Another day and another AMD R9 280X review. Today we’ve got another custom cooled and overclocked graphics card but this time we’ve got a graphics card vendor that we haven’t taken a look at for ages – HIS Digital. This is the first HIS Digital graphics card I’ve ever looked at some I am quite excited to see what it can offer. Despite the fact this is an AMD R9 280X we won’t recap all the monotonous information about the R9 280X GPU that you’ve probably already heard a million times by now, if you want to read more about the R9 280X you can do so here. We want to focus specifically on this HIS card which is the “HIS R9 280X iPower IceQ X² Turbo Boost” – yes quite a mouthful.
Firstly let’s quickly break down that really long name into what it all means. “iPower” is HIS’ way of saying an improved VRM and power delivery system. This graphics card has a 9 phase VRM, versus 8 phases on the reference design, uses DirectFET MOSFETs compared to your bog standard MOSFETs on the reference design and it has a pair of 8 pins instead of the 6+8 pin reference design meaning there is more power to be delivered to the GPU. Secondly, the “IceQ X²” part means this is using HIS’ IceQ X² cooling solution that features a pair of 89mm fans, two 8mm heat pipes and three 6mm heat pipes. That’s all encased in a large aluminium shroud which features the IceQ X² and Turbo branding on it. Thirdly and finally the “Turbo Boost” part is predictably an overclock. AMD’s reference R9 280X comes with a 850MHz core and 1000MHz boost, aka “up to 1GHz” while the HIS version comes with a 1000MHz core clock and 1050MHz boost clock. You can see those clocks below, the core is up 5% on reference and the memory is identical to reference.
The packaging comes with HIS’ usual frost/ice theme and a tonne of marketing stuff. Included with our sample was just a CrossFire X bridge and DVI-I to VGA adapter but we are informed the retail version also comes with an install CD, multilingual user guide, quick installation guide and HIS Power Up label.
The back of the box has more of those key features but we recommend checking out the product page if you’re interested in knowing more.
A Closer Look
The HIS R9 280X uses the HIS IceQ X² cooling solution which dominates the entire aesthetic of the graphics card. It has two 89mm fans, two 8mm heat pipes and three 6mm heat pipes.
The back reveals a bright blue PCB, somewhat trademark of HIS given the blue/frost/ice theme that permeates their brand. It may not be to everyone’s tastes (including not to mine) but it is what it is.
The bottom is opened up for ventilation and you can see the VRM heatsinks and heat pipes.
The top has three more heat pipes exposed and is also open to allow for ventilation. The card is a staggering 30cm/12inches~ long as the cooler overhangs the PCB.
The rear I/O has one DVI, one HDMI and two mini DisplayPort. The lack of a mini DisplayPort to full-sized DisplayPort adapter always disappoints me. I think given the graphics card doesn’t need to rear exhaust because of its impeller blade design the rear I/O should of contained full sized DisplayPorts. This model differs from the “stock” R9 280X configuration of DisplayPort/DVI/DVI/HDMI.
As I already noted the heatsink and shroud overhangs the PCB by quite a bit, roughly an extra 3.5 cm.
The card uses two 8 pin PCIe power connectors and the heatsink is helpfully recessed around those so you can plug the cables in and out easily.
Two CrossFire connectors allow for up to 4-Way CFX if you’re bonkers enough to run that kind of set-up!
To test the performance of video cards at eTeknix we run a variety of tests at four different resolutions, where supported and appropriate, across a suite of games and benchmarks. We run each of these benchmarks three times to take an average and use the latest WHQL-certified video card drivers from AMD and Nvidia to test with.
To attain noise levels we hold a decibel meter approximately 3 inches away from the card after running Furmark for five minutes. To achieve idle noise we allow the system to stay idle at the desktop for 5 minutes before taking a noise reading.
To achieve temperatures we take the maximum temperature of the GPU core during Furmark load as recorded by CPUID HW Monitor. To achieve idle temperatures we take the minimum recorded GPU core temperature in CPUID HW Monitor after desktop-idling for 5 minutes. We then convert these temperatures into Delta temperatures – that is = actual recorded temperature minus the ambient temperature of the room. Note we do not alter the default fan profile in any way, all graphics cards are left to run at their stock settings. In the near future we will also be adding a second thermal measurement utilising Unigine Heaven 4.0 to ensure “realistic” temperature figures to compliment the Furmark ones.
To measure power consumption we take the maximum power consumption at idle on the desktop over a 5 minute period, and for load we take the maximum stable power consumption during Furmark load. Like with acoustic measurements we do not read off the maximum stable power consumption value until after 5 minutes to give the system enough time to stabilise at its power envelope. To address recent developments in thermal throttling (and Furmark throttling more specifically) we take our measurements within the first 30 seconds to a minute on cards that dramatically clock down when hot (e.g. the R9 290X) as this causes there power consumption to appear much lower. In the near future we will also be adding a second load power consumption measurement utilising Unigine Heaven 4.0 to ensure “realistic” power consumption figures to compliment the Furmark ones.
- Motherboard – Asus Rampage IV Extreme X79 LGA 2011 (chipset fan disabled)
- Processor – Intel Core i7 3960X at stock clock speeds of 3.3GHz with Turbo Mode disabled.
- RAM – 16GB (2 X 8GB) Corsair Vengeance Pro Series 1866MHz at 9-10-9-27
- CPU Cooler – Corsair H100i with Quiet Fan Profile
- Power Supply – Corsair HX1050W
- Main Storage Drive – Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD over SATA III interface
- Chassis – Lian Li T60 Test Bench
- Displays – Dell U2711 Ultra Sharp for 2560 by 1440 and we use the LG IPS 234 & LG IPS 224 with the Dell U2711 Ultra Sharp to run 5760 by 1080.
- Operating System – Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit
We would like to thank Asus, Corsair, Kingston, Lian Li and all our other partners who supplied us with test equipment and hardware. Their generosity makes our testing possible and without them we wouldn’t be able to produce the reviews we do, so thank you!
- Aliens Vs Predator
- Dirt Showdown
- Hitman: Absolution
- Metro Last Light
- Sleeping Dogs
- Bioshock Infinite
- Tomb Raider
Resolutions Used (where possible)
- 1680 x 1050
- 1920 x 1080
- 2560 x 1440
- 5760 x 1080
- Plug “killawatt” style electricity usage meter
- Benetech GM1351 decibel meter
- 3DMark 11
- 3DMark 2013
- CPUID HWMonitor
- Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0
- Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
- Furmark 1.10.5
“3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world’s most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC’s gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.” From 3DMark.com
“The new 3DMark includes everything you need to benchmark your hardware. With three all new tests you can bench everything from smartphones and tablets, to notebooks and home PCs, to the latest high-end, multi-GPU gaming desktops. And it’s not just for Windows. With 3DMark you can compare your scores with Android and iOS devices too. It’s the most powerful and flexible 3DMark we’ve ever created.” From Futuremark.com
Unigine Heaven 4.0
“Heaven Benchmark with its current version 4.0 is a GPU-intensive benchmark that hammers graphics cards to the limits. This powerful tool can be effectively used to determine the stability of a GPU under extremely stressful conditions, as well as check the cooling system’s potential under maximum heat output. It provides completely unbiased results and generates true in-game rendering workloads across all platforms, such as Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.” From Unigine.com.
Aliens Vs. Predator
“Aliens vs. Predator, also known by fans as Aliens vs. Predator 3 or AVP3 to distinguish it from earlier titles, is a 2010 video game developed by Rebellion Developments and published by Sega for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is a sequel to Aliens versus Predator 2, although it does not have any connection with that game’s plot. Instead it charts events on the planet BG-386, where a Weyland-Yutaniresearch team led by Karl Bishop Weyland has discovered aYautja Pyramid, and is simultaneously studying the Xenomorphs found there and hoping to unlock the advanced technology contained within. The Aliens soon escape, prompting a response from the United States Colonial Marine Corps, while the Predators also send three of their member to investigate.” From Avp.wikia.com
“BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter like you’ve never seen. Just ask the judges from E3 2011, where the Irrational Games title won over 85 editorial awards, including the Game Critics Awards’ Best of Show. Set in 1912, players assume the role of former Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, sent to the flying city of Columbia on a rescue mission. His target? Elizabeth, imprisoned since childhood. During their daring escape, Booker and Elizabeth form a powerful bond — one that lets Booker augment his own abilities with her world-altering control over the environment. Together, they fight from high-speed Sky-Lines, in the streets and houses of Columbia, on giant zeppelins, and in the clouds, all while learning to harness an expanding arsenal of weapons and abilities, and immersing players in a story that is not only steeped in profound thrills and surprises, but also invests its characters with what Game Informer called “An amazing experience from beginning to end.” From Bioshockinfinite.com
“Battlefield 4 is coming to PC, powered by the advanced technology of DICE’s proprietary Frostbite 3 engine. Blur the line between game and glory in Battlefield 4. With dynamic destructable environments, vehicular combat, and the chaos of all-out-war with 64 players, Battlefield 4 on PC will be an unmatched interactive experience. In addition to its hallmark multiplayer, Battlefield 4 features an intense, dramatic character-driven campaign that starts with the evacuation of American VIPs from Shanghai and follows your squad’s struggle to find its way home. There is no comparison. Immerse yourself in the glorious chaos of all-out war, found only in Battlefield.” From Battlefield.com
“DiRT Showdown is the new arcade racing game from the team that brought you the award-winning DiRT series, uncaged in 2012. Pick up and play controls combine with electrifying events, frenzied crowds and stunning graphics to deliver high octane, dive in and drive thrills from event one.” From Codemasters.com
Metro Last Light
“Metro: Last Light (formerly Metro 2034) is a first-person shooter and horror video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was released in May 2013. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features a mixture of action-oriented and stealth gameplay. The game exists in the universe of the novel, Metro 2033, and its sequels, written by Russian author, Dmitry Glukhovsky, but does not follow any direct storylines from the books. Metro:Last Light takes place one year after the events of Metro 2033, proceeding from the canonical ending from the novel, ending where Artyom chose to call down the missile strike on the Dark Ones.Metro: Last Light features technology which boasts of lighting effects and improved physics claimed to set a new graphical benchmark on the PC and consoles.” From Wikipedia.org
“Welcome to Hong Kong, a vibrant neon city teeming with life, whose exotic locations and busy streets hide one of the most powerful and dangerous criminal organizations in the world: the Triads. In this open world game, you play the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop trying to take down the Triads from the inside out. You’ll have to prove yourself worthy as you fight your way up the organization, taking part in brutal criminal activities without blowing your cover. Torn between your loyalty to the badge and a criminal code of honor, you will risk everything as the lines between truth, loyalty and justice become permanently blurred.” From Sleepingdogs.net
“On 5 March 2013, Square Enix released Tomb Raider, billed as a reboot of the franchise. In Tomb Raider, the player is confronted with a much younger Lara Croft who is shipwrecked and finds herself stranded on a mysterious island rife with danger, both natural and human. In contrast to the earlier games Croft is portrayed as vulnerable, acting out of necessity, desperation and sheer survival rather than for a greater cause or personal gain.” From Wikipedia.org
The acoustic performance of a graphics card is an increasingly important consideration for PC users and Gamers these days. While fan noise is unlikely to ruin the gaming experience, no one likes a noisy graphics card and no one will argue with the fact that quieter is better. Many users are willing to sacrifice temperatures to gain a noise advantage, but with better cooling solutions being developed it is increasingly common to be able to get both better cooling and better acoustic performance than a reference solution on most custom cooled graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD partners. That said both AMD and Nvidia have stepped up their game too with regards to acoustics on their reference coolers. Ultimately, acoustics will always be a big deciding factor when there is often very little differentiation between graphics cards using the same GPUs.
Find details of our acoustic methodology on page 3.
With electricity becoming increasingly expensive across most parts of the world the need for computer components to become power efficient has never been more relevant. Graphics cards are often the most power hungry components inside a system so having an efficient graphics card is very important to keeping power bills under control. Power is often correlated to heat and so lower power consumption means a graphics card is likely to run slightly cooler and put out less heat into your system meaning your other components will run cooler with improved longevity. AMD and Nvidia have also both made power consumption an integral part of the way graphics cards dynamically overclock so the need for graphics card vendors to use efficient VRM and PCB designs is becoming important to maximise performance.
Find details of our power consumption methodology on page 3.
The cooling solution which graphics card vendors use is one of the main differences that consumers have to contend with. Apart from their acoustic properties, the thermal properties of graphics card coolers are extremely important. Lower temperatures are always better and with AMD and Nvidia opting to use dynamic overclocking algorithms that take temperature into account it is important that graphics card vendors use high performance cooling solutions in order to maximise performance. The era of graphics cards reaching dangerous temperatures are now in the past but the importance of lower temperatures still remains. Lower temperatures mean better stability, longer component longevity and lower fan speeds. That said temperatures are one of the most important non-performance related properties on a graphics card.
Find details of our temperature methodology on page 3.
Apart from the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic the HIS iPower IceQ X² Turbo Boost R9 280X was the best overclocker we had. I was actually quite surprised so checked a few other reviews to see they also had similar results. That said if you’re looking for a beast of a R9 280X overclocker then this card is exactly that. The memory overclocking was a bit weak but we were able to reach 1725MHz (6.9GHz effective) though it wasn’t able to hold that when paired with the GPU overclock which was a tad strange. If we lowered the GPU clock back to 1180MHz the memory was stable at 1725MHz but the card is actually faster with 1190/1655 than it is with 1180/1725 so we stuck with the higher core clock.
Summary of overclocking results in our R9 280X reviews:
- HIS iPower IceQ X² Turbo Boost R9 280X – 1190MHz core and 1655MHz memory
- Club3D royalKing R9 280X – 1165MHz core and 1650MHz memory
- Sapphire Toxic Edition R9 280X – 1230MHz core and 1800MHz memory
- XFX Double Dissipation Black Edition OC R9 280X – 1125MHz core and 1735MHz memory
- Sapphire Vapor-X OC R9 280X – 1160MHz core and 1600MHz memory
With the second highest core overclock the HIS R9 280X was unsurprisingly the second fastest R9 280X we’ve tested.
In the UK HIS are selling the R9 280X iPower IceQ X² Turbo Boost graphics card for £245.99 while in the USA it retails for $319.99 and if you want the cheaper non-overclocked version that costs $299.99.
I’ve seen a fair number of R9 280X graphics card come and go in the office and so I’m now in a position where I can definitely make a more informed judgement on what HIS have done with the R9 280X. Actually despite the very little I’ve heard about HIS I was immensely impressed with this graphics cards for quite a few reasons, in fact arguably the numbers don’t do it justice. Firstly, it was very quiet compared to other R9 280X graphics cards I’ve tested. Under real gaming load it was barely audible and ran at around 60-63 degrees in a room that was 22 degrees celsius. Most other R9 280Xs I’ve tested ran towards the high 60s and were noticeably louder. We are currently in the process of building a meaningful database of power/temperature/noise results for “real” 3D gaming loads as well as the current Furmark loads we test with, however, that isn’t ready yet as our graphs show. What I can say is this graphics card is the quietest of all R9 280X GPUs I have tested, and to be honest none of them have really been that quiet until this one. While the decibel meter gave relatively modest results the HIS model is one of those graphics cards where it returns loud dBA results but the tonality of the noise is so low and calm that its not an issue. The fans certainly aren’t screechy or whiney. So that’s the first reason I like it, it runs quiet. Second, as I’ve already alluded to, it runs very cool. Again our results don’t do it justice because under Furmark it falls down the charts due to the relatively relaxed fan profile but under gaming load it runs at great temperatures for an R9 280X so I can say the IceQ X² cooling solution is really very good. As far as the performance goes well its only clocked at 1050MHz, the lowest clocked R9 280X we’ve tested, and unsurprisingly it came last of all the R9 280Xs. However, it overclocks great and I’ve seen similar reviews that say the same thing so despite having a smaller factory overclock, it has more overclocking potential than most rival cards. In that sense this graphics card is a great choice.
What things didn’t I like? Well firstly the card is just huge. Sure it keeps to a dual slot design which is great but sadly at 12 inches long this is going to cause problems with some people’s cases. If you have a smaller case you need to triple check compatibility if you’re interested in this graphics card. Secondly, I feel like the factory overclock is too low. Most other vendors are offering higher than 1050MHz so more than 1050MHz would be ideal, I’m thinking HIS should jump on the 1100MHz bandwagon. Finally the last thing I didn’t like is something that is just a personal opinion, but an opinion I know is shared by quite a few, the blue PCB. It isn’t trendy any more and I can see this putting some people off.
- Great cooler
- Overclocks really well!
- One of the quieter R9 280x graphics cards on the market
- Competitively priced
- Dual DisplayPort
- Battlefield 4 Promotion Eligiblity
- Only a 2 year warranty
- Slightly low factory overclock
- Perhaps too long at 12 inches
- Blue PCB
“This is my first outing with a HIS graphics card and I like what they’ve done with R9 280X. I’ve seen a fair few R9 280X graphics cards from AMD partners and the HIS R9 280X is one of the more refined versions. While it isn’t the cheapest, there’s only a tiny amount in it, and for the little bit more they charge I think it is worth every bit extra. This graphics card runs cool and quiet under all gaming scenarios, has bags of overclocking potential and is just a solid all-rounder. Only the excessive length and blue PCB might put people off.”
Thank you to HIS for providing this review sample.