AMD’s Radeon R9 285: A Review of Tonga

Optimizing Tahiti…

R9 285 Gigabyte (1 of 2)

First and foremost AMD’s Radeon R9 285 is a solid midrange graphics card. It’s quiet, power efficient, and performs well. It’s the evolution of AMD’s Tahiti the harbinger of the Graphics Core Next onslaught that has spread across all of AMD’s product lines. According to AMD, Tonga is based off of the 3rd iteration of AMD’s GCN. Consequently the R9 285 is one of the most efficient graphics cards in AMD’s lineup. In our power testing we found that the R9 285 drew 45 Watts or 14 percent less than the old HD 7970 Ghz Edition in Battlefield 4.

R9 285 specs

Despite its name the R9 285 is actually slower than the R9 280X. It’s a card designed to replace the R9 280; A task for which it’s well equipped. Built on the same 28nm process from TSMC, the R9 285 also boasts the same number of shaders, texture units, and ROPs as the R9 280. Comparing these two GPUs based purely on their spec sheets the biggest difference between the two is the R9 285’s smaller, 256-bit, memory bus. To compensate the R9 285 has slightly higher clocked memory and a new memory compression technology which allows it to offer 30+ percent more usable memory bandwidth in 3DMark’s FireStrike test compared to the old R9 280 despite having a narrower memory bus.

R9 285 Pricing

AMD’s not looking to win any value awards with Tonga. It’s pricing is reflective of what the market will bear and it directly replaces the R9 280. According to AMD the launch of the R9 285 marks the end of the R9 280. It will be discontinued and stocks of the card will dry up and disappear over the next few months. As a late breaking update pricing on the R9 295X2 will also be dropping to a mere $999.

We don’t have a R9 280 on hand to compare against so a HD 7970 Ghz Edition will have to do. Based on the same Tahiti silicon the Ghz Edition is clocked a little faster than the R9 280 while looking at our benchmarks. As always our raw testing data and settings are available on Mega.

R9 285 Benchmarks

Everything falls inline pretty much as we expected with Tonga. It’s a more efficient version of the Tahiti we’ve come to know and love. The only outliers are DICE’s Battlefield 4 and Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3. At this time we’re going to attribute these outliers to driver optimizations rather than any hardware issue. Over the next few months the performance of the R9 285 will likely increase in most of these games and especially in Far Cry 3 as AMD’s team gets more comfortable with the 3rd iteration of the GCN architecture.

R9 285 Gigabyte (2 of 2)

There you have it AMD’s R9 285 is a strong midrange offering with no major faults. By the same token it doesn’t really standout from a performance per dollar perspective. But it’s certainly not a GPU that you should regret buying. It’s tailored to fit a very specific price point and it does just that. Perhaps the best thing about this launch is that AMD is not releasing a reference design rather each graphics card vendor will have their own implementation from day one. Goodbye Tahiti and hello Tonga.S|A

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Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.