AMD Wants To Destroy The GeForce GTX 780

What happens when you take an AMD Radeon R9 290X video card and disable four compute units, lower the core clock speed just a smidge and slash the price by $150 dollars? You end up with the lower cost AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card. The new Radeon R9 290 features same exact Hawaii GPU that is found on the Radeon R9 290X and supports all the new stuff like AMD TrueAudio, Mantle, DirectX 11 and OpenGL 4.3.

enthusiast-dream

If the $549 price tag makes you cringe, but you like the performance numbers, the AMD Radeon R9 290 at $399 might be just the card for you. Just last week NVIDIA slashed the price of the GeForce GTX 780 from $649 all the way down to $499. AMD has priced the AMD Radeon R9 290 at $100 less than the GeForce GTX 780 and says that it will easily beat the GeForce GTX 780.

Compared to the flagship Radeom R9 290X, the Radeon R9 290 has had 256 stream processors (9% fewer) and 16 texture units (9% fewer) fused off along with a 53MHz lower core clock (5% decrease), but you are still left with what should be a very potent desktop gaming graphics card that will easy chew through upcoming game titles that are coming out this fall. AMD hopes that gamers will be looking to upgrade for Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts this fall and they hope this card will be the best bang for the buck by either company when it comes to high-end graphics cards.

amd-290-specs

Besides fusing off some compute units on the 28nm Hawaii GPU and flashing a new BIOS ROM onto the board, there really is no difference between the Radeon R9 290X and Radeon R9 290. They both feature identical PCB revisions, GPU coolers, board components and so on. The one interesting BIOS change that AMD made besides the lower core clock speeds is removing the Uber and Quiet dual-BIOS modes that are on the Radeon R9 290X. The card still has the BIOS selector with two BIOS’s on it, but both are identical. The Radeon R9 290 comes with the maximum fan speed set to 47%. The AMD Radeon R9 290X has a Quiet mode with the maximum fan speed set at 40% and an Uber mode with the max fan set at 55%. You can easily change the maximum fan speed setting in AMD Catalyst Control Center under AMD OverDrive, so this isn’t really a big deal at all. More advanced users could easily flash their own custom BIOS onto onto the card and still keep the original BIOS on the other like we have seen on previous generation cards.

[gallery ids="126813,126811,126572,126809,126810,126812,126814,126808,127001,127003"]

Since there are no visual changes to the card compared to the Radeon R9 290X that we reviewed last week, we’ll be including a gallery of images of the Radeon R9 290X/290 and skip straight to testing.

 

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. It should be noted that we average all of our test runs. There has been some concern of people testing a cold card versus a hot card, but we've always done out testing 'hot' since the site started back more than a decade ago.

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 290 4GB Video Card GPU-Z Information:

radeon-290-gpuz

290-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 290 was just slightly slower than than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 at 1920x1080 and 2560x1600, but was faster on out multi-monitor 5760x180 gaming setup. Only ~2 FPS separate the Radeon R9 290 and the GeForce GTX 780 at 25x16 and 19x10, so these two cards are very close performing.  The AMD Radeon R9 290 costs $100 less though, so AMD really does have a solid offering for those wanting solid Ultra HD gaming performance! The fact that spending $399 on one video card has our triple 1920x1080 monitor setup at above 40FPS on average is pretty amazing. The old NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 can only manage 30 FPS and the GeForce GTX 580 couldn't even support a triple panel (NVIDIA Surround) gaming setup! Both of those cards cost well over $399 when they came out, so if you have a video card that is 2-3 years old, this might be a nice step up.

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 290 was able to beat the GeForce GTX 780 at all three resolutions we tested in Bioshock Infinite.  This is the first clean win for the AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB video card! The EVGA GeForce GTX 780 SuperClocked was a tad faster, but remember that is a custom card that is factory overclocked.   The AMD Radeon R9 290 reference card was less than 1FPS slower than the NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan at 5760x1080!

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 290 4GB video card was about 2FPS slower than a Radeon R9 290X in quiet mode at 2560x1600 and 5760x1080.  The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 reference card was significantly faster in Far Cry 3.

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 290 did really well in Hitman: Absolution thanks partly to the fact that is has 4GB of GDDR5 memory and this game title loves using a ton of frame buffer with these settings. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 just couldn't compete at any of the resolutions and even the overclocked EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Superclocked card got beat by the stock Radeon R9 290.

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-ll

Benchmark Results: In Metro: Last Light the AMD Radeon R9 290 was trading blows with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 as it won at 1920x1080, but lost at 5760 x 1080 and 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 AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB video card was able to best the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 across the board.

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 290 scoring ~9100 3DMarks! The fact that a single card for $399 is nearing the 10,000 point barrier on 3DMark Fire Strike is pretty damn impressive!

Fire Strike Extreme:

firestrike-extreme

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 290 scored ~4600 points in 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme, which just barley beats the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 reference 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 290 scored 5783 points in the 1440P Catzilla benchmark. This is a respectable score for 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 290 4GB Idle Temperature

290-idle

The AMD Radeon R9 290 was found to idle at 41C with the fan running at just over 1100 RPM. It should be noted that the ambient room temperature was 22.0C (72F).

AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB Gaming Temperature:

290-gaming

The temperature target of the AMD Radeon R9 290 is set to 95C by default, but GPU-Z showed that we were hitting 94C and not going over that temperature. The fan was spinning at 2529RPM or 47%. You can manually control the maximum fan speed in AMD Catalyst Control Center to anything you desire, but it will impact performance as everything is dynamic and linked to one another.

290-temp

We must have gotten a high leakage AMD Radeon R9 290 video card as our idle and load temperatures were pretty toasty. The AMD Radeon R9 290 has a temperature target setting of 95C by default and our reference card topped out at 94C  when gaming and 41C when at idle. AMD said that the Radeon R9 290 and 290X should be about the same when it comes to temperature, but our Radeon R9 290 was running noticeably higher at idle. In fact, this is the highest idle temperature that we have seen in some time.

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

The AMD Radeon R9 290 was close to the Radeon R9 290X in terms of noise at idle.  The fan speed at idle was 10-20 different than the Radeon R9 290X, so both are around 42dB at an idle state when using your PC in 2D mode. When you fire up the games the AMD Radeon R9 290 can certainly be heard and it's noise level is between the Quiet and Uber modes of a Radeon R9 290X.  This makes logical sense as the Radeon R9 290 has a maximum fan speed of 47% and the 290X varies between 40% in 'Quiet' and  55% in  'Uber' mode.

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 290 installed was consuming 111 Watts at idle and hit a maximum of 437 Watts when gaming. We'd expect all AMD Radeon R9 290 and 290X cards to consume about the same power at idle with the only difference being the variance between GPU's, but at gaming load we found the R9 290 using slightly less power since less compute units are active.

AMD Radeon R9 290 GPU Overclocking

How well does the AMD Radeon R9 290 overclock?  We were wondering the same thing, so we'll be taking a look at overclocking the Radeon R9 290 using AMD OverDrive.

 290-ccc

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 290/290X are both 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 290's default settings are to have the target GPU temperature at 95C and the fan speed at 47%. 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.

290-max-oc

We spent a fair bit of time overclocking the AMD Radeon R9 290 with AMD OverDrive and found that our particular card did not care for increased power limit setting at all, so we left that to zero. We were able to overclock the AMD Radeon R9 290 reference card by 14% on the GPU core clock and 15.5% on the 4GB GDDR5 memory. We bumped the fan up to 60% as we weren't too worried about fan noise during our overclock.

firestrike-290

The AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card scores right around 9100 3DMarks in the standard Fire Strike benchmark. Our exact score on this one instance was 9124 3DMarks and notice that in Game Test 1 the outcome was around 48.5 FPS.

firestrike-290-oc

With our Radeon R9 290 overclocked as high as we could get it, we were hitting 1080 MHz core and 1444 MHz on the 4GB of GDDR5 memory (5776 MHz effective). This is a 133 MHz on the core and 194 MHz on the memory. With the card overclocked with these setting we were able to run 3DMark Fire Strike at 10,224, which is a nice improvement over the default run of 9,124 3DMarks! This is an 1,100 point increase in our overall 3DMark score, which represents a performance gain of 12.1 percent. We overclocked our GPU clock speed by 14 percent, so you do get some nice performance boosts from overclocking.  Game Test 1 went from 48.5 FPS to 55.1 FPS!

 

  Radeon R9 290 Stock Radeon R9 290 OC'd Percent Difference
Bioshock Infinite      
2560x1600 76.65 86.30 +12.5%
1920x1080 123.18 138.12 +12.1%
Tomb Raider      
2560x1600 73.6 82.6 +12.2%
1920x1080 127.5 143.8 +12.8%
Hitman Absolution      
2560x1600 32.6 37.0 +13.5%
1920x1080 52.2 59.0 +13.0%
3DMark Fire Strike 9,124 10,224 +12.1%

 

By overclocking the AMD Radeon R9 290X we were able to get on average a 12.68% 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 33FPS to 37FPS in games like Hitman Absolution when playing at Ultra HD resolutions like 2560x1600.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Radeon R9 290 versus GeForce GTX 770

When AMD was preparing to launch the Radeon R9 290 they had it positioned against the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 in the pricing stack, but the performance of the card had it nipping on the heals of the GeForce GTX 780. AMD was supposed to launch the Radeon R9 290 graphics card on October 31st, but pushed the launch back by a week as they wanted to increase the cards performance even more. Some sites reported that AMD held the card due to last-minute driver issues, but they were wrong. Just days ahead of the AMD Radeon R9 290 launch, NVIDIA reduced the price of the GeForce GTX 780 to $499 and announced that the GeForce GTX 780 Ti would be coming out on November 7th at $699.  This announcement directly resulted in AMD delaying the Radeon R9 290.  After seeing the community feedback from the Radeon R9 290X reviews and 4K testing that some sites were doing, AMD wanted to 'kill' the GeForce GTX 780. AMD increased told us to scrap all the testing we had done just 48 hours before the launch as they would be rolling out a new driver that would boost performance. The new driver that we were given boosted the fan speed by 7% and had some other tweaks that allowed the card to run game with higher average clocks and therefore have higher performance. AMD hoped this new driver would allow it to beat an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 and even the Titan in some gaming scenarios for far less money since the AMD Radeon R9 290 is priced at just $399. Out testing showed the AMD Radeon R9 290 and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 reference cards were trading blows in the games we tested them. 

 

 Radeon R9 290XRadeon R9 290
Release Date October 2013 November 2013
Original SRP $549 $399
GPU Hawaii Hawaii
Process 28nm 28nm
Transistors 6.2 billion 6.2 billion
Stream Processors 2816 2560
Clock Speed 1000 MHz 947 MHz
Frame Buffer 4GB 4GB
Memory Width 512-bit 512-bit
Memory Clock 1250 MHz 1250 MHz
Memory Bandwidth 320.0 GB/s 320.0 GB/s
Compute Performance 5.6 TFLOPS 4.9 TFLOPS
Texture Units 176 160
Texture Fillrate 176 GT/s 152 GT/s
ROPs 64 64
Typical Board Power ~250W ~250W

 

The AMD Radeon R9 290X and Radeon R9 290 both use AMD's new Hawaii GPU and are very similar. In fact, we are honestly shocked how similar these cards really are. The AMD Radeon R9 290 has 9% fewer stream processors and 16 texture units as well as a 5% lower core clock.  The latter is laughable as the Radeon R9 290 was found to overclock easily and we were able to take it close to 1100MHz on the GPU core clock. The only real difference between the cards is the reduction in stream processors and texture units. So, a 9% reduction in stream processors and texture units would result in a 9% price cut right? Nope!  AMD slashed the price by $150 or a 27% price reduction from the Radeon R9 290X!  The AMD Radeon R9 290 has such an amazing price point we find it hard to recommend the AMD Radeon R9 290X to most gamers. The AMD Radeon R9 290X is still the best AMD has to offer. So, if there isn't a budget constraint that is still the card to get, but for everyone else there is the Radeon R9 290! The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 at $499 is priced better than ever, but it is still $100 more than the Radeon R9 290 and the cards are competitive with one another.

The fan noise is still the weak point on the Radeon R9 290 as it can easily be heard over the other fans in your system when gaming.  You can control the maximum fan speed in AMD Overdrive, but by lowering it you will hurt performance. This card begs to be water cooled as that would solve the noise issue and heat concerns that some have with the new Hawaii GPU.

amd-radeon-290x-angle

The AMD Radeon R9 290 gives you more performance than ever at the $399 price point! It is a good thing that NVIDIA dropped the price down to $499 on the GeForce GTX 780 as the Radeon R9 290 would have really made it look bad. For $399 the AMD Radeon R9 290 is the video card to have if you are serious about gaming. It walks all over the GeForce GTX 770 ($335) and is very competitive with the GeForce GTX 780 ($499).  AMD has a huge price gap between the GeForce GTX 770 and the GeForce GTX 780 and the Radeon R9 290 is exploiting it to the fullest. 

Many gamers are also going to be upgrading their systems thanks to game titles like Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts, so it looks like AMD has a winner this holiday with the Radeon R9 290!

LR Editors' Choice

 

Legit Bottom Line: The AMD Radeon R9 290 has solid performance, is overclocking friendly and happens to be priced right.  AMD now owns the $399 price point when it comes to desktop gaming graphics cards!