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AMD Radeon R7 260: Affordable DX11 GPU
Date: Dec 17, 2013
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Introduction and Specifications

AMD is closing out the year with yet another new GPU announcement, though this one isn’t quite like the last few we’ve brought you. If you’ve been hanging around here for any length of time recently, you’ve probably read about the semi-new Radeon R9 and R7 series cards that AMD launched back in early October. If that wasn’t enough, the company soon followed up with the truly new, ultra-powerful Radeon R9 290X, based on the GPU formerly codenamed Hawaii. And then a few days after that, the slightly tamer Radeon R9 290 hit the scene, and at a very aggressive price point to boot. There’s also been a bit of drama since then due to some significant performance variability between R9 290 and 290X series cards, but that’s still playing out.

In the meantime, AMD wants to bring its GCN architecture, Mantle support, and TrueAudio engine down to ever lower price points, with a new member of the Radeon R7 family, dubbed the Radeon R7 260. As its name suggests, the Radeon R7 260 is very similar to its big brother, the R7 260X, which itself is similar to the previous-gen Radeon HD 7790. We’ll explain just how closely related all of the cards are a little later, but for now, take a gander at the specs and reference card. We’ll get to the performance on the pages ahead...

AMD Radeon R7 260 Reference Card

AMD Radeon R7 260
Specifications & Features


As you can surmise from the table above, the Radeon R7 260 is a trimmed down version of the Radeon R7 260X. The reference cards look virtually identical, but the lower-end Radeon R7 260's GPU features fewer active stream processors and the cards are outfitted with lower-clocked memory and smaller frame buffers.

Whereas the Radeon R7 260X sports the Bonaire GPU's full complement of 896 stream processors, the R7 260 has only 768. The R7 260 also has a lower peak engine clock of up to 1GHz. And 1GB of memory on the Radeon R7 260 clocks in at an effective data rate of 6.0Gbps versus 6.4Gbps on the 260X, though they both share the same 128-bit memory bus. The combined effect of fewer stream processors and lower memory and GPU clocks results in lower compute performance, fillrate, and memory bandwidth overall. For example, the Radeon R7 260 offers peak compute performance of 1.54TFLOPs and memory bandwidth of 96GB/s, while the higher-end R7 260X offers 1.97TFLOPS and 104GB/s.

Outputs on the card consist of dual, dual-link DVIs, a full sized HDMI, and a DisplayPort. Though there are only four ports, the card can power up to 6 monitors through the use of a DisplayPort MST hub, like the other members of the Radeon R7 and R9 series.

With all that said, the card you see here won't be sold at retail. AMD has informed us that all of its board partners will be offering custom Radeon R7 260 cards when they hit store shelves in a few weeks, hence the reason we're calling this article a preview.

Test System and Unigine Heaven v4.0

How We Configured Our Test Systems: We tested the graphics cards in this article on an Asus P9X79 Deluxe motherboard powered by a Core i7-3960X six-core processor and 16GB of G.SKILL DDR3-1866 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system UEFI and set all values to their "high performance" default settings and disable any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The memory's X.M.P. profile was enabled to ensure better-than-stock performance and the hard drive was then formatted and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete, we fully updated the OS and installed the latest DirectX redist along with all of the drivers, games, and benchmark tools necessary to complete our tests.

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7-3960X
(3.3GHz, Six-Core)
Asus P9X79 Deluxe
(Intel X79 Express)

Radeon R7 260
Radeon R7 260X
Radeon R7 270X
Radeon HD 7790
GeForce GTX 660
GeForce GTX 650 Ti

Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX April 2011 Redist
AMD Catalyst v13.121b
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers v331.70

Benchmarks Used:
Unigine Heaven v4
3DMark "Fire Strike"
Bioshock Infinite
Hitman: Absolution
Alien vs. Predator
Sleeping Dogs

Unigine Heaven v4.0 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming

Unigine Heaven v4.0

Unigine's Heaven Benchmark v4.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform, real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion). It also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.

The Radeon R7 260 trailed the pack in the Unigine Heaven benchmark. It finished about 17% behind the Radeon R7 260X and 11% behind the HD 7790. And the GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost was way ahead, as you can see.

3DMark Fire Strike Test

Futuremark 3DMark Fire Strike
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

Futuremark 3DMark Fire Strike

Fire Strike has two benchmark modes: Normal mode runs in 1920x1080, while Extreme mode targets 2560x1440. GPU target frame buffer utilization for normal mode is 1GB and the benchmark uses tessellation, ambient occlusion, volume illumination, and a medium-quality depth of field filter. The more taxing Extreme mode targets 1.5GB of frame buffer memory and increases detail levels across the board. Extreme mode is explicitly designed for CrossFire / SLI systems. GT 1 focuses on geometry and illumination, with over 100 shadow casting spot lights, 140 non-shadow casting point lights, and 3.9 million vertices calculated for tessellation per frame. And 80 million pixels are processed per frame. GT2 emphasizes particles and GPU simulations. Tessellation volume is reduced to 2.6 million vertices and the number of pixels processed per frame rises to 170 million.

The new Radeon R7 260 finished just a touch ahead of the Radeon HD 7790 in the 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark. The R7 260X and higher-end cards offered significantly more performance, however.

Alien vs. Predator Performance

Alien vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Alien vs. Predator

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced Tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion, and high-quality shadow features available with DirectX 11. In addition to enabling all of the aforementioned DirectX 11-related features offered by this benchmark, we also switched on 4X anti-aliasing along with 16X anisotropic filtering to more heavily tax the graphics cards being tested.

Our results in the Alien vs. Predator benchmark look much like Unigine Heaven from a couple of pages back. Here, the new Radeon R7 260 once again trails the pack, coming closest to catching the Radeon HD 7790.

Bioshock Infinite Performance

Bioshock Infinite
DirectX Gaming Performance

Bioshock Infinite

BioShock Infinite is clear game-of-the-year material. The floating city of Columbia is one of the most evocative, intense, and gorgeous environments we've ever seen in a PC game -- but how much you like it may depend on what sort of visual wizardry you prefer. BioShock Infinite is built on Unreal Engine 3, and while it pushes that framework's capabilities into the stratosphere, there's a clear difference between BioShock Infinite and, say, Crysis 3. BioShock Infinite emphasizes light, color and motion, and while the characters look more exaggerated and cartoon-like than some other games, they still look great. We tested the game at various resolutions with its DX11 code path with DOF effects enabled.

We saw more of the same with Bioshock Infinite. The Radeon R7 260 finished a few percentage points behind the Radeon HD 7790, and trailed the higher-end cards by larger margins, obviously.

Sleeping Dogs Performance

Sleeping Dogs
DX11 Gaming Performance

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is an open-world game in which you play the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop trying to take down the Triads from the inside. In the game, you have to fight your way up in the organization and take part in various criminal activities without blowing your cover. We tested Sleeping Dogs at two resolutions, with all in-game graphical options set to their maximum values with FXAA enabled.

The Radeon R7 260 trailed the Radeon HD 7790 at the lower resolution in Sleeping Dogs, but actually pulled ahead with the resolution cranked up to 2560x1600. Of course, this card isn't designed to play modern games at resolutions that high, so the frame rate is relatively low.

Hitman: Absolution Performance

Hitman: Absolution
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution follows Agent 47, a cold-blooded assassin, who takes on his most dangerous contract to date. Betrayed by those he once trusted - and now hunted by the police - he suddenly finds himself at the center of a dark conspiracy and must embark on a personal journey through a corrupt and twisted world. We tested the game at multiple resolutions, with all in-game options set to their maximum values and global illumination and 4X anti-aliasing enabled.

The 1GB frame buffer on the Radeon R7 260 isn't enough for a game like Hitman Absolution when the resolution is cranked very high, as evidenced by the chart above. Once again, the performance trend we've seen throughout plays out here.

Power Consumption

Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely, power consumption, temperatures, and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored acoustics and tracked how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you an idea of how much power each configuration used while idling and also while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

With its smaller frame buffer, lower clocks, and fewer stream processors, it should come as no surprise that that Radeon R7 260 consumed the least amount of power here. Under both idle and load conditions, the card's power consumption landed behind the Radeon HD 7790 and R7 260X.

We're not going to dwell on these numbers or talk about temperatures or noise, however, since the card we tested won't be sold at retail.  The custom partner boards that are coming down the pipeline we'll surely offer different peak temperatures and noise levels than the reference card.

Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: If you were paying attention on the last few pages, you already know that the new Radeon R7 260 isn’t a barn burner of a GPU. Throughout all of our testing, the card performed at about the same level or somewhat lower than the Radeon HD 7790 and markedly lower than the higher-end Radeon R7 260X and GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost. The Radeon R7 260’s power consumption, however, is the lowest of the bunch, which will probably appeal to some of you.

The AMD Radeon R7 260 Reference Card

AMD expects Radeon R7 260 series cards to hit store shelves sometime in mid-January 2014. As we mentioned earlier, the reference card we tested here won’t be sold as-is. Instead, AMD’s board partners will all be launching custom Radeon R7 260 series cards, with different clocks and coolers. As such, we can’t draw too many firm conclusions today, because the cards you’ll actually be able to buy won’t necessarily perform--or even look like--the one we tested.

There is also quite a bit of price variation in the mainstream video card market at the moment, due to the myriad of custom designs and mail-in-rebates currently available, so digesting the value proposition is difficult. To give you a few examples, Radeon HD 7790 cards can be found for about $90 - $130. Radeon R7 260X series cards are available for approximately $120 - $150. And GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost and “non-boost”, vanilla GeForce GTX 650 Ti cards can be had for roughly $120 - $160 and $110 - $150, respectively. Looking back at the numbers, it’s clear that Radeon R7 260 series cards should fall in somewhere towards the lower end of this price spectrum and that is exactly what AMD has planned. Radeon R7 260 cards should arrive at a price point around $109. Assuming partner boards hit the streets with somewhat higher clocks and higher-performing coolers, that price point is probably about right.

With that said, there is quite a bit more performance to be had by investing only slightly more money into your graphics card. If you’ve got a firm budget and absolutely can’t spend more than $110 on a GPU, the Radeon R7 260 is about as full featured as a mainstream video card gets and things could get much more interesting once Mantle and TrueAudio are implemented in some games. But, spending another 15 to 25 bucks can get you a much higher performing card if you do some shopping around.

  • Low Power Consumption
  • Mantle, Eyefinity, and TrueAudio Support
  • Low Price Point (Expected)
  • Last-Gen GPU
  • Relatively Low Performance
  • Not Available For A While

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