AMD's Radeon R9 290X GPU is Ready To Battle NVIDIA

The AMD Radeon HD 7970 is nearly two years old and if you calculate that in ‘gamer years’ it would be easily considered past its prime. Video cards don’t get better as they age, so you would think that this card would be obsolete by now. The funny thing is that the Radeon HD 7970 is still a very competitive graphics card and was just re-branded this month as the lower cost Radeon R9 280X at $299. The AMD Radeon HD 7950/7970 and even some of the Radeon HD 7870 cards were powered by the 28nm Tahiti GPU that had 2048 stream processors and 3GB of GDDR5 memory in its full form. The AMD Radeon HD 7970 was designed in a time period where the largest resolution monitor available was 2560x1600, but now we have massive 4K Ultra HD monitors at 3840x2160 readily available and falling in price. In order to get more performance, AMD had to tape out an entirely new GPU called Hawaii for the Radeon R9 290X at the $549 price point.

  r9-290-series

AMD did not go back to the drawing board for a complete, ground up architecture change, so this GPU is based on the Graphics Core Next Architecture and manufactured on the same 28nm process technology used by the existing GPU’s.  AMD essentially took their high-end Tahiti GPU design and beefed up pretty much everything they could, in some cases like with Render Backends (ROPS) they were doubled! AMD tried to improve everything they could in order to help push the larger displays that high-end gamers are gravitating towards.  AMD also changed the way CrossFire video cards communicate and added AMD TrueAudio technology.  Basically this means that there is no more CrossFire ribbon cable needed for high-end CrossFire setups and the GPU has a DSP for programmable audio.

 compute-unit

The Hawaii GPU contains ~6.2 billion transistors in a die area of 438mm2. The AMD Radeon HD 7970 has 4.3 billion transistors in a die area of 352mm2. This is a die area increase of 1.24x, so the GPU has gotten bigger since the process node remains at 28nm. The Hawaii GPU used on the Radeon R9 290X  has up to 44 compute units for a maximum possible 2816 shaders.

 

 Radeon R9 290XRadeon R9 280XRadeon HD 7970
Release Date October 2013 October 2013 December 2011
Original SRP $549 $299 $549
GPU Hawaii Tahiti Tahiti
Process 28nm 28nm 28nm
Transistors 6.2 billion 4.31 billion 4.31 billion
Stream Processors 2816 2048 2048
Clock Speed 1000 MHz 1000 MHz 925 MHz
Frame Buffer 4GB 3GB 3GB
Memory Width 512-bit 384-bit 384-bit
Memory Clock 1250 MHz 1500 MHz 1375 MHz
Memory Bandwidth 320.0 GB/s 288.0 GB/s 264.0 GB/s
Compute Performance 5.6 TFLOPS 4.1 TFLOPS 3.79 TFLOPS
Texture Units 256 128 128
ROPs 64 32 32
Typical Board Power ~250W ~250W 250W

 

The AMD Radeon R9 290X has a a core clock speed of up to 1000MHz with the 4GB of GDDR5 memory running at 1250MHz (5GHz effective) on a massive 512-bit bus. This gives the R9 290X up to 320GB/s of memory bandwidth and 5.6 TFLOPS of compute performance!

It should be noted that the AMD R9 290 series will be made up of the flagship R9 290X comes with the Hawaii GPU fully enabled, but there will also be a Radeon R9 290 coming out down the road with lesser specs.  AMD did not sample Legit Reviews with a Radeon R9 290 or a second Radeon R9 290X. This means that we will be unable to check out the new CrossFire interconnect solution and the lower-cost Radeon R9 290. The Radeon R9 290 will be coming out at a later date.

 amd-radeon-290x-angle

The Radeon R9 290X  is a dual-slot video card that still has the red and black color scheme that has been around since the good old ATI Technologies days. The 290X PCB measures 10.5-inches in length, but the GPU cooler extends past the PCB pushing the length to nearly 11-inches.

 amd-radeon-290x

AMD is using a single "blower" or "squirrel cage fan" (because it looks like a hamster wheel) on the 290X. AMD is fond of centrifugal fans and has used this style for a number of years, so there isn't too much 'new' here.

 amd-radeon-290x-fan

The AMD Radeon R-200 series cards all feature wicked looking fan shrouds over the GPU cooler, but it should be noted that no air actually comes out the holes at the end of the card.  AMD blocked them off internally, so they are purely for aesthetics.

 amd-radeon-290x-back

You might have noticed by now that the AMD Radeon R9 290X video card doesn’t not have any CrossFire interconnects along the top edge of the card. The AMD Radeon R9 290X still supports AMD CrossFire Technology , but no longer uses the CrossFire  data ribbon as the  data now moves through the PCI Express 3.0 lanes.

pcie-crossfire-technology

AMD claims that the quality and performance is unchanged, but some are criticizing the fact that they are relying on the PCI Express interface to do this. The vast majority of motherboards sold today are Intel based, so what if Intel does something to affect performance.  AMD also makes motherboards, but many don’t support the PCI Express 3.0 standard.

 radeon-290x-crossfire

The  AMD Radeon R9 290X comes flashed with two different BIOS versions and you get to select the one that you want to use. Along the top edge of the 290X there is a small black switch located that allows you to manually change between the BIOS versions.  If you're looking for the switch, it is located just above the red line that is to the left of the Radeon name.  Changing the BIOS isn’t something that you can do on the fly, so you must reboot your PC after toggling the switch for the changes to take effect.

The switches modes are as follows:

Quiet Mode – Bios position one. Switch is in position closest to where you plug in your displays

This mode is designed to optimally suit a gamer that wants to keep a tight lid on acoustics. If you do not play with headphones, you do not have a high end gaming chassis, or your room’s ambient noise level is extremely low this may be the mode for you.

“Uber Mode” – Bios position two. Switch is in position furthest away to where you plug in your displays

This mode is designed to perform optimally under all performance and game testing. This includes crossfire.

 radeon-290x-power

The AMD Radeon R9 290X requires both an 8-pin and a 6-pin PCI Express power connectors for proper operation. For some reason AMD decided not to mention typical board power numbers on any of their press briefing materials, but we asked and was told it was around 250 Watts. Usually when a company omits such a number it means that it doesn’t look good for them, so we will be paying close attention to both acoustics and the power numbers.

 amd-radeon-290x-displayport

The AMD Radeon R9 290X and Radeon R9 290 support up to six displays off a single card. All of the video outputs are full sized and you have DisplayPort 1.2 with Multi-Stream Transport, HDMI 1.4b and a pair of Dual-Link DVI outputs.

display-flexibility

The AMD Radeon R9 290 series is ready for Ultra HD displays and even supports single stream operation at 60Hz. AMD says that they are ready for pixel rates up to 600 MHz, but there are not any monitors available on the market that go up that high.

radeon-290x-hsf

With the fan shroud removed you can better see what is going on when it comes to the GPU cooler.  The blower style fan sits at the end of the Radeon R9 290X and pushes air across the GPU cooler and then out the exhaust bracket and other end of the card. The GPU cooler that consists of a large copper vapor chamber heat sink on the bottom and then an array of aluminum fins sits on top of that.

cooling-fins

This shot gives you a different view and better shows how the heatsink is angled on the exhaust side.  This is to help reduce air noise as right angles often cause humming and buzzing noises due to the airflow characteristics.

290x-power-phases

With just the fan shroud removed you can see that the Radeon R9 290X uses a 5+1 power phase arrangement. It appears that AMD went with CPL-made chokes (1007R3, R15) and IR-made DirectFETS and VRM controller.

IR VRM controller

The use of the International Rectifier (IR) 3567B is a pretty big deal. For starters it is a dual-loop digital multi-phase buck controller designed for CPU voltage regulation and is fully compliant with AMD SVI1 & SVI2 with dual OCP and Intel VR12 specifications. This new controller is found on just AMD Radeon R9 290X and R7 260X desktop graphics cards.

Now that you know the basics about the card, we can jump straight to testing.  We'll be testing the Radeon R9 290X at 1920x1080, 2560x1600 and 5760x1080!

Test System

Before we look at the numbers, let's take a brief look at the test system that was used. All testing was done using a fresh install of Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running.

Video Cards & Drivers used for testing:

Intel X79/LGA2011 Platform

290x-test-system

test-system

The Intel X79 platform that we used to test the all of the video cards was running the ASUS P9X79 Deluxe motherboard with BIOS 4401 that came out on 09/02/2013. The Corsair Vengeance 16GB 1866MHz quad channel memory kit was set to 1866MHz with 1.5v and 9-10-9-27 2T memory timings. The OCZ Vertex 3 240GB SSD was run with firmware version 2.25.

 

The Intel X79 Test Platform

 

Component

 

Brand/Model

 

Live Pricing

 

Processor

 

Intel Core i7-3960X

 

Motherboard

ASUS P9X79 Deluxe

 

Memory

16GB Corsair 1866MHz

 

Video Card

 

Various

 

Solid-State Drive

 

OCZ Vertex 3 240GB

 

Cooling

 

Intel RTS2011LC

 

Power Supply

Corsair AX1200

 

Operating System

 

Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

 

AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB Video Card GPU-Z Information:

290x-gpuz

290x-idle

 

 

Battlefield 3

Battlefield 3 Screenshot

Battlefield 3 (BF3) is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE and published by Electronic Arts. The game was released in North America on October 25, 2011 and in Europe on October 28, 2011. It does not support versions of Windows prior to Windows Vista as the game only supports DirectX 10 and 11. It is a direct sequel to 2005's Battlefield 2, and the eleventh installment in the Battlefield franchise. The game sold 5 million copies in its first week of release and the PC download is exclusive to EA's Origin platform, through which PC users also authenticate when connecting to the game.

Battlefield 3 Screenshot

Battlefield 3 debuts the new Frostbite 2 engine. This updated Frostbite engine can realistically portray the destruction of buildings and scenery to a greater extent than previous versions. Unlike previous iterations, the new version can also support dense urban areas. Battlefield 3 uses a new type of character animation technology called ANT. ANT technology is used in EA Sports games, such as FIFA, but for Battlefield 3 is adapted to create a more realistic soldier, with the ability to transition into cover and turn the head before the body.

bf3

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 290X was battling for the top spot in Battlefield 3, at least for the single GPU top spot. At 5760 x 1080 the Radeon R9 290X wsa the fastest performer with an average of 45.20 frames per second, the NVIDIA GeForce Titan averaged only 43.53 frames per second. Dropping the resolution to 2560 x 1600 the Radeon R9 290X averaged 68.73 frames per second using the 'Uber' Setting and 68.70 using the 'Quiet' setting and was second to only the EVGA GTX 780 SC graphics cards. At 1920 x 1080 the Radeon R9 290X averaged 105.26 frames per second at the 'Uber' BIOS setting and 105.9 frames per second using the 'Quiet' setting, which is screaming!

Bioshock Infinite

BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter video game developed by Irrational Games, and published by 2K Games. BioShock Infinite is the third installment in the BioShock series, and though it is not part of the storyline of previous BioShock games, it does feature similar gameplay concepts and themes. BioShock Infinite uses a Modified Unreal Engine 3 game engine and was released worldwide on March 26, 2013.

Bioshock Infinite

We tested BioShock Infinite with the Ultra game settings.

bioshock

Benchmark Results: The Radeon R9 290X was the dominant force in Bioshock Infinite today. At our highest resolution of 5760 x 1080 the 290X was averaging ~52.4 frames per second, a solid 3 frames per second or 6% faster than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX  Titan. Dropping to 2560x1600 the AMD Radeon R9 290X was averaging just over 82 frames per second using both BIOS profiles, enough performance to outperform the GeForce GTX Titan by 3 frames per second, though only by 3.7% this time around.

Far Cry 3

Farcry3 Game Screenshot

Far Cry 3 is an open world first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is the sequel to 2008's Far Cry 2. The game was released on December 4th, 2012 for North America. Far Cry 3 is set on a tropical island found somewhere at the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. After a vacation goes awry, player character Jason Brody has to save his kidnapped friends and escape from the islands and their unhinged inhabitants.

FarCry 3 Quality Settings

FarCry 3 Video Quality

Far Cry 3 uses the Dunia Engine 2 game engine with Havok physics. The graphics are excellent and the game really pushes the limits of what one can expect from mainstream graphics cards. We set game title to 8x MSAA Anti-Aliasing and ultra quality settings.

farcry3

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 290X struggled a bit to keep up with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan and EVGA GeForce GTX 780 SC in Far Cry 3. At the lowest resolution of 1920 x 1080 the R9 290X averaged 52.022 frames per second with the 'Uber' profile enabled and 51.8 frames per second using the 'Quiet' profile. The NVIDIA reference GeForce GTX 780 was 6.8 frames per second faster than the R9 290X. Increasing the resolution to 2560 x 1600 the AMD R9 290X was able to maintain an average of 31.856 (Uber) and 30.222 (Quiet) frames per second.

Hitman: Absolution

Hitman: Absolution is an action-adventure stealth DirecX 11 video game developed by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix. It is the fifth entry in the Hitman game series, and runs on IO Interactive's proprietary Glacier 2 game engine. This game title uses the Glacier 2 game engine and was released on November 20th, 2012.

hitmanabsolution_550.

We benchmarked Hitman: Absolution with Ultra Settings.

hitman

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 290X pretty well smoked the competition in Hitman: Absolution. At our lowest resolution of 1920x1080 the R9 290X averaged 54.5 frames per second on both BIOS profiles and was nearly 5 frames per second faster than the EVGA GeForce GTX 780 SC and 6.5 frames per second faster than the flagship NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan! Bumping the resolution to 2560x1600 the AMD Radeon R9 290X averaged 34.4 frames per second, once again 5 frames per second or ~18% faster then the EVGA GTX 780 and the GeForce Titan!

Metro Last Light

Metro: Last Light is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features action-oriented gameplay with a combination of survival horror elements. It uses the 4A Game engine and was released in May 2013.

Metro: Last Light

Metro Last Light was benchmarked with Ultra settings

metro

Benchmark Results: In Metro: Last Light the AMD Radeon R9 290X was trading blows with the EVGA GeForce GTX 780 SuperClocked card as it won at 5760 x 1080, but lost by a hair at 2560 x 1600.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider

On March 5th, 2013 Square Enix released Tomb Raider, billed as a reboot of the franchise. In Tomb Raider, the player is confronted with a much younger Lara Croft who is shipwrecked and finds herself stranded on a mysterious island rife with danger, both natural and human. In contrast to the earlier games Croft is portrayed as vulnerable, acting out of necessity, desperation and sheer survival rather than for a greater cause or personal gain.

Tomb Raider Settings

The game has been built on Crystal Dynamics's game engine called the "Crystal Engine" and the graphics look fantastic. AMD and Crystal Dyanmic's worked on a new technology called TressFX Hair, which AMD describes as “the world’s first in-game implementation of a real-time, per-strand hair physics system” for this game title. We set the image quality to ultimate for benchmarking, but we disabled TressFX Hair under the advanced tab to be fair to NVIDIA graphics cards that don't support the feature.

tomb-raider

Benchmark Results: The GeForce GTX 760 SLI setup wasn't able to outperform the single Radeon R9 290X setup at 5760 x 1080!  The Radeon R9 290X was designed to push Ultra HD games and it is amazing to see how well it does on a triple monitor setup in games like Tom Raider. We are running at nearly 60 FPS with a single card running three 1080P monitors! Impressive no matter how you look at it and this with Ultra image quality settings!

3DMark 2013

3Dmark Fire Strike Benchmark Results - For high performance gaming PCs

Use Fire Strike to test the performance of dedicated gaming PCs, or use the Fire Strike Extreme preset for high-end systems with multiple GPUs. Fire Strike uses a multi-threaded DirectX 11 engine to test DirectX 11 hardware.

3DMark Fire Strike

 

Fire Strike Benchmark Results:

firestrike

Benchmark Results: The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark has the AMD Radeon R9 290X scoring ~9700 3DMarks, which is around 3% faster than the GeForce GTX Titan!

Fire Strike Extreme:

firestrike-extreme

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 290X scored ~4900 3DMarks in Fire Strike Extreme, which is the highest we have ever seen from a single-GPU video card!

Catzilla

Catzilla is a relatively new benchmark that is made the Polish demoscene group Plasticis. It is being produced in collaboration with Polish post production company, Plastige. Plastige is the company that worked on Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition and some of the developers there were behind the PlayStation Network game Datura. The benchmark uses a parallel graphics engine that takes advantage of multi-core CPUs. This isn't a benchmark being made in some kids basement and it doesn't appear to be bought off by any companies yet, so it should be a good benchmark to use.

catzilla-benchmark

While this benchmark is in beta phases, we still have found that Catzilla is a good cross-API benchmark. You also can't go wrong with a benchmark that has a giant animated cat nuke cities with its laser eyes as you do. You can watch a video of the benchmark in action below.

We purchased Catzilla Advanced and ran the full Catzilla benchmark at 2560x1440.

catzilla

Benchmark Results: The AMDRadeon R9 290X scored 6255 points in the 1440P Catzilla benchmark in Uber mode.  This is the highest that any AMD Radeon video card has ever scored in this benchmark.

Temperature & Noise Testing

Temperatures are important to enthusiasts and gamers, so we took a bit of time and did some temperature testing on both Radeon R9 270X video cards

AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB Idle Temperature

290x-idle

The AMD Radeon R9 290X was found to idle at 35C with the fan running at just under 1100 RPM.  We tested at both 'Quiet' and 'Uber' BIOS modes and found that the idle temperature and noise was the same.  It should be noted that the ambient room temperature was 22.0C (72F).

AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB Quiet Gaming Temperature:

gaming-load-quiet

AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB Uber Gaming Temperature:

gaming-load-uber

The temperature target of the AMD Radeon R9 290X is set to 95C by default, but GPU-Z showed that we were hitting 94C on both cards and not going over that temperature. Notice that with the Radeon R9 290X set to 'Quiet' mode the fan was spinning at 2100RPM or 40% and in 'Uber' mode we wthe ere hitting 2700 RPM at 50% fan speed. This is a bit odd as Uber mode has the fans set to go up to 55%.  AMD said that since we were not running at the full fan speed that we can either can either decrease target temperature or increase clocks a bit as there is still some fan headroom left.

temp-testing

The AMD Radeon R9 290X has a temperature target setting of 95C by default and our reference card topped out at 94C with both Quiet and Uber BIOS settings. At idle the card hard the same clock settings and fan profile, so the temperature was the same at 35C.  We've certainly seen cooler cards, but AMD designed the Radeon R9 290X to run like this and says that it is well within reason and design tolerances.

Sound Testing

We recently upgraded our sound meter to an Extech sound level meter with ±1.5dB accuracy that meets Type 2 standards. This meter ranges from 35dB to 90dB on the low measurement range, which is perfect for us as our test room usually averages around 36dB. We measure the sound level two inches above the corner of the motherboard with 'A' frequency weighting. The microphone wind cover is used to make sure no wind is blowing across the microphone, which would seriously throw off the data.

noise-testing
The AMD Radeon R9 290X is fairly loud when gaming.  This is one of those cards that you will certainly hear over the other components inside of your chassis unless you have some crazy fans or a phase change cooler on your CPU. At an idle the Radeon R9 290X was a respectable 42.5 dB, but when gaming the blower fan ramps up and you'll know it.  In 'Quiet' mode we were hitting 55.8 dB when gaming and in 'Uber' mode we were hitting 63.4 dB. In recent years we've seen companies really working on improving acoustics, so it is pretty wild that AMD is going a different direction here.

Power Consumption

AMD Radeon R9 290X PCIe Power Connectors

For testing power consumption, we took our test system and plugged it into a Kill-A-Watt power meter. For idle numbers, we allowed the system to idle on the desktop for 15 minutes and took the reading. For load numbers we ran three games at 1920x1080 and averaged the peak results seen on the power meter.

power-consumption

Power Consumption Results:  The entire platform with the AMD Radeon R9 290X was using 107 Watts at load, which is perfectly normal for a high-end video card. At full load we were hit 464 Watts on the Radeon R9 290X ain Uber mode and 454 Watts in Quiet mode. These numbers are a bit deceiving though as in Quiet mode the AMD Radeon R9 290X throttled back more. For example in 'Quiet' mode the GPU clock is not maintained at the higher clock frequencies as often and the fan speed runs slower. This meas that the GPU will ramp up when the game initially starts and then quickly peaks and settles. That means our peak numbers aren't really representative for sustained use, but our power meter doesn't support data logging. It looks like we need to begin measuring power used over time rather than peak power usage!

AMD Radeon R9 290X GPU Overclocking

A video card review isn't complete without some overclocking, so we'll be taking a look at overclocking the Radeon R9 290X using AMD OverDrive.

amd-overdrive

AMD gives you more control than ever, but has completely redesigned the Graphical User Interface (GUI).  The first thing that you'll notice is that there is a crazy XY chart with a target that you can move around to select your settings. AMD officially calls this a 2-dimensional heat map. They hope this new deisgn makes it more intuitive for end users to tune their video card. The AMD Radeon R9 290X is fully dynamic, so there is no longer an absolute clock to set. This means that overclocking is now done by percentages and not fixed values.

AMD Overdrive lets you either raise or lower both the GPU clock and the power limit of the card. You can also manually enter in the power limit and GPU clock settings, so you don't have to use the chart if you don't want to. Under the new XY chart you'll find that you can raise and lower the GDDR5 memory clock frequency by -60 to 60 percent over default. You can also adjust the temperature target between 50C to 95C and manually adjust the maximum fan speed. The AMD Radeon R9 290X's default settings are to have the target GPU temperature at 95C and the fan speed at 40% in quiet mode and 55% in uber mode. It should be noted that you can't manually control the fan speed any longer as you can just control the maximum speed that it can run up to.  :(

overdrive-oc-290x

We spent a few hours overclocking the AMD Radeon R9 290X and it took us a bit to get used to the new OverDrive menu in Catalyst Control Center. All the overclocking is now percentage based and we adjusted the power limit, GPU clock, memory clock and fan speeds in order to dial in the best overclock that we could get. For our AMD Radeon R9 290X reference card that would be an overclock of 11.5% on the GPU core clock and 20% on the 4GB GDDR5 memory with the power limit at +20%. We bumped the fan up to 70% as we were willing to have the card run loud in order to get additional performance out of the Hawaii GPU.

firestrike-stock

The AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card scores right around 9300 3DMarks in the standard Fire Strike benchmark. Our exact score on this one instance was 9727 3DMarks and notice that in Game Test 1 the outcome was around 53 FPS.

firestrike-overclock-290x

With our Radeon R9 290X overclocked as high as we could get it, we were hitting 1115 MHz core and 1500 MHz on the 4GB of GDDR5 memory (6000 MHz effective). This is a 115 MHz on the core and 250 MHz on the memory. With the card overclocked with these setting we were able to run 3DMark Fire Strike at 10829 3DMarks, which is a big jump up from the stock run of 9727 3DMarks! This is an 1,102 point increase in our overall 3DMark score, which represents a performance gain of 11.3 percent.  We overclocked our GPU clock speed 11.5 percent, so this is pretty damn spot on.

 

  Radeon R9 290X Stock Radeon R9 290X OC'd Percent Difference
Bioshock Infinite      
2560x1600 82.12 91.34  +11.2%
1920x1080 131.62 145.22 +10.3%
Tomb Raider      
2560x1600 79.4 90.1  +13.5%
1920x1080 137.9 155.6  +12.8%
 Hitman Absolution      
 2560x1600  34.3  38.8  +13.1%
 1920x1080  54.5  62.0  +13.8%
 3DMark Fire Strike  9,727  10,829  +11.3%

 

By overclocking the AMD Radeon R9 290X we were able to get on average a 12.45% performance increase on real game titles like Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider and Hitman Absolution.  These are significant performance gains as you can really notice going from 34FPS to 39FPS in games like Hitman Absolution when playing at Ultra HD resolutions.

Lowering The Target Temperature on the R9 290X

The AMD Radeon R9 290X might run a bit hot and loud for some people, so what happens if we lower the target GPU temperature?

amd-overdrive

 If you recall the AMD Radeon R9 290X in quiet mode has a target GPU temperature of 95C and a maximum fan speed of 40%.  We wanted to see what would happen if we lowered the target GPU temperature while gaming, so we used Alt + Tab and went into CCC to lower the target temperature.

cooling

 We dropped the target temperature down to just 65C to see what would happen and that was the only setting that we changed in AMD OverDrive.  The temperature was at 94C in the game, but was gradually dropping (86C in the shot above) when we were tabbed out of the game.

cooling2

Here is a shot of what happened when we applied the new Target GPU temperature in the middle of a game title. Notice the core clock speed immediately throttled back as did the voltages, but the fan speed ramped up to nearly 70 percent.  The maximum fan speed was set to 40%, but it appears that doesn't really matter as the GPU temperature target takes priority. Maybe once the GPU temperature reaches 65C, the fan will spin down to something quieter as this was topping 70dB on our sound meter.

cooling5

After a few minutes the Radeon R9 290X was playing Battlefield 3 at just 64C, but notice the core clock was stilling running around 727 MHz, which is much lower than it would be with a GPU temperature target of 95C. Notice that fan speed settled down and was running at 46 percent, so much for a maximum of 40 percent right? So, we successfully lowered the operating temperature down to 65C, but the fan needed to spin faster and the card got louder and ran slower. Not sure that is exactly what we were going after, but let's take a look at what happened to the game performance.

 

  Radeon R9 290X Radeon R9 290X Percent Difference
Temperature Target 95C 65C  
Bioshock Infinite      
2560x1600 82.12 68.96 -16.0%
1920x1080 131.62 109.57 -16.8%
Tomb Raider      
2560x1600 79.4 64.9  -18.3%
1920x1080 137.9 111.6  -19.1%
 Hitman Absolution      
 2560x1600  34.3  30.4  -11.4%
 1920x1080  54.5  46.6  -14.5%
 3DMark Fire Strike  9,727  9,092  -6.5%

 

As you can see our real world game performance dropped on average 16% and our 3DMark score dropped by nearly 7% by lowering the GPU Target Temperature 30C. We like being able to adjust the temperature of the card, but you'll be giving up performance and increasing the fan noise. Not too sure how many people are buying a $549 video card and would be looking to do something like this.  Of course you can do this at any temperature setting between 50 to 95C, so the warmer you go you'll see less of a performance hit. WE picked 65C as many of the AMD Radeon R9 280X video card that we recently reviewed were running below 70C at full gaming load.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

AMD began using the Tahiti GPU in December 2011 for their high-end performance graphics cards and still continue to use it to this day on the new Radeon R9 280X series. This GPU proved to be a thoroughbred workhorse for AMD, but it is getting a little long in the tooth for the top echelon of gamers. AMD and NVIDIA have been using an N+2 schedule for their GPU roadmap in recent years, so this every other year cadence was to be expected.  It also doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.

 Radeon R9 290XRadeon R9 280XRadeon HD 7970
Release Date October 2013 October 2013 December 2011
Original SRP $549 $299 $549
GPU Hawaii Tahiti Tahiti
Process 28nm 28nm 28nm
Transistors 6.2 billion 4.31 billion 4.31 billion
Stream Processors 2816 2048 2048
Clock Speed 1000 MHz 1000 MHz 925 MHz
Frame Buffer 4GB 3GB 3GB
Memory Width 512-bit 384-bit 384-bit
Memory Clock 1250 MHz 1500 MHz 1375 MHz
Memory Bandwidth 320.0 GB/s 288.0 GB/s 264.0 GB/s
Compute Performance 5.6 TFLOPS 4.1 TFLOPS 3.79 TFLOPS
Texture Units 256 128 128
ROPs 64 32 32
Typical Board Power ~250W ~250W 250W

The AMD Radeon R9 290X uses the brand spanking new Hawaii GPU and breaths fresh life into AMD's high-end desktop graphics card series.  Not only was the AMD Radeon R9 290X able to best the Radeon R9 280X/Radeon HD 7970 GHz edition by a sizable margin, but also caused some issues for NVIDIA.  Our testing showed that the AMD Radeon R9 290X was able to perform better than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 and the GeForce GTX Titan in most of the games and synthetic benchmarks that we ran for this review. This is pretty damn impressive considering the Radeon R9 290X has a suggested retail price of $549 and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 is currently available online for $649 and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan runs $999. From a price versus performance standpoint, the AMD Radeon R9 290X is a clear winner.

When it comes to performance the Radeon R9 290X is aimed at Ultra HD resolutions and we put it to the test today at the standard resolution of 1920 x 1080, 2560 x 1600 and even 5760 x 1080 on our Eyefinity setup. We had no issues on any of these monitor arrangements and found the Radeon R9 290X performed really well across the board. In fact at on our 57 x 10 Eyefinity setup it dominated the top of the performance charts and only fell behind in one game title to an overclocked GeForce GTX 780. For those that want more performance, just overclock the Radeon R9 290X!  We were able to overclock the card to get on average a 12.5% performance boost in real game titles! For $549 the AMD Radeon R9 290X is the performance king for those wanting to game with an Ultra HD monitor.

If the AMD Radeon R9 290X looks like an enticing card and you wanted Battlefield 4, there is very limited bundle (around 8,000 pieces) will also be made available tomorrow. The Radeon R9 290X Battlefield 4 Game Edition video card is basically the retail version of this reference card with the a key for EA's Battlefield 4.  We reached out to ASUS and XFX and found out that ASUS will be selling their BF4 Edition for $599.99 and XFX will be selling theirs for $579.99!  Both cards are physically identical when it comes to the hardware, so you can get BF4 for as little as $30 extra! Not a bad deal considering the standard BF4 PC Download will run $59.99.

amd-radeon-290x-angle

  The Radeon R9 290X was able to take the performance crown back from NVIDIA thanks to the new Hawaii GPU, but there are so many things about this card that we haven't had a change to look at.  AMD's Mantle and TrueAudio technologies look good, but there are no games out right now that use them. AMD also only sent us one Radeon R9 290X, so we can't take a look at how the new 'bridge-less' PCI Express CrossFire interconnect works. We were able to take a brief look at the cards new PowerTune system, which is a very key feature of this card.

powertune-manifesto

AMD basically threw away the old PowerTune and completely overhauled it from the ground up. The key to this solution is the new second generation voltage regulator that allows for much finer control of the voltages and has allowed AMD to move to fully dynamic clocks. AMD's goal was to leave no Watt unused and to produce no unnecessary noise. This slide is interesting to us as the card can be loud in Uber mode and we noticed at times the fan wasn't ramping all the way up, which meant that we could push the cards clocks further manually. It also comes set to run at 95C when at load and that might be a concern to some folks.  AMD issued the following statement to us on the matter:

"Some of you have expressed concerns around acoustics and temperature. As noted in our explanation of the new mechanisms included in PowerTune on the 290 Series, we have designed the 290 Series to operate at a steady state of 95C. By running at 95C, we are both maximizing the performance and minimizing the acoustics of the product. We do this by increasing clocks/voltages and/or reducing the fan speed until the GPU runs at the temperature target. By having the GPU target at lower temperature, you sacrifice either performance or acoustics.

Some of you have expressed concern over the GPU running at 95C. Be assured, that 95C is a perfectly safe temperature at which the GPU can operate for its entire life. There is no technical reason to reduce the target temperature below 95C. However, like all aspects of PowerTune, this is completely within the control of the end user. If you would rather have you GPU operate at a lower temperature, such as 85C or 73C, we strongly encourage you to customize it to your preference and write about it in your review. This is, after all, the reason that we design products with this level of flexibility." - AMD PR

AMD assured everyone that running at 95C for the entire life of the GPU is fine and that there is no reason to run below that. They also noted that you can lower the target temperature, but we showed you in our testing that will lower performance and increase the fan noise. If there was ever a card that you should water cool this might be it. Some people won't like the high target temperature and the fan noise, but a full water block for the Radeon R9 290X would fix all that. An AMD Radeon R9 290X with a full coverage block... It would solve all the concerns some have with this card and still be about the same price as the GeForce GTX 780 as the card would run you $549 and you can get a full coverage block from EKWB for $127! That would be a sick setup for those that are willing to do a custom water cooling solution. That said, the AIB's should also be coming out with custom cards in the weeks ahead and we can't wait to see what companies like ASUS, Gigabyte, Sapphire, PowerColor and XFX can do with some of their nice custom GPU coolers. Traditionally the custom cards are 10-15 dollars more than the reference design and we can't wait for those to start showing up. NVIDIA better get that GeForce GTX 780 Ti ready!

LR Recommended Award

 

Legit Bottom Line: The AMD Radeon R9 290X didn't have a flawless victory, but it won the majority of the benchmarks and outperformed more expensive offerings from NVIDIA.  The Radeon R9 290X is the new champion for single-GPU desktop graphics cards!