AMD Radeon R9 290X Evaluation

The GeForce GTX Titan blew us away eight months ago with its incredibly fast GPU and packed 7080 million transistors into a 561 mm2 chip to provide enormous processing power and bandwidth. The catch, of course, was that Nvidia wanted (and still wants) $ 1,000 for it – a sum that didn't seem to necessarily prevent cards from flying off the shelves, despite being more than our entire entry-level rig.

Nvidia followed suit three months later with the equally impressive GTX 780 for a more plausible $ 650, where it remains to this day. Neither of these cards had much of an impact on AMD's sales as the company's most expensive offering at the time was a $ 450 Radeon HD 7970 GHz edition (the 7990 arrived a few months later).

Waiting for the answer from AMD, we were disappointed that the first round of Rx 200 cards were re-releases. For example, the R7 260X and R9 270X are the overclocked Radeon HD 7790 and 7870, while the R9 280X is an underclocked version of the HD 7970 GHz edition – see our previous Radeon R7 / R9 review for an equivalency table. We were less than impressed.

One could easily argue that Nvidia did the same thing with its GTX 770 (a redesigned GTX 680) and the GTX 760 (a redesigned OEM GTX 660), but those products followed the formidable GTX 780 and GTX Titan, which were new parts. Additionally, not only was the GTX 770 faster than the GTX 680, but it also arrived with a $ 100 discount.

While AMD's new lineup didn't get off to a great start, we knew better things would follow, and this week's Radeon R9 290X is the first truly new product in its line. In some ways, the R9 290X (codenamed "Hawaii XT") could be considered AMD's Titan because it adopts the Tahiti architecture and contains nearly 2,000 million more transistors.

It is the most complex and powerful GPU that AMD has developed, and it is no coincidence that it is the company's most expensive single GPU product to date to match the Radeon HD 7970. Before you click away, that's "only" $ 550, which is significantly cheaper than Nvidia's solution.

The question, of course, is whether the R9 290X can actually keep in touch with Nvidia's flagships …

Radeon R9 290X in detail

The R9 290X is 27.5 cm long, a typical length for a modern high-end graphics card and roughly the same as the original HD 7970. Its GPU core is clocked at 1000 MHz, the same frequency as the 7970 GHz edition. While the GDDR5 memory only works at 5 GHz, 17% slower than the 7970. Coupling this frequency with a 512-bit memory bus gives the R9 290X a full theoretical bandwidth of 320 GB / s, an advantage of 11% over this the HD 7970 GHz edition.

While the HD 7970 had a 3 GB frame buffer, the R9 290X was updated to 4 GB. For the most part, games don't consume more than 2 to 3 GB of memory at resolutions up to 2560 x 1600. This means you would have to be playing on an extreme multi-monitor setup that would require more than a 290X to be playable Achieve performance and take advantage of the larger memory buffer.

The core configuration of the R9 290X is also different from that of the 7970. The new card includes an incredible 2816 SPUs, 176 TAUs, and 64 ROPs, up 38% over 2048 SPUs and 96 TAUs with 100% more ROPs.

The "Hawaii XT" -GPU is cooled by a solid aluminum vapor chamber heat sink with 41 ribs 15.0 cm long, 8.5 cm wide and 2.5 cm high. This is practically the same AMD cooler that was used for the reference HD 7970. The vapor chamber design was first implemented by the Radeon HD 5970 and later adopted by the GTX 580 from Nvidia. The heat is distributed by a 75 x 20 mm fan that pulls air out of the case and pushes it out to the rear.

The fan of the R9 290X works quietly for the most part, but despite the impressive idle consumption of the card, it still chugs up to 300 watts under load (20% more than the GTX Titan), so the fan spins up during a heavy gaming session.

To provide the card with sufficient power, AMD includes 8-pin and 6-pin PCI Express connectors – the same setup as the HD 7970, GTX 780 and other sophisticated cards.

Of course the R9 290X supports Crossfire, but this card does not contain any bridge connectors. This makes the R9 290X the first graphics card to support Crossfire without the need for a hardware strap.

The only other ports are on the I / O control panel. Our AMD reference example has two DL-DVI connections, an HDMI 1.4a connection, a DisplayPort 1.2 socket and a double BIOS switch. The BIOS switch is located on top of the graphics card and allows you to choose between the mode called "Quiet Mode" and "Uber Mode" by AMD.

Speaking of which, the R9 290X runs by default in what AMD calls quiet mode. This will set the default maximum fan speed to 40%. However, if you want to keep the R9 290X cooler, use Uber mode which has the default maximum fan speed set to 55%. Of course, these options can be further customized in the Catalyst Control Panel, which now offers new OverDrive options.

With power and performance now so closely linked, the idea in Uber mode is to keep the R9 290X cooler so it always performs at its best. However, in our office, which had a room temperature of 21 degrees when tested, we could not see any difference in performance between the Uber and Silent modes.

The R9 290X supports a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1600 on up to three monitors as well as Ultra HD (also known as UHD or 4K) via HDMI 1.4b (low update) and DisplayPort 1.2.

Many Ultra HD / 4K monitors can achieve a refresh rate of 60 Hz with a tiled display configuration. AMD Eyefinity technology can be used to support these tiled displays by having two 2Kx2K tiles acting as one 4Kx2K monitor. AMD has taken steps to make this easier for end users by providing an automated AMD Eyefinity configuration facility. This feature enables automatic plug-and-play configuration of the supported Ultra HD / 4K tile displays when a display port cable is connected.

When you hot-plug a 4K tiled monitor (e.g. the Sharp PN-K321 or the Asus PQ321Q), a 2×1 display group is automatically created and the two tiles are combined into one monitor. This configuration is saved and reactivated when the display is disconnected from the mains or the system is restarted.

It is also possible to manually disable the display group in CCC and the two tiles to act as independent monitors. In addition, the card can supply power to up to six monitors with a multi-stream hub using the Mini-DisplayPort 1.2 sockets.

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