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PowerColor PCS+ R9 290X Review: Cool, Quiet, And Priced Right

PowerColor PCS+ R9 290X Review: Cool, Quiet, And Priced Right
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PowerColor sent over a second 2.5-slot Hawaii-based card. The first was MSI's R9 290X Lightning. This one, the PCS+ R9 290X is both lighter and less expensive. Does PowerColor out-engineer MSI and score an upset, or is the PCS+ simply less capable?

Recently, we published MSI R9 290X Lightning Review: The Right Way To Cool Hawaii. In that piece, we decided that MSI's cooling solution was among the best we've seen for AMD's Hawaii GPU; it was only a shame that the R9 290X Lightning was selling at such a steep premium. All the while, we had an eye on another graphics card that was bumping around at the bottom of Newegg's price list, and yet topped by what looked like a comparably-capable cooler: PowerColor's PCS+ AXR9 290X.

And now that we have it in our lab, we can compare both 2.5-slot boards to each other. The match-up is an exciting one, for not only is PowerColor's option $100 less expensive (Update: Actually, $150 now), but it's also significantly lighter. Can the PCS+ AXR9 290X really stand up to the flagship R9 290X Lightning for less money?

With prices on all Radeon R9 290Xes coming back down to more palatable levels, it's time to get a little more excited about the quickest Hawaii-based boards. Better still, a lot of them rectify AMD's hot, noisy reference cooler with competent third-party thermal solutions.

Technical Specs in Comparison

First, let’s take a look at this card's most important specs. Its GPU is set to a factory-overclocked ceiling of 1050 MHz. As with other Hawaii-based implementations, this number is an "up to" rating, meaning it can be made to drop if the chip doesn't get enough cooling under load. That 1050 MHz peak puts PowerColor's PCS+ in the upper-mid-range of 290X cards, though; its core and memory clock rates match Asus' R9290X-DC2OC-4GD5.

In the pages to come, we'll measure the PCS+ AXR9 290X's power consumption and determine whether its theoretical performance translates to the real world. But first, have a look at its specs:

Model
GPU Clock (MHz)
Memory Clock (MHz)
Memory Bandwidth (GB/s)
Pixel Fillrate (GPixel/s)
Texture Fillrate (GTexel/s)
Asus R9290X-DC2OC-4GD5 R9 290X DirectCU II OC1050
1350
345.6
67.2
184.8
Sapphire Tri-X OC R9 290X1040
1300
332.8
66.6
183.0
Gigabyte GV-R929XOC-4GD R9 290X Windforce OC1040
1250
320.0
66.6
183.0
HIS R9 290X IceQ X² Turbo1060
1350
345.6
67.8
186.6
MSI R9 290X Gaming 4G1040
1250
320
66.6
183
MSI R9 290X Lightning1080
1250
320
69.1
190.1
PowerColor PCS+ R9 290X1050
1350
345.6
67.2
184.4
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Top Comments
  • 16 Hide
    CaptainTom , May 5, 2014 12:05 AM
    I just want to point out that this and most 290X's beat a stock 780 Ti. The fact is both 780 Ti and the 290X are trade blows and belong on the same GPU tier. However only one does cost $150 less and come with 4GB VRAM...
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    combine1237 , May 4, 2014 11:36 PM
    For some reason I thought the pcs+ used hynix.
  • 16 Hide
    CaptainTom , May 5, 2014 12:05 AM
    I just want to point out that this and most 290X's beat a stock 780 Ti. The fact is both 780 Ti and the 290X are trade blows and belong on the same GPU tier. However only one does cost $150 less and come with 4GB VRAM...
  • 5 Hide
    Memnarchon , May 5, 2014 12:14 AM
    Quote:
    I just want to point out that this and most 290X's beat a stock 780 Ti. The fact is both 780 Ti and the 290X are trade blows and belong on the same GPU tier. However only one does cost $150 less and come with 4GB VRAM...


    Well, since you are comparing a non reference GPU, you should take also a non-reference GPU to compare.
    Tom's using Gigabyte's 780ti OC which costs the same as the reference card...

    So even the non-reference models are on a different tier as well as their reference...
  • -1 Hide
    bemused_fred , May 5, 2014 2:37 AM
    Any chance of measurements in metric as well as imperial?
  • 4 Hide
    FormatC , May 5, 2014 3:26 AM
    Quote:
    Any chance of measurements in metric as well as imperial?


    Typical translation errors, the original is in metric ;) 
    http://www.tomshardware.de/powercolor-r9-290x-pcs-review,testberichte-241519-3.html4

    I will clearify with Chris, that we use both in the future. Metric is worldwide more common :D 
  • 2 Hide
    dave_trimble , May 5, 2014 5:11 AM
    Surprised the benchmark graph show performance at 1080p. Aren't the 290 series kind of wasted at that resolution? I would love to see the results at 1440p or even 4k. I have a feeling the 780ti might not look quite as good in comparison at higher resolution.
  • 3 Hide
    photonboy , May 5, 2014 6:26 AM
    A stock GTX780Ti is 7% faster at 2560x1440, and 8% faster at 1920x1080 (18 games averaged):
    http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/EVGA/GTX_780_Ti_SC_ACX_Cooler/26.html

    With such a HUGE difference in prices, quality, and performance on all top-end cards you really have to do your research.

    The R9-290X prices vary from $550 to $780 USD!
  • 0 Hide
    dave_trimble , May 5, 2014 7:11 AM
    Quote:
    A stock GTX780Ti is 7% faster at 2560x1440, and 8% faster at 1920x1080 (18 games averaged):
    http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/EVGA/GTX_780_Ti_SC_ACX_Cooler/26.html

    With such a HUGE difference in prices, quality, and performance on all top-end cards you really have to do your research.

    The R9-290X prices vary from $550 to $780 USD!


    Thanks for the response! I thought I had seen reviews elsewhere that showed the 290 series really closing the gap, or even surpassing the 780ti at higher resolutions, but perhaps I was remembering wrong. I recently decided to upgrade to a dual-290 setup, but if I had gone with a single card, the 780ti was at or near the top of my list (until the 290x prices came crashing down, that is).

  • 0 Hide
    That_Guy88 , May 5, 2014 8:38 AM
    So is the difference between 290x's almost entirely due to cooling (and some OC)? I have someone who wants to sell me a reference 290x for $350, but I have a gtx 770, so it would seem that I would need to buy an after market cooler as well to make it worth my while. Thoughts?
  • 1 Hide
    vertexx , May 5, 2014 10:05 AM
    Quote:
    So is the difference between 290x's almost entirely due to cooling (and some OC)? I have someone who wants to sell me a reference 290x for $350, but I have a gtx 770, so it would seem that I would need to buy an after market cooler as well to make it worth my while. Thoughts?

    See these articles for after-market cooling options:
    Air cooling:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/r9-290-accelero-xtreme-290,3671.html

    Liquid Cooling:
    How to:
    http://www.pcper.com/reviews/Graphics-Cards/Using-NZXT-Kraken-G10-Watercool-Radeon-R9-290
    And results:
    http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/radeon-r9-290-and-290x,review-32872.html
  • 4 Hide
    RedJaron , May 5, 2014 10:55 AM
    If nothing else, I'm happy to see Radeon prices returning to normal.
  • 1 Hide
    Laytonoid , May 6, 2014 12:04 PM
    Get the Sapphire R9 290 Vapor-X. This is almost exactly the same thing except that Sapphires card has a LED Sapphire logo that changes color based on heat and looks way cooler. Also, being an owner of the Vapor-X myself, I can tell you that this card has the Hynix Memory. Highly recommend. Also, the temp has never gone over 65C in my small MATX case in a room that is 71F.
  • -1 Hide
    Laytonoid , May 6, 2014 12:04 PM
    Get the Sapphire R9 290 Vapor-X. This is almost exactly the same thing except that Sapphires card has a LED Sapphire logo that changes color based on heat and looks way cooler. Also, being an owner of the Vapor-X myself, I can tell you that this card has the Hynix Memory. Highly recommend. Also, the temp has never gone over 65C in my small MATX case in a room that is 71F.
  • 0 Hide
    Laytonoid , May 6, 2014 12:05 PM
    Sorry. Didn't mean to double post.
  • 1 Hide
    Laytonoid , May 6, 2014 12:06 PM
    Oh also, the Vapor-X card has the same benchmarks as a 290x in Firestrike Extreme, Valley and Heaven. I got it for 460 bucks.
  • 0 Hide
    That_Guy88 , May 6, 2014 1:24 PM
    Quote:
    Get the Sapphire R9 290 Vapor-X. This is almost exactly the same thing except that Sapphires card has a LED Sapphire logo that changes color based on heat and looks way cooler. Also, being an owner of the Vapor-X myself, I can tell you that this card has the Hynix Memory. Highly recommend. Also, the temp has never gone over 65C in my small MATX case in a room that is 71F.


    I was more wondering about the value of getting the 290x for $350. I could buy an after market cooler for $50-75. I'm just not sure if it is a worth while upgrade.
  • 0 Hide
    RedJaron , May 6, 2014 1:40 PM
    These types of cards have the benefit of being factory OC'd and cooled. Generally speaking, if you swap the cooler and personally OC your card, you void the warranty. If that's a big deal for you, then the 3rd-party boards might be to your liking.

    For total upgrade worthwhileness ( is that even a word/term? ) what kind of resolution are you going for? Most of the top-end cards are complete overkill if you're not playing above 1080p. If you're not using 1440p or triple displays, I wouldn't bother going above a GTX 770 / R9 280.
  • 0 Hide
    redgarl , May 6, 2014 2:06 PM
    After buying a pair of those, I can only recommend them. They are quiet as hell and perform incredibly.

    I am questioning Toms review about the temps. Temps on Hardwarecanucks are showing something entirely different giving the PCS+ the best temps of all the 290x cards offered. A wooping 63C... even mines have never reach up 67C...
  • 1 Hide
    redgarl , May 6, 2014 2:08 PM
    Quote:
    I just want to point out that this and most 290X's beat a stock 780 Ti. The fact is both 780 Ti and the 290X are trade blows and belong on the same GPU tier. However only one does cost $150 less and come with 4GB VRAM...


    Not to forget the only viable 4k option right now in Crossfire.
  • 0 Hide
    Laytonoid , May 6, 2014 2:29 PM
    Sapphire aftermarket cards = Hynix memory
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