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PowerColor Devil R9 390X Review

Closed-loop liquid cooling isn't just for the Fury X. PowerColor uses a similar setup for its Devil R9 390X 8GB, but how does the fancier thermal solution affect performance, cooling and noise?

Conclusion

PowerColor's Devil R9 390X leaves me conflicted. After the experience I had testing my first R9 390, I expected to be just as impressed with its bigger brother. The 8GB of GDDR5 paired with AMD's Grenada GPU sounded like a treat. Throw in a closed-loop water cooler to keep temperatures in check, and how could you go wrong?

Unfortunately, that's not what ended up happening. The problems we encountered with this overclocked card can't be overlooked. It's not that my first sample wouldn't work; that happens all of the time with pre-production units. I'm more bothered by the compatibility issues with Samsung's bundled DisplayPort cable. Most folks don't have spare cables laying around, and my cable works fine with other graphics cards. Perhaps a cable is something that PowerColor could consider bundling. That'd certainly be more helpful than a mouse pad (as nice as it is). This card is designed for QHD and 4K after all, both of which employ DisplayPort.  

Once the card was running the way it was supposed to, it performed admirably. Gaming performance was good, and the cooling is exceptional. High marks in those metrics came at the expense of acoustics, which could be too big of a trade-off for some enthusiasts. In fact, PowerColor's Devil R9 390X is one of the loudest cards I've tested, and that's saying a lot. 

As of right now, the Devil R9 390X sells for $450 on Newegg. That's $60 higher than the least-expensive 8GB Radeon R9 390X. I really expected that I'd be giving this card a glowing review, but I just can't recommend it. It's performance is great, but there are better options available, even in the range of boards sporting the same GPU.

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Kevin Carbotte is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware, covering Graphics. Follow him on Twitter.

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  • utroz
    Hmm.. So a pre almost max OCed card with watercooling.. Only around 6 months late (or more if you count the 290X 8GB as basically the same as a 390X). At this point if you have a decent card wait for 16nm..
    Reply
  • BrandonYoung
    An impressive result by AMD and PowerColor! I'm looking forward to future (more modern) released by these companies hoping to bring more competition into the once stagnant GPU realm!

    I'm aware this is a review of the Devil R9, yet I'm curious why the GTX 980 was mentioned in the noise graph, but omitted in the temperature graph, I get the feeling its because it will show the card was throttling based on thermals, helping describe its performance in the earlier tests, this is strictly speculation on my behalf however, and highly bias as I currently own a 980.
    Reply
  • ryguystye
    Does the pump constantly run? I wish there was a hybrid liquid/air cooler that ran the fan only when idle, then turned on the water pump for more intensive tasks. I don't like the noise of water pumps when the rest of my system is idle
    Reply
  • fil1p
    Does the pump constantly run? I wish there was a hybrid liquid/air cooler that ran the fan only when idle, then turned on the water pump for more intensive tasks. I don't like the noise of water pumps when the rest of my system is idle

    The pump has to run, even at low RPMs, otherwise the card would overheat. The waterblock itself is generally not enough to dissipate heat. The waterblock simply transfers the heat to the water and the radiator does almost all of the heat dissipation. If the pump is off there is no water flow through the radiator, no water flow will mean heat from the waterblock is not dissipated, causing the water in the waterblock to heat up and the GPU to overheat.

    Reply
  • elho_cid
    What's the point testing on the windows 8.1? I mean, there was enough time to upgrade to windows 10 already... It was shown several times that the new W10 often provide measurable performance advantage.
    Reply
  • Sakkura
    To be fair, overclocking headroom varies from GPU to GPU. Maybe you just got a dud, and other cards will overclock better.
    Reply
  • Cryio
    Why test on 15.7? Seriously, that's like 6 drivers old. AMD stated they will release WHQL just ocasionaly, with more Beta throughout the year. You're doing them a diservice benching only "official" drivers.

    Nvidia's latest ... dunno, 12 drivers in the last 3 months were all official and most of them broke games or destroyed performance in a lot of other games.
    Reply
  • kcarbotte
    Why test on 15.7? Seriously, that's like 6 drivers old. AMD stated they will release WHQL just ocasionaly, with more Beta throughout the year. You're doing them a diservice benching only "official" drivers.

    Nvidia's latest ... dunno, 12 drivers in the last 3 months were all official and most of them broke games or destroyed performance in a lot of other games.

    At the time this review was written it was not that old. As mentioned in the article, we first got this card over the summer. The test were done a couple months ago now and at the time they were done with the driver that Power Color suggested after having problems with the first sample.

    An impressive result by AMD and PowerColor! I'm looking forward to future (more modern) released by these companies hoping to bring more competition into the once stagnant GPU realm!

    I'm aware this is a review of the Devil R9, yet I'm curious why the GTX 980 was mentioned in the noise graph, but omitted in the temperature graph, I get the feeling its because it will show the card was throttling based on thermals, helping describe its performance in the earlier tests, this is strictly speculation on my behalf however, and highly bias as I currently own a 980.

    The temperature of the 980 was omitted because the ambiant temperature of the room was 3 degrees cooler when that card was tested, which affected the results. I didn't have the GTX 980 in the lab to redo the tests with the new sample. I had the card when the defective 390x arrived for the roundup, but when the replacement came back it was loaned to another lab at the time.
    Rather than delay the review even longer, I opted to omit the 980 from the test.

    It had nothing to do with hiding any kind of throttling result. If that were found we wouldn't slip it under the rug.

    What's the point testing on the windows 8.1? I mean, there was enough time to upgrade to windows 10 already... It was shown several times that the new W10 often provide measurable performance advantage.

    We have not made the switch to Windows 10 on any of our test benches yet. I don't make the call about when that happens and I don't know the reasons behind the delay.
    Reply
  • Cryio
    Well then, sir @kcarbotte, I can't wait until you guys get to review some AMD GPUs on Windows 10 with the new Crimson drivers and some Skylake i7s thrown into the mix !
    Reply
  • kcarbotte
    17016358 said:
    Well then, sir @kcarbotte, I can't wait until you guys get to review some AMD GPUs on Windows 10 with the new Crimson drivers and some Skylake i7s thrown into the mix !

    You and me both!
    I have a feeling that the Crimson drivers have better gains in Win10 than the do in older OS's.
    Reply