As it turns out, February is going to be a busy month for GPUs. Normally February is something of a quiet month, surrounded by CES on one side and GPU trade shows like NVIDIA’s GTC on the other, but for 2014 we’ve seen and will continue to see a number of important launches as the month rolls on. The start of this month saw the launch of AMD’s first Mantle enabled drivers and the first Mantle enabled software, and today AMD is back with a new and somewhat low-key product launch to help fill out their product stack.

Launching today is AMD’s new anchor for the $99 price point, the Radeon R7 250X. The 250X is intended to fill a price and performance gap between the low-end Oland based R7 250, and the more powerful but more expensive R7 260 series. This anchor position was previously filled by the 250 at $89, but due to a combination of slow uptake on the R7 260 and competitive pressure, AMD has decided to push out something more powerful at $99.

Since the R7 250 was already a fully enabled Oland part, and the R7 260 was already a cut-down Bonaire part, to fill the gap AMD is calling their GCN 1.0 based Cape Verde GPU back into service. Cape Verde powered what’s now the officially discontinued Radeon HD 7700 series, spending most of its life serving as AMD’s sub-$150 budget backbone. For 250X AMD is going to be doing a straight rebadge of the most powerful 7700 part, the 7770 GHz Edition, bringing the 7770 into the Radeon 200 family. This is similar to what AMD did a couple of years back with the 5700 series, ultimately rebadging the entire series as the 6700 series. We're not fans of the practice, but with the 200 series already containing a mix of old and new GPUs, this is hardly disruptive.

AMD GPU Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon R7 260X AMD Radeon R7 260 AMD Radeon R7 250X AMD Radeon R7 250
Stream Processors 896 768 640 384
Texture Units 56 48 40 24
ROPs 16 16 16 8
Core Clock ? ? 1000MHz 1000MHz
Boost Clock 1100MHz 1000MHz N/A 1050MHz
Memory Clock 6.5GHz GDDR5 6GHz GDDR5 4.5GHz GDDR5 4.6GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit
VRAM 2GB 1GB 1GB/2GB 1GB
FP64 1/16 1/16 1/16 1/16
TrueAudio Y Y N N
Transistor Count 2.08B 2.08B 1.5B N/A
Typical Board Power 115W 95W 95W 65W
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture GCN 1.1 GCN 1.1 GCN 1.0 GCN 1.0
GPU Bonaire Bonaire Cape Verde Oland
Launch Date 10/11/13 01/14/14 02/10/14 10/11/13
Launch Price $139 $109 $99 $89

Since the 250X is a straight 7770 GHz Edition rebadge, we won’t spend too much time going over the specifications since we’ve reviewed this before. With 640 SPs and 16 ROPs, it sits comfortably between the more expensive 260 series and the existing Oland based R7 250 in specifications and performance. Both Oland and Cape Verde are GCN 1.0 GPUs, so while the fact that both GPUs share the 250 series name is a minor annoyance, from a feature standpoint they’re going to be identical. Though this does mean that the 250X will be at a feature disadvantage relative to the GCN1.1 based 260 series, lacking TrueAudio support among other features, giving buyers a tangible reason to step up to the 260 series.

GPU specifications aside, let’s quickly talk about memory. This launch is being done on a very short turn around, so we haven’t been able to get AMD to confirm the complete memory specifications for the 250X. Historically, sub-$100 AMD cards almost always feature a mix of GDDR5 and DDR3, and it’s unclear at this moment whether the same will be happening for the 250X. AMD has told us that there will be 1GB and 2GB cards, which leads us to believe that we’re going to be seeing 1GB GDDR5 cards and 2GB DDR3 cards side-by-side, especially if AMD’s partners want to offer 2GB cards at $99. The specifications we’re going with for now are AMD’s official specifications, which cite GDDR5, but we’ll update this once we get confirmation. DDR3 would significantly cripple the performance of the 250X, so if this comes to pass the GDDR5 version of the 250X would be the only one worth serious consideration.

Meanwhile from a performance perspective the 250X is going to be quite a bit more powerful than the 250 for a very minor price increase. The big increase in stream processors and ROPs directly translates into a big increase in performance, with the 250X set to outperform the 250 by 30-50%. From a practical perspective this means that while the 250 struggled with 1080p at any quality setting, the 250X should be comfortably above 30fps in most games at low settings. Next to the slightly higher price tag, the only real tradeoff for the 250X will be power consumption; 250 remains as AMD’s best sub-75W card, while 250X will require 95W and an external PCie power connector, just as 7770 before it.

Since the 250X is a 7770 rebadge and there isn’t any “new” performance data to look at, we’ll skip an in-depth look at performance. For $99 it should generally outperform anything else for the price, as we can see below in Bioshock Infinite.

Bioshock Infinite - 1920x1080 - High Quality

Our full benchmarks for the 250X/7770 can be found on our GPU Bench 2014 page.

AMD tells us that 250X should be shipping today, though given the fact that we’re in the middle of the Chinese New Year we’re taking a wait-and-see attitude on that. But because it’s a rebadge 250X will take relatively little work to start production on; for AMD’s partners there is little to do besides resuming 7770 production with an updated BIOS and new branding. So we expect that most 250X cards will be identical to their 7770 predecessors, with modifications made as necessary to support the 2GB configuration.

Finally, at $99 the 250X will be launching into a very dense cluster of competitors. Against AMD’s other sub-$100 cards it should perform favorably, significantly outperforming both the R7 250 and 7750, the latter of which continues to be readily available around $99 despite being formally discontinued months ago. The R7 260 series on the other hand should outperform the 250X, but with the 260 minimally available due to low uptake and well off its $109 MSRP as a result, the only meaningful competitors for the 250X are the 260X and the 250, securing the 250X’s place. As an added bonus, this means that the 250X will be launching at a lower price than the original 7770 is currently available at (~$110), making the 250X a de-facto price cut for the 7770.

As for the NVIDIA competition, the closest competitor to the 250X is currently the GTX 650, which has an average price a bit over $100. 650 never did fare well against the 7770, so the 250X should easily enjoy a 20%+ performance advantage. 650 Ti will be much closer in performance, but outside of the occasional sale is almost always found at $120 or more.

Winter 2014 GPU Pricing Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
Radeon R9 270X $250  
Radeon R9 270 $210  
  $190 GeForce GTX 660
Radeon R7 260X $140  
Radeon R7 260 $125 GeForce GTX 650 Ti
Radeon R7 250X $100 GeForce GTX 650
Radeon R7 250 $90 GeForce GT 640

 

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  • yannigr - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    Yes but 250 should have been 240X. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    Nope - just drop that X and use the last digit in increaments of 5 or so. Reply
  • piroroadkill - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    I agree. While we're at it, get rid of the "R9, R7" business.

    The R7 250X should just be a 255.
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    The entire R-prefix is pointless, just like GT vs GTX. There is no R5 290X or GTX 730. The GHzE, Boost, Ti, etc. suffixes all indicate something of value, but the prefixes don't do anything.

    Ultimately, I don't have a degree in marketing or business, so I am not qualified to make the decision anyway. C'est la vie.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    Huh, no? I mean, the prefixes are stupid and everything should be done by simple numerals. But GTX > GT in terms of performance and R9 > R7. So they do do something. Just something that could be done better by keeping to 785 / 780 / 770 for nVidia or 295 / 290 / 285 / 280 / 270 etc. for AMD. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    In the old days we had the 7800 GT vs 7800 GTX, but now we have GTX 780 vs GTX 780 Ti. The GTX prefix doesn't mean anything anymore because we know everything we need to know from the model number and its suffix. Likewise, the model numbers of AMD's offerings (2xx) do the same, with higher numbers and the suffix determining superiority.

    I can't say I've ever heard someone say, "I'd like a GT-class card" or "I'd like an R5-class card" because there many cards within each classification (whatever that classification means). What exactly does the general classification prefix tell us that is worth knowing on any sort of practical level? Does it matter to OEMs?

    We don't have to agree on this, it just seems weird to me that these prefixes are still being used.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    I was disagreeing with your distinction between suffixes and prefixes. I think both are useless in a perfect world. Alas, they are both used to promote different levels of performance. nVidia still has GT cards available, which are their lower performing ones. Not saying they use it well, just saying that it is not a pointless prefix because all have them, they don't all have it.

    And I have never heard anyone say "I want an -X card" or "I want a -Ti card", so what's the point?
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - link

    On the contrary, you must use the suffix in order to properly distinguish between the cards - 280 vs 280X, 780 vs 780Ti. Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Monday, February 17, 2014 - link

    And the OP is saying you wouldn't need the suffix (or the prefix) if you used different numbers for each card. Thus, the overly complicated R# ###[X] label becomes a simple 3 digit number:

    R5 250 --> 250
    R5 250X --> 255
    R7 260 --> 260
    R7 260X --> 265
    R7 270 --> 270
    R7 270X --> 275
    R9 280 --> 280
    R9 280X --> 285
    R9 290 --> 290
    R9 290X --> 295

    RADEON ### is much nicer, cleaner, easier-to-understand.
    Reply
  • PEJUman - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    I think the R9 came from 'Radeon 9000' series, they decided to keep some familiarity to the name for layman who expected larger is better. the Radeon 8000 series were OEM only re-brand.

    I agree that they should just call these guys 290x, 290, 280x, etc with the X assigned to performance/un-cut GPU.

    This whole rebrand BS is officially crazy. Before there is some logical 'decoder ring' to the name: say 55xx to 64xx, increase the gen by 1, drop the family by 1. Signifying the rebranded 'performance' comparison have dropped in the new generation cards.
    But now all of this have gone wacky, no rhyme or reason beside the market spot pricing.
    Reply

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