Feature Articles

A Primer on AMD's Radeon R9 290 Series

By Vijay Anand - 24 Oct 2013

Radeon R9 290X and Hawaii Basics

AMD's Radeon R9 290X is Finally Out

Following the Radeon R9 280/270 series that were made available since 8th October, today, the Radeon R9 290X is now officially available with true next-generation graphics core and the focus of this article.

Unfortunately, due to the delayed arrival of our test sample card from AMD, we will have to reserve performance comparisons for a future article. This article will squarely discuss on what one can expect from the new GPU core. Also, without the final test card in our hands, we’ve recycled the shots we’ve obtained from our previous preview article:-

Here she is in all its glory, the heir to the "Tahiti" based Radeon HD 7970, This graphics card will boast the "Hawaii" based R9 290X GPU and is just as large as any other top-tier discrete graphics card.

This is another shot showing its top view. The card seems to be fully covered in a new cooler shroud that completely envelops the top, front and most of the bottom of the graphics card. Also noticeable is that the card is no thicker than two expansion card slots and there isn’t the usual CrossFire connectors. In fact, it doesn’t need physical connectors to enable CrossFire operation – just plug and play!

Over at the rear side of the card, this reference unit is left bare and you can notice solder ball joints of the numerous memory chips that are mounted on the forward side of the PCB. We counted a total of 16 memory IC spots, which should total up to 4GB of graphics memory (GDDR5) screaming at 5000MHz on a wide 512-bit memory bus.

Power input is handled by a pair of graphics power connectors that require a 6-pin and an 8-pin connection. This is no different from the current Radeon HD 7970.

Display output options are available in the form of dual dual-link DVI outputs, an HDMI and a full-sized DisplayPort.

The Build-up To "Hawaii"

Last month, AMD held their GPU14 Tech Day event to stress on their new gaming-oriented initiatives and the team’s motto of “AMD = Gaming”. The star of the show is of course AMD’s new Radeon R9 and R7 series of products, but alas, we figured out that most of the ‘new’ products are just rebadged Radeon HD 7000 parts.

When we asked AMD of the reasons behind the new naming scheme, they pin it squarely on their new marketing and initiatives for the GPU division as a whole and thus a new brand name to reflect this change. Primarily, AMD is working more with game developers and making waves in the gaming industry with their new Mantle API initiative. While that bodes well with AMD's directions, this will undoubtedly cause some confusion with end-users who expect a radical change when they purchase newly branded products and not variations of existing products.

While many of those R9 and R7 products are steadily populating the retail channels and booting up AMD’s visibility since 8th October, such as the string of Radeon R9 280X cards we’ve reviewed, the star of the line-up is none other than the focus of today’s article - the Radeon R9 290X (and the slightly slower R9 290 counterpart). The R9 290 series are the real torchbearers for the new GPU line-up as it sports a refreshed GPU core codenamed "Hawaii".

In the below table comparison, here’s how the new GPU stacks up against the competition and you’ll notice that the Radeon R9 290X is also available in a slightly tamer R9 290 version . The latter model will be available at a later date, but the R9 290X is now officially available.

AMD Radeon R9 290 GPUs Compared
Model AMD Radeon R9 290X / 290 AMD Radeon R9 280X AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan
Core Code Hawaii Tahiti XT variant Tahiti XT GK110 GK110
Transistor Count  6.2 billion 4.3 billion 4.3 billion 7.1 billion 7.1 billion
Manufacturing Process 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
Core Clock Up to 1000MHz / 947MHz Up to 1000MHz 1050MHz 863MHz 836MHz
Compute Performance 5.6 / 4.9 TFLOPS 4.1 TFLOPS 3.79 TFLOPS N.A. N.A.
Stream Processors 2816 / 2560 2048 2048 2304 2688
Texture Mapping Units (TMUs) 176 / 160 128 128 192 224
Raster Operator units (ROP) 64 / 64 32 32 48 48
Onboard Memory 4GB GDDR5 3GB GDDR5 3GB GDDR5 3GB GDDR5 3GB GDDR5
Memory Clock 5000MHz 6000MHz 6000MHz 6008MHz 6008MHz
DDR Memory Bus 512-bit 384-bit 384-bit 384-bit 384-bit
Memory Bandwidth 320GB/s 288GB/s 288GB/s 288GB/s 288GB/s
PCI Express Interface PCIe ver 3.0 x16 PCIe ver 3.0 x16 PCIe ver 3.0 x16 PCIe ver 3.0 x16 PCIe ver 3.0 x16
Molex Power Connectors 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 6-pin 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin 1 x 6-pin, 1 x 8-pin
Typical Board Power ~300W 250W 250W 250W 250W
Multi GPU Technology XDMA AMD CrossFire CrossFireX CrossFireX SLI SLI
Display Connectivity
  • 2 x Dual-Link DVI
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x DisplayPort
  • 2 x Dual-Link DVI
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x DisplayPort
  • 1 x Dual-Link DVI
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 2 x mini-DisplayPort (mDP)
  • 2 x Dual-Link DVI
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x DisplayPort (mDP)
  • 2 x Dual-Link DVI
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x DisplayPort (mDP)
AMD TrueAudio Technology Yes No No N.A. N.A.
API Support DirectX 11.2, OpenGL 4.3, AMD Mantle DirectX 11.1, OpenGL 4.3, PhysX, CUDA
Launch Price US$549 OR 
US$579 (with BF4 bundle) / US$399
US$299 US$549
(Current street price: ~US$299)
US$649 US$999

We've a lot more about the Radeon R9 290X covered over the following few pages, so read on for the details:-

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