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PowerColor Devil Radeon R9 390X reviewed: A devil in name only

By Koh Wanzi - 13 Aug 2015
Launch SRP: S$729

PowerColor Devil Radeon R9 390X reviewed: A Devil in Name Only

Not so devilish after all

Can the PowerColor Devil deliver the devilish goods that its name promises?

Since AMD announced the Radeon R9 390X and other 300-series cards at E3, we’ve seen a rash of custom cards from add-in card manufacturers looking to implement their own custom designs on AMD’s latest mainstream cards. We’ll be looking at the PowerColor Devil Radeon R9 390X today to see what PowerColor brings to the table with its beefed-up cooling solution.

And because the Radeon R9 390X is actually a re-branded Hawaii XT GPU (now re-named Grenada XT), custom designs take on especial significance and importance. Since AMD has reserved the best goodies and new Fiji GPU architecture for its Radeon R9 Fury X and Fury cards, the onus is on add-in card manufacturers to add value to the Radeon R9 390X and bring something new to an old architecture.

At first glance, PowerColor is certainly doing that with the Devil Radeon R9 390X. It has gone with a hybrid cooling solution that combines a closed-loop water cooling system with air-cooling.

The card combines air- and water-cooling for a hybrid cooling solution.

Closer examination reveals a cooling pump that is attached to the GPU die, so it appears that PowerColor is providing dedicated liquid cooling treatment to the GPU. This is a good move, as the GPU is arguably one of the components that require the most cooling. The single 120mm fan in turn pulls cool air over the other components like the voltage regulation modules (VRM).

The fan provides dedicated air cooling to the VRM components.

Unfortunately, there’s no Gentle Typhoons installed on the radiator, but a closer inspection shows that the fan is easily removable. It’s connected to the cooling pump via a three-pin fan header, so you’ll be able to unscrew the fan from the radiator and slap on your own three-pin fan if you wish.

The radiator fan can be detached so you can install your own fan if you wish.

The cooling shroud itself boasts some aggressive details and styling, with the Devil branding displayed prominently on its front. But upon handling, we couldn’t help notice that the general feel and build quality of the card falls a little short compared to air-cooled versions of the card from manufacturers like ASUS and MSI. The card feels light, in part due to the absence of a full array of dense heatsink fins and heatpipes thanks to the water-cooling loop, but the plastic shroud doesn’t quite convey the premium feel that you would expect of a hybrid card; especially one that hails from the "Devil" class of PowerColor cards.

The predominantly plastic body doesn't convey a sufficiently premium feel.

In comparison, the PowerColor Radeon R9 Fury X that uses AMD’s reference design is an example of a water-cooled card that’s done right. It’s lighter than most air-cooled cards, but there’s still a comforting heft to it, and the look and feel of the materials let you know that you’re holding a solidly constructed product. The PowerColor Devil Radeon R9 390X is by no means poorly constructed, but it could do with some improvements in build quality.

There is however, still a brushed metal backplate to reinforce the PCB, but this feature has become so common on cards these days that the lack of one would probably be a more noteworthy fact.

The brushed metal backplate sports the same aggressive detailing as the cooling shroud.

When it comes to display connectors, the card has a fairly standard set comprising two DVI-D ports, one DisplayPort connector, and one HDMI output.

The card's display connectors include two DVI-D ports, one DisplayPort output, and one HDMI connector.

It’s powered by one six-pin and eight-pin connector, the same as AMD’s reference specification.

The card is powered by one 6-pin and one 8-pin external PCIe connector.

The PowerColor Devil Radeon R9 390X is factory overclocked out of the box, with a core clock of 1100MHz – a 50MHz bump over AMD’s official reference specification of 1050MHz – and memory clock of 1525MHz. In the next section, we'll look at whether these slight increases translate into tangible differences in gaming.

Test Setup

These are the specifications of our graphics testbed:

  • Intel Core i7-5960X
  • ASUS X99-Pro(Intel X99 chipset) motherboard
  • 4 x 4GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2133 (Auto timings: CAS 15-15-15-36)
  • Samsung SSD 840 Pro 256GB SATA 6Gbps solid state drive (OS)
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps hard drive (benchmark + games)
  • Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit SP1
  • Intel INF 10.0.20

We’ll be comparing it with the MSI Radeon R9 390X Gaming 8G to see how it holds up against an air-cooled version of itself from another manufacturer. In addition, we’ll bring back the cards we used in our original review of the Radeon R9 390X to provide a better idea of how it stacks up against the competition. Below is a full list of the cards compared and their driver versions:

  • PowerColor Devil Radeon R9 390X (AMD Catalyst 15.7)
  • MSI Radeon R9 390X Gaming 8G (AMD Catalyst 15.7)
  • PowerColor PCS+ R9 390 (AMD Catalyst 15.7)
  • ASUS Radeon R9 290X DirectCU II (AMD Catalyst 15.7)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 G1 Gaming (ForceWare 353.30)
  • Palit GeForce GTX 970 JetStream (ForceWare 353.30)



Since we’ve already looked at the full performance characteristics of the card in our earlier review of the MSI Radeon R9 390X, we’ll be running a narrower set of synthetic real-world and gaming benchmarks to test the card.

This is the list of benchmarks we used:

  • Futuremark 3DMark 2013
  • Crysis 3

3DMark 2013’s FireStrike Extreme benchmark was used for our temperature and power consumption tests.


Gaming Results

The PowerColor Devil Radeon R9 390X is clocked slightly higher than its MSI counterpart, with a core clock of 1100MHz versus the MSI’s out-of-the-box speed of 1080MHz. Its memory clock is also a tad bit more aggressive at 1525MHz to the MSI’s 1500MHz. This translates into a slight advantage in synthetic benchmarks scores in 3DMark 2013, but which probably will not equate to any tangible difference in real-world frame rates in game.

As expected, the difference between the PowerColor Devil and the MSI card in Crysis 3 amounts to just over a single frame at most. You’re definitely not going to notice the difference in-game. These results come as no surprise, and the slight speed bump the PowerColor Devil has over the MSI Radeon R9 390X is indeed too minuscule to result in a tangible difference.


Overclocking Results

When it came to overclocking, the PowerColor Devil Radeon R9 390X displayed seriously lackluster results. We were only able to achieve a tiny 10MHz overclock to 1110MHz and could not manage to overclock the memory without encountering heavy artifacts in 3DMark. This diminutive increase translates into a similarly insignificant increase in 3DMark 2013 that is just a fraction of a per cent.

The Radeon R9 390X does not overclock well in general and we were only able to push the MSI card to a core clock of 1130MHz. However, we were still able to push its effective memory clock to 6480MHz, something which we were not able to do on the PowerColor Devil at all. The MSI card gained a 4% boost in performance after overclocking – not very impressive, but still many times better than the Devil.

Given that overclocking can often vary quite widely from chip to chip, we’re not sure if the Devil’s poor performance is unique to our review unit, or if it says something about PowerColor’s chip selection process as a whole.


Temperature and Power Consumption

The PowerColor Devil redeems itself from its poor overclocking performance in our temperature tests. The hybrid cooling solution is certainly helping keep matters cool, and we recorded a peak temperature of just 50°C at the GPU core. This is actually just 5°C above the Radeon R9 Fury X, which posted a peak temperature of 45°C in our review.

This is a fairly impressive result as the Radeon R9 390X actually has quite a high thermal output. Case in point: The MSI Radeon R9 390X uses MSI’s excellent Twin Frozr V cooler but still posted a peak temperature of 73°C.

Power consumption is a little on the high side, thanks to the Hawaii XT GPU. It guzzles slightly more power than its MSI counterpart, but this can probably be attributed to its marginally higher core and memory clocks.



Thanks to its hybrid cooler, the card's cooling performance is a huge cut above the rest of the crowd.

The PowerColor Devil stands out because of its excellent cooling performance relative to other cards. PowerColor has done a good job of taming the Radeon R9 390X, and it’ll probably appeal to you if you’re a stickler about temperatures and like PowerColor’s design.

However, it’s unfortunate that the improved cooling system has not translated into better overclocking headroom. Those looking to squeeze out some extra performance will certainly come away disappointed. This also doesn't stand the PowerColor card in good stead when compared to custom GeForce GTX 980 solutions like the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 G1 Gaming. The GeForce GTX 980 overclocks admirably, and you'll be able to squeeze out around a 10% improvement in performance.

Then again, the Radeon R9 390X itself is not a card that overclocks very well anyway, so even if the MSI Radeon R9 390X does overclock slightly better, those who are looking to push their cards hard will likely look to an entirely different card altogether. 

In addition, as we noted earlier, the Devil doesn't quite have the heft or feel of a premium card, even if it is clearly intended to be one. We're fully aware that your card is going to spend most of its days stuck in your case, but it'd still be nice to have something that feels a little more solidly built.

In other words, we have devilish cooling, but not quite as devilish performance in other aspects. As a result, we'd really only recommend the Devil to those who are extremely particular about thermal performance and don't intend to overclock their card.

At S$729, the PowerColor Devil Radeon R9 390X is surprisingly cheap. We honestly expected it to cost more, since water-cooling loops often command a price premium. But as it stands, it's even S$10 cheaper than the S$739 MSI Radeon R9 390X Gaming 8G. Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of priorities. If you want the best possible cooling for your Radeon R9 390X, the Devil is definitely on the table. We really can't argue against it at the price it's going for. PowerColor's cards have always been more affordable than that of other brands, and that looks to be a trend it wants to maintain with the Devil. 

But if you don't care much for water-cooling or prize build quality above all else or simply can't spare space to mount the water cooling radiator and its tubing, you are probably better off looking at – strangely – slightly more pricey air-cooled cards from the likes of ASUS and MSI. If you've read till the end and find the card still interests you, PowerColor says it will be available locally as early as next week.

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  • Performance 7
  • Features 8
  • Value 8
The Good
Excellent cooling performance thanks to hybrid cooler
Slightly higher stock speeds compared to equivalent cards from other manufacturers
Competitively priced
The Bad
Build quality could be improved upon
Hardly overclockable
High power consumption
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