AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: October 30, 2013
Product Name: R9 290X
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With the R9 290X released alongside the R9 280X, R9 270X and R7 260X, October 2013 has been a banner month of AMDís graphics division. Not only was NVIDIA caught flat-footed with cards that were suddenly deemed overpriced (in some cases by a significant amount) but with an impressive lineup of games being released this holiday season, the new Radeon lineup couldnít be better positioned. Now, weíre about to see yet another launch from AMD in the form of their R9 290 4GB and this one may be the most important of them all.

The R9 290 4GB is very much the lynchpin in AMDís lineup since it targets gamers who canít afford or donít want to spend the $549 demanded by the R9 290X. It also acts as a bridge product between AMDís Titan killer and the rebranded R9 280X which is slightly more efficient and boasts better overclocking headroom than its bigger brother. NVIDIAís lineup is also ripe for the picking since, even with their latest price reductions, the GTX 770 and GTX 780 may still not live up to the price / performance ratio offered by the R9 290.

The Hawaii core has undergone a few small revisions in order to create the R9 290. While it remains a 6.2 billion transistor behemoth based on a 28nm manufacturing process, AMD has cut out a quartet of Compute Units which should fractionally lower power consumption and improve yields. ROPs and their associated Render Back Ends, the L2 cache and memory controller allotment havenít been touched. There has been a slight reduction of 64KB of L1 cache but that shouldnít adversely affect performance in any way.

The ability to remove individual Compute Units without affecting a whole Shader Engine or other key parts of the architecture is an important aspect AMDís GCN core technology. It allows for the flexibility to tailor design products for a given segment. With that being said, all of the enhancements rolled into the R9 290X have been carried over into this core. Weíve already covered the Hawaii architecture in detail within our R9 290X review and wonít be rehashing it so head on over there for additional technical details.

With just four less Compute Units, the R9 290 4GB is still quite close to the R9 290X in terms of core specifications. It uses 2560 stream processors and 160 texture units which is 256 and 16 less respectively than the fully enabled Hawaii core. It also comes with the same 4GB, 512-bit, 5Gbps memory interface as its sibling so there will be plenty of bandwidth for applications that require a high amount of texture memory or ultra high resolutions.

The real differentiator here is core clocks. While the R9 290X typically operates between 850MHz (or lower in some rare instances) and 1GHz but tended to average 865MHz in Silent Mode, the R9 290ís engine typically hovers between the 875MHz and 925MHz boundaries though we found continual speeds to be about 900MHz after continuous gameplay. Thatís a particularly interesting figure since it points to the cut-down architecture having additional frequency headroom which the Silent Mode 290X didnít. To achieve this, AMD has increased fan speeds to 47% which somewhat explains the higher figures and also points towards why they decided not to include an Uber Mode.

With the R9 290X sitting at $549 and the R9 280X at $299 AMD didnít really need to thread a needle with the R9 290ís price. At just $399 it is being launched into a particular sweet spot within the gaming market while taking over from the HD 7970 GHz Editionís price point. Considering how well the 290X performed, this should be a pleasant surprise for anyone looking for a high performance graphics card for Battlefield 4 and other triple-A titles being released before Christmas.

With such close specification proximity, some may be wondering whether or not the R9 290X is now overpriced. As we'll see in this review, it's a valid question and there may be some reason for R9 290X buyers to worry.

The competing GeForce cards like the GTX 780 and GTX 770 have been largely supplanted by the superior pricing structure of AMDís new lineup. Indeed, had this launch been a week ago, it would have been like rubbing salt in NVIDIAís open wounds since the R9 290 would have gone head to head against the GTX 770, a card that typically finds itself exchanging blows with AMDís lower end R9 280X. Thatís since changed since NVIDIA has finally given in to pressure and cut costs of their high end GTX-series products while including some excellent value-added gaming bundles.

With the GTX 780 now sitting at $499 and the GTX 770 at $329, the R9 290 finds itself in a relative sea of calm. NVIDIAís cards do come with an excellent games bundle which may put them ahead in some respects but in terms of long-term value, it will be interesting to see where the R9 290 4GB ultimately resides.

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