AMD’s live stream event may have been horribly cheesy, but there were some interesting announcements coming out of it. AMD had some fun things going on like the ALS Ice Bucket challenge with a voting rig for online viewers to choose who would get the bucket, as well as some giveaways to the live audience they had as well as some Twitter users who were lucky enough to win a Radeon R9 290. AMD’s biggest part of the presentation, though, was the Tonga family of graphics cores.
Hawaii slimmed down
The Tonga family fits in the same place in the market as the Tahiti GPUs, replacing the Radeon R9 280 and R9 280X with newer hardware that supports AMD’s latest technologies and is considered vastly more efficient that their previous designs. The R9 285 and R9 285X launches in the US and Canada on 2 September 2014 with a starting price for the R9 285 of US $249. I suspect that AMD hadn’t quite pooled up enough stock yet for the R9 285X to launch on the same day, but it may follow on about two weeks or so later so that reviewers can stagger their testing.
Hardware-wise, the R9 285 is almost exactly the same as the R9 280 and the Radeon HD7950 but adds in a few new tricks. It’s important to note that this isn’t a re-spinned Tahiti die, it’s actually a cut-down Hawaii design. The R9 285 has a maximum TDP of 190 Watts, ships with either 2GB or 4GB of GDDR5 memory and is guaranteed to support Microsoft’s DirectX 12 as well as Adaptive-Sync, a trick added to the VESA Displayport 1.2a specification that allows monitors to change refresh rates on the fly in response to the GPU’s output.
The R9 285 is pretty much aiming for the Nvidia Geforce GTX760 with similar specifications and memory configurations, not to mention the variable refresh support. A lot of people are considering the GTX760 because it’s a cost-effective solution when you pair it up with a GSync monitor like the ASUS VG248QE. It’s not going to churn out stupidly high refresh rates, but the 4GB model will allow you to load on many visual details and stay within playability range as long as the game’s minimum refresh rate is above 30fps.
The only problem I have for now is that there won’t be a lot of price movement for the R9 285 for now. In the US the GTX760 2GB regularly sells for $249 and dips under that with some deals and rebates. Despite the fact that Tonga might be faster and more capable, it’s certainly not doing itself any favours by bring priced at nearly the same introductory price as the R9 280. It bears reminding that this card also lacks the 3GB of VRAM and the 384-bit memory bus, which will make it a weaker performer for gaming at 4K resolutions.
New FX chips on the way
AMD formally announced the FX-8370, FX-8370E and FX-8320E at the event as well as officially endorsed their new offering of the FX-9590 along with a bundled water cooler, this time from Cooler Master. All of these chips are essentially the same. The FX-9590 is a 4.7-5.0GHz part and comes with a staggering 220W TDP, which limits the amount of motherboards you can run it in. The FX-8370 and FX-8370E are replacing the older FX-8350 which was AMD’s flagship chip for a while. The E-variant is confirmed to ship with a 4.1-4.3GHz clock range, but the lower 95W TDP qualifies it for use in cheaper motherboards and will help to reduce power consumption and heat output.
The FX-8320E accompanies the FX-8320 and I expect it to replace the older chip outright. It’s still a 3.5-4.0GHz eight-core with a 95W TDP, but it also still packs in that unlocked multiplier as do the other newer chips announced today, so you can overclock it beyond that. AMD’s Roy Taylor appeared on the show via Skype and also announced that the company would be doing price cuts for all of their processors and APUs in the coming weeks. Whether that’s a permanent change or just a brief special to draw attention away from the Intel Haswell launch next month remains to be seen.
Eight Tonga-mounted custom cooler variants on launch
With the R9 285 launching on 2 September, a number of GPU vendors are making sure they are ready for launch day. Sapphire, PowerColor, HIS, Club3D, ASUS, MSI, XFX and Gigabyte will all have 2GB and 4GB variants of the card on launch day and none of them will ship with stock coolers designed by AMD – this is one of those events where everyone’s mostly using their own cooling system. However, many of these boards will comply with AMD’s reference design specifications, so there’s still the possibility of using a water block on one of these babies.
For a brief moment after, a slide was shown of the 3DMark Firestrike11 scores that the card achieved using a few benchmarks done by AMD’s in-house driver team. Although the irony is not lost on me that they didn’t do testing with an AMD processor, a score of 7066 Performance, 3513 Extreme in Firestrike11 is right up into overclocked R9 280 territory, compared to 5650 Performance and 2774 Extreme for the GTX760. And bear in mind these are stock clock speeds so the cards can get much faster.
Never Settle: Space Edition
AMD also announced four new games being added to the Never Settle bundle. These newcomers are Star Citizen, Space Run: Fast and safe Delivery, Alien: Isolation and Habitat. These games will be available on AMD’s Never Settle website when they’re ready although Star Citizen is the only one currently in an alpha stage. In the meantime, you can stockpile those Never Settle codes you will receive with your new GPU and wait for the game you want to be available before the end of the year.
Mantle chats from Firaxis, DICE and Cloud Imperium games
AMD’s Richard Huddy invited a few developers up on the stage to talk about how they were integrating AMD’s Mantle API into their upcoming games. John Kloetzli from Firaxis was the first and he spoke a little about why they wanted to use Mantle specifically for Civilisation: Beyond Earth. Kloetzli spoke of the issues that real-time strategy players have when going into a late-game stage where zooming out of a busy map would cause stuttering and slow down the system as it had to individually track and draw assets on the map, now scaled to a large size.
This was a specific problem with Supreme Commander into any sort of late-game play through, where the larger late-game units would require so much rendering power that the game choked on anything that wasn’t a quad-core chip.
Kloetzli also mentioned that Mantle “allows us to sit at a constant framerate no matter what you’re doing.” His specific example was being zoomed into a map mid-game and zooming out to the full map view without any drops in framerates and without stuttering. “When I showed that to our marketing guys and let them play with it, they came back and told me, ‘Okay, that’s a bit disconcerting, I’ve always been used to it behaving badly,” said Kloetzli.
I didn’t catch the name of the guy from Cloud Imperium Games (the makers of Star Citizen) but he was quoted as saying that Mantle for them was a choice from day one, based on their adoption and use of CryEngine to power Star Citizen. The ships inside the game and the detail inside the cabin require a lot of rendering power and Mantle helps them to get there with a “broader range of hardware than most people are used to seeing.” Mantle also helps them model the world of Star Citizen better and improves performance in especially tough situations, like high-speed races or dogfights.
The developers also worked with AMD to create a custom, one-off version of the Mustang Omega racer inside the game. It has a special paintjob in AMD’s colours and it’ll be available for anyone who buys a Radeon R-series graphics card that qualifies for the free copy of Star Citizen.
DICE’s Frank Vitz later joined the show to talk about Mantle in the Frostbite engine, but he didn’t reveal anything particularly new about the implementation of the API into the Frostbite Engine. He did, however, let slip that there’s a Frostbite 3.0 and Mantle-powered Need for Speed game in the works (and it’s not Rivals).
Dragon Age: Inquisition is another EA title coming with Mantle support and it will be available on launch day. Vitz said that all of the optimisations and fixes that have gone into the Frostbite Engine and Mantle will be going into future games.