Fury

Headline grab your attention? Good, because we want you to pay attention. AMD’s Radeon R9 Fury X, its first new GPU design since November 2013, has just hit the street, and it both strikes out at Nvidia with great vengeance, and strikes out at the plate. The only question is whether this is the ninth inning, or if AMD will have another shot at a home run…Look around the web and you’ll see a lot of opinions about Fury. The best we’ve seen was over at TechPowerUp, and we highly recommend you give it a read. But we think TPU held back just a bit in its conclusion in saying the consumer didn’t win in this fight, because ultimately, if you get too opinionated, you won’t be getting reviewer samples in the future. In fact, it’s been documented that quite a few hardware sites were denied Fury X samples this time around, and it’s just going to get worse in the future. Don’t be surprised if HardOCP’s scathing review costs it a review sample next time around. On the other hand, Tom’s relatively softball review will no doubt keep it in AMD’s good graces for a while. And TechReport toes the line with a relatively lukewarm review that expresses optimism for the future.

Because we don’t get free video card review samples, but rather buy all our test cards at retail (including the R9 290, GTX 780 Ti, GTX 980, and GTX 980 Ti currently in our stable), we can tell it how it is. We won’t be buying a Fury X to test, and that’s because it’s the wrong card at the wrong time. A few months ago, it would have been a grand slam. But that’s not how it worked out. AMD has had a whole lot of bad luck lately, and it’s also up against a fierce competitor in Nvidia. The delay in moving away from 28nm to a smaller process node hit AMD much harder than Nvidia, because it was already over-budget in the power department. The Fury X therefore went to smaller memory chips instead, and a slightly more efficient GPU, to nearly match the GTX 980 Ti launched earlier this month. That is quite a feat, and we’re constantly amazed at how close AMD and Nvidia are in performance – this is a very good thing for consumers. But for AMD, which clearly had to spend a lot of money trying to get Fury X up to speed, it’s draining.

And let’s just get this out of the way – the water cooler is not a feature worth paying for in and of itself, but it does add to the cost of the card. Truth be told, AMD is likely taking a bath pricing the Fury X at $650 to match the 980 Ti. Those all-in-one liquid coolers don’t come cheap (it probably adds about $50 to the manufacturing costs), and while many enthusiasts might view it as an attractive bonus, our experience with CPU liquid cooling suggests that it’s only worth paying for if you need it. Frankly, Fury X is efficient enough that we’re not sure the liquid cooling is necessary, and that’s why we’re waiting for Fury, the air-cooled version, before we decide whether we’ll pick up one of AMD’s new cards to test. Sure, Nvidia’s GTX 980 Ti is pushing the limits of the reference blower-style cooler, but it poses little challenge to an aftermarket cooler like the one on MSI’s new GTX 980 Ti Gaming. Whenever air cooling is an option, we’ll take it, as it’s a much more elegant solution overall.

This is setting aside the whole 4GB vs. 6GB issue that we discussed back when AMD’s new high-bandwidth memory (HBM) announcement was made. Nothing we’ve seen changes our opinion that all things being equal (and frankly they aren’t quite equal), 6GB is better than 4GB in an ultra-high-end card.

In the end, the Fury X is a great card, but it’s simply not as good as the GTX 980 Ti. In our opinion, at the same price as a GTX 980 Ti, there is simply no reason to buy it.