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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

MSI Radeon R9 270 Gaming Edition review: budget graphic card with surprisingly upbeat performance


We've looked at a number of graphics cards from AMD's new range of Radeon chips, but so far we've confined ourselves to the 'X' versions of these products. However, almost every X has a cheaper version in existence. See all PC components and upgrade reviews.

This 270 sits somewhere in-between the 260X and the 270X in terms of price and performance. Crucially, that allows the X-less 270 to inhabit those fertile lands lying in the shade of our £150 cut-off point that separates the regular from the high-end cards in our charts. Hitting a sweet price tag of £138, there's significant breathing space between this and the £160 270X. See all graphics cards reviews.

So the 270 is very much a slimmed down version of the 270X. Both are built around the same GPU. Even in the 270X, we noted that this wasn't the very latest in technology. What both products offer, though, is plenty of performance for a modest power output.

Where the 270 mainly differs from its bigger brother is in its clock speeds. Whereas the MSI 270X had a core clock of 1030 MHz, with a boost mode pushing it up to a fleet-footed maximum of 1120 MHz, the 270 makes do with core and boost figures of 900 MHz and 975 MHz respectively. It mirrors the 270X's 1280 stream processors and 80 texture units, though, adding up to a texture fill rate of 78 GTps. That's a decent gallop behind the 270X's figure of 89.6 GT/s, but comfortably outdistances the 260X's 65.8 GT/s or the GTX 650 Ti's 66 GT/s.

Memory bandwidth is identical, too, with the 270 matching not just the 25-bit interface, but also the 1.4 GHz (5.6 GHz effective with the quadrupling effect of DDR RAM) memory clock of the 270X, adding up to a confident bandwidth figure of 179.2 GB/s. That's in a different class to the 260X's 104 GB/s, for instance, and hints that this is a card that really can put clear water between itself and the cheaper competition in the sub-£150 arena.

There is 2 GB of memory provided – absolutely right for a sub-£150 card as most people won't be using these for startlingly high resolutions, or multi-screen gaming.

Another lovely bonus with the 270 concerns the light power requirements. Whereas the 270X needs a pair of 6-pin power connectors, the 270 asks for just one. Its 150 watt TDP is very modest, and in testing, it typically fell 24 watt below the 270X under normal load.

The 270X wasn't amazingly quiet, but the 270 blends beautifully into background noise, and the MSI architecture did a great job of muffling the relatively low noise levels.

We were impressed with the 270X's performance, but for the most part, the 270 keeps comfortably within reach.

On Bioshock, for instance, the 270X achieved frame rates of 64.4 fps and 38.9 fps at resolutions of 1900 x 1200 and 2560 x 1600 respectively. The 270's figures of 62.3 and 37.0 fps were only marginally behind. The 260X, in contrast, was some way back, on 56.4 and 34.3 fps.

The 260X fell further behind on more straightforward fare. Stalker, for instance, saw the 270's figures of 75.8 and 60.9 fps remaining reasonably close to the 270X's 80.1 fps and 62.3 fps. The 260X, in contrast, showed a significant gap back to 64.7 and 57.9 fps.

On BattleForge, the 270's figures of 76.7 and 60.3 fps were within sight of the 270X's 83.9 and 64.2 fps. The 260X, on the other hand, was stranded on 62.2 fps and 54 fps.

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