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AMD R9 290 Review (1600P, 4K and CF)


In the flesh, the AMD R9 290 looks identical to the R9 290X reviewed recently. The card is a two slot design featuring the traditional small, red AMD fan on one side of the cooler. This forces in air across the board and out the back of the case. As this is a reference design from AMD we didn’t get any accessories. Hopefully we will have some AMD partner solutions in the coming months.
The AMD R9 290 reference card is built around a black and red accented plastic shroud which houses the cooler underneath. The PCB is black, identical to the R9 290X.
The card has a DVI-I, DVI-D, full sized HDMI and DisplayPort connectors.

R9 Series graphics cards can now support up to three HDMI/DVI displays for use with AMD Eyefinity technology. A set of displays which support identical timings is required to enable this feature. The display clocks and timing for this feature are configured at boot time.

As such, display hot‐plugging is not supported for the third HDMI/DVI connection. A reboot is required to enable three HDMI/DVI displays.
The R9 290 reference card takes power from a single 6 pin and a single 8 pin PCI connector.
There is no Crossfire connector on the R9 290. The 290X and 290 offer Bridgeless Crossfire capabilities. We test this later in the review, by setting up a 290 and 290X mixed Crossfire system.

In the picture above you can see a BIOS switch however unlike the 290X, this switch doesn’t change any settings. Those who have read our previous editorials will already be aware that the BIOS switch on the 290X would shift between a 40% and a 55% maximum fan profile.
cccdefaultcatalyst beta 8 fan speed changes
In my first R9 290X article, I discussed concerns with the cooling system and throttling at the 40% ‘quiet’ fan setting. It would appear that AMD have taken feedback onboard and are adjusting their drivers to try and reduce this throttling.

AMD initially had planned to launch the R9 290 on Thursday the 31st of October, but less than 48 hours before launch they asked us to stop testing the card and to await a new driver. This meant that all testing to this point had to be canned. The launch was subsequently pushed back to Tuesday the 5th of November.

This is particularly interesting because we noticed some thermal throttling from the R9 290 with the BETA6 Driver – which set up a maximum fan speed of 40%. The updated BETA8 driver increased this max fan speed to 47%. We have included images above for reference. It may seem like a small change, but that 7% fan increase has really helped improve performance.

What AMD didn’t know is that I had prepared BETA 6 tests at both 40% default fan and 55% fan settings (identical speeds to the R9 290X Quiet and Uber settings), as I noticed core downclocking in synthetic benchmarks and even some games at 40% default settings. Their BETA 8 adjustment helped to reduce R9 290 core downclocking under heavy load circumstances. Noise levels are a little higher, but it makes more sense to try and maximise performance from the new hardware rather than downclock the core on a fairly regular basis.

We decided to just publish results today using their new BETA8 47% fan setting, and unfortunately we had to start testing at all resolutions again. AMD said other driver changes were made, but they didn’t detail exactly what.

If you have missed the new Catalyst Control Center changes then it is worth pointing out again that this has been redesigned to accommodate the new PowerTune functionality in the AMD R9 290 solution.

Overclocking and Power are now linked into a ’2 dimensional heatmap’. AMD claim that this new heat map interface will make it more intuitive for the end user to adjust product performance. The R9 290X uses a dynamic engine clock and overdriving the core speed works on a percentage.

The fan speed slider has also been reworked. Previous versions of Overdrive would set the fan to a specific RPM. This new system sets an upper limit on the fan RPM but otherwise allows the fan to be managed based on demand and graphics load. At default, the R9 290 and R9 290X fan maxes out based on the current settings of the video BIOS that was booted. Adjusting the maximum fan slider will allow the user to select a different limit.

In the ‘real world’, the fan speed is limited to a maximum of 47% while the software simultaneously holds a maximum default temperature of 95C. This temperature has raised many concerns from our readers, and we feel the same. It needs to be lower long term because the R9 290 and R9 290X pump a ridiculous amount of hot air inside a case. We would imagine that AMD partners will resolve this issue in the coming months with custom cooler designs.
The R9 290X card is built to quite a high standard, although the reference cooler could have been much better. Take a look at the cooler on the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Edition for instance which features monster 10mm heatpipes – we can only hope Sapphire will bring out a heavily customised version of the R9 290 in the coming weeks.
The AMD R9 reference card, clocked at 947mhz. The Hawaii CPU is built on the 28nm process and the card comprises 6.2 billion transistors. The R9 290 has 64 ROPS, 160 texture units and 2,560 Stream processors. The 4GB of GDDR5 memory runs at 1,250mhz (5Gbps effective) and is connected via a fat 512 bit memory interface.

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