AMD Radeon R9 290X 4GB Review
After nearly two years, AMD is finally launching a new assault on the ultra high end graphics card market with their R9 290X and R9 290. Both of these cards are based on a revised GCN architecture and incorporate enough performance to go toe to toe against the best NVIDIA has to offer. For the time being, only the R9 290X is being launched with the R9 290 getting its unveiling sometime soon. After the rebranded R9 280X, R9 270X and R7 260X made some waves a few weeks ago, the R9 290X is the one everyone was waiting for.
The R9 290X is the fastest graphics card AMD has ever produced and it should be able to compete against NVIDIA’s TITAN in vast majority of games. It also incorporates a number a feature set enhancements like TrueAudio, Mantle support, DX11.2 compatibility and an updated PowerTune engine. However, what really allows the 290X to stretch its legs is the massive amount of raw rendering capabilities AMD built into its core.
In creating the R9 290X, AMD basically maxed out their capabilities in an effort to wring the most out of their GCN architecture as possible. This wasn’t an easy task since it meant increasing the Stream Processor, ROP and TMU counts while still operating within the thermal and power consumption constraints of a less efficient 28nm manufacturing process.
Even though AMD had to constrain their design to fit within relatively stringent limitations, they’ve still equipped the R9 290X with some impressive specifications. It has 2816 Stream Processors and 176 texture units which represents a nearly 40 percent increase in theoretical throughput over Tahiti. While the HD 7970 and by extension the R9 280X was ROP bottlenecked in some rare scenarios, the R9 290X doubles up on Tahiti XT’s ROP layout with 64 units. With these changes, pixel fillrate has essentially doubled from 32GP/s to 64GP/s. Likewise, the texture fillrate and compute performance have seen a 38 percent boost but, like the GTX 780, the R9 290X runs Double Precision at 1/8th the rate of single precision.
With the games industry moving towards larger texture maps and monitors starting to push up against the 4K barrier, AMD has decided to move towards 4GB, 512-bit GDDR5 interface which provides 320 GB/s of memory bandwidth. That should be more than enough for the foreseeable future.
AMD has stated power consumption for the R9 290X is about 250W. That’s unusual to say the least since the HD 7970 GHz Edition uses a substantially smaller die package, is significantly less pwoerful and houses less memory than the 290X…yet also consumes about 250W. As you’ll see in our tests, AMD’s latest flagship gulps down a huge amount of power and, according to several board partners we’ve talked to; their board designs easily hit the 300W mark in lab tests. Hence, we've given some approximate numbers for the 290X above.
Another mysterious omission is actual clock speeds. While NVIDIA’s latest cards and even some of AMD’s R-series products list a Boost and Base clock which gives buyers a relatively accurate depiction of the card’s behavior, the 290X features an oddball “up to” frequency which tells us precisely nothing. This is partially due to AMD’s revised PowerTune routine but as we discuss later in this article, there’s no need to be so nebulous about the R9 290X’s operating speeds. For the record, in our testing, the Base frequency seems to be around 850MHz which is a far cry away from 1GHz.
One thing many gamers will be wondering about is price and that’s one area where the R9 290X truly shines. At just $549, it is $100 less than the GTX 780 and a whopping $450 less than NVIDIA’s comparable TITAN. This will be a truly pleasant surprise for anyone who thought it was going to be more than $700 and it also gives a clear indication that the upcoming R9 290 will be even more competitively priced. Oh, you'll need to add a few bucks more if you want the Battlefield 4 Edition.
In AMD’s own lineup the R9 290X will sit in a preeminent position, well above the R9 280X and the HD 7970 GHz Edition. That gap will be closed at some point by the R9 290 which will likely fall into a performance bracket somewhere between the GTX 780 and GTX 770.
With specifications, price and positioning taken into account, it’s obvious that AMD is going for NVIDIA’s jugular within the enthusiast market. TITAN has been sitting in its previously unassailable position for a long time now and with the R9 290X, AMD is conceivably launching a card that will outperform it while costing hundreds less. That’s quite an achievement which may cause NVIDIA to rethink their current pricing structure even with their Holiday Game Bundle.
Real question in this whole equation is availability. While TSMC’s 28nm manufacturing process is mature, yields of these high end cores have never been up to the levels of other SKUs so don’t expect the R9 290X availability to be as widespread as lower-end cards. For the record, according to our retailer contacts, this will be a hard launch with product on the shelves tomorrow.
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