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AMD R9 290X Review (Part 1)

Rating: 8.5.

October has been an extremely busy month for AMD, bringing to market a new family of graphics cards. A couple of weeks ago they released the budget R7 260X, mid range R9 270X and high end R9 280X. We weren't overly impressed with the noisy AMD reference coolers, although partners such as Sapphire, XFX and ASUS launched a slew of enhanced custom cooled cards with pricing so competitive that they have been difficult to ignore. Many of our readers have been waiting for today however – the release of the new flagship R9 290X … marketed to tackle Nvidia's class leading GTX780.

Nvidia have been immensely strong in 2013 – dominating the high end sector with their GTX780 and GTX Titan graphics cards. Unfortunately due to a lack of competition from AMD throughout 2013 it has meant Nvidia haven't felt the need to drop their prices. We do love the GTX780, but with many modified R9 280X graphics cards available for just under £230 inc vat, the GTX780 suddenly appears to be a very expensive option.

Nvidia partners are still asking £500+ for the GTX 780 and the GTX Titan is still retailing for around £700. The only AMD solution that effectively will challenge these high end boards is AMD's last gen dual GPU HD7990. Prices have dropped from over £750 to £479.99 in recent weeks, although according to reports, sales are still relatively weak.

Retailers are clearly trying to shift a lot of stock that isn't selling.
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We are splitting our launch article into two separate reviews. Why?

Well, both AMD and Nvidia are keen to focus on 4K gaming, however we know that a miniscule percentage of our readers will be able to afford one of the latest £3,000 30 inch screens. Obviously in a years time the situation may be different, but we don't want to forget our readers still using a single 30 inch screen.

Therefore today we present results at 2560×1600, and in the coming week we will publish ‘Part 2' of this article using our new Asus PQ321QE 4K screen running at 3840 x 2160 resolution.
Both reviews will feature comparisons against the fastest R280X card available today – the Sapphire R9 280X Toxic Edition. We also include results from a reference clocked GTX780, a GTX Titan and the class leading MSI GTX780 Lightning – all of which we have reviewed in the past.

All cards on test today however have been re-analysed using the latest Catalyst and Forceware drivers (13.11 beta5 and 331.40 respectively)- tested within the last week to make sure we are getting results with the latest bug fixes and performance enhancements.
On paper there is no doubt that the R9 290X is a monster, clocked at 1GHZ. The Hawaii GPU is built on the 28nm process and the card comprises 6.2 billion transistors. The R9 290X has 64 ROP's, 176 TMU's and 2,816 unifed shaders. The 4GB of GDDR5 memory runs at 1,250mhz (5Gbps effective) and is connected via an ultra wide 512 bit memory interface.

The R9 290X, along with the R7 260X features a programmable audio pipeline. The R9 270X and R9 280X don't. This new TrueAudio technology is designed for game audio artists and engineers, so they can ‘bring their artistic vision beyond sound production into the realm of sound processing'. This technology is intended to transform game audio as programmable shaders transformed graphics in the following ways:

  • Programmable audio pipeline grants artistic freedom to game audio engineers for sound processing.
  • Easy to access through popular audio libraries used by top game developers.
  • Fundamentally redefines the nature of a modern PC graphics card.
  • Spatialization, reverb, mastering limiters and simultaneous voices are only the beginning.

The R9 290X also brings bridgeless Crossfire to the table as well, but we only have one sample on hand, so we need to wait for a while before we can test this.

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  1. Wow for AMD to able defeat Titan thats really something, maybe i will buy this card if its available in my country. But not AMD reference card, maybe from MSI or Gigabyte.

  2. good honest review! amazing hardware but that cooler should not be on this card – will they ever listen!

  3. Quite a few AMD favoured games in this, but good to see a few others added recently. Interesting to see the fan and cooler seem to struggle to handle the heat. Ill wait on the Vapor X model end of year and upgrade then.

  4. I am impressed with the performance., no question – its an uplift after the 280x and 270x – but the only thing is that today it seems to be only reference cards.

    Any ideas when MSI, Sapphire XFX etc will have modified versions out to buy? hope they keep them well below £500. Nvidia will drop 780 prices soon

  5. AMD reference coolers have always sucked. I remember the 4870 days when they said 105c was ok long term too and my card basically melted within 3 months. ill pass on this one until they sort out a good cooler

  6. I didnt think the TITAN cooler was that good – I wanted a modified cooler for that card from day 1. this is a fantastic solution, but it needs watercooled by the looks of it. that driver change in CCC is bonkers – no need for it, and no need to try and fool us into thinking this change is anything but a requirement to try and get the card stable at the rated speed. its not a driver ‘addition’ for any other reason.

  7. In my honest opinion the reference coolers on the 7XX cards are some the best they have done. The 290x temps warrant an aftermarket cooler for sure. Impressive performance non the less, i hope to see some great results from alternative cooling solutions.

    The 780s are out-performing the Titan with all the new drivers so i personally expected to see 290x surpass it from the get go. Lets see what AMD next! 🙂