AMD R9 300 Series - Powering VR

Published: March 7, 2015 5:27 PM /



A new AMD GPU was caught in the wild stealthily powering virtual reality. One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn't the same as they say. In a room full of VR tech demos, one of the GPUs powering interactive worlds happened to be red instead of green.

Back in early February, the tech giant confirmed what many fans have already speculated, the R9 300 series of graphics cards. Those in the know of graphics cards will tell you the 900 series of cards from Nvidia are what the enthusiasts are clamoring towards. However, with the decline of altcoin mining, you could score some good deals on GPUs that offer stellar performance for the dollar. Case in point, the R9 290 can be found for an attractive price point as an alternative to the GTX 970 without the memory controversy. With the demand for more, fans of AMD only had sketchy rumors to go off of in regards to performance for this new line of GPUs, especially the R9 380x.

While it isn't known which exact R9 300 series GPU was used for demoing, it had enough power for the Oculus based VR demo of Showdown from Epic Games. Showdown is an immersive experience featuring rich environments, flying debris, a flying car with a person inside and a giant robot absolutely destroying everything. Something like this takes a fair amount of power to render as you would imagine. Rumors are one thing, performance in practice is another. During GDC 2015, Nvidia was powering multiple VR demos with its Titan X monster, Showdown was one of them. If the GTX 970 and 980 from Nvidia are supercars of the graphics world, the Titan X is the over engineered hypercar. To be able to compete with that is very impressive. Wouldn't put it past AMD if their demo card was the successor to the crazy R9 295x2.

According to Tom's Hardware, the GPU in question powering the Oculus Rift was "an unannounced Radeon R9 flagship ultra-enthusiast product" and states this was AMD's official statement on the secret card. Judging by that alone, this graphics card probably has a built in AIO liquid cooled system for its stock configuration similar to the R9 295x2 flagship. The memory type for this family of R9 300 series cards was also rumored to switch from GDDR5 to a new 3D stackable memory type called HBM from SK Hynix, specifically the R9 380X and R9 390X. Performance wise, it's expected to be 9x faster than traditional GDDR5 found on graphics cards today.

R9 295x2
Pictured is the elite class R9 200 flagship, the R9 295x2

AMD is to introduce their new family of graphics cards this upcoming Computex and should reveal retail release date information then. Now is the time for tech enthusiasts to be excited, especially those who are into VR or simply in need of a graphics card upgrade. Proprietors of virtual reality wish to really push the boundaries of what's possible, a feat requiring powerful hardware for seamless immersion.

With the push for VR, graphics firms are driven to constantly improve their product. This is something AMD needs as their CPU market isn't faring as well versus their GPU division. 2015 is a dry year for them in that department with the 8350 still being their big seller. On the computing end, new chips aren't to be expected till Zen debuts in 2016. If AMD is confident enough to use an unreleased GPU for a big VR tech demo, we may be too distracted by their graphics cards this year to notice the lack of new CPU chips. CEO Lisa T. Su may be new, but she wants the company to focus on engineering and product delivery. Technology is rapidly evolving with virtual reality being a main focus right now that AMD is showing no signs of shying away from. According to AMD representatives, it's the new Radeon engine and muscular API exposed through LiquidVR that gets us to the point of a comfortable experience. This means removal of performance barriers to low latency.


Once virtual reality is taken to a place many are striving for, we're going to be seeing insane performance increases from AMD and Nvidia. As of right now, you need some beefy hardware to truly appreciate these experiences. To be able to have an enjoyable high end experience on consumer hardware is the ultimate goal. If you couldn't tell, VR has shifted to becoming less of a gimmick and more of a logical progression of the gaming industry with numerous company's from Facebooks Oculus Rift, to AMD's Liquid VR, to Sony's Project Morpheus, all the way to Valve's Project Vive working to get ahead of the challenges it has. That's some big stuff happening in our lifetime. For consumers, AMD and Nvidia constantly one upping one another is only fueling this race.

What do you think AMD has in store to compete against Titan X and are you excited for their upcoming release in general?


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