The MSI R9 280X OC Gaming aims to appeal to gamers who seek smooth gameplay at 1080p, but just how well does the MSI R9 280X perform? We decided to take a look and review the MSI R9 280X OC Gaming graphics card.
MSI are no strangers to discrete graphics cards, offering a wide range of models at different price points all the way from multimedia to gaming. With MSI being involved with discrete graphics cards for quite some time, we became to expect nothing less than high quality products from them. The 280X OC Gaming from MSI is no different, catering to the gaming market while offering a balanced blend of performance, efficient cooling and low noise levels. The 280X Gaming includes 3GB GDDR5 RAM and a boost clock of 1050MHz making it a worthy competitor to other graphics cards in its price range.
To many, the design of a graphics card is a very important factor – especially if you have a windowed case. The MSI 280X Gaming uses the common red and black gaming theme from MSI. We like the design of the card, the colours go well and the graphics card does not try to steal the show from your other components. Like many high end graphics cards, the MSI 280X Gaming has a dual fan design which should help it provide cooler temperatures at lower noise levels. We can see several large heat pipes around the graphics card, giving off the impression that the cooler is pretty good at dissipating heat.
Around the back of the MSI 280X Gaming graphics card we see a handful of connectivity ports. We see a DVI, HDMI and two mini display ports. We were a tad disappointed not to see dual HDMI or DVI though it’s a minor point as monitors with mini display ports are becoming more common. Above the ports, there is a MSI logo cut out of the metal. We feel that it’s a nice little touch to the design making it look a little more attractive around the rear of the case when installed.
This graphics card is fairly large, though it’s not uncommon with gaming cards. It’s important to consider that this graphics card is rather long which might make it a tight fit in your case or might not even fit at all, especially if your case is very compact. We would have liked it to be a little smaller though with gaming graphics cards, which need a beefy cooler on top, it can be a bit of a challenge. Most midi tower cases will be able to fit this card with little issue.
This graphics card requires a single 8pin and 6pin power connection to your power supply. MSI recommends a 500W power supply for one of these graphics cards and 1000W for two in a CrossFire configuration.
Graphics cards are increasingly becoming filled with handy features. The MSI R9 280X OC Gaming is no exception, offering a few features to make our lives easier. One of these features is the dual BIOs. On the MSI R9 280X there is a small switch which can be used to switch the BIOs profiles. This is helpful as if a BIOs flash goes wrong you can easily flick the switch onto the other BIOs and continue using the graphics card. Sure, not many people will use this feature but it’s kind of MSI to offer this.
The most important part of a gaming graphics card is performance. After all, it would be a bit disappointing to splash out on a graphics card and get unsatisfactory frames per second. We decided to take the 280X for a test drive with a handful of games to see the performance it can offer. Ideally we would like both the minimum and average frames per second above 60 which is the common target set by gamers for a smooth gameplay experience.
Our test computer specifications
CPU: AMD FX 8350 4.0GHz/4.2GHz turbo
Motherboard: Asus Sabertooth 990FX R2.0
Graphics: MSI R9 280X OC Gaming 3GB GDDR5 (1050MHz core)
Memory: Corsair Vengeance 8GB 1600MHz RAM (2x4GB)
Storage: 1TB Western Digital Blue hard drive
Power Supply: 650W OCZ ZS 80%+ PSU
The three games we used to benchmark on this graphics card are Battlefield 4, Far Cry 3 and Sniper Elite 3. The graph above shows respectable performance by the MSI 280X OC Gaming graphics card in all three games. We were a little disappointed by the results in Battlefield 4, having an average of 54FPS on the multiplayer map Siege of Shanghai with 64 players. We appreciate that these multiplayer levels can provide a stressful experience for any hardware and are sure that an online match with fewer players would yield higher average frames per second. The minimum was 37FPS which is above the general ‘playable’ 30FPS set by many gamers. While we used DirectX11 for our benchmark, Battlefield 4 supports Mantle, an AMD graphics renderer, which can improve your frames per second in this game further.
Our second benchmark used the Far Cry 3 game which is very visually appealing, especially when walking through the forest. Before loading the game, we had a few mixed feelings as to what to expect though we were pleasantly surprised with the result. Far Cry 3 managed to get a minimum of 63FPS which is perfect for many gamers using a monitor with a refresh rate of 60Hz. The average frames per second is a little higher, pulling off an respectable 82FPS.
The final game we benchmarked our MSI 280X graphics card on is Sniper Elite 3. Being a fairly new game we were looking forward to seeing how many frames the graphics card can push out. Once again, we were pleasantly surprised by the results. Sniper Elite 3 is another example of a visually stunning game and the 280X GPU managed a minimum of 32FPS.
It’s surprising just how well the MSI 280X OC Gaming graphics card performed in graphically intensive titles. In every game we tested it offered minimums of higher than 30FPS, which is crucial to smooth gameplay. After all, it would be pretty displeasing to have a 60FPS average but suddenly dip to 15FPS when the action starts. While there are many high end graphics cards available the 280X GPU is certainly a worthy contender. Sure, it’s not quite the top dog in graphical performance compared to other products from Nvidia or even AMD themselves, though the price to performance ratio is certainly respectable at around £222 at the time of this review.
Overclocking is fairly straight forward on the current generation of AMD graphic cards. You can easily overclock the core speeds using the AMD overdrive utility or 3rd party software such as MSI Afterburner. The MSI R9 280X OC is factory overclocked at 1050MHz though it’s easy enough to push a little further. We found that we were able to get to 1120MHz before we had to increase the voltage to resolve stability issues.
Memory overclocking can be done through the same method as the core clock and is a little more difficult to manage as you can come across a wealth of issues including texture corruption. We attempted to overclock the memory though found it incredibly difficult as we came across stability issues after bumping the memory clock up slightly.
It’s important to note that the warranty does not protect against damages caused by overclocking so you should overclock at your own risk.
It’s fairly common that people think that having two cooling fans on a graphics card will make it nosier than having one. Having two cooling fans, in most cases, will make the graphics card quieter in normal usage. This is because neither fan has to work that hard to dissipate heat effectively, making it ideal to use on graphics cards which get rather toasty. The cooler on the MSI 280X Gaming is MSI’s popular TwinFrozr design. At idle, the graphics card made no noticeable noise (which is expected) and when playing games, such as Battlefield 4, the graphics card was quieter than our system fans. While it was not loud, it was slightly audible but not enough to cause annoyance to non-headphone users.
Cooler temperatures typically mean a longer lifespan so it’s no surprise consumers are regularly comparing temperatures of different graphic card models. In addition to lifespan, a cooler card is more desirable in compact cases or cases with restricted airflow. We decided to record the peak temperatures of the MSI 280X graphics card while gaming.
The graph above shows the peak temperature in Sniper Elite 3 and Far Cry 3. Within ten minutes of playing Sniper Elite 3 we saw a peak result of 71C which is a tad on the hot side. We feel that the graphics card could have been cooler, possibly by increasing the fan speed while the graphics card is under stress though we appreciate that some gamers will value lower noise levels over cooler temperatures.
In most desktop systems the power consumption of a graphics card is a minor point however, it’s certainly more desirable to have as low power consumption as possible, especially if your case has restrictive airflow or a low output power supply. We previously did a power consumption analysis of a computer system with the MSI 280X installed and found that the whole computer consumed 403W of power when playing Battlefield 4 at the highest graphical settings with the resolution of 1920×1080.
A computer system with a MSI 280X installed used a reasonable amount of electricity, as seen by our 403W reading in Battlefield 4. Of course the power consumption would be higher in benchmarks though a computer with a 280X installed should not expect extreme amounts of consumed electricity.
AMD and MSI have made a graphics card which is not only a good performer but is also kind to your wallet. At the time of this review, this MSI 280X model can be found for around £222 and offers a great balance of price and performance making it an ideal buy for gaming systems with a display resolution of 1920×1080. The performance in games such as Battlefield 4 was great, offering minimum and average frames per second above 30.
With great performance, heat is expected though this MSI 280X GPU managed to keep things cool with the dual fan TwinFrozar cooler on top. It manages to stay quiet to, allowing you to hear your rain of explosions pound your enemies clearly in Battlefield 4 without it being muffled by the fans.
This graphics card can be overclocked though we were a little disappointed by the overclockablity when using the stock voltage. Quite quickly after raising the core clock, we needed to add a tiny bit more voltage to help keep things stable. In addition to this, we were also disappointed to see no dual HDMI or DVI ports which could be more useful, especially since many older monitors only have DVI or HDMI.
Overall, this graphics card has impressed us immensely. Offering great performance with reasonable noise and temperatures we can’t help but feel that the MSI R9 280X OC Gaming is one of the best models for the 280X GPU.