PowerColor Slaps a Massive PCS+ Cooler To Their 290X
The AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card was a powerful card when it came out in October 2013, but the reference design ran hot and it was clear that the enthusiast community wasn't too keen on the thought of having a video card that was pegged at 94C in their system. It took the Add-In-Board partners a number of months to come out with custom designed and cooled AMD Radeon R9 290X cards, but pretty much every board maker now has a custom 290X board on the market with a GPU cooler that can tame the heat generated on these Hawaii-based graphics cards. Today we have the PowerColor PCS+ R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 (PCS+ stands for Professional Cooling System) that has been designed from the ground up to be an enthusiasts dream card. This card is sold under part number AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE and retails for around $569.99 shipped on both Newegg and Amazon. When this card was released just weeks ago it was $649.99 and the price has been decreasing nicely since and has just dropped $10 in the past week to reach the $569.99 price point. This makes it $20 more than the PowerColor AXR9 290X that is listed at $549.99 shipped with lower clock speeds and the reference GPU cooler. We don't expect this card to go much lower than $569.99 for the time being as it is just $20 more than the brands reference design and $180 less than the water cooled version from PowerColor.
The PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GB graphics card is powered by a single 28nm AMD Hawaii GPU that has 2,816 stream processors running at 1050MHz and the 4GB of GDDR5 memory on a 512-bit wide bus is is clocked at 1350MHz (5400MHz effective). As you can see from the image above, PowerColor was serious about cooling performance! You have a pretty big dual-slot card here that measures 11.75-inches in length that features a large heatsink with copper heat pipes behind the blacked out triple fan cooling solution. PowerColor did a great job with the GPU cooler on this card as the fan shroud is made out of metal and has a touch appearance that looks like it was done for function instead of beauty. All that metal does increase the weight of this card as it comes in at 2.22 pounds or just over 1kg!
The PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GB has three 80mm cooling fans (actual fan blade measurement is 75.0mm) that each have 9-blades on them to keep the factory overclocked AMD Hawaii GPU nice and cool. PowerColor claims that the PCS+ cooling design allows for a 25% decrease in temperatures and a 17% reduction in noise compared to the AMD Radeon R9 290X reference card. In the image above you can see that PowerColor is using two aluminum coon fin arrays that have five copper heatsinks routed through them to better disperse the heat from the GPU to the cooling fins. The five copper heat pipes (four are 6mm and one is 8mm in diameter) are attached to a copper heatsink plate that sits directly on the GPU.
One thing we noticed when taking pictures of this card is that the PCB on this card has a spot to mark if it is a 4GB or 8GB version. Does this mean that PowerColor is planning on releasing AMD Radeon R9 290X 8GB cards in the future? We aren't sure, but it does appear that this PCB was designed to handle 8GB of memory!
Is that glue on the chokes? It looks like PowerColor wrapped all four sides of the chokes on this board to keep the coil whine to a minimum. PowerColor went with a multi-phase power design (5+1+1) for a total of 7 phases on this particular board. From what we can tell PowerColor went with the AMD reference design on the PCB and just changed out some of the capacitors, added some glue to the chokes and called it a day. There are blue thermal pads on the Hynix GDDR5 memory to dissapate heat to the GPU cooler and all of the critical digital PWM components have aluminum heatsinks on them.
The PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GB video card has one 8-pin PCIe and one 6-pin PCIe power connector located along the top edge of the card that are both needed for proper operation. PowerColor suggests using a 750W or greater power supply for proper single card operation.Note that the backplate and GPU cooler extend well beyond the PCB.
It should be noted that the metal backplate on this card is spaced 0.25-inch away from the PCB by metal spacers. We aren't sure why PowerColor spaced the backplate so far away as it won't fit in the primary PCIe x16 slot on boards with memory slots or something else that butts up close to the graphics card slot. Our test system uses an ASUS P9X79-E WS motherboard and it won't fit, so we had to run it in the next x16 slot! This shot also shows the five copper heatpipes and the two separate aluminum cooling fin arrays.
There is a BIOS switch on the PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GB, but PowerColor just put one BIOS on the card. There is no Silent or Uber mode on this card as this factory overclocked card should never come close to the 95C threshold and that means no throttling and better performance. This switch is still useful though as if a BIOS every gets corrupted you can just switch over to the other one. There are also no CrossFire interconnects on this card as they are no longer needed to run CrossFire. If you get a second, third of fourth card you can just enable CrossFire in AMD's Catalyst Control Center and go about your day.
Here is a quick look at the metal backplate that is on the back of the card. It looks nice, but is spaced 1/4" off the PCB and that will cause installation on a fair number of boards on the market.
Let's take a look at the retail box or accessory bundle before we move along to benchmarking!
PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GB Retail Box and Bundle
The retail packaging for the PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GB is in a stylish looking black box that has a cut out in if for the red PCS+ logo. The front of the box clear states that this is a PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X video card. Then again there is no mention of video card or graphics card anywhere on the front of the box.
The back of the retail box shows an exploded diagram of the card, power supply requirements and key features of the card.
When it comes to the accessory bundle you get a 6-pin PCIe power to 8-pin PCie power adapter, a quick setup guide and the driver/utility disc.
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 8 Pro 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:
- NVIDIA GeForce 335.23
Intel X79/LGA2011 Platform
The Intel X79 platform that we used to test the all of the video cards was running the ASUS P9X79-E WS motherboard with BIOS 1501 that came out on 01/15/2014. We went with the Intel Core i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E processor to power this platform as it is PCIe 3.0 certified, so all graphics cards are tested with PCI Express Gen 3 enabled. The Kingston HyperX 10th Anniversary 16GB 2400MHz quad channel memory kit was set to XMP Profile #2. This profile defaults to 2133MHz with 1.65v and 11-12-12-30 1T memory timings. The OCZ Vertex 460 240GB SSD was run with latest firmware available. A Corsair AX860i digital power supply provides clean power to the system and is also silent as the fan hardly ever spins up. This is critical to our testing as it lowers the ambient noise level of the room and gives us more accurate sound measurements than the old Corsair AX1200 power supply that we used from 2012 till this year that had a loud fan that always ran.
Here are the exact hardware components that we are using on our test system:
|The Intel X79 Test Platform|
Intel Core i7-4960X
ASUS P9X79-E WS
16GB Kingston 2133MHz
OCZ Vertex 460 240GB
Intel TS13X (Asetek)
Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Sharp PN-K321 32" 4K
PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X 4GB Video Card GPU-Z Info:
Batman: Arkham Origins
Batman: Arkham Origins is an action-adventure video game developed by Warner Bros. Games Montréal. Based on the DC Comics superhero Batman, it follows the 2011 video game Batman: Arkham City and is the third main installment in the Batman: Arkham series. It was released worldwide on October 25, 2013.
For testing we used DirectX11 Enhanced, FXAA High Anti-Aliasing and with all the bells and whistles turned on. It should be noted that V-Sync was turned off and that NVIDIA's PhysX software engine was also disabled to ensure both the AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards were rendering the same objects. We manually ran FRAPS on the single player game instead of using the built-in benchmark to be as real world as we possibly could. We ran FRAPS in the Bat Cave, which was one of the only locations that we could easily run FRAPS for a couple minutes and get it somewhat repeatable.
The CPU usage for Batman: Arkham Origins was surprising low with just 10% of the Intel Core i7-4960X being used by this particular game title. You can see that the bulk of the work is being done by one CPU core.
Benchmark Results: The PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X was slightly slower than the ASUS Poseidon GTX 780 ($599) and a decent way behind the GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards (starting at $669). The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X was ~15% faster than the XFX Double Dissipation Radeon R9 290 on our 4K panel at 3840x2160.
Benchmark Results: When you look at performance over time, the PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X was just barely able to stay above 40 FPS across the whole run on our Ultra HD (3840x2160) test setup.
Battlefield 4 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts. It is a sequel to 2011's Battlefield 3 and was released on October 29, 2013 in North America. Battlefield 4's single-player Campaign takes place in 2020, six years after the events of its predecessor. Tensions between Russia and the United States have beem running at a record high. On top of this, China is also on the brink of war, as Admiral Chang, the main antagonist, plans to overthrow China's current government; and, if successful, the Russians will have full support from the Chinese, bringing China into a war with the United States.
This game title uses the Frostbite 3 game engine and looks great. We tested Battlefield 4 with the Ultra graphics quality preset as most discrete desktop graphics cards can easily play with this IQ setting at 1080P and we still want to be able to push the higher-end cards down the road. We used FRAPS to benchmark each card with these settings on the Shanghai level.
Battlefield 4 is more CPU intensive than any other game that we benchmark with as 25% of the CPU is used up during gameplay. You can see that six threads are being used and that the processor is running in Turbo mode at 3.96GHz more times than not.
Benchmark Results: In Battlefield 4 with Ultra settings at 3840x2160 we were able to average 29.41 FPS on the PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X, which was enough to put it ahead of the ASUS Poseidon GTX 780 and XFX DD Radeon R9 290. We were hoping to see an average above 30FPS, but we are close with the stock clock speeds.
Benchmark Results: The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X ran BF4 pretty smoothly with these settings and if you reduce the image quality just slightly you'll be able to get above 30 FPS at all times at 3840x2160.
Like the others, it is a first-person shooter developed by Crytek, using their CryEngine 3. Released in February 2013, it is well known to make even powerful system choke. It has probably the highest graphics requirements of any game available today. Unfortunately, Crytek didn’t include a standardized benchmark with Crysis 3. While the enemies will move about on their own, we will attempt to keep the same testing process for each test.
Crysis 3 has a reputation for being highly resource intensive. Most graphics cards will have problems running Crysis 3 at maximum settings, so we settled on no AA with the graphics quality mostly set to Very High with 16x AF. We disabled v-sync and left the motion blur amount on medium.
Crysis 3 appeared to run for the most part on just 3 CPU threads and used up about 15-18% of our Intel Core i7-4960X processor with these settings. Notice that the processor speed was at 3.53GHz and we very seldom, if ever, saw the processor go into turbo mode on Crysis 3.
Benchmark Results: The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X averaged 20.12 FPS on Cysis 3 with these aggressive settings on the 4K display. Not bad and it was just slightly slower than some of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards!
Benchmark Results: It is extremely hard to replicate the same run over and over manually with FRAPs, but you can see the similarities and none of the cards experienced any stutters or drops during testing on Crysis 3.
Far Cry 3
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.
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 2x MSAA Anti-Aliasing and ultra quality settings.
Far Cry 3 appears to be like most of the other games we are using to test video cards and uses up about 20% of the processor and is running on multiple cores.
Benchmark Results: The ASUS Poseidon GTX 780 averaged 24.8 FPS and the PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X averaged 24.1 FPSin FarCry 3, so an overclocked GeForce GTX 780 is very close in performance to this overclocked Radeon R9 290X.
Benchmark Results: Some small variations here and there, but no big frame drops on any of the cards to report back about.
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 was benchmarked with very high image quality settings with the SSAA set to off and 4x AF. These settings are tough for entry level discrete graphics cards, but are more than playable on high-end gaming graphics cards. We benchmarked this game title on the Theater level.
We again found around 20% CPU usage on Metro: Last Light.
Benchmark Results: In Metro: Last Light the PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X came in with an average of 36.8 versus the ASUS Poseidon average of 35.5 FPS at 3840x2160.
Benchmark Results: No big performance dips or spikes that are out of the ordinary here!
Thief is a series of stealth video games in which the player takes the role of Garrett, a master thief in a fantasy/steampunk world resembling a cross between the Late Middle Ages and the Victorian era, with more advanced technologies interspersed. Thief is the fourth title in the Thief series, developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix on February 25, 2014.
We ran Thief with the image quality settings set at normal with VSYNC disabled.
Thief appears to be running on the six physical cores of the Intel Core i7-4960X processor and averages around 17-24% CPU usage from what we were able to tell from the CPU utilization meter that is built into the Windows 8.1 task manager.
Benchmark Results: The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X averaged 42.34 FPS in Thief with normal image quality settings, which is just a 2-3 FPS behind your average factory overclocked GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards.
Benchmark Results: The performance over time chart showed that the PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X never dipped below 30FPS during the benchmark run.
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.
Fire Strike Benchmark Results:
Benchmark Results: The 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark had the PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X coming in 10,0053 with the ASUS Poseidon GTX 780 scoring 9,181 and the XFX DD Radeon R9 290 trailing the group at 8,969.
Temperature & Noise Testing
Temperatures are important to enthusiasts and gamers, so we took a bit of time and did some temperature testing on the PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X.
PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GB Temps:
The PCS+ cooler on this card is the selling point, so we were expecting to see some awesome power numbers at idle and load. The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X did not disappoint us one bit when it came to thermal performance. At idle we got a respectable 28C and when gaming we were able to just get the card up to a high of 62C. This means that between idle and load there is just a 34C rise in temperatures and that is mighty impressive for any 290X graphics card. Any 290X with the reference card will be pegged at 94C when gaming, so this is a 32C drop in temperatures over the reference design. PowerColor certainly put a functional cooler on this card!
GPU-Z shows that the PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X video card had an GPU voltage of 1.008V at idle and 1.266V when at full load gaming. The fan speed at idle was 30% and 54% at load when gaming. GPU-Z was unable to read the fan tachometer, but other than that it appears that everything was reading okay.
We test noise levels with an Extech sound level meter that has ±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.
The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X runs nice and cool, but the three 80mm fans are running at over 50% to give you those nice thermal numbers. That means that this card is loud, in fact of the six cards that we have recently tested, it has come in the loudest of the bouch at 41.dB at idle and 53.5dB at load.
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 Battlefield 4 at 3840x2160 and recorded the average idle reading and the peak gaming reading on the power meter.
Power Consumption Results: We half expected the PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X to top the power consumption chart, but was pleasantly surprised to see that it did not. The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition still holds the coveted most power used slot with 116 Watts at idle and 512 Watts at load. The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X system came in at 118 Watts and idle and 479 Watts when gaming. 30 Watts is not a huge difference when you are pulling down roughly 500W of power from the grid when gaming, but it is worth noting!
PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X GPU Overclocking
How well does the PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X graphics card overclock? We were wondering the same thing and fired up AMD Catalyst Control Center to find out!
The APowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X out of the box with the latest Catalyst 14.3 beta drviers scored 10,053 points in 3DMark Fire Strike.
After our overclock we were able to get a score of 10,764 3DMarks. This is 7% performance improvement and shows that you can still get some nice performance gains from an already factory overclocked card! You can use other utilities to increase the GPU core voltage to get this card to run even faster. This card is running 1.273V and if you bumped it up to 1.30 to 1.35V you can easily get 1200MHz stable and with some luck you can get 1225-1250MHz with stability.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions
The PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X graphics card is pretty impressive. For starters we never saw any performance degradation over time when gaming as the card never got hot enough to throttle and that was nice to see. We are used to seeing AMD cards decrease their core clock due to PowerTune settings after 10-15 minutes of gaming as the card heats up to full operating temperature. PowerColor kept this situation from happening by slapping the largest GPU cooler that we have ever seen on a Radeon R9 290X and squashing any heat concerns that many have been worried about since these cards have come out. The heatsink is well designed and built, but the three 80mm cooling fans need to move a ton of air across the cooling fins to give you those sexy temperatures. That means there is a fair bit of fan noise and you'll most certainly hear this card over the other fans in your system. So, you have good temperatures and in return you must be okay with the card being loud.
When it comes to performance the PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X ran great on our Sharp 4K monitor at 3840x2160 and we had an enjoyable gaming experience with this card in our test system. If you game at Ultra HD resolutions or on a triple-panel setup this card is aimed at you! We also found that it overclocked pretty darn good and nearly reached 1200MHz on the core with no GPU voltage increase. If you wanted to manually increase the voltage you can easily get this card above 1200MHz thanks to the beefy cooler that is able to keep the 2,816 stream processors at reasonable temperatures.
PowerColor's Radeon R9 290X graphics card with the PCS+ cooler is sold under part number AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE and retails for around $569.99 shipped on both Newegg and Amazon. When this card was released just weeks ago it was $649.99 and the price has been decreasing nicely since. In fact, it just dropped $10 in the past week and can now be picked up for the current $569.99 price point with free shipping. This makes it $20 more than the PowerColor AXR9 290X that is listed at $549.99 shipped with lower clock speeds and the dare we say crappy AMD reference GPU cooler. We don't expect this card to go much lower than $569.99 for the time being as it is just $20 more than thePowerColor's base model and $180 less than uber high-end water cooled version that they also offer. It should be noted that PowerColor offers a 2-year warranty on their video cards. The industry standard is 3-years. This doesn't raise a red flag for us, but we do know people are buying up this cards for 24/7 use with the current cryptocurrency craze. If you plan on mining Litecoins and want the longest warranty possible this might not be the card for you. No graphics card is designed to be run 24/7 at full load, so it will be interesting to see how all these AMD Radeon graphics cards hold up after a couple years of 24/7 use by the concurrency community.
If you aren't bothered by having a card with a little fan noise and 2-year, we highly recommend the PowerColor AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE graphics card. It
Legit Bottom Line: The PowerColor PCS+ Radeon R9 290X is a great example of how a Radeon R9 290X graphics card should be made!