MSI Radeon R9 380 Graphics Card Review

Written by Jon Sutton on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 2:00 PM

Sitting comfortably in the £175 mid-tier price point also occupied by the GTX 960, MSI’s Radeon R9 380 2G packs some bruising performance which consistently outdoes its chief competitor. MSI’s model is essentially a re-brand of the previous gen R9 285, albeit with a slightly improved 1000MHz clock speed in Overclock Mode.

Aside from that it’s business as usual, with a Tonga Pro GPU core, 1792 shader units, 112 TMUs, ROPs, and 28 Compute Units. If it looks familiar that’s because it is. One thing that lets this particular model down though is it features just 2GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit memory bus. This provides a total memory bandwidth of 176Gb/s, which is a little down at the low end, making it it difficult to set apart from the R9 285. There is a 4GB model however which makes for a much more tempting purchase in the current graphics card climate, and it's MSI's best-selling 300-series card for a reason.

Anyone familiar with MSI’s graphics cards will feel right at home with the R9 380 Gaming 2G. All of its cards follow basically the same design pattern and this particular model is no different. Much of it comes down to taste but I think it’s a pretty slick look compared to some of the models out there, even if the dragon stylings aren’t necessarily my thing. That and, well, it kind of looks like GD don’t you think?

The 2GB VRAM in this model does hold back its long-term prospects somewhat, and there are some games which it's going to struggle with when upping the settings. That said the MSI Radeon R9 380 is firmly aimed at 1080p gaming and on this front it does deliver respectable performance. As you can see from the benchmarks below of some of 2016's biggest games, maxed out no less, it's never dropping below an average of 30FPS, which isn't to be sniffedat . Should you drop a few select settings and 60FPS can be yours across the board. 

MSI Radeon R9 380 Average FPS on Ultra 1080p

Click on each game to view a performance video with the MSI Radeon R9 380

Game Average Frames Per Second (FPS) on Ultra / 1080p
Dark Souls 3 55
Rise of the Tomb Raider 35
Hitman 43
Street Fighter V 60
American Truck Sim 36
Dying Light: The Following 59
Firewatch 44
Call of Duty: Black Ops III 48
XCOM 2 40

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

88

Performance is impressive then, so if you pick up one of these cards you should have console crushing performance that can at least see you through until the end of the console generation. That said it doesn't come with some of the more elegant points of its GeForce counterpart; AMD's Crimson Software is still a little finicky and lacking, and it's a bit of a power hog at 190 TDP. That's all going to change in theory with Polaris, but for now these refreshed GPUs are beginning to show their age. 

One other thing to consider for those trying to eke as much juice out of this thing as possible - the Radeon R9 380 isn’t a great overclocker. It’s running in an ancient Tonga GPU and, with the MSI model come overclocked out of the box, there really isn’t much headroom to push it any further. Perhaps 5% or so seems the limit, and at this stage it becomes such a power hog that it negates the benefits anyway.

MSI R9 380 Price Comparison

  R9 380 2GB R9 380 4GB GTX 950 2GB GTX 960 4GB
Price (UK) £160 £175 £140 £193
Price (US) $200 $240 $170 $225

Overall you're looking at a great price for a great card, but I'd suggest it's almost imperative you go that extra yard and spend the £15 / $40 needed to grab the 4GB model. That's the price of a cheap game and it's going significantly boost the longevity of the card, so it's a no-brainer on that front. There's a bit of a price disparity going on between the US and the UK at the moment, but you can see the R9 380 is only marginally more expensive than a GTX 950, but it considerably beats it in pure performance. From there it's only a small jump to the juicier 4GB model, and between that and the GTX 960 it really does come down to which you'd prefer - AMD or Nvidia. Based on the early prospects of DX12, AMD might just edge for those looking at a future proofed buy. 

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00:25 Apr-01-2016

Is the better performance of the 380/390 vs the 285/290 just due to better drivers? Isnt the former just higher clocked rebrands of the latter? If it is just drivers, then isnt amd also gimping older cards in favor of newer ones, same as nvidia? And its even worse coz at least in nvidia's case, maxwell aint a rebrand.

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03:38 Apr-01-2016

The performance increase is most likely due to more mature drivers and higher clock speeds as well as having more Vram all around. Also, it's a refreash, not a rebrand, the power consumption is lower due to optimizing the core

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18:23 Apr-01-2016

more power efficient and alot better tesalation performance amd is not gimping their cards they simply give you better performance in long term if you compare to nvidia duo to more expansive stuff where nvidia sems to save some $$$..

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23:00 Mar-30-2016

I bought the MSI R9 380 4gb 6 months ago, I am WELL please, it plays the Division on high+ at a steady 50-60fps.


Plays Return of the Tomb Raider around 40-50(after patch and DX12)


Plays Fallout 4 on high - Ultra 50 - 60 frames.


And much much more!!


Love this card, really thinking about bumping up to R9 390 for extra HP. Would really like to Crossfire these cards.


Any thts on that?

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10:20 Mar-31-2016

u can never go wrong with a 390

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16:13 Mar-31-2016

Yes that's about where I am at. I have read many reviews and comparisons to the GTX 970, it often beats out that card in many game and benchmark tests. Also the 8gb video ram is handy to push settings even further.

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00:15 Apr-01-2016

Well if you're really happy with the 380, why upgrade right now? Polaris/pascal is just around the corner. At the very least you can get another 380 for crossfire cheaper when new cards are released.

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20:35 Mar-30-2016

Good to know, but with the Polaris cards coming out in a few quarters it would behoove most of us to wait for a similarly priced next-gen card.The power savings will be better, lower heat, and better performance is only a few months away. Still, if energy efficiency and heat aren't much of a concern, and the cost of a R9 380 goes waaaay down then this might suit some others' needs better.

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17:53 Mar-30-2016

380 is okay and 390 is expensive (for me). I'll go for the r9 380x

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17:33 Mar-30-2016

The fact that this card was released 9 months ago, doesn't make this review useless. AMD is well known for its "not so good" drivers, and things like this can be helpful to compare the performance of the card when it was released, against the performance right now, to see how much AMD has improved with time!

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18:03 Mar-30-2016

Both nvidia and amd have bad driver sometime. Personaly i didn t encounter any problems with my amd card and its a r9 270x also the same as yours.

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18:35 Mar-30-2016

Well, we just have different opinions. To me, Nvidia is better at offering features and best performance first, and AMD is way better at giving further performance from their cards down the line. I'm not saying who is better, that discussion won't take us anywhere. I simply said: AMD is getting better with new drivers

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01:52 Mar-31-2016

Ive thought the same thing about amd cards. They seem to be held back somewhat in the beginning but you get more mileage out of them long run. I havent followed tech long enough to know whether this is a real trend.

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20:31 Mar-30-2016

Christ are we on this again with AMD and drivers? AMD drivers and ATI drivers are different. AMD has released more drivers so far this year then Nvidia and none have issues, i repeat NONE HAVE ISSUES. Enough with spewing this misconception.

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20:38 Mar-30-2016

It's funny that i wrote "not so good drivers" and all of you are assuming that I'm talking about ISSUES with the old drivers. What I'm talking about is that AMD is INCREASING the performance of their cards with newer drivers, I'M NOT saying that old drivers were going to fry your card. Are we on the same page now?

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20:49 Mar-30-2016

Not not even close haha. Not so good means bad drivers, thats a common myth and its so annoying. Hell ive had a 5770>7850>r9 390 ive had very minimal driver issues and that was mostly with a beta driver and chrome. The drivers are just as good as nvidias.

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20:55 Mar-30-2016

That's why I wrote "not so good" instead of "bad drivers" to avoid missconceptions. I Own an r9 270x and I'm extremely happy with it. But, for example, when the witcher 3 and Far cry 4 came out, I was getting 40fps. Now with crimson drivers I'm getting 50-55fps. That's what I'm talking about. I hope it's clear now.

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09:05 Mar-31-2016

Yea its clear but that doesnt mean their not so good haha. Those are both nvidia titles there's ALWAYS issues with nvidia games and amd, not because of drivers though but something else.

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10:20 Mar-31-2016

Fun fact: The latest couple of NVIDIA drivers are the proof of irony. People are still saying AMD has bad drivers but they are not looking at the NVIDIA ones that exist now...


"Fun things" like black screen of doom, freezes, the lovely "TDR" crash, unstable framerates in some games... Who has bad drivers now? ^^

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23:04 Mar-31-2016

when gtx 770 users getting even less fps then gtx 960 that is annoying

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16:03 Mar-30-2016

Should've got a 390

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17:51 Mar-30-2016

ayyMD

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05:54 Mar-31-2016

inb4 thermi

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14:50 Mar-30-2016

Well nice benchmarks , well that's funny how American Track sim is nearly the worst lol

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16:12 Mar-30-2016

Yeah, the game is either kinda demanding or unoptimized I get as low as 50 sometimes with my MSI GTX 970 on 1080p Ultra.

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16:51 Mar-30-2016

Its demanding, i get the same in euro truck about 50 or so. Its always drawing don't forget game is a hog.

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20:48 Mar-30-2016

Doesn't that game still use DX9? Their's your answer ;)

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20:50 Mar-30-2016

Haha Euro Truck Simulator 2 def uses DX11.

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21:02 Mar-30-2016

Pretty sure ATS is still running on 9., see.


And i believe ETS2 uses the same engine(don't quote me on that though).

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16:19 Mar-31-2016

Yea you are right i just checked, could have sworn it was at least Dx11 oh well haha.

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17:53 Mar-30-2016

it does fairly well on my GTX 480, i'll put up some benchmarks soon

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14:40 Mar-30-2016

good to see GD starting to do hardware reviews :)

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14:14 Mar-30-2016

You say 384 bit but every other spec says 256 bit

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14:15 Mar-30-2016

true also this review is kind late useless :)

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14:21 Mar-30-2016

I've never seen it before, so good to know for me

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14:25 Mar-30-2016

olderr r9 280 futures 384bit bus but this is 256 bit bus and tesalation performance is alot better then in older 280

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15:40 Mar-30-2016

Yep. my bad, holdover from the 280 specs

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15:42 Mar-30-2016

hi eveery one

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14:25 Mar-30-2016

got my 380x for 200€ quite a good car, also passiv in 2d


but this review is far to late and mistakes like in most GD articles are really annoying

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14:53 Mar-30-2016

Oh come on -- , Really useful review for me, and most GD articles are great! Go noob , if really all GD articles are annoying , don't come here.
Well thank you for dislike , lost another one -
-

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20:11 Mar-30-2016

nice burn there not ... i just dont think someone should publish articles with mistakes in it, perhaps because i am german, but like here talking about a gpu while using wrong specs
if one does not even get the stats correct the whole article is not trustworthy


i did not insult you so dont do it either, its called "debate" and not praise the stupid people
fok of mate

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22:18 Mar-30-2016

Tacese, please be kind and courteous to other members who use this site. You are entitled to your own opinion but to lash out at another member is quite unacceptable.


As for the timing of the article, there is a reason for everything and sometimes reviews are not always done when a product is first released but rather after one has been able to fully evaluate the product. It is unfortunate you feel it is not up to GD standards but everyone is human and humans can make mistakes the best that can be done is to fix them as good as we possibly can.


If you have any questions or concerns don't be afraid to send me a message, Thank you :)
-JRschro

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11:53 Apr-01-2016

funny though saying what i think gives me bad rep but writing wrong stuff does not
being insulted while downvoted is ok for admins
talk back to the offender gives me messages from admins telling me to step back


i wish i could say this site had a better comunnity back then but it was never better, debating is nearly impossible here
GD has good infos but the people here are the worst

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Can They Run... |

| 60FPS, High, 1440p
Core i7-7700K 4-Core 4.2GHz GeForce GTX 1080 MSI Gaming X 8GB Edition 16GB
Core i7-3770 4-Core 3.4GHz GeForce GTX 950 MSI Gaming 2GB Edition 8GB
| 30FPS, Medium, 720p
Core 2 Duo E6600 2.4GHz Radeon HD 5570 1024MB 4GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1080p
Core i5-11400 6-Core 2.7GHz GeForce RTX 3060 Ultra 16GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 60FPS, Ultra, 1440p
Ryzen 5 5600X 6-Core 3.7GHz GeForce RTX 2080 Super Gigabyte Aorus 8GB 32GB
0% No [1 votes]
| 60FPS, High, 1440p
Ryzen 5 5600X 6-Core 3.7GHz GeForce RTX 2080 Super Gigabyte Aorus 8GB 32GB
100% Yes [1 votes]
| 30FPS, Low, 720p
Core i5-480M 2.66GHz HD i5 M480 8GB
| 30FPS, Low, 720p
APU A6-5400K Dual-Core Radeon HD 7450 4GB
| Ultra, 1440p
Ryzen 3 3300X 4-Core 3.8GHz Radeon RX 570 4GB 16GB