It’s been a long time coming and AMD is pretty much ready to step away from the first generation graphics architecture that set them on their current course. Graphics Core Next debuted with the launch of the Radeon HD7970 on 9 January 2012. It morphed into the HD7970 GHz edition before being cut down slightly and re-sold as the Radeon R9 280X. This is the first time that a GPU from AMD has lasted this long and it’s high time that a fresh set of hardware is launched. The next step on the way to GCN 2.0 is the R9 285 belonging to the Tonga GPU family and according to recent rumors and leaks, it’s going to be quite unlike the Tahiti-based R9 280/280X we’re normally used to.
According to leaks on VideoCardz, the R9 285 is probably not even based on the Tahiti family. It’s the fourth single card to do without a Crossfire connector, which points out to it being closer to the Hawaii and Bonaire GPU families than anything else. Crossfire is now done through AMD’s much more flexible XDMA engine, which communicates over the PCI-Express bus (and can do some nifty tricks like GPU memory pooling).
The brands which had their launch lineup leaked are Sapphire, with the R9 285 Dual-X; XFX, with their dual-fan Radeon R9 285; and HIS, with the Radeon R9 285 IceQx². All three of the cards leaked on the site carry the now-standard video output configuration across most of the newer Radeon R-series GPUs – two DVI-Dual ports, one HDMI port and one full-sized Displayport connector.
Considering the timing of the leak, the R9 295 is likely also going to be the first Radeon released in the past year that is capable of running a single UltraHD 4K monitor over HDMI 2.0. It may even be the first card to support Displayport 1.3. Both monitor standards are going to be big sellers in the year to come and it would be ideal for AMD to be ready out of the gate with at least one high-end card that implements all these features. The front of the HIS IceQX² box has a little badge advertising 4K x 2K UltraHD capability, which makes this possibility all the more likely.
Some of the product boxes as seen below also tell us a few new things. The HIS box lists the R9 285 as shipping with only 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Either AMD has made some incredible leaps in GPU bandwidth and efficiency in the same way Nvidia did with Maxwell, or there’s going to be a hefty amount of price-juggling on launch day to fit this card in. The TrueAudio DSP is also going to be featured on the R9 285 as seen by the label on Sapphire box.
Zooming in a bit on the Sapphire and HIS cards in their respective box shots, there also appears to be space for only one PCI-E PEG connector. It could be a single 8-pin connector to allow the card to have a TDP of 225W (150W from the PSU and 75W from the motherboard), or it could just be two regular 6-pin connectors, which would deliver the same power but would be easier for most power supplies to connect to. I like the 8-pin connectors, though, much less cable clutter to deal with.
Coupled with the other rumors that AMD’s Tonga will be more power-efficient than Tahiti, I’m left wondering what kind of hardware they’re cramming in here. Is performance better than the Radeon R9 280? Is there secret sauce we don’t know about? Why on earth put only 2GB of VRAM on what would then be a 256-bit memory bus? Too many questions and no answers. I guess we’ll know more about Tonga a little later this month!