MSI AMD Radeon R9 285

Rather than pushing newer, faster generations of GPUs, AMD has switched up its game to a more counter approach, firmly focusing on dominating a segment. The R9 285 is a brand new card with a brand new Tonga core GPU that’s positioned firmly as a better alternative to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 760. We took the Tonga for a spin.

MSI’s AMD R9 285 is a pretty good looking card, with a very Mass Effect-like style to it. The front face mostly consists of a plastic frame holding together the MSI Twin Frozr fans. The back I/O panel consists of one DisplayPort, one HDMI 1.4 and two DVI ports. The max resolution of all ports is 2048x1536, with the DisplayPort going up to 4096x2160 native resolution.

The R9 285 runs at 918 Mhz in silent, 954 Mhz in gaming mode, and 973 Mhz in boost mode. The card has 1792 stream processors with 2GB of 5.5 Ghz GDDR5 RAM and a 256-bit memory interface with 112 Texture units and 32 Render output units. The Tonga architecture adds quite a few features to the card. The first is the updated Graphics Core Next GPU, which is powerful and a lot more energy-efficient. The reference R9 285 requires just 190 Watts of power and a 500 Watt power supply minimum. Though MSI’s card requires about 250 Watts, we reckon it’s because of the overclocking tweaks.

 Apart from this, a lot of features from the bigger AMD cards make it into the R9 285. TrueAudio takes over the audio processing, thus freeing up the CPU considerably. The R9 285 also includes Mantle, which is AMD’s game developer-specific API, as well as FreeSync, which is similar to Nvidia’s Gsync. If you are into the Crossfire thing, then you’ll be happy to know that the R9 285 has a bridgeless sync using PCIe 3.0.

Now onto the contentious RAM aspect. While 2 GB is slowly becoming inadequate, AMD has done something pretty clever here. It has used is a Lossless Delta Color Compression algorithm, which essentially pushes the 256-bit bus to nearly 384-bit. So you should see quick load times, though an extra GB of RAM wouldn't have hurt. 

Performance-wise we noticed an about 10 percent increase in performance over the GTX 760 during full HD gaming. While games like Battlefield 4 and Borderlands 2 ran phenomenally well, with over 50 fps on 1080p and Ultra setting, the likes of Watch Dogs and Metro: Last Light staggered on Ultra. However, we could play them easily by knocking down a few features, or in some cases pulling down the resolution to a more manageable one to compensate for Ultra settings. The AMD Catalyst drivers were decent for most part, but we do wish for something similar to Nvidia’s GeForce Experience and Control Panel. Thankfully, MSI has included its excellent Afterburner software suite, which is a tweaker’s paradise.

We can’t help but feel that AMD’s effort is too little too late, especially with Nvidia’s new GTX 960 right around the corner using the new Maxwell architecture. So if you absolutely have to have a mid-range graphics card right now, and you’re choosing between the GTX 760 and the R9 285, then we would definitely recommend this card. More than that, we would recommend waiting and watching.

Price  $249

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