Feature Articles

A Primer on AMD's Radeon R9 290 Series

A Primer on AMD's Radeon R9 290 Series


Gaming in 4K, AMD TrueAudio and Project Mantle

Designed for High Resolution Gaming (Ultra HD / 4K)

While AMD was first to support 4K resolution gaming, setting up such monitors wasn't a straightforward affair and might need Eyefinity setup to manually configure such monitors. With the new graphics card series bringing in more firepower, an improved Catalyst driver suite promises to support popular 4K resolution monitors out of the box without configuration. On that note, AMD has also proposed to the Video Electronics Standard Association (VESA) to update its standard to support for displays larger than 4K resolution, tiled display technologies and stereo 3D formats among others, which VESA accepted and updated their DisplayID standard to version 1.3.

In that sense, the new Radeon graphics cards are designed to be 4K-ready, but only the Radeon R9 290X has enough processing throughput to really deliver high performance gaming at high quality settings at such resolution. For standard non-gaming display output needs, both the old Radeon HD 7000 series and the newer Radeon R9/R7 models support 4K resolution output via HDMI at 30Hz and via DisplayPort at 60Hz (with or without the MST hub).

Most existing Ultra HD displays aren’t yet updated to the latest display connectivity standards (VESA Display ID v1.3 came out only a month ago) and support either Ultra HD resolutions at less than 30Hz or need to be configured as dual tiled displays of 2K x 2K resolution at 60Hz. While the former is fine for viewing movies, it’s not ideal for fast paced activity like gaming and thus requires the increased refresh rate. There will soon be newer displays that can deliver Ultra HD resolutions at 60Hz in a single stream and when they are made available, AMD mentions that is Radeon R9 290 series will be able to support it and drive high pixel rates of up to 600MHz which is required for Ultra HD resolutions with higher refresh rates.

In terms of display connectivity, you might notice from the table of specs that the new graphics card models adopt a single normal sized DisplayPort connector in favor of the previous generation’s dual mini-DisplayPorts. While it is one port less, most people don’t really require that many outputs and might in fact be more content with standard sized connectors that won’t need a converter before being able to hook up to a monitor. For those who demand more display support, the DisplayPort still supports multiple monitors via an MST (Multi-Stream Transport) Hub which the DisplayPort supports. From a GPU perspective, the new Radeon series still has 6 display controllers integrated on the die and thus a single card can handle 6 displays with the help of the MST Hub.

Not factoring DisplayPort options, the new range for Radeon R9 and R7 products are able to run 3x DVI/HMDI connections simultaneously. Previously on the Radeon HD 7000 series you could only run any two combinations of DVI/HDMI connections. This enablement is however not a GPU enhancement, but more of a board-level enhancement because the GPUs have had adequate display controllers since the earlier generations.

What about 3D gaming? Like its predecessor, 120Hz 3D gaming monitors are supported via graphics card's DisplayPort connection.

 

AMD TrueAudio Technology

AMD was the first to combine audio stream output via HDMI many years back, but this time around, they've taken a radical step forward to incorporate a fully programmable audio engine as part of the GPU die. The idea is to move away from simplistic audio reproduction with minimal effects and have real-time positional audio rendered, just like how games have tremendously improved visually over time when moving from fixed function programming to programmable shaders. Among the new R9 and R7 series of graphics cards, the AMD R9 290X and the R7 260X are the only GPUs to have this feature.

We've got a full article dedicated to AMD TrueAudio, our brief experience and the interviews from AMD engineers, so check it out!

 

Project Mantle

We've got a detailed news piece on this development, but to summarize it here, AMD is releasing a new API (codenamed Mantle) to directly tap into the hardware capabilities of AMD's GCN-based GPUs and unleash the full performance potential of the GPU in an efficient manner. While it may seem to alienate Intel and NVIDIA, the core reason for this initiative came about to facilitate game developers to concentrate on improving what matters most to gamers instead of time spent on porting and optimizing games on different platforms. This is all the more feasible because AMD now produces the processing brains behind all of the next generation consoles.

This initiative is supported on all GCN-architecture based graphics cards, so the brand new Radeon R9 290X and the older Radeon HD 7000 series will benefit from Mantle-powered games. We'll have to assess its true merits once games like Battefield come out with a new update to support the Mantle API.