AMD Radeon R9 290X Review: Welcome To Hawaii
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.
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.
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.
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.