PowerColor R9 290X PCS+ 4GB Review
In our whirlwind tour of R9 290X cards, one thing is becoming evident: with the right amount of attention to cooling, AMD’s flagship GPU is truly able to shine. We’ve seen the likes of XFX, Gigabyte and ASUS equip their wares with increasingly impressive heatsinks and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. Now PowerColor is about the join their ranks with their R9 290X PCS+ and at the risk of preempting our own conclusion, this might very well be the best Hawaii-based graphics card around.
There have been a large number of complains that AMD’s GPU sales are being dominated by folks using their cards for crypto currency mining. From the epic price premiums being commanded by the entire Radeon lineup to some pretty drastic stock shortages, there are a huge number of reasons for concern but AMD and their board partners have been reaping the short-term benefits. This situation has also resulted in perks for end users as some companies have begun over-building their cards in an effort to improve longevity under the constant stresses of mining. PowerColor’s aims are exactly that; design the PCS+ for optimal performance in games but also reinforced its design with heavily upgraded components in an effort to reduce RMA frequency.
The component selection isn’t really something that will impact gamers’ initial opinion about the PCS+, other than having some peace of mind. What will impact their purchasing decision is likely the clock speeds which PowerColor managed to squeeze out of their latest custom card. We saw a constant core frequency of 1050MHz, equaling ASUS’ excellent DirectCU II OC and one upping all other R9 290X cards we’ve come across thus far. Memory also gets a boost to 5.4Gbps which is a nice change from the ordinary since most board partners have decided to forego the binning process necessary to insure their GDDR5 modules consistently operate at higher speeds.
Time hasn’t exactly been kind to the price of AMD’s Radeon cards but as of the last few weeks, we’ve seen a wave of stabilization hit the market. While mining is still driving up prices, the days of $200 to $300 retailer markups on custom cards are a thing of the past….for now. On average we are now seeing a $50 premium on most SKUs while the custom, overclocked cards like PowerColor’s PCS+ typically command $100 more than AMD launched the R9 290X at. Does $650 for this card represent decent value? That’s what we’re hoping to find out.
PowerColor’s focus for this card was evident from the moment we saw it; performance and cooling above all else. Not two damns were given about length or the perception some may have about the two and a half slot heatsink. The R9 290X PCS+ basically turns up its middle finger to all the board partners who played it safe and says “I’m not ashamed of what I am”. And yet, somehow, the gargantuan heatsink still manages to look relatively sleek.
With that being said, there are a few epic dimensions you’ll need to be aware of before running out to buy PowerColor’s flagship GPU. It’s 11 ¾” long, 2” high and tips the scales at a hefty 1000 grams or 2.2 lbs. This means compatibility may be limited to higher end cases and it may constrict your available expansion slots, eliminating the possibility of a secondary sound card or other add-in depending on the motherboard.
PowerColor’s latest generation PCS+ heatsink uses a trio of 80mm fans which push air down onto a massive heatsink but unfortunately, most of the expelled hot air remains within your case. The rear exhaust vent on this card doesn’t really serve a purpose since we could only detect the most miniscule amount of air movement from it.
Another interesting addition is the rear heatsink’s extension past the PCB so it lines up with the upper side’s shroud. This does create a few raw edges but it does make the design look a bit more complete.
The actual heatsink itself is simply a brute force affair with four 6mm copper heatpipes and a vapor chamber baseplate. This setup feeds the core’s heat into a thick dual stage fin array which is designed for maximum efficiency without requiring high RPM fans. The memory modules also get their own cooling with blue heat pads and a stand-alone secondary aluminum heatsink.
The components for this R9 290X’s all digital 7-phase also receive linear heatsinks but that isn’t really needed since they’re built to military grade specs with thermal envelopes of at least 125°C.
PowerColor’s full coverage backplate certainly looks impressive but it’s all for show. For whatever reason, it has been cantilevered upwards with nickel spacers so there is no direct contact with the PCB’s rear-facing components. This causes some installation issues since the PCI-E slot locking mechanisms on some motherboards can’t be accessed. In addition, it will cause conflicts on boards which have the topmost PCI-E slot close to the memory slots’ locking tabs.
There really isn’t anything different going on with the power inputs or rear output panel. However, it’s important to note that PowerColor has equipped the R9 290X PCS+ with a single default BIOS since, as you’ll see on the next page, there’s really no need for Silent and Uber modes. For tweakers, there is a switch but as far as we can tell, it is equipped with two identical BIOSes.
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