It has been nearly a decade since AMD acquired ATI and it has paid off well for them in terms of integrating graphics cores in their processors. AMD has also been able to maintain their competitiveness against Nvidia and generate comparable graphics cards. Today we look at their highest-end offering- the AMD Radeon R9 290X.
The Graphics Card
Since this card was shipped to us by AMD, it did not come with any accessories or a retail box so that portion of the review was skipped. The card is an AMD reference card that bears a resemblance to many of AMD’s other high end reference cards. Its overall design is similar to the 7970 where its purpose is to suck in air from the PC and push air out of the front I/O panel. Underneath the plastic cover is a large heatsink which covers the GPU and next to it is the card’s fan. The heatsink covers over half of the PCB.
On the side we have two power connectors, a 6-pin and an 8-pin but there is no Crossfire connectors. AMD have done away with those connectors and chose to utilize the bandwidth in the PCI-Express bus which has more than enough bandwidth to deal with multi-GPU setups. We also have a small BIOS switch which is used to switch between the Quiet and Uber BIOS. The Uber BIOS is supposed to have more aggressive clock and fan speeds to boost performance.
In terms of noise the fan does get loud when under load and the card gets pretty hot. We registered a whopping 94C when running Valley but the Hawaii XT GPU can handle the heat. The card runs at up to 1000MHz core and the 4GB of GDDR5 runs at 5000MHz on a 512-bit memory bus. The I/O panel takes up two slots and has two DVI connectors, one HDMI and one DisplayPort with an exhaust vent to let the hot air out.
We used our Sandy Bridge testbed with 2 x 4GB GSkill Ripjaws on an MSI Z77 motherboard hooked up to a Thorntech 850W power supply. For comparison we have included two Nvidia cards, the GTX780 and GTX780Ti both reference cards at stock speeds. We used the 13.11 Beta drivers from AMD for the 290X.
We managed to overclock the 290X using AMD’s Overdrive feature to 1050MHz Base 1270MHz Boost clocks up from 800 and 947 respectively. The GDDR5 memory was raised to 5080MHz, a meagre upgrade from stock speed. We were also stuck in the Quiet BIOS as the Uber BIOS would not work for us. It would boot but the screen would go blank and wouldn’t boot into Windows.
With this overclock we got a 3DMark Extreme score of 5023. Not a huge jump from the 4967 score we got at stock. We couldn’t get a better overclock as anything above this would result in random glitches when running 3DMark. Any increase in the power limits did not work well for us either. We suspect the lack of higher score is due to the beta drivers and it should do much better once the drivers for it mature.
The AMD 290X definitely gives the GTX780 a run for its money and even beats the 780Ti in some benchmarks. Price wise the 290X is hovering around the $600 mark on Amazon compared to the $500 mark for the GTX780 which Nvidia has reduced in response to the 290X. The 780Ti goes for around $700 currently but with fierce competition between AMD and Nvidia, we could see discounts in the future.
The average gamer still runs a display with a max resolution of 1920×1080 so these cards are clearly targeting the higher end gamer who wants the maximum performance at far higher resolutions. With manufacturers such as ASUS rumoured to be releasing a DirectCU II version of the 290X we could see some overclocked cards running better cooling solutions. Running cooler and faster, the 290X should be a great performer.