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AMD Radeon R9 290X Review: Welcome To Hawaii
Date: Oct 24, 2013
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Introduction and Specifications

AMD has been making quite a bit of news the last few weeks, thanks in part to a multi-day event the company held in Honolulu, Hawaii to announce its next-gen graphics products and a few new related technologies. Of course, the recent release of its Radeon R7 and R9 series of products on October 8 generated plenty of buzz as well.

In case you missed it, the event in Hawaii was broken up into a few segments, some of which were broadcast publicly and a few that were kept under embargo until new products were ready for prime time. We covered all of the public announcements in these recent articles, should you want to a quick refresher:

To recap, AMD’s Mantle is a low-level API that’s designed to allow game developers to work ‘closer to the metal’ so to speak, to more efficiently exploit the features and performance capabilities of AMD’s GCN-based graphics processors. Mantle is being co-developed with DICE, the makers of the Frostbite engine, and will debut in a patch coming in December for the hotly anticipated game Battlefield 4.

AMD's Gaming Evolved App powered by Raptr gives AMD graphics card owners the ability to easily optimize their in-game settings with customized, optimal game profiles. Users of the utility will also accumulate real-life and digital rewards and will have the ability to live stream their games via sites like Twitch. The goal of the utility is to provide a simple, more console-like experience for PC gamers, looking to optimize the look and performance of their games without having to manually fiddle with complicated in-game menu systems. The concept is similar to NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience app, though it doesn’t leverage any AMD-proprietary information—it’s crowd sourced.

Which brings us to the launch of the Radeon R7 and R9 series of products. A couple of weeks back we were able to give you a glimpse at the Radeon R7 260X, Radeon R9 270X and Radeon R9 280X. Though these cards have new branding, they are all actually based on existing GPU designs. Through the use of higher frequencies and tweaked memory configurations, the new Radeon R7 and R9 series cards we looked at were measurably faster than their previous-gen counterparts, but technically they’re not all new. You can check out our coverage right here:

The Radeon R7 260X, R9 270X, and R9 280X also hit the market at lower price points than the Radeon HD-series parts using the same GPUs, which enhanced their overall value proposition. The Radeon R9 280X looked particularly appealing, considering it offered similar performance to the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, but at a sub-$300 price point. Due to some confusion in the lead-up to that article, however, we weren’t able to show you all of the AIB cards produced by AMD’s partners on launch day. As such, we’ve included a couple of new R7 and R9 series cards in this piece as well, namely the MSI R7 270X HAWK and the ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II. As you’ll see a little later, they’re both pretty slick.

The AMD Radeon R9 290X Is A Go

One of the biggest pieces of news to come out AMD’s event, however, was the announcement of the Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X. The cards weren’t ready in time for the October 8 launch, but the top of the line model, based on the GPU codenamed Hawaii, is ready now and we’re going to show it to you here in all its glory today.

The AMD Radeon R9 290X - Gigabyte's Is On Sale Now At Amazon

AMD Radeon R9 290X
Specifications & Features
  Radeon R9 290X
Stream Processors 2,816
Engine Clock Up to 1 GHz
Compute Performance 5.6 TFLOPS
Memory Configuration 4GB GDDR5 / 512-bit
Memory Speed 5.0 Gbps
Power Connectors 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin
PCI-E Standard PCI-E 3.0
AMD TrueAudio Technology Yes
API Support DirectX 11.2
OpenGL 4.3

Radeon R9 290X CrossFire -- Dongles No Longer Required

The Radeon R9 290 and 290X are both based on the same GPU, but we’ll have to withhold other details about the R9 290 until a little later. As you can see in the specification table above, the Radeon R9 290X features 2816 Stream Processors and an engine clock of up to 1GHz. It says “up to” instead of a firm number because of some changes made to AMD’s PowerTune technology, which we’ll talk about on the next page. The card’s 4GB of GDDR5 memory are connected to the GPU via a wide 512-bit interface and R290X requires a pair of supplemental power connectors—one 6-pin and one 8-pin. There’s plenty more to talk about too, like a new CrossFire interface that eliminates the need for a dongle, a more flexible output configuration for Eyefinity, and TrueAudio support, among a few other things. We should probably just get to it...

Hawaii GPU Architecture

The Radeon R9 290X is based on the GPU codenamed Hawaii. While it is a new GPU design in AMD’s line-up, it is still based on the Graphics Core Next architecture (GCN), which debuted in the Radeon HD 7000 series. The GPU has been significantly beefed up versus previous-gen products, however, and is one of the largest pieces of silicon to come out of AMD in quite a while.

AMD Hawaii GPU Block Diagram

The R9 290 series GPU (Hawaii) is comprised of up to 44 compute units with a total of 2,816 IEEE-2008 compliant shaders, 176 texture unit, and 64 ROPs. The GPU has four geometry processors (2x the Radeon HD 7970) and can output 64 pixels per clock. The GPU also has 1MB of L2 cache on board and features a wide 512-bit GDDR5 memory interface, versus the 384-bit interface on AMD’s previous-gen high-end parts.

The R9 290 series GPU features roughly 6.2 billion transistors and is manufactured using TSMC’s 28nm processor node. Its die size is about 438mm2, which is approximately 24% larger than the Radeon HD 7970 (Tahiti) which came in around 352mm2.

In addition to being larger and offering more shaders, a wider memory bus, and increased geometry throughput, the R9 290 series GPU also sports a number of new features, namely TrueAudio support, a new bridge-less CrossFire engine, a more flexible display output configuration, and enhanced PowerTune capabilities designed to wring the most performance out of the GPU as possible.

The AMD Radeon R9 290X, 290, and R7 270X Will Feature TrueAudio Support

If you didn’t see our original coverage during the AMD webcast from Hawaii last month, TrueAudio is a new positional and 3D spatial audio engine that will be available on the R9 290X, R9 290, and the R7 260X. To enable TrueAudio, AMD incorporated DSPs into the GPUs and worked with audio middleware providers like Firelight Technologies (FMOD) and AudioKinetics (Wwise) to enable better positional audio that leverages a programmable audio pipeline that resides on the GPU. Those audio pipelines consist of multiple audio optimized DSP cores, which support the Tensilica HiFi2-EP instruction set. There are also 32 KB instruction and data caches and 8 KB of scratch RAM used for fast local operations.

AMD Radeon R9 290X Cards Support Bridge-Less CrossFire

The R9 290X’s bridge-less CrossFire mode comes by way of a new hardware DMA engine that resides inside the CrossFire compositing block on the GPU. The previous-gen bridged CrossFire implementations are bandwidth limited and cannot transfer images over 4MP. This new mode, however, is designed for UltraHD 4K resolutions, though it may be able to scale even higher (information out of AMD wasn’t clear). The hardware DMA engine allows for direct communication between GPUs over PCI Express, with no external connector necessary. And though it technically consumes PCIe bandwidth, there is no real-world performance penalty versus the previous-gen implementation since graphics cards aren’t typically bandwidth starved at the slot anyway.

Eyefinity -- DisplayPort No Longer Required

Radeon R9 series graphics cards will also feature a more flexible display output configuration. Whereas Eyefinity used to require that at least one monitor be attached via DisplayPort, the Radeon R9 290X can use whatever combination of display outputs the user desires—DisplayPort is supported, but not required. Up to six monitors can be connected up to a single card, though a DisplayPort MST hub will be required for anything above four monitors.

New PowerTune Features In The Radeon R9 290X

AMD has also implemented new PowerTune related features into the Radeon R9 series, which leverage a new 2nd generation Serial VID (SVI2) interface and dedicated telemetry with 20Mbps of bandwidth, voltage switching times on the order of ~10μs, 6.25mV voltage step granularity, and 255 voltage steps between 0.00V to 1.55V.

Previously, a pre-determined power target was used to determine the peak boost clocks of a GPU. If a given workload wasn’t fully utilizing available board power and environmental conditions and temperatures were acceptable, the GPU’s voltage and frequency would be boosted to take advantage of any spare power. The R9 series’ new PowerTune features work in a similar manner, but in lieu of a strict power target they use actual GPU temperature and power targets in their determination of peak boost frequencies and voltages.

The Radeon R9 290X and AIB from MSI and ASUS

Though it is not a complete departure from older models, the new AMD Radeon R9 290X has a completely different look than any previous-generation Radeon HD series card, thanks to its newly designed cooling shroud which features a textured top and wide ridges that run the length of the shroud and swoop into the fan intake.

AMD Radeon R9 290X Reference Card

The Radeon R9 290X is roughly 11” long and two-slots wide, like the Radeon HD 7970, but there are a number of small enhancements on the 290X which should aid in cooling the card, especially if multiple cards are installed in adjacent slots. In addition to the aforementioned notches cut into the shroud, there are a trio of holes at the rear to help exhaust air from the card. There are also vents cut into the top near the mounting bracket and there’s a deep slope on the rear. All of these little things mean more air can get to the 290X’s cooling fan, and heated air is more easily expelled from the heatsink assembly.

It’s important to mention the R9 290X’s cooling configuration because this puppy runs hot. By default, AMD sets the PowerTune max temperature to 95’C, which is about 15’C hotter than a GeForce GTX Titan. AMD claims running the GPU at that temperature poses no long-term threat, though obviously time will tell.

As we’ve mentioned, the Radeon R9 290X sports a “Hawaii” GPU, with 2816 Stream Processors, 176 texture units, and an engine clock of up to 1GHz. At that speed, the card is capable of up to 5.6 TFLOPS of compute performance and a 176 GTexel/s texture fill rate, which are increases of about 30% over the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition (4.3 TFLOPS, 134.4 GTexel/s). The Radeon R9 290X’s pixel fillrate, however, is roughly 90% higher than the 7970GHz Edition’s—33.6GPixels/s vs. 64 GPixels/s. The Radeon R9 290X also features a 512-bit memory interface with 4GB of GDDR5 memory clocked at an effective data rate of 5.0Gbps, for a peak of roughly 320GB/s of memory bandwidth. All told, geometry processing, compute performance, texture and pixel fillrates, and memory bandwidth have all been increased significantly over AMD’s previous high-end GPU.

ASUS Radeon R9 280X Direct CU II TOP

The ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II TOP is a custom card through and through. It features a unique PCB design, with a beefed up digital / programmable VRM, and an elaborate dual-slot / dual-fan cooling solution equipped with a dust-proof fan design. The fans used in the cooler have additional ridges in the bearing design, which prevent dust from entering and ultimately move more air.

There is also a custom 12-phase VRM on the ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II TOP which is designed to provide more stable power than reference solutions under load. The ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II TOP also features Asus’ “Super Alloy Power” technology. According to Asus, the Super Alloy components on the card are reinforced with special alloy formula and manufactured under high temperature and pressure to provide more stable power and noise-free operation. The super allow caps on the card will reportedly last much longer than standard capacitors too.

The large cooler on the card, which has multiple copper heat-pipes and myriad aluminum fins, is designed to more efficiently and more quietly cool the card’s GPU and memory. The result is a relatively large cards that dwarfs AMD’s reference design, that also happen to be clocked higher than any other R9 280X we’ve seen, but is also very quiet.

The ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II TOP’s GPU clock can boost up to 1070MHz (70MHz higher than reference cards) and its memory is clocked at 6400MHz (effective data rate), which is a significant boost over the reference card’s 6000MHz. Asus also saw fit to incorporate 8-pin and 6-pin power connectors on the card, to provide more juice when necessary.

As you’ll see later on, this card easily outperformed the Radeon R9 280X we tested in the original launch piece.

MSI Radeon R7 270X HAWK

Next up we have the MSI Radeon R9 270X HAWK. Although factory overclocked and fully custom, the oversized Twin Frozr IV cooler on this card is the obvious stand out feature. The dual-slot Twin Frozr IV cooler sports high-density heatsinks, with dual cooling fans, and thick copper heatpipes that run from the cooler’s base up through the heatsink fins. We should also point out that the cooler’s base is made of pure copper and the entire assembly is nickel-plated. The Twin Frozr cooler has also been outfitted with custom “propeller blade” fans that reportedly push 20% more air than previous designs. The cooler features dust removal technology as well. The MSI Radeon R9 270X HAWK’s fans will actually spin in the opposite direction (pulling air through up the heatsinks) for a few seconds upon boot to expel any dust that may have built up within the heatsink assembly. When the time is up, the fans will then spin in their normal direction, blowing air down onto the heatsinks.

The customizations on the MSI Radeon R9 270X HAWK don’t stop at the cooler. MSI has also overclocked the card, with 1100 MHz (base) and 1150 MHz (boost) clocks for the GPU. The memory runs at the same speed as reference models, however, at 5600 MHz effective. The MSI Radeon R9 270X HAWK also has a custom, all digital PWM that can handle more current than reference designs and it’s outfitted with MSI’s “Military Class” components, which is to say it has solid caps and super ferrite chokes installed. The card also has a BIOS switch that offers standard-cooling or LN2 friendly BIOS modes to facilitate extreme overclocking. And we should also mention that the MSI Radeon R9 270X HAWK includes voltage check points as well. Supplemental power is handled by dual 6-pin PCIe connectors and the outputs on the card consist of a pair of DVI outputs and single DP and HDMI outputs.

Test System and Unigine Heaven v4.0

How We Configured Our Test Systems: We tested the graphics cards in this article on an Asus P9X79 Deluxe motherboard powered by a Core i7-3960X six-core processor and 16GB of G.SKILL DDR3-1866 RAM. The first thing we did when configuring the test system was enter the system UEFI and set all values to their "high performance" default settings and disable any integrated peripherals that wouldn't be put to use. The memory's X.M.P. profile was enabled to ensure better-than-stock performance and the hard drive was then formatted and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the installation was complete, we fully updated the OS and installed the latest DirectX redist along with all of the drivers, games, and benchmark tools necessary to complete our tests.

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7-3960X
(3.3GHz, Six-Core)
Asus P9X79 Deluxe
(Intel X79 Express)

Radeon R9 290X
Radeon R9 280x
Radeon R7 270x
Radeon R7 260x
Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition
Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost
GeForce GTX Titan
GeForce GTX 760
GeForce GTX 770
GeForce GTX 780

Western Digital Raptor 150GB
Integrated Audio
Integrated Network

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
DirectX April 2011 Redist
AMD Catalyst v13.11b1
NVIDIA GeForce Drivers v331.40

Benchmarks Used:
Unigine Heaven v4
3DMark "Fire Strike"
Bioshock Infinite
Hitman: Absolution
Alien vs. Predator
Metro Last Light
Sleeping Dogs
Crysis 3

Unigine Heaven v4.0 Benchmark
Pseudo-DirectX 11 Gaming

Unigine Heaven v4.0

Unigine's Heaven Benchmark v4.0 is built around the Unigine game engine. Unigine is a cross-platform, real-time 3D engine, with support for DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11 and OpenGL. The Heaven benchmark--when run in DX11 mode--also makes comprehensive use of tessellation technology and advanced SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion). It also features volumetric cumulonimbus clouds generated by a physically accurate algorithm and a dynamic sky with light scattering.

As we mentioned earlier, the Radeon R9 290X offers two modes of operation, thanks to its dual-BIOS switch. In one mode (Quiet), the GPU fan speed will top out at 40% of max. In the other mode (Uber), the fan speed will climb up to 55%, which allows to card to attain higher clocks, for longer periods of time, but at the expense of some additional noise.

In both modes, the Radeon R9 290X finished just behind the GeForce GTX 780 in the Unigine Heaven benchmark, with the GeForce GTX Titan sitting atop the stack by a few percentage points. Performance is well ahead of the 280X, however.

3DMark Fire Strike Test

Futuremark 3DMark Fire Strike
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

Futuremark 3DMark Fire Strike

Fire Strike has two benchmark modes: Normal mode runs in 1920x1080, while Extreme mode targets 2560x1440. GPU target frame buffer utilization for normal mode is 1GB and the benchmark uses tessellation, ambient occlusion, volume illumination, and a medium-quality depth of field filter. The more taxing Extreme mode targets 1.5GB of frame buffer memory and increases detail levels across the board. Extreme mode is explicitly designed for CrossFire / SLI systems. GT 1 focuses on geometry and illumination, with over 100 shadow casting spot lights, 140 non-shadow casting point lights, and 3.9 million vertices calculated for tessellation per frame. And 80 million pixels are processed per frame. GT2 emphasizes particles and GPU simulations. Tessellation volume is reduced to 2.6 million vertices and the number of pixels processed per frame rises to 170 million.

The Radeon R9 290X was able to overtake the GeForce GTX Titan in the 3DMark Fire Strike test, putting up the highest single-GPU scores we have seen in this benchmark to date.

We should also point out the clear advantages the ASUS Radeon R9 280X DirectCU II and MSI R9 270X HAWK over their reference-design counterparts. Both the ASUS and MSI cards were clearly faster then the reference cards here.

Alien vs. Predator Performance

Alien vs. Predator
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Alien vs. Predator

The Alien vs. Predator benchmark makes use of the advanced Tessellation, screen space ambient occlusion, and high-quality shadow features available with DirectX 11. In addition to enabling all of the aforementioned DirectX 11-related features offered by this benchmark, we also switched on 4X anti-aliasing along with 16X anisotropic filtering to more heavily tax the graphics cards being tested.

The Radeon R9 290X, whether in Uber or Quiet mode, also put up the best scores in the again Alien vs. Predator benchmark, besting all other cards by a wide margin.

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Our FCAT results show that there were no major issues with frame pacing with any of the cards, which is what we've come to expect from single-GPU configurations. The higher-performing cards output frames at a quicker rate, but there are no major spikes or dips in frame time to speak of here.

Metro Last Light Performance

Metro Last Light
DirecX11 Gaming Performance

Metro Last Light

Metro Last Light is your typical post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment; rather, you’re left to deal with life, or lack thereof, more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. Metro Last Light boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform and includes a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. This title also supports NVIDIA PhysX technology for impressive in-game physics effects. We tested the game at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 with its in-game image quality options set to their High Quality mode, with DOF effects disabled.

The Radeon R9 290X performed well in Metro Last Light, save for some major dips in the minimum frame rate (which were repeatable). Average frame rates put the 290X at the top of the charts, but the minimum frame rate dropped into 1 FPS territory on a few occasions, which detracts from the user experience.

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Our FCAT results correlate with the average frame rate numbers above. As you can see, there are no widespread issues with frame latency, but there are multiple spikes with long frame times that interrupt the animation.

Bioshock Infinite Performance

Bioshock Infinite
DirectX Gaming Performance

Bioshock Infinite

BioShock Infinite is clear game-of-the-year material. The floating city of Columbia is one of the most evocative, intense, and gorgeous environments we've ever seen in a PC game -- but how much you like it may depend on what sort of visual wizardry you prefer. BioShock Infinite is built on Unreal Engine 3, and while it pushes that framework's capabilities into the stratosphere, there's a clear difference between BioShock Infinite and, say, Crysis 3. BioShock Infinite emphasizes light, color and motion, and while the characters look more exaggerated and cartoon-like than some other games, they still look great. We tested the game at various resolutions with its DX11 code path with DOF effects enabled.

The GeForce GTX 780 and GTX Titan overtake the Radeon R9 290X in the Bioshock Infinite benchmark, at both resolutions. The Radeon R9 290X isn't too far behind the GeForce GTX 780, however.

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Once again though, we saw some issues with frame latency with the Radeon R9 290X. In this game, there are a number of instances where frametimes spike considerably. We suspect AMD still has some drive tuning to do, considering the 290X is based on a brand new GPU with a redesigned memory controller.

Sleeping Dogs Performance

Sleeping Dogs
DX11 Gaming Performance

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is an open-world game in which you play the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop trying to take down the Triads from the inside. In the game, you have to fight your way up in the organization and take part in various criminal activities without blowing your cover. We tested Sleeping Dogs at two resolutions, with all in-game graphical options set to their maximum values with FXAA enabled.

Sleeping Dogs ran very well on the new Radeon R9 290X, as the card put up some of the best minimum and average frame rates we have seen in this game to date, besting the GeForce GTX 780 and GTX Titan in the process.

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The Radeon R9 290X, however, did show some significant spikes in frametime in this game as well, but the spikes typically stayed below the 30ms mark, which wasn't immediately perceptible during the benchmark runs.

Hitman: Absolution Performance

Hitman: Absolution
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution follows Agent 47, a cold-blooded assassin, who takes on his most dangerous contract to date. Betrayed by those he once trusted - and now hunted by the police - he suddenly finds himself at the center of a dark conspiracy and must embark on a personal journey through a corrupt and twisted world. We tested the game at multiple resolutions, with all in-game options set to their maximum values and global illumination and 4X anti-aliasing enabled.

Hitman Absolution ran exceptionally well on the new Radeon R9 290X. Both in terms of average and minimum frame rates, the Radeon R9 290X ruled the roost, outpacing every other card we tested.  We did, however, notice some more weirdness here. Quiet mode put up much higher minimum frame rates, which shouldn't really happen since the only thing Uber mode changes is the max fan speed.

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And our FCAT results somewhat correlate to what the frame rates said. When operating in Quiet mode, the R9 290X had no major issues with frame time, whereas Uber mode showed some much larger deltas in the middle and at the end of the run.

Crysis 3 Performance

Crysis 3
DirectX 11 Gaming Performance

Crysis 3

Crysis 3, which is powered by Crytek’s proprietary CryENGINE 3 technology, is the third installment in this popular franchise. Crysis 3 is the sequel to 2011’s Crysis 2 and follows Prophet as he returns to New York a few years after the events of Crysis 2. Like previous games in the franchise, Crysis 3 has impressive visuals that can tax even the most powerful PCs when cranked up to their maximum values. We tested this game at various resolutions with all in-game graphics options set to Very High, with 4X MSAA and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled and motion blur set to high.

The new Radeon R9 290X performed about on par with, or ever so slightly better than, the GeForce GTX 780 in Crysis 3, though the GTX Titan had just enough extra oomph to take the top spot. The deltas separating the fastest cards here are quite small, however.

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Frame times were generally good across the board as well, save for a couple of major spikes on the Radeon R9 290X once again. AMD's definitely still got some driver tuning to do.

CrossFire vs. SLI: AvP and Hitman

We initially ran into a snag with one of the Radeon R9 290X cards we received for testing and weren’t able to complete a full run of tests in CrossFire mode. Once we completed testing the single-card configuration, however, we were able to spend some time fiddling with the second card and ultimately got it working in our test system. As such, the timing was a little tight, but we didn’t want to wrap up this review without including at least a few CrossFire vs. SLI tests.

Because the Radeon R9 290X makes use of a new bridge-less CrossFire link, we were eager to see how performance scaled when moving from one card to two. In the charts below, we have average frame rates listed, along with the percentage by which performance scaled at each resolution and frame times as reported by FCAT. First up, some Alien vs. Predator.

This game is getting pretty old at this point, but we’ve kept in the test routing because it’s been such a problem for CrossFire. Well, it turns out, scaling is a non-issue in AvP, as the Radeons had no trouble scaling to higher frame rates than the GeForce GTX 780 SLI setup.

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Frame times were also a non-issue. In the past, this game exhibited vicious swings in frame times on CrossFire setups, but they seem to be resolved on the 290X, at least with the drivers we used for testing (Catalyst 13.11 Beta v5). Next up, some Hitman Absolution.

Hitman Absolution showed some weird behavior when we tested the dual-GPU configurations. Performance at 1920x1200 didn’t scale properly on either platform for some unknown reason. Scaling at 2560x1600 was similar between CrossFire and SLI setups, though the Radeons were faster overall.

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Out FCAT results, however, show major swings in frame times for the Radeon R9 290X CrossFire configuration. While the GeForce GTX SLI setup’s plot isn’t very smooth, the Radeons showed significantly larger peaks and valleys.

CrossFire vs. SLI: Sleeping Dogs & Bioshock

Next up, we have a few CrossFire vs. SLI tests with the Sleeping Dogs and Bioshock Infinite benchmarks.

The Radeon R9 290X cards showed excellent performance scaling in the Sleeping Dogs benchmark at the higher resolution, nearly doubling the frame rate exactly. Scaling at the lower resolution was still good, but nowhere near as high.

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And thankfully there were no frame latency issues to speak of in this game either. In fact, the Radeons and GeForces exhibited similar behavior throughout the benchmark run.

In terms of average frame rates, the Radeon R9 290X CrossFire configuration also showed good performance scaling in the Bioshock Infinite benchmark. At both resolutions, frame rates increased by a larger percentage on the Radeons.

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This game, however, suffered from a multitude of runt and dropped frames as recorded by FCAT. The GeForces’ line is about as smooth as you can get, save for a couple of minor spikes. The Radeons’ numbers are all over the map, though.

Power Consumption and Noise
Before bringing this article to a close, we'd like to cover a few final data points--namely, power consumption, temperatures, and noise. Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored acoustics and tracked how much power our test system was consuming using a power meter. Our goal was to give you an idea of how much power each configuration used while idling and also while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the graphics cards alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

The Radeon R9 290X's power consumption characteristics are a bit of a mixed bag. At idle, the card is relatively power friendly and consume similar amounts of power to competing products. Under load, however, the Radeon R9 290X consumes the most power of the bunch, in both Quiet and Uber modes.

With power consumption so high, it should come as no surprise that noise and temperatures can be somewhat of an issue. We're not going to dwell on the core temperature, because that can be tweaked easily in PowerTune. Set a max GPU temp of 90'C, and the GPU will ramp up to 90'C.

Noise output, however, is a different matter. With the Radeon R9 290X operating in Quiet mode, its cooling fan won't ramp up past 40% and the card remains relatively quiet, though the pitch from the fan was audible over the other components in our system. With the 290X operating in Uber mode, its fan will ramp up to 55% and is significantly louder. With two cards operating in Uber mode in a CrossFire config, the system is louder still. The cards aren't quite as loud as a pair of 7970s, but they're definitely louder than NVIDIA's high-end cards.

Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Save for some minimum frame rate and frame latency issues, the Radeon R9 290X’s performance was excellent overall. AMD still has some obvious driver tuning and optimization to do, but frame rates across the board were very good. It wasn’t a clean sweep for the Radeon R9 290X versus the GeForce GTX 780 or GeForce GTX Titan, but AMD’s new single-GPU flagship and the GeForces traded victories depending on the game or application being used, which is to say the cards performed similarly.

With that said, while frame rates were competitive, the GeForces still have a couple of advantages in our opinion. The GeForce GTX 780 and Titan were quieter than the Radeon R9 290X, regardless of which mode was used on the Radeon. The GeForces also pumped out less heat and didn’t suffer from any frame latency issues.

AMD's Radeon R9 290X

At this point, you’ve checked out the specs, read about the new features, and seen the AMD Radeon R9 290X’s performance. Overall, the story is a good one up to this point and AMD clearly has a competitive graphics card on their hands, that will be even more attractive once the company is able to tune performance, optimize things further, and squash the issues we’ve mentioned. But now for the really good news—relatively speaking.

The AMD Radeon R9 290X will be available today at a price point of $549.

$549 isn’t cheap by any measure, but considering the Radeon R9 290X’s features and performance, it represents a good value in the high-end graphics card space. At that price, the 290X is roughly $100 cheaper than a GeForce GTX 780 and nearly half the price of a GeForce GTX Titan. As we mentioned earlier, the GeForces do still have some advantages at this point, but strictly in terms of price-vs-performance, the Radeon R9 290X looks awesome by comparison.

If you’ve been waiting for someone to put the screws to the competition and stir up a potential price war, AMD seems determined to do so. We’ve already seen NVIDIA react with price cuts on a couple of their mid-range parts in response to the R7 and lower-end R9 series of cards. But with the Radeon R9 290X hitting the scene, it appears NVIDIA’s going to have to make some moves at the high-end too.

We suspect we’ll know more in the coming weeks once the recently unveiled GeForce GTX 780 Ti is released, and just in time for the holiday season too...

  • Great Performance
  • Excellent Feature Set
  • More Flexible Multi-Monitor Configurations Possible
  • Quiet and Uber Modes
  • Aggressive Pricing
  • Still Somewhat Pricey
  • High Power Consumption
  • Pumps Out A Lot Of Heat
  • Louder Than Competitive GeForces


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