Judging from the R9 290X Lightning's hefty build, it takes a lot of metal to cool the Hawaii GPU properly. But what does this massive card give you aside from sharp looks? How about impressive acoustics? Is its $750 price tag worth the premium experience?
Front and Rear Views
The front of the card is dominated by three fans. The black 90 mm fans on the left and right are controlled as a pair, but the yellow 74 mm cooler in the middle can be controlled independently. As mentioned, MSI's bundled disc comes with software that lets you manually configure fan profiles.
Unfortunately, the latest beta build of AMD's Catalyst driver introduces a bug that prevents MSI's Advanced Fan Control (AFC) feature from working. Older versions of Catalyst don't have this problem, and AMD tells us that the bug will be fixed soon.
A massive back plate and the frame on top sandwich the PCB and prevent it from flexing.
Cooler and PCB
The CPU is covered by a massive heat sink; two 8 mm and three 6 mm heat pipes draw heat from the GPU and dissipate it through the vertically-oriented cooling fins, which are split into left and right sections.
Most DC-DC converters and some of the DRAM packages are cooled by the massive mounting frame. Those that aren't transfer heat directly to the sink through thermal pads.
When you remove the frame (to install a water-cooling block, for instance), you can use the aforementioned plate to offer some cooling relief to the DC-DC converters. It's not clear whether that's enough to maintain stability, or if you also need some active cooling across the card.
On top of the card, there are the vertical cooling fins, the back-lit Lightning logo, and three auxiliary power connectors. Technically, two eight-pin plugs would have been enough for AMD's Hawaii GPU. We're getting ahead of ourselves, though...
The bottom view gives us a peek at how the heat pipes route from the heat sink's base to its cooling fins.
Because the fins are oriented vertically, looking in from the end of the card presents you with a limited view. Though, there are the three headers for the cooling fans.
The I/O bracket is only two slots wide, even though the card occupies three expansion slots worth of space on your motherboard. Perhaps MSI should have gone all the way and used a three-slot bracket for additional bracing.
There's nothing new in the connector department. You get two dual-link DVI-D outputs, HDMI, and full-sized DisplayPort. We're happy to see vendors like MSI ditching VGA altogether.