AMD has been criticized for using their traditional reference cooler for their new flagship graphics card, the 290X. With temperatures reaching 90C and high fan noises it shouldn’t surprise anyone that card manufacturers have opted to release versions of the 290X with their own signature coolers. Asus is one of these vendors and today we take their Direct CU version for a spin.
The box is similar to the traditional Direct CU II packaging with the model name and specifications shown in the front and a description of the card and cooling solution in the back. Inside the box you get a small black box with gold or red stickers for the card depending on your preference or your motherboard’s colour scheme. You also get a power splitter, manuals and a driver disc. Underneath the accessories box is the card wrapped in an anti-static bag.
The Graphics Card
The 290X looks like Asus other Direct CU II cards, the cover is metallic with two fans to cool the card. Underneath there are four heatpipes that run over the GPU. On the side there is a 6 and 8 pin connector. There is also an ROG connector that you can use with Asus own ROG motherboards to directly monitor and modify clock speeds and voltage settings through the motherboard. The I/O plate has two DVI inputs, one HDMI and one Display Port. The 290X does not come with Crossfire connectors just like the reference card as AMD now use the PCI-e Bus for the Crossfire throughput. Just like the reference 290X the Direct CU II comes with a small BIOS switch but unlike the Uber and Quiet BIOS settings in the reference the Asus comes with two settings that control the fan speeds. Neither switch made a difference in terms of performance.
The Asus Direct CU II 290X is overclocked from the default speeds of 1000MHz Core and 1250MHz memory (5000MHz effective) to 1050MHz and 1350MHz (5400MHz effective) respectively. You get 4GB of Elpida branded GDDR5 memory on a 512-bit bus.
For testing we use the Intel Core i7-3770k on an MSI Z77 motherboard with 2 x 4GB DDR3 GSkill Ripjaws and a 256GB Kingston Hyper X SSD running Windows 8. For comparison we put the 290X Direct CU II up against the AMD reference 290X and Nvidia reference GTX 780Ti. The 780Ti was tested with the 331.82 drivers while the 290X and 290X Direct CU II was tested with the 13.11 and 13.12 drivers respectively.
We used Asus own GPU Tweak to overclock the 290X. This time we were also able to adjust the voltage as well. We managed to get 1150MHz Core, 1450MHz (5800MHz effective) with 1.35V and a power target of 150%. Anything over this would result in artefacts. On 3DMark 13 Firestorm Extreme we got a score of 5446. Throughout the benchmarks and overclocking the highest temperature we recorded was only 77C which is far better than the 94C we got on the reference 290X.
At a retail price of around $579 in Amazon, the ASUS Direct CU II OC 290X is a great bargain over the reference card’s $550 price. Of course the lack of available stock has meant sellers have been able to dictate the price of the cards so you are likely to spend $700 plus to get any 290X at the moment. The 290X is really only useful if you have a high resolution monitor because at 1080p you may score high frames but you won’t notice much of a difference from a cheaper card in real life. With improved drivers and better clock speeds the ASUS Direct CU II OC 290X is fast enough to give the reference GTX 780Ti a run for its money though at current market prices you may find the 780Ti is not only easier to get but a tad cheaper too.