Just two days after announcing the products at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), AMD has given the go-ahead for the release of the Radeon R9 300 series of video cards, and a few online reviews are also rolling in. To be clear, the R9 300 series is simply a re-tooling of the R9 200 series, rather than a brand-new product line. Today’s release includes the R9 390X 8GB (a slightly overclocked version of the existing, much cheaper R9 290X 8GB), the R9 390 8GB (a heavily overclocked version of the existing R9 290 with double the memory), and the R9 380 (a slightly overclocked version of the R9 285 2GB, but now in both 2GB and 4GB versions). Need help sorting out the wheat from the chaff? Here’s our take…

First things first, the best is yet to come, with the release of Fury and Fury X, expected on June 24th. This first salvo is just a rebrand of existing products, with minor tweaks. The rumored re-spin of the silicon on an enhanced manufacturing process (Global Foundries versus TSMC) never occurred, and so we don’t have lower power use. And to be blunt, some of these cards are simply not worth buying, although there’s a good argument in favor of at least one of them.

Let’s start at the top. The R9 390X is 50MHz faster than the 290X, has 20% higher memory speeds (6000MHz vs. 5000MHz), and also comes with 8GB of VRAM. We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a nearly identical product has been available for months at a much lower price, so this, friends, is a cash grab by AMD. Is it a decent card? Yes, it is, but the price ($430) is simply wrong. Everything that made it hard for AMD to sell the R9 290X 8GB is still there, including the slightly dated feature set and the high power use. And or course, 8GB of VRAM was never necessary on this card, as it doesn’t have the performance to drive the 4K resolutions that might benefit from the VRAM.

Moving on, the R9 390 8GB offers a 53MHz bump in core speed, a 20% bump in memory speed versus the R9 290, double the VRAM, and a price that’s just $30-$80 more. The card to buy is MSI’s R9 390 Gaming, which has a very aggressive factory overclock (to 1060MHz) without any price premium attached (it’s going for $330). This card should be able to at least match the GeForce GTX 970, comes in at the same price, and has double the VRAM, which will be useful if you move to a dual-card setup (the GTX 970 is bad pick for SLI due to its weak memory subsystem, which really only has 3.5GB of VRAM available). We like this card, at least as much as we liked the R9 290. We’ve of course been running our R9 290 at these speeds for over a year, but at least it’s not a step backwards…and it’s a heck of a better deal than the R9 390X, which is only 5-10% faster for $100 more.

Finally, we have the R9 380 2GB/4GB, which is simply an overclocked version of the R9 285. To be completely honest, the R9 285 was never a very good card at its pricepoint (debuting at an absurd $250 late last year), and the 4GB version should have been the one to launch in the first place. Well, now we have the 4GB version for $240 retail. That’s too little, too late, as the equally-fast and more efficient GTX 960 4GB has been sitting right at that price point for several months now.

So, really without exception, AMD’s rebranding comes with the same caveats: these are decent cards, just like the one’s they’re based on, but whenever AMD rolls out a rebrand, it bumps up the price. So caveat emptor, because the real deals are going to be on closeout cards. We’d suggest picking up the R9 290 4GB and 290X 4GB while they’re still in stock!

By the way, want proof that the R9 290X really is identical to the R9 390X in terms of performance? Then check out these benches!