, putting it just behind the more expensive Sapphire R9 280X Vapor-X OC.
3DMark 11 is designed for testing DirectX 11 hardware running on Windows 7 and Windows Vista the benchmark includes six all new benchmark tests that make extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. After running the tests 3DMark gives your system a score with larger numbers indicating better performance. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

The XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition scores 9,750 in the graphics test, ahead of the MSI R9 280 Gaming Edition.
3DMark is an essential tool used by millions of gamers, hundreds of hardware review sites and many of the world’s leading manufacturers to measure PC gaming performance.

Futuremark say “Use it to test your PC’s limits and measure the impact of overclocking and tweaking your system. Search our massive results database and see how your PC compares or just admire the graphics and wonder why all PC games don’t look this good.

To get more out of your PC, put 3DMark in your PC.”

The XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition scores 7,515 points, just ahead of the MSI R9 280 Gaming Edition.
Unigine provides an interesting way to test hardware. It can be easily adapted to various projects due to its elaborated software design and flexible toolset.

A lot of their customers claim that they have never seen such extremely-effective code, which is so easy to understand.

Heaven Benchmark is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on advanced Unigine engine from Unigine Corp. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies. Interactive mode provides emerging experience of exploring the intricate world of steampunk.

Efficient and well-architected framework makes Unigine highly scalable:
Multiple API (DirectX 9 / DirectX 10 / DirectX 11 / OpenGL) render
Cross-platform: MS Windows (XP, Vista, Windows 7) / Linux
Full support of 32bit and 64bit systems
Multicore CPU support
Little / big endian support (ready for game consoles)
Powerful C++ API
Comprehensive performance profiling system
Flexible XML-based data structures

We use the settings shown above at 1920×1080 and 2560×1600.

The XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition scores well in this tessellation heavy benchmark.
Valley Benchmark is a new GPU stress-testing tool from the developers of the very popular and highly acclaimed Heaven Benchmark. The forest-covered valley surrounded by vast mountains amazes with its scale from a bird’s-eye view and is extremely detailed down to every leaf and flower petal. This non-synthetic benchmark powered by the state-of-the art UNIGINE Engine showcases a comprehensive set of cutting-edge graphics technologies with a dynamic environment and fully interactive modes available to the end user.

We test with the settings above both at 1920×1080 and 2560×1600.

Solid performance again from the XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition.
Tomb Raider received much acclaim from critics, who praised the graphics, the gameplay and Camilla Luddington’s performance as Lara with many critics agreeing that the game is a solid and much needed reboot of the franchise. Much criticism went to the addition of the multiplayer which many felt was unnecessary. Tomb Raider went on to sell one million copies in forty-eight hours of its release, and has sold 3.4 million copies worldwide so far.

We use the ULTIMATE profile, as shown above at both 1080p and 1600p. We want the best image quality possible.

The game is playable at the highest settings at both 1080p and 1600p, maintaining 30+ frame rates at all times.
Metro: Last Light takes place one year after the events of Metro 2033, proceeding from the ending where Artyom chose to call down the missile strike on the Dark Ones. The Rangers have since occupied the D6 military facility, with Artyom having become an official member of the group. Khan, the nomad mystic, arrives at D6 to inform Artyom and the Rangers that a single Dark One survived the missile strike. 4A Games’ proprietary 4A Engine is capable of rendering breathtaking vistas, such as those showing the ruined remnants of Moscow, as well as immersive indoor areas that play with light and shadow, creating hauntingly beautiful scenes akin to those from modern-day photos of Pripyat’s abandoned factories and schools.

We tested this particular game with the extremely demanding built in benchmark. Settings detailed above at both 1080p and 1600p. Direct X 11 mode, Quality is set at Very High, 16 AF, normal Motion blur, Tessellation Normal, Advanced PhysX disabled and SSAA disabled.

An extremely demanding engine at both resolutions.
Battlefield 4 (also known as BF4) is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts. The game is a sequel to 2011′s Battlefield 3. Battlefield 4 is built on the new Frostbite 3 engine. The new Frostbite engine enables more realistic environments with higher resolution textures and particle effects. A new “networked water” system is also being introduced, allowing all players in the game to see the same wave at the same time.Tessellation has also been overhauled.

We test at 2560×1600 with the image quality settings on the ‘ULTRA’ preset. We test the AMD hardware with both Direct X and AMD’s Mantle rendering. Nvidia hardware is tested with Direct X rendering.

The R9 280 and GTX760 struggle at these settings at 1600p, although for many people 25+ frame rates are fine. We found the game enjoyable at these settings with the XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition.
Watch Dogs is an action-adventure game played from a third-person perspective. Players complete missions—linear scenarios with set objectives—to progress through the story. Outside of missions, players can freely roam the open world of Chicago. The world may be fully explored from the beginning of the game without restrictions, although story progress unlocks more gameplay content. This game has (so far) been poorly optimised for the PC platform, having been ported over from the Playstation 4 and Xbox One consoles. We have been unwilling to include this game in our usual suite of game tests, but it is very popular with our audience and included it today for the first time.

We test at the settings shown in the screenshots above at 1080p and 1600p. The latest patch was installed as of 20th of June.

Playable at these settings, although there is still some frame rate stuttering. This is related to the rather poor job the developers made when porting this title from the Playstation 4 and Xbox One consoles.
The tests were performed in a controlled air conditioned room with temperatures maintained at a constant 24c – a comfortable environment for the majority of people reading this. Idle temperatures were measured after sitting at the desktop for 30 minutes. Load measurements were acquired by playing Crysis Warhead for 30 minutes and measuring the peak temperature. We also have included Furmark results, recording maximum temperatures throughout a 30 minute stress test. All fan settings were left on automatic.

The XFX cooler is fantastic, holding gaming temperatures at 60c under load. This rises to 68c when tasked with the synthetic load of Furmark.

VRM temperatures show 90c and 78c when stressed in Furmark. These drop to around 86c and 75c when gaming.
We have built a system inside a Lian Li chassis with no case fans and have used a fanless cooler on our CPU. The motherboard is also passively cooled. This gives us a build with almost completely passive cooling and it means we can measure noise of just the graphics card inside the system when we run looped 3dMark tests.

We measure from a distance of around 1 meter from the closed chassis and 4 foot from the ground to mirror a real world situation. Ambient noise in the room measures close to the limits of our sound meter at 28dBa. It isn’t a real world situation to be measuring with a case panel off only a few centimeters away from a video card. Our noise figures may therefore be lower than other publications who record at closer distances, or without a fully closed case muting the noise.

Why do this? Well this means we can eliminate secondary noise pollution in the test room and concentrate on only the video card. It also brings us slightly closer to industry standards, such as DIN 45635.

KitGuru noise guide

10dBA - Normal Breathing/Rustling Leaves
20-25dBA – Whisper
30dBA - High Quality Computer fan
40dBA - A Bubbling Brook, or a Refrigerator
50dBA - Normal Conversation
60dBA - Laughter
70dBA – Vacuum Cleaner or Hairdryer
80dBA - City Traffic or a Garbage Disposal
90dBA - Motorcycle or Lawnmower
100dBA – MP3 player at maximum output
110dBA - Orchestra
120dBA – Front row rock concert/Jet Engine
130dBA – Threshold of Pain
140dBA – Military Jet takeoff/Gunshot (close range)
160dBA – Instant Perforation of eardrum

One of the quietest video cards we have tested under load, making it ideal for a system in a bedroom or living room environment.
To test power consumption today we are using a Keithley Integra unit and we measure power consumption from the VGA card inputs, not the system wide drain. We measure results while gaming in Crysis Warhead and the synthetic stress test Furmark and record both results.

The XFX board takes around 200 watts of power under gaming load.
Inno3D supply their own software for overclocking, but we achieved the same results by using MSI’s Afterburner, based on RivaTuner. It is more user friendly too.

There is plenty of overclocking headroom on the sample we received, hitting 1,141mhz on the core – a 14% overclock.

The manual overclock helped to increase the GPU score from 9,750 points to 11,030 points.
The XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition is a beautifully designed card, equipped with an ultra quiet, high performance cooler that is actually leading the pack when it comes to a noise to cooling efficiency ratio.

A couple of years ago you would have struggled to buy a graphics card at £180 that could play the latest games at high image quality settings at 1080p. The fact that the highly overclocked XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition can even power some titles at 1600p is the icing on the cake.

We love the understated, elegant appearance – the subtle matt black cooler is beautifully accented with subtle, smooth chrome edges. Thankfully under the surface XFX have not skimped on the cooler design. They are using a total of 6 thick copper heatpipes which run into two separate racks of aluminum fins on either side of the large, copper core. The two large 90mm fans cool the length of the heatsinks, from directly above.

Under load, the Tahiti core temperatures never exceeded 60c during our tests. When this is combined with the extremely low fan noise emissions this is a cooler for readers who have a particular aversion to noise. The card is whisper quiet at all times, making it extremely appealing for a bedroom or living room environment.

There was plenty of core headroom available on our review sample. We managed to overclock the core by 14%, to around 1,140mhz, increasing performance even further. Additional core clocking headroom will vary from sample to sample, but it is clear there will be at least another 10% available out of the box if you want to push the performance to the limits.

The XFX R9 280 Black OC Edition is available from SCAN in the United Kingdom for £179.99 inc vat. It offers exceptional value for money and will deliver plenty of frame rate performance when partnered up with a new 1080p panel..

Very quiet under load.
beautiful design.
excellent cooler design.
plenty of core headroom for overclocking.
competitively priced.

A lot of competition between £170 and £190.
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