MSI R9 290X Lightning Review: The Right Way To Cool Hawaii

Temperature And Sound Level

Temperature Transients

Is the cooling performance of this behemoth as strong as its size seems to promise? The answer is a resounding yes. It even has cooling headroom to spare.

We plot the temperature transients for both its factory-overclocked and manually-overclocked configurations. MSI's R9 290X Lightning reaches its maximum temperature of 70 °C (158 °F) and 71 °C (160 °F) overclocked after roughly nine minutes, and tops out there.

Models
Idle
Gaming Load, Open Test Bench
VRM
Gaming Load, Closed Case
Asus R9290X-DC2OC-4GD5 R9 290X DirectCU II OC34 °C
76 °C
92 °C
84-85 °C
Sapphire Tri-X OC R9 290X35 °C
73 °C
85 °C
70-72 °C
Gigabyte GV-R929XOC-4GD R9 290X Windforce OC
Press Sample:
34 °C
84 °C
86 °C
83 °C
Gigabyte GV-R929XOC-4GD R9 290X Windforce OC
Mass Production:
34 °C
83 °C
87 °C
81 °C
HIS R9 290X IceQ X² Turbo35 °C
78 °C
70 °C
81-82 °C
MSI R9 290X Gaming 4G34 °C
76 °C
73 °C
75-76 °C
MSI R9 290X Lightning:
35 °C
70 °C80 °C
68-70 °C
MSI R9 290X Lightning, Overclocked
35 °C
71 °C82 °C
68-71 °C

Previously, Sapphire enjoyed the distinction of turning in the lowest temperatures of any other Radeon R9 290X card. But MSI's R9 290X Lightning de-thrones the Tri-X OC board with even more effective cooling.

Sound Level

We first measure each graphics card's noise level in different workloads using the same studio microphone and calibration seen in our audio reviews. The microphone is positioned perpendicular to the middle of the graphics card at a distance of 50 cm.

Does the R9 290X Lightning achieve its excellent cooling performance at the cost of more noise, like so many other products that fail to balance thermals and acoustics well? To the contrary, MSI surprises us again by building the quietest Radeon R9 290X we've ever tested, too.

Models
Idle
Gaming Load, Open Test Bench
Gaming Load, Closed Case
Asus R9290X-DC2OC-4GD5 R9 290X DirectCU II OC32.5 dB(A)
42.3 dB(A)
44.3 dB(A)
Sapphire Tri-X OC R9 290X32.1 dB(A)
40.9 dB(A)
42.8 dB(A)
Gigabyte GV-R929XOC-4GD R9 290X Windforce OC
Press Sample:
30.9 dB(A)
41.5 dB(A)
43.6 dB(A)
Gigabyte GV-R929XOC-4GD R9 290X Windforce OC
Mass Production:
30.9 dB(A)
39.6 dB(A)
43.2 dB(A)
HIS R9 290X IceQ X² Turbo31.2 dB(A)
46.2 dB(A)
48.8 dB(A)
MSI R9 290X Gaming 4G30.9 dB(A)
41.2 dB(A)
43.9 dB(A)
MSI R9 290X Lightning:31.1 dB(A)
38.5 dB(A)
42.2 dB(A)
MSI R9 290X Lightning, Overclocked31.1 dB(A)39.2 dB(A)
43.8 dB(A)

With that said, the sound levels are fairly close, so we encourage you to watch the videos and compare them yourself. After all, the spectral composition of the fan noise may differ from card to card, and personal preferences may vary as well.

MSI R9 290X Lightning

Sapphire Tri-X OC R9 290X

This thread is closed for comments
37 comments
    Your comment
  • blackmagnum
    If it costs 750 bucks, it should come with water-cooling. Why the need to slap on a pound of metal to cool it if there was a more customer friendly way?
  • solix
    Unless I am mistaken you burn 3 slots with this guy. For how close this is to the Tri-x in thermals and acoustics, but with the loss of a slot and the added price, meh. Tri-x still seems like the best value proposition.
  • CaptainTom
    I just want to point out how silly the 780 Ti is priced. People, this card trades blows with the 780 Ti while giving you an extra GB of VRAM. It should cost at least as much as the 780 Ti. Or better yet, the other way around! ;)
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    Quote:
    Unfortunately, in order to increase this card's GPU voltage, you have to register with MSI for a special license. This isn't given out freely; only professional overclockers can get their hands on it.

    Whoa, wait, what???
  • dscudella
    As of my post, the pricing on Newegg for the mentioned cards:

    MSI 290x Lightning $699.99 + $4.99 shipping
    Sapphire 290x Tri-X OC $649.99
    Sapphire 290x Tri-X $639.99
    Gigabyte 290x Windforce $579.99 ($549.99 after rebate)

    This makes the Lightning $125 ($155 after rebate) more expensive than the Windforce. MSI is really stretching the price here.
  • zzzaac
    $899 or 841 USD where i'm from for this card. Got to admit though, 3 slot cards are really unappealing for me.

    Got to agree that the Tri-X seems a better value proposition
  • cats_Paw
    A bit useless review:
    The main aspect of a GPU and its most important job is to make games run smooth.
    In this review there is only a Performance ratio chart. This does not give the important data at all.

    I dont care if that GPU has 80 or 85 FPS in farcry3, but I Do care if it has 25 or 30 on more demanding games/settings.
    Finally, this card seems like itsmissing its purpouse a bit.
    It has a huge heatsink, but dosent actually run cool or quiet.
    It has an OC that is decent but dosent increase performance that much.
    You could water cool that GPU for a similar price and get better performance in every aspect as long as you are willing to have a loop in your PC.
  • redgarl
    Where is your review of the Powercolor PCS+ R290x...? From all the review I have seen, not only they are cheaper, but perform better I from what I am seeing, smaller.
  • ubercake
    That "Certificate of Quality and Stability" is humorous...

    "I hereby declare this video card to be of the utmost quality and thereby further and henceforth declare this same electronic device to be 101% stable to the fullest of my capabilities to determine it as such. Sincerely, Your Mom".

    Definitely something to frame and hang on your wall above the monitor.
  • ewok93
    I feel like it would be much more cost effective to go with water cooling, it would definitely be much lighter. I may be wrong, though, as that heatsink is pretty freaking massive. It just seems like past a certain point, air cooling can only do so much, and can only take up so much space.

    If you're just going for overkill, I want to see one of these with phase change cooling. It can't cost that much more, can it?
  • admin$
    I used to be a huge fan of AMD and was excited for the 290x because of its performance for the price. But this card is slower and more expensive than the 780ti. I can't justify purchasing a slower card for more money just because I am loyal to the AMD brand. Sorry AMD, I just bought my asus direct cu ii gtx 780ti for 709$ at frys (they matched amazon). It was the right choice too. Probably the next to go will be OC'd 8350. :( Its just not the XP 3200+ days anymore.
  • rwinches
    As I read this Amazon showing $650

    Anyway 3 slots? No. But it looks good on you though.
  • Haravikk
    Personally I think that if you're getting into three-slot 1.5kg territory to air-cool a graphics card that you may as well switch to liquid cooling, especially for the price. I mean, for the extra cost of this limited edition you could get a cheaper R9 290X compatible with the Kraken G10 adaptor, and use that with any suitable all-in-one cooler. For around the same cost it should give you better, quieter cooling and a lot less stress on your poor motherboard.
  • forged
    that power drop might be similar to the unusual voltage drop that i observed with 780 Lightning. I didn't notice the effect on gaming though. It's just something not common to the other cards i have owned.
  • heero yuy
    so this thing is supposed to be good for overclocking and it has a huge possible power draw to facilitate that
    yet apparently in order to increase the voltage you need to be a professional overclocker in the eyes of MSI

    am I missing something here?
  • unknown9122
    What a monster.
  • geok1ng
    there is no reason to ditch VGA completely. A single DVI-I output would improve the compatibility of the card without changing the out layout too much. 2 DVI-D are a compromise, if not downright stupid.
  • ykki
    MSI needs to rethinking its marketing strategy
  • Steveymoo
    So ridiculously huge. And so expensive!!

    Damnit.
  • Achoo22
    Why are there no 780 and 780TI boards in the sound and heat comparison charts?
  • PEJUman
    Quote:
    I just want to point out how silly the 780 Ti is priced. People, this card trades blows with the 780 Ti while giving you an extra GB of VRAM. It should cost at least as much as the 780 Ti. Or better yet, the other way around! ;)


    I had Sapphire R9 290x and currently owns Ti 780 windforce 3X OC, bought the R9 @ black friday, sold it during the mining craze and replaced it with the TI.
    Always been an AMD/ATI supporter (from 9500 pro, X850XTX, 4870, 5870, 6970, 290x; I did have 8800 GTS in there somewhere), I have to admit the TI gave me substantially better 'overall' experience with modern games (SC2, LoL, AssCred, Infinity, X-com):

    1. Games just run! No hiccups on settings, no manual tweaks to get MSAA to work. GEFORCE EXPERIENCE is substantially better than RAPTR.

    2. Frame rate 'feels' more stable. Granted I only run 2560 x 1600 or 2560 x 1080 @ 60hz nowadays. Nvidia Adaptive V-sync is better than AMD's plain V-sync.

    3. None of my games PLAYABLE settings to come close to using the 3GB. I think Nvidia choice here is quite balanced. Yes I can load textures, AA, etc to get it past 3GB mark, However by then the FPS would have dropped down to 30s. For 60 or 120 FPS, I think 3-4GB is just perfect.
    Maybe SKYRIM mods can breach the 3GB, I don't have that game. I honestly don't understand running SLI / X-fire with only 3-4GB 'effective' memory. By the time 4K takes hold, the TI will already be sold anyway, potentially for MAXWELL version of it.

    4. Actual gaming power consumption at 60 and 120FPS are lower with the TI (overclocked at that). However, if you run both to max OC and load (i.e. sub 60 FPS), TI roughly equals the R9 on power draw, albeit with less cooling requirement. It seems Nvidia have the better TDP design overall.

    5. Nvidia SHIELD!, bought it on an impulse. Now I think it's the best thing since sliced bread.
  • xiinc37
    Any particular reason the gaming charts were 1080P? Should have been 1440P minimum. I'm surprised no one else has said anything about that.
  • forged
    174374 said:
    Quote:
    I just want to point out how silly the 780 Ti is priced. People, this card trades blows with the 780 Ti while giving you an extra GB of VRAM. It should cost at least as much as the 780 Ti. Or better yet, the other way around! ;)
    I had Sapphire R9 290x and currently owns Ti 780 windforce 3X OC, bought the R9 @ black friday, sold it during the mining craze and replaced it with the TI. Always been an AMD/ATI supporter (from 9500 pro, X850XTX, 4870, 5870, 6970, 290x; I did have 8800 GTS in there somewhere), I have to admit the TI gave me substantially better 'overall' experience with modern games (SC2, LoL, AssCred, Infinity, X-com): 1. Games just run! No hiccups on settings, no manual tweaks to get MSAA to work. GEFORCE EXPERIENCE is substantially better than RAPTR. 2. Frame rate 'feels' more stable. Granted I only run 2560 x 1600 or 2560 x 1080 @ 60hz nowadays. Nvidia Adaptive V-sync is better than AMD's plain V-sync. 3. None of my games PLAYABLE settings to come close to using the 3GB. I think Nvidia choice here is quite balanced. Yes I can load textures, AA, etc to get it past 3GB mark, However by then the FPS would have dropped down to 30s. For 60 or 120 FPS, I think 3-4GB is just perfect. Maybe SKYRIM mods can breach the 3GB, I don't have that game. I honestly don't understand running SLI / X-fire with only 3-4GB 'effective' memory. By the time 4K takes hold, the TI will already be sold anyway, potentially for MAXWELL version of it. 4. Actual gaming power consumption at 60 and 120FPS are lower with the TI (overclocked at that). However, if you run both to max OC and load (i.e. sub 60 FPS), TI roughly equals the R9 on power draw, albeit with less cooling requirement. It seems Nvidia have the better TDP design overall. 5. Nvidia SHIELD!, bought it on an impulse. Now I think it's the best thing since sliced bread.


    Totally agree...but my heart goes to 290x lightning

    BTW - evga is making 6gb version of 780...and POSSIBLY the Ti, too. 780 6gb w/ acx is on their site for 'auto-notify' only for now.