AMD lovers had to wait months to get their hands on custom R9 290/X solutions, but their patience has been rewarded with a wealth of partner cards made available in 2014.
The Asus R9 290 Direct CU II OC is undoubtedly an excellent graphics card, able to power the latest games at 1600p and Ultra HD 4K resolutions. Frame rate prowess is almost identical to the Sapphire R9 290 Tri-X OC Edition … not a shocker considering they are running at the same 1,000mhz core clock. Sapphire have however overclocked their GDDR5 a little higher – to 1,300mhz, while Asus have settled for 1,260mhz, a miniscule 10mhz overclock on AMD’s reference design.
The fastest R9 290 we have tested to this point comes from Gigabyte. Their R9 290 WindForce OC ships with an enhanced core clock of 1,040mhz, pushing frame rate performance a little ahead of the Asus and Sapphire solutions.
In previous years we have always rated the Asus Direct CU II cooler, but we now feel Asus are lagging behind the competiton. While Gigabyte and Sapphire have adopted high grade triple fan coolers, Asus have decided to stay true to their smaller dual fan layout.
Asus need to head back to the drawing board and release an upgraded triple fan Direct CU III version on upcoming models. The benefits of a good triple fan cooler are that each fan can spin slower with a greater combined air flow, simultaneously reducing noise levels.
Interestingly, the Direct CU II cooler on this specific card is equipped with 5 direct touch heatpipes, 2 of which actually don’t make direct contact with AMD’s Hawaii core. We have heard from several sources that this cooler has been adopted from the ASUS GTX780 range, which would explain the core contact size differences. You can see this on page 2 of our review today.
While we mentioned some high VRM temperatures on the thermal dynamics page of our review, we didn’t experience any instability during testing, and we were able to overclock the core on this card by 10%, to 1,100mhz. We had to raise the default fan settings a little to help with cooling, but the Asus R9 290 Direct CU II OC did overclock to the same levels as both Sapphire and Gigabyte solutions. ASUS did explain the (supposed) high VRM temperatures and you can read this on the Thermal Dynamics page in this review.
Right now you can buy the Asus R9 290 Direct CU II OC from Overclockers UK for £389,99 inc vat. We would still choose the Sapphire R9 290 Tri-X Edition however, it is priced the same as the Asus board we reviewed today, and the Tri-X cooling system is markedly superior to the competing products from Gigabyte and ASUS.
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- excellent performance.
- 10% overclocking headroom.
- Sapphire Tri-X cooler is the market leader.
- A new triple fan design would help ASUS.