Recalled to Life: Two Radeon R9 290X Graphics Cards Compared
Two Radeon R9 290X Graphics Cards Compared
The current most powerful GPU from the recently launched AMD R9 series is the Radeon R9 290X. Its new "Hawaii" graphics core features an improved GCN architecture, and the new core supports up to 44 GCN compute units. This marks an improvement over the 32 compute units of the previous generation top-end Radeon HD 7970.
In addition, the new GPU supports the AMD TrueAudio technology that incorporates a fully programmable audio engine, as part of the GPU die. For gamers looking at a multi-GPU setup, they would be pleased to know the R9 290X supports the improved AMD CrossFire feature, where there isn't a need for a hardware strap (CrossFire ribbon) anymore. With these features in mind, AMD is targeting PC gamers, with their efforts "to bring about a more immersive gaming experience." We have lined up two AMD R9 290X cards from ASUS and MSI. Let's see if the add-in card partners have extended AMD's commitment to gamers any further!
ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II OC
The ASUS Radeon R9 290X card sports the familiar DirectCU II cooling system. It is mainly made up of five copper heatpipes, of varying diameters, dissipating heat from the GPU. The thickest heatpipe measures 10mm in diameter, and together with the rest of the heatpipes, their heat dissipation is aided by the CoolTech cooling technology. There is a single CoolTech fan and a regular 80mm one that provide air-cooling for the aluminum finstack of the card.
The Hawaii core of the ASUS card has been overclocked to 1050MHz for its base clock. In comparison, the boosted engine clock speed of the reference R9 290X is up to 1000MHz; as such we expect the ASUS card to be notably better. As for the memory modules of the ASUS card, they have also been overclocked to 5400MHz, up 400MHz from the reference value of 5000MHz.. This increase's the memory bandwidth to 345.6GB/s, over the 512-bit wide memory bus. Like all typical Radeon R9 290X cards, this card too comes equipped with 4GB of GDDR video memory.
There are also a number of distinguishing features on this card. For starters, there is the familiar rear metal backplate to provide some passive cooling, and support for the card's cooling system and PCB.
Focusing on the rear of the card, we can see the BIOS switch that toggles between the silent and performance mode profiles. As shown below, by default, the switch is in the performance mode position. At silent mode, the card's GPU, and its memory modules are set to operate at default clock speeds.
The card features a 6-pin, and a 8-pin Molex connectors, and there are four LEDs that light up when the card is powered up.
Near the front edge of the card's PCB, we see six voltage modification points. When these points are properly soldered, they will allow the extreme power user to bypass built-in safeguards for overheating and overcurrent protection, so that the card can be overclocked further. Under the hood, the card features Super Alloy Power capacitors, chokes, and MOSFETs, that drives ASUS' proprietary Digi+ VRM digital power delivery design. For those curious, the card employs an 8-phase power delivery system.
The video ports consists of a pair of dual-link DVI-D connectors, one DisplayPort port, and one HDMI interface. It deviates slightly from the reference R9 290X that offers two dual-link DVI ports; one is DVI-D, and the other, DVI-I.
As you would have noticed by now, the ASUS card has an unembellished metal fan shroud; however, it has two sets of metal decals for the owner to customize the look of the shroud.
MSI Radeon R9 290X 4G Gaming
Building on the popularity of its Gaming series, the MSI Radeon R9 290X 4G Gaming sports a slightly overclocked "Hawaii" core that is rated at 1040MHz. Its 4GB GDDR5 memory modules have remained at the default clock speed of 5000MHz. Like the high-end cards from the Gaming series, the card comes bundled with the Gaming software utility that allows the user to toggle among three performance profiles that are OC, Gaming and Silent modes.
Out of the box, the card's BIOS defaults to OC mode where the GPU is overclocked to a modest 1040MHz. In Gaming mode, its base clock speed dips slightly to 1030MHz. In Silent mode, the card operates at its default clock speed (1000MHz). Throughout these modes, the memory modules remain unaffected and hold steady at 5000MHz.
The MSI card features the Twin Frozr IV cooling system, with its familiar red-on-black fan shroud. The cooling system is made up twin 100mm fans, and five copper heatpipes in direct contact with the GPU. Heat from the GPU is transferred from the heatpipes to the large aluminum fin grid array that is cooled by the pair of fans. In addition, there is a metal plate attached to the PCB's components such as its Hynix memory modules and VRM components for added passive cooling.
The card comes with two sets of BIOSes (OC profile and default), and has a DIP switch (located at its top edge), which toggles between the two. Therefore, users can switch between the two BIOSes to suit his or her computing requirements.
There is a rear metal plate that protects the PCB, as well as to provide some passive cooling.
These are the specifications of our graphics test bed:
- Intel Core i7-3960X (3.3GHz)
- ASUS P9X79 Pro (Intel X79 chipset) Motherboard
- 4 x 2GB DDR3-1600 G.Skill Ripjaws Memory
- Seagate 7200.10 200GB SATA hard drive (OS)
- Western Digital Caviar Black 7200 RPM 1TB SATA hard drive (Benchmarks + Games)
- Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit SP1
We rounded up the recently reviewed GeForce GTX 780 Ti graphics card from MSI for comparison. It makes a good representative for the custom GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards on the market. We have also included other top-end NVIDIA cards like the GeForce GTX 780 and GTX Titan. From the AMD camp, the reference R9 290X and R290 were fielded. Below is the complete list of cards fielded for comparison.
- ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II OC (AMD Catalyst 13.12)
- MSI Radeon R9 290X 4G Gaming (AMD Catalyst 13.12)
- AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB GDDR5 (AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta 9.2)
- AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB GDDR5 (AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta 9.2)
- MSI GeForce GTX 780Ti Gaming 3G 3GB GDDR5 (ForceWare 331.82)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB GDDR5 (ForceWare 331.70)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan 6GB GDDR5 (ForceWare 331.65)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB GDDR5 (ForceWare 331.65)
Since we've established the full performance profile of the Radeon R9 series of graphics cards, we're only focusing on a subset of our usual benchmarks to determine the gaming performances of the two custom AMD Radeon R9 290X cards. The two benchmarks used are as follows:-
- Futuremark 3DMark 2013
- Crysis 3
Here's a quick look at the specifications of the custom AMD Radeon R9 290X cards against their competitors:-