The cards were put through two tests within the 3DMark 2013 benchmark: Fire Strike and Fire Strike Extreme. When compared against each other, the ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II OC card was slightly better than the MSI R9 290X Gaming 4G, with a negligible margin of less than 1%. When contrasted against the reference R9 290X, they are generally about 2- to 3% better. However, against the more, powerful MSI GeForce GTX 780 Ti Gaming 3G card, they fell behind by almost 9%!
In terms of their real-life game performance, the ASUS and MSI cards were very close in their average frame rates for all game scenarios. As expected, the ASUS card managed to slightly edge out its MSI counterpart. To reiterate, the ASUS card has a slightly higher overclocked graphics core, at 1050MHz; in comparison, the MSI 's GPU core is rated at 1040MHz. Even with the ASUS card's speedier graphics core and overclocked memory, its lead against the MSI card is rather minor and negligible. Fortunately, both cards show a slight bump in performance over the reference card. NVIDIA's cards were once again leading the pack, but they cost more anyway.
It was the MSI R9 290X card that pulled slightly ahead for this test, and both cards managed to be overclocked to 1118MHz for their GPU cores. Despite the fact the ASUS card had its memory modules operating in an overclocked state, with a clock speed of 6200MHz, the MSI managed to pull ahead, with its memory modules operating at 5900MHz. To understand this performance disparity, we may have to take a look at the temperature and power consumption readings. In terms of gains, in comparison with their out-of-the-box performances, the MSI garnered an almost 8% boost; while the ASUS card had a roughly 6% increment.
We can see that the MSI R9 290X Gaming 4G card operates at a lower temperature of 70 degrees Celsius, under load, and saps slightly less power, at 454W, under similar operations. Due to both card's support for the new AMD Powertune technology, MSI's overclocking performance may have been boosted higher as it had more headroom than the ASUS card, in terms of temperature levels, and power draw.
In comparison with the reference R9 290X card, the custom cooling systems of both cards managed to reduce the operating temperature by a rather significant 15- to 17 degrees Celsius! However, the power consumption levels of the custom cards, measured during our tests, were much higher than the reference card's peak reading of 422W at load. That disparity is easily reasoned with the difference in clock speeds though.
Although the ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II OC had the slightly better out-of-the-box performance, it trailed slightly behind the MSI card when it came to our overclocking tests. Also, the ASUS card had a slightly higher operating temperature, as well as power draw than the MSI card with negligible gains in actual performance and experience. With its high retail price of S$969, the ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II OC will appeal to extreme power users who are ready to tap into its power user feature like its voltage modifications points, to tweak its performance. As for the MSI Radeon R9 290X Gaming 4G, it has a tad friendlier price of S$929. In addition, it's overclocking performance was slightly better, and managed lower operating temperature and power consumption figures under load. Factoring these more tangible attributes, we feel MSI offers a better deal for an overclocked custom designed Radeon R9 290X graphics card.
Take note though, for just a little more, you can get the speedier NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti based cards (~S$1,000). As such, the premium you're paying for these custom Radeon R9 290X cards are somewhat high. While both brands offer a more basic Radeon R9 290X solution with reference clock speeds and a reference cooling unit for nearly S$80 less, you'll have to put up with a louder cooler and much higher operating temperatures. It's unfortunate you can't have 'keep your cake and eat it', so you'll have to choose appropriately based on your budget.