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

This Is The Radeon R9 290X Done Right

This hefty piece of hardware delivers convincing cooling performance, aided by three quiet fans, minimal DC-DC converter chirping, and power consumption we'd consider reasonable in light of the flagship-class performance it offers.

As of this writing, the R9 290X Lightning is in-stock at Newegg and selling for $700. That ties it as the most expensive Radeon R9 290X-derived card out there. We love the thermals. We love the acoustics, but you'll have to decide if those are worth paying significantly extra for. Just don't settle for a reference-class board. The Radeon R9 290X really needs third-party cooling. 

MSI's R9 290X Lightning is the biggest Hawaii-based card we've tested, weighing in at 3.49lbs/1581g. It's a three-slot board that employs a trio of cooling fans, and ships factory-overclocked to 1080 MHz. It includes two dual-link DVI-D outputs, HDMI, and a full-sized DisplayPort.

MSI's R9 290X Lightning is also as expensive most factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 780 Tis. The performance difference between tuned R9 290X and GTX 780 Ti is fairly small. Given a choice between them, the favorite really comes down to user preference. Will you be mining Litecoins? Do you need ShadowPlay support? Is Mantle an important consideration for you? How about G-Sync? Each vendor has its own proprietary advantages.

Our German team published this review first. Over in Europe, pricing is quite a bit different. Energy costs a lot more. Cryptocurrency mining isn't as viable in as many places. And so the prices on high-end Radeon boards aren't as inflated. Given a very competitive position against Nvidia's boards, they gave MSI's R9 290X Lightning the equivalent of our Smart Buy award.

We reserve that honor for a product that demonstrates value. And at least in the U.S., there are plenty of GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards priced at $700, and Radeon R9 290X cards under $600. Enthusiasts needs to decide if $700 for the Lightning is worth paying, but we simply can't call out the same value story here.

If you do spring for the R9 290X Lightning, take care to brace and support it. The card's cooler is massive, and it might present a challenge to ship in a built-up PC.


MSI deserves credit for taking a GPU that began its life as a hot, unpredictable performer and turning its image around. The R9 290X Lightning comes armed with the cooling necessary to keep AMD's Hawaii GPU at a consistent clock rate, and it does its job quietly.

Really, our only issue with the card is its price, which tops the charts amongst Radeon R9 290X boards and exceeds most of the GeForce GTX 780 Ti models as well. PowerColor's PCS+ AXR9 290X, which is also quite compelling, sells for $600. As competing 290Xes come down in price, we hope MSI adjusts what it charges for the Lightning. After all, aside from exhausting all of its waste heat back into your chassis, the card comes close to perfection.

  • 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
    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 $649.99Sapphire 290x Tri-X $639.99Gigabyte 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?