Is AMD's Radeon R9 390 Black Edition Video Card Enough For Gaming and VR?

It has been a long time since we've looked at any AMD Radeon R9 390 video card here on Legit Reviews. Steve's article way back in June 2015 on the Sapphire Nitro R9 390 8GB video card was the first and only review we've done on a Radeon R9 390 8GB video card here on the site. Most gamers spend around $200 for their graphics cards, but those with Ultra HD display panels need more power. Many enthusiasts and gamers that are interested in Virtual Reality and you'll need to spend more than $200 if you want a card that is recommended.  AMD fans that want to get in on the first wave Virtual Reality products coming to market this year should be looking at getting a card that meets the AMD LiquidVR technology suggestions for the Oculus Rift. AMD Oculus Ready GPUs The AMD Radeon R9 390 series is the entry-level cards that are recommended for the Oculus Rift . Therefore, you can safely surmise that a Radeon R9 390 8GB video card should have enough horsepower and memory to keep you happy for the foreseeable future. The AMD Radeon R9 290 series also meets the guidelines, but those cards are End of Life (EoL) and getting pretty hard to come by. The updated version of the Radeon R9 290 series is the R9 390 series.  The AMD Radeon R9 390 cards have come down slighting in price since debuting in June 2015 at $330 as you can often find them for under $275 after rebate. XFX Radeon R9 390 Models XFX is one of the many AMD board partners that has brought a number of Radeon R9 390 video cards to market. In fact, they've brought five AMD Radeon R9 390 8GB video cards and four AMD Radeon R9 390 4GB video cards to market over the past eight months.  That seems a bit overkill to us, but XFX explained it to us that the different SKU's are for different regions and channels. Here in North America there are really only two models that are widely available to purchase right now. You have the R9-390P-D28M that is at Amazon and most Canada retailers and then the R9-390P-8286 that is at Newegg and others. XFX says that having different SKU's allows them to differentiate the bundles and accessories, but we also know it's an easy way to prevent price matching and retailers like that. That said, the two models widely available on Amazon here in the United Sates are the XFX Radeon R9 390 Double Dissipation XXX OC 8GB at $319.99 shipped with a 1015MHz core clock speed and then the XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC 8GB that retails for $339.99 shipped with 1050MHz core clock speeds. Besides the clock speeds the cards are basically identical, so a 35MHz overclock will cost you 20 bucks. XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition The card that we are going to be reviewing today is the XFX Radeon R9 390 DD Black Edition OC 1050MHz 8GB DDR5 that features model number R9-390P-D28M. This card is factory overclocked with all 2,560 stream processor inside the 28nm Hawaii GPU core running at 1050 MHz. The 8GB of GDDR5 memory is running at 1500 MHz for an effective clock of 6000 MHz. This is the highest core clock that XFX offers for the Radeon R9 390, so it doesn't get any better than this until you do a little manual overclocking. XFX Radeon R9 390 8GB Video Card The XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition is a dual-slot graphics card that fairly long at 11.5-inches in length. XFX went with a mostly black design for this card, so the PCB, fan shroud and fans are all black. XFX Radeon R9 390 8GB Video Card Back On the back of the card you'll notice that XFX went with a backplate that improves the visual appearance of the card when it's installed, but also helps add rigidity and protects the components that sit under it. Note that the aluminum finned cooling arrays for the GPU go above the PCB. The overall height of this card is 5-inches, so if you are trying to put it in a narrow case this number might be important to you. XFX Radeon R9 390 Power Connector In the shot above you can see the 8-pin and 6-pin PCIe video card power connectors that are needed for operation. XFX includes a dual 4-pin Molex  to 6-pin PCIe power adapter as well as a dual 6-pin to 8-pin PCIe power adapter for those that don't have the proper cables available on their power supply. XFX recommends a 750 Watt or greater power supply to properly power this video card. The Ghost 3.0 Double Dissipation cooling solution features seven copper heatpipes, five extend to the end of the card and are visible. If you look in the image above you can see how XFX is using another passive heatsink to cool the digital power components. XFX says that their XFX Extreme VRM and Memory Cooling helps drop VRM temperatures by up to 30C and GDDR5 temperatures by up to 20C. These lower temperatures help reduce fan noise as well as the card is running coller. XFX is using a 6-phase full digital power design on this card with unlocked voltages, so you have full control over the voltages if you want to use a 3rd party utility to push your card to the limit. XFX Radeon R9 390 8GB Video Connectors When it comes to video connectors the XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC 8GB comes with a pair of Dual Link DVI-D ports, HDMI 1.4a and one standard sized DisplayPort 1.2 video outputs. The I/O bracket also has a small section that should allow for some venting of the hot exhaust from XFX's Double Dissipation GPU Cooler. The fan shroud also extends up and over the top of the card to help direct the airflow from the two 90mm IP-5X fans for maximum cooling. XFX Radeon R9 390 Exploded Diagram Here is an exploded diagram of the XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition that better shows the Ghost 3.0 Double Dissipation Cooling solution. Here is a quick look at the AMD Radeon R9 390 reference card specifications compared to the XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC
AND Radeon R9 390 XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC
GPU Architecture 28nm Hawaii 28nm Hawaii
Shader Cores 2560 2560
GPU base clock 1000MHz 1050MHz
Texture Units 160 160
Texture Fillrate 160.0 GTexel/s 168.0 GTexel/s
ROPs 64 64
Pixel Fillrate 64.0 GP/s 67.2 GP/s
Memory 8GB GDDR5 8GB GDDR5
Memory clock 1500MHz (6000MHz) 1500MHz (6000MHz)
Memory interface 512-bit 512-bit
Memory Bandwidth 384.0 GB/s 384.0 GB/s
0dB Fanless Idle No No
Length 10.5-inches 11.5-inches
Recommended PSU 750 Watts 750 Watts
Power Connectors 1 x 6-pin & 8-pin 1 x 6-pin & 8-pin
Street Price N/A  $339.99
On to the benchmarks!

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 10 Pro 64-bit and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running.  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: test system

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 1704 that came out on 05/08/2015. 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 11-13-13-30 2T 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. Test System Settings Here are the exact hardware components that we are using on our test system:
The Intel X79 Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor Intel Core i7-4960X
Motherboard
ASUS P9X79-E WS
Memory
16GB Kingston 2133MHz
Video Card Various
Solid-State Drive OCZ Vertex 460 240GB
Cooling Intel TS13X (Asetek)
Power Supply Corsair AX860i
Operating System Windows 10 64-bit
Monitor Sharp PN-K321 32" 4K
  XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC Video Card GPU-Z Info: XFX Radeon R9 390 GPU-Z Let's move on to the Battlefield 4 benchmark results!

Battlefield 4

bf4-screenshot 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 been 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. bf4-settings 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 with these settings on the Shanghai level. All tests were done with the DirectX 11 API. bf4-1440-390 Benchmark Results: If you game on a 2560x1440P display and play BF4 the XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC 8GB video card was performing just above an overclocked retail GeForce GTX 970 video card and below the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 reference card. bf4-2160-390 Benchmark Results:  When it comes to 4K Ultra HD gaming the XFX Radeon R9 390 BE OC was just 1 FPS behind the GeForce GTX 980 on the average FPS, but was 3 FPS behind on the minimum.

Fallout 4

Fallout4 Fallout 4 is an open world action role-playing video game developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. Fallout 4 is set in a post-apocalyptic Boston in the year 2287, 210 years after a devastating nuclear war, in which the player character emerges from an underground bunker known as a Vault. Gameplay is similar to Fallout 3.  The title is the fifth major installment in the Fallout series and was released worldwide on November 10th, 2015. fallout4 settings Fallout 4 was benchmarked with ultra image quality settings with TAA and 16x AF. These settings are tough for entry level discrete graphics cards, but are more than playable on high-end gaming graphics cards. V-Sync can't be disabled in the games options, so we edited the necessary INI files and disabled vsync in the driver software as well. We used FRAPS to benchmark Fallout 4 after you emerge from the vault and are in The Commonwealth. fallout-1440-390 Benchmark Results: In Fallout 4 at 2560x1440 the XFX Radeon R9 390 was 2 FPS faster than the GeForce GTX 970 on the min and max, but was less than 1 FPS faster than the overall average. The average Frame Rate was above the magical 60 FPS mark, but it still dipped down into the low 40's. Those will an AMD FreeSync monitor will be able to get an enjoyable gaming experience with this card at 2560x1440 as the frame rate of the card will go along with the Hz range of most FreeSync displays. fallout-2160-390 Benchmark Results: When we increased the resolution to 3840x2160 for some 4K gaming goodness the performance gap widened between the R9 390 and GTX 970.

Grand Theft Auto V

GTAV Grand Theft Auto V, currently one of the hottest PC games, was finally released for the PC on April 14, 2015.  Developed by Rockstar, it is set in 2013 and the city of Los Santos.  It utilizes the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) which Rockstar has been using since 2006, with multiple updates for technology improvements. GTA5-settings GTA5-settings2 In Grand Theft Auto V we set the game to run with no MSAA with 16x AF and high image quality settings as we didn't want the GPU to bottleneck the system too bad, but wanted a setup that your average gamer would actually play on. We used the games built-in benchmark utility to have at least one game we used that could be compared to your setup at home. We averaged all the five of the default benchmark runs and omitted the maximum values as those results are garbage for some reason. gtav-1440-390 Benchmark Results: After running the games built-in benchmark and averaging the runs together we found that the XFX Radeon R9 390 was faster (~62 FPS) than the GeForce GTX 970 (~59 FPS) on the average frame rates. The minimum frame rates were only 1 FPS apart. gtav-2160-390 Benchmark Results: At 4K the GForce GT 980 was averaging about 33 FPS versus 32 FPS on the Radeon R9 390 in GTAV. The minimum frame rate on the R9 390 was also higher than that of the GTX 970, GTX 980 and even the much more expensive R9 Nano.

Star Wars: Battlefront

Star Wars Battlefront Star Wars: Battlefront is a series of first- and third-person shooter video games based on the Star Wars films. Players take the role of soldiers in either of two opposing armies in different time periods of the Star Wars universe. Star Wars: Battlefront is built on the Frostbite 3 engine. Thief is the fourth title in the Thief series, developed by Digital Illusions CE and published by EA DICE/Disney Interactive on November 17, 2015. Starwars Battlefront Graphics Settings We ran Star Wars: Battlefront with the image quality settings set at Ultra and VSYNC  was disabled. We used FRAPS to benchmark with these settings on Battle on Tatooine. battlefrontt-1440-390 Benchmark Results: The performance gap between the Zotac GeForce GTX 970 and XFX Radeon R9 390 was wider than we've seen in the other benchmarks with the R9 390 averaging 83 FPS versus 75 FPS on the GTX 970.  battlefrontt-2160-390 Benchmark Results: When moving up to 3840x2160 the  Radeon R9 390 actually was within 1 FPS on average of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 reference card with exactly the same minimum frame rate. The XFX Rafeon R9 390 Black Edition OC 8GB Graphics Card packs a pretty mean punch and it's impressive that this $339 card can hang with a GeForce GTX 980 4GB card that starts out at $479!

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 had the XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC scoring 11,007 points versus the 11,426 points on the GeForce GTX 980 reference card and 10,232 points on the Zotac GeForce GTX 980 AMP! Omega Edition card.

Fire Strike Extreme Benchmark Results: firestrike-extreme-390

Benchmark Results: In 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme we see different scores, but basically the same scaling and performance results. The XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC 8GB video card scored 5,388 points, which was just ahead of the Zotac GeForce GTX 970 AMP! Omega graphics card.

Temperature & Noise Testing

The gaming performance on a graphics card is the most important factor in buying a card, but you also need to be concerned about the noise, temperature and power consumption numbers. XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC 8GB  Idle and Load Temps: XFX Radeon R9 390 Temperatures   When it comes to temperatures the XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition idled at 28C on our open air test bench and got up to 72C when gaming for over an hour non-stop. The VRM Temperatures were 75C on VRM 1 and 68C on VRM 2. It might come to a shock to a few folks that the power components get hotter than the GPU core itself, but this is the reason why XFX placed heatsinks on them and 75C isn't that bad. 390-temps Here is a chart that shows the temperatures of the XFX Radeon R9 390 versus some other high-end desktop cards.  

Sound Testing

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.

noise-390 The XFX Radeon R9 Nano is one of the loudest cards that we have tested in recent weeks. The cards fan spin at all times, so it's obviously going to be louder than many of the models on the chart that have passive 0dB fan solutions at idle. When gaming the cards twin fans spin up to 2230 RPM and just happen to be the loudest GPU cooler of the eight that we have tested. This is a card that you will hear from inside your case when you are gaming. ** The AMD Radeon R9 Fury X reference card that we are using was the original model with a loud water pump that whines. AMD changed the pump design before the cards hit the retail market, but wasn't willing to replace ours. We expect retail cards to perform quieter for this and hopefully AMD will send us a replacement card for proper noise testing. **

Power Consumption

XFX Radeon R9 390 Power Connector 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 Power Consumption Results: The XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition was on the higher side of things when it came to power consumption. We found the system used 108 Watts at idle and 448 Watts at peak gaming with the Radeon R9 390 8GB video card installed. The Zotac GeForce GTX 970 AMP! Omega Edition video card used 104 Watts at idle and 292 Watts at load, so the comparably priced card from NVIDIA uses more than 150 Watts less power when gaming with regards to peak numbers.

XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition Overclocking

If you want to get even more performance from the XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC 8GB video card you can do some manual overclocking. XFX doesn't offer its own in-house designed overclocking utility for use with their graphics cards, but you can use a third party utility to do so. We are using Sapphire TriXX version 5.2.1 to overclock our Radeon R9 300 series card. This is a powerful overclocking tool that allows you to adjust clock speeds, over-volting, power limits, fan speeds and even the ability to save your favorite settings to one of four available profiles. trixx OC Utility The image above shows you the default settings that you'll see after installing and running the Sapphire TriXX utility on the XDX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC 8GB. The default operating speed for this card is properly shown at 1050MHz on the core clock and the memory is running at 1500MHz or 6000MHz effective.

Radeon R9 390 Overclock

We increased the core clock on our card in 10MHz increments and found that we were able to achieve a 100MHz overclock without any adjustments to the cards GPU voltage. Overclocking the memory doesn't yield much performance, so we increased it by 100MHz and called it a day. This meant that the XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC was running at 1150MHz on the GPU clock and the memory at 6400MHz effective, which is good for over 400GB/s of memory bandwidth. bf4-oc By overclocking the XFX Radeon R9 390 BE OC 8GB video card we were able to play Battlefield 4 with an average of 35.5 FPS on our 4K display. This is an improvement of 6.9% from our 9.5% core clock increase. We tested with the power limit at +5% and +50% and saw no difference in performance on this particular benchmark by jacking up the power limit. Raising the power limit did show some changes at the power meter though... The power usage of the card jumped up by over 50 Watts by raising the power limit as high as possible! Just something to keep in mind when overclocking.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition The XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition OC 8GB video card was found to be a solid well designed enthusiast class graphics card that has everything a gamer would need. The performance of the card was found to be better than a factory overclocked GeForce GTX 970 and very close to a GeForce GTX 980 reference card. We were impressed by the 1440P and 4K Ultra HD gaming performance numbers that were had a solid gameplay experience! While the performance of the Radeon R9 390 8GB card was solid we did find that it was fairly loud and used significantly more power than comparable cards. The good news is since the fans on XFX's Ghost 3.0+ thermal solution are always spinning the thermals on the card were great! When it comes to pricing you can find this XFX Radeon R9 390 Black Edition 8GB model with 1050MHz core clock speeds at Newegg for $329.99 shipped after rebate or at Amazon for $339.99 shipped. The real deal right now is the XFX Radeon R9 390 Double Dissipation XXX OC video card with 1015MHz clock speeds for $274.99 shipped after rebate at Newegg.  It's the same exact card with lower clock speeds thanks to a UEFI flash and it's $65 less than what Amazon is selling the overclocked card for. We were able to overclock our card up to 1150MHz on the core clock and the Hawaii GPU used on these cards usually can hit 1100MHz without any voltage modifications needed. Paying extra for an overclocked card that was binned at the factory might be worth it if the price difference is minimal, but more than $50 isn't worth it to us. At $275 the XFX Radeon R9 390 8GB video card is a heck of a deal as it gives you better performance than an overclocked GeForce GTX 970 retail card and just behind a GeForce GTX 980 4GB retail card that start out at $479 after rebate.  AMD has the $275 to $475 price range for video cards pretty much wrapped up with this card! Being able to pick up an XFX Radeon R9 390 8GB video card for $275 and get performance numbers like these might be one of the best deals going for a higher-end video card that is capable of beyond 1080P gaming. The fact that it's one of the recommended cards for Virtual Reality doesn't hurt either! LR Recommended Award   Legit Bottom Line:  You can purchase an XFX Radeon R9 390 8GB video card for $275 after rebate and get performance that is close to a GeForce GTX 980 reference card that costs hundreds more. Overclock the R9 390 and the performance will top a stock GeForce GTX 980!