MSI R7 370 Gaming 2G Review

The fine folks at AMD supplied us this card for reviewing purposes.

Update: There was an issue with Futuremark’s website that caused the card details to be shown incorrectly on the website when looking at benchmark results. We mistakenly attributed this to the driver, but this has now been amended.

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If you were ever looking at getting into PC gaming, you’d be easily fooled into thinking you need to spend £1000 to create (or buy) a gaming machine. Prebuilt systems are often vastly overpriced and many of the enthusiast websites focus on the higher-end components where you’re getting rapidly diminishing returns on your money. While many people who game for hours on end every day as a hobby (like us) are keen to make sure they can get 60 frames per second at 1440p or even 4k, that’s just not necessary for most gamers. Many will simply want a machine that lets them play games in a similar way to how they play on the current-gen consoles. That’s where the R7 370 comes in.

At £120 it’s definitely on the cheaper end of the spectrum when it comes to dedicated graphics cards. For comparison, the current most popular enthusiast card (the NVidia 970) is about £260, so around twice as expensive. For your £120 you’re only getting the 2GB edition (it’s an extra £20 for the 4gb edition) but you are getting something that can handle 1080p at 60fps on most modern games as long as you turn a few settings down.

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This being an MSI card, the packaging is second to none. Inside the box you get a DVI to VGA adapter, the driver/software cd and a quickstart guide. Like any GPU nowadays, it’s incredibly simple to set up. If you had an NVidia card previously, make sure you completely uninstall their drivers (possible using a driver sweeper program to make sure you get it all) then switch your PC off, take the old card out and fit this one into the PCI slot. It takes up two slots which is the standard for enthusiast cards, and just requires a 6-pin power connector, seeing as this card hardly draws any power at all. When you’re putting it in you might notice the nice white MSI logo – this actually lights up and can be made to flash, breathe or simple shine bright using some of the software provided by MSI. Clearly for most people you’ll never see it, but if you have a window on your case it’s actually quite a nice effect.

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The software included is the standard catalyst suite for AMD (you’ll want to install the latest version straight away) plus some extra MSI software. This lets you change the LED sign on the side as we mentioned, but also lets you change the profile of the card from silent, to gaming, or to overclock mode. To be honest the difference in performance between gaming and overclocked mode is quite small (around 5fps in our tests) so we’d suggest leaving it in gaming mode. There’s also an ‘Eye Rest’ feature that alters the displayed colours to be a little easier on your eyes if it’s late, or to pump up the contrast a bit to make games ‘pop’ a little more. The eye rest feature is neat, but we’d leave anything that increases the contrast well alone as it tends to ruin the colours of games, you’d be much better off calibrating your monitor properly.

The most striking thing about the card is that it is completely silent at idle. Until the card reaches 60 degrees the fans won’t move at all, which means no noise from the GPU. As the card isn’t that powerful, it’s quite heat efficient, so you’ll often find less demanding games (like Starcraft 2 or Counterstrike) won’t even get the fans running. In our tests, including leaving the Heaven benchmark running for a few hours, we could barely get the card up to 68 degrees, so the fans were staying at around 30% speed, still very quiet. If you have a PC set up in a living area this is definitely a bonus to consider.

Starting up our benchmarks we found that performance is precisely how you’d expect. Anything that requires high resolution textures causes it to struggle immensely due to the limited 2GB of memory on the card, and while the processor is capable of handling nearly everything, it’s a far cry from enthusiast-level performance. Remember these are benchmarks though, and benchmarks rarely reflect the performance in real games.

firestrike

First off we tried the 3D Mark Fire Strike test. This is a 1080p test designed to push mid-range graphics cards. We’re running a system with an i7 4790k CPU and 16gb RAM so the GPU is always going to be the bottleneck, and we see here that although we’re getting the best out of the card, it’s decidedly in the middle when it comes to performance. Be aware there is a bug with Futuremark’s website where despite 3DMark detecting the card as a 370, the website displays it as a 270. 

fire strike extreme

Taking it up to the Fire Strike Extreme test, a 1440p version of the same benchmark, the r7 370 really starts to struggle. On this test it was barely getting 20fps at any moment as the card clearly wasn’t designed to handle this kind of resolution.

While the benchmarks don’t reflect real-life use of the cards, they do give you a good idea of the kind of power you need for something like 4k gaming or Oculus Rift. These are things to think about for the future, but the r7 370 is nowhere near capable enough to handle things over 1080p and if you’re looking to get ready for that kind of technology, you’ll need to be paying at least twice as much.

When it comes to games we ran through tests on three of the most demanding, varied, and popular games currently on offer. All of these were tested at 1080p.

Battlefield 4 -60fps on High

The Battlefield series benefits from a unique driver API called Mantle that is featured on AMD cards. This generally means you expect higher and more consistent framerates on Mantle cards than you would on other equally powerful models. This holds up with Battlefield 4, when on Ultra we see the framerate vary between 50-55fps which is very respectable and completely playable. By dropping the settings down to ‘high’ we could easily hit a stable 60fps no matter what was happening on screen. 60fps is the golden standard for gaming and it was extremely pleasing to see the r7 370 manage this with such high quality settings.

Grand Theft Auto V -60fps on High

GTAV has been a difficult game for many enthusiasts as while many cards handle it fine, seemingly randomly, quite powerful cards will struggle. Here the R7 370 is clearly limited by the 2GB of memory available, so it is impossible to play the game with anything other than ‘normal’ textures, but with everything else set to high, or normal at the lowest, we could again quite easily hit 60fps at 1080p and the lowest dips were down to 55fps when quite a lot was going on (explosions, mostly). This is a very impressive result, and much higher than we expected from the card.

Total War: Rome II

The Total War games are always an interesting benchmark because there’s not only huge draw distances, particle effects and weather, but the potential for hundreds or thousands of characters to be fighting on screen at once. Thankfully to give you a taste of this, the game comes complete with a benchmarking tool, so you can see how the card performs in all situations. Through the benchmark the average framerate (at 1080p on high settings) was a very respectable 53fps. This dipped down as low as 45 and up to 55, but nothing that we would call unplayable in any way.

Conclusion

Overall, this is a surprisingly competent card. For the price point, the only thing that comes close is the Nvidia 960 but we’re not convinced that anyone gaming at 1080p would any more value for the extra £50 that would cost. If you’re looking into gaming at 1080p and have no ambitions of 1440p, 4k, 144hz, or virtual reality, it’s hard to think of a reason not to recommend this card. You’ll be able to play all current games on at least high settings at 1080p60 and if you’re a little bit low it’s always easy to turn something down (usually shadows). The lack of memory is becoming more and more of a problem as more games are using at least 4GB nowadays, but you can get the 4gb version of this card and be protected from that. It’s almost eerily silent, barely uses any power, and looks great in your case. As long as you don’t mind the size of the card (it is rather large for what it is) this is a fantastic piece of hardware.

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