ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II OC Review
Ever since its release gamers have been anxiously waiting for the R9 290X to receive its usual dose of board partner excitement. Custom cooling solutions and higher out-of-box clock speeds have taken a while to make their way onto the market but they’re finally here and in this review, we take a look at what will likely be one of the most popular examples: the ASUS R9 290X DirectCU II OC. This certainly won’t be the only non-reference R9 290X out there but it does come with ASUS’ long history of success in the custom graphics card field.
The excitement behind this particular “launch” of custom cards hasn’t been completely fueled by the usual suspects of overclocking, a better component selection and more choices. Rather, due to AMD’s PowerTune algorithms curtailing core frequencies while they struggled to balance heat and power consumption, many felt the reference R9 290X was never able to fully reach its potential without reaching insane acoustical levels. That’s exactly what we saw in our launch day review and it continued into retail samples as well.
While the thermal issues with AMD’s latest core have been well publicized, board partners have experienced some extreme challenges when engineering heatsinks for their custom R9 290X cards. According to our conversations with them, the Hawaii architecture is one of the hottest-running they’ve come across since the original Fermi and many previous cooler designs had to either be tweaked or thrown out completely. This led to some delays for others but ASUS was able to carry over their well-regarded, DirectCU II design en masse. This is great news since every other time we’ve come across this particular heatsink, it has achieved some impressive results.
Despite backstopping their card with an excellent cooling solution, ASUS has left clock speeds at a relatively modest level of “up to” 1050MHz on the core, a mere 50MHz up from the reference 1GHz. The real star of the show here is consistency rather than ASUS’ relatively minor frequency bumps since the upgraded thermal dissipation ensures the card can run at higher frequencies more often even when under constant load, unlike AMD’s initial samples with their wildly fluctuating characteristics.
ASUS even includes their own Performance and Silent modes, mirroring AMD’s goals by providing easily modifiable fan speed and performance profiles. With this in mind, our R9 290X DirectCU II OC achieved some seriously impressive results with the core hitting an average speed of 1050MHz and 998MHz in Performance and Silent modes respectively. As you’ll see on the following pages, this translates into some drastic in-game differences in TDP limited scenarios.
One pleasant surprise is ASUS’ incorporation of memory overclocks. Believe it or not, this is a drastic departure from their previous outings and highlights the amount of untapped overhead available in AMD’s conservative 5Gbps rating. In this case the GDDR5 comes in at 5.4GHz which may not be much but it should help edge framerates a bit higher and bandwidth-limited scenarios.
What most of you are probably wondering right about now is how much the R9 290X DirectCU II OC will actually cost. Truth be told, we have absolutely no idea simply because the high end AMD GPU market is so volatile right now. By towing the company line and saying it will come in at $570 (just $20 above AMD’s initial $550 asking price) would be facetious since everyone knows about the insane markups being leveraged onto most Radeon graphics cards these days. With the LiteCoin mining craze in full swing you can be assured of two things: the DirectCU II won’t come cheap and most won’t end up in the hands of gamers. With that being said, things may clear up once it becomes available in January.
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