AMD Radeon R9 295X2 Performance Review
“This card isn’t for everyone” is AMD’s byline of choice when talking about their Radeon R9 295X2, code named Hydra. That may come off as ominous and slightly off-putting in some circles but it’s a well-placed warning. There are only a few dedicated gamers who typically see the value in these ultra expensive, power hungry dual core graphics cards. The 295X2 takes things to another level, which may limit its appeal in certain cases but at the same time its unique design could open the door to broader acceptance.
To understand a bit more about the R9 295X2 and the decisions AMD made during its gestation, we’ve got to look back in time. The HD 4870X2, HD 6990 and HD 7990 were all excellent cards in their own right but were ultimately crippled by poor driver support, constant in-game stuttering and extremely loud fan profiles. With the more recent HD 7990, AMD overcame the first two issues months after launch but by that time it’s luster had worn off and gamers had moved on to discussing the upcoming Hawaii architecture. The R9 295X2 hopes to do things differently with strong driver support from day one and an advanced cooling solution which is meant to drastically cut down its noise footprint.
With a pair of fully enabled Hawaii XT cores –the one found in the hot running R9 290X- on a single PCB, the R9 295X2 makes no qualms about targeting a very narrow enthusiast subset. However, even with some advanced engineering backstopping already impressive technical specs, there are still some limitations AMD’s engineers had to contend with. Due to PowerTune’s updated algorithms reference R9 290X’s tended to throttle their clock speeds back when trying to balance out thermal characteristics and performance. To overcome rampant heat production the R9 295X2 uses a water cooler which is a solution that’s been bandied about for several generations now but is only seeing the light now.
On the driver front, AMD has made some great strides towards better support by leveraging Gaming Evolved's developer relationships for improved in-engine optimizations. Crossfire scaling through the new XDMA interface should also work towards eliminating that horrible stuttering that used to occur with Radeon-based multi GPU configurations. Features like Mantle and TrueAudio will likely prove to be key differentiators here as well.
We typically see dual GPU cards making some concessions to attain a given TDP target but in this case AMD threw caution into the wind. Both cores are operating at full-tilt and with a high end cooling solution backing them up, throttling never becomes a problem. This means performance scaling should be quite linear between a single R9 290X and the R9 295X2 with the exception of latency introduced through the included PLX PCI-E bridge chip. More importantly, other than their $3000 TITAN Z, NVIDIA doesn’t have anything they can respond with for now.
Speaking of price, the R9 295X2 is the most expensive Radeon product to date with an MSRP of $1500. While some of you will likely be taken aback by the price, the total cost isn’t actually that bad. Two R9 290X’s go for about $1100 and then we can figure another $150 for the Asetek water cooling system, resulting of a relatively minimal upcharge of $250. To us this is actually a pretty fair proposition considering NVIDIA wants a $1000 premium for the TITAN Z compared to two TITAN Blacks.
Typically power consumption can be conveniently overlooked by enthusiasts who want the best of the best, but not this time. Why? To feed its epic 500W requirement, the Radeon R9 295X2 needs a power supply with at least 50A on a single +12V rail or 28A of power per +12V output of a multi rail PSU. That may not be a hindrance for most modern 1000W PSUs with massive +12V capacity but slightly older high wattage units may require some coaxing to ensure compatibility. Take a very close look at rail distribution before assuming your PSU can handle this card.
Availability really is the fifteen hundred dollar question here since once again AMD is in the midst of a soft launch. We don’t expect to see any R9 295X2’s for sale until the week of April 21st and even then expect stock to be relatively thin. This is considered a limited edition card so broad-scale shipments just aren’t possible.
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