AMD Radeon R9 290 Review: Fast And $400, But Is It Consistent?

Test Setup And Benchmarks

Because Radeon R9 290X can be so bipolar, it’s important to spell out how we’re testing all of these cards today.

Typically, we run benchmarks in rapid succession. This means that the GPU remains warm after its first run. This matters very little to cards that operate at one clock rate. But it makes more of a difference on boards with Nvidia’s GPU Boost technology, which won’t stretch up as high when certain limits are exceeded. AMD’s clocking mechanism is even more sensitive to thermal and power conditions, necessitating an even more regimented approach to testing.

For every test we run, we spend five minutes in-game, playing, before launching our benchmark sequence. In a metric like Metro: Last Light, where we use a benchmark tool, we run multiple iterations prior to starting the measurement.

In this way, we’re sure the card is at its maximum operating temperature, yielding the lowest benchmark results, but best representing the experience you’d get from these cards after just a few minutes of playing your favorite title.

We’re also changing up the benchmarking a bit. In preparation for today’s piece, we re-ran every single test. We standardized settings across resolutions to better track scaling, and, again, we’re subjecting every board to five minutes of in-game time before firing up our testing sequence. As a result, we're presenting slightly different numbers from our 290X review, but the data should be more precise, too.

Test Hardware And Software

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Test Hardware
ProcessorsIntel Core i7-3970X (Sandy Bridge-E) 3.5 GHz Base Clock Rate, Overclocked to 4.3 GHz, LGA 2011, 15 MB Shared L3, Hyper-Threading enabled, Power-savings enabled
MotherboardMSI X79A-GD45 Plus (LGA 2011) X79 Express Chipset, BIOS 17.5
MemoryG.Skill 32 GB (8 x 4 GB) DDR3-2133, F3-17000CL9Q-16GBXM x2 @ 9-11-10-28 and 1.65 V
Hard DriveSamsung 840 Pro SSD 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s
GraphicsAMD Radeon R9 290 4 GB
Row 5 - Cell 0 AMD Radeon R9 290X 4 GB
Row 6 - Cell 0 AMD Radeon R9 280X 3 GB
Row 7 - Cell 0 AMD Radeon HD 7990 6 GB
Row 8 - Cell 0 Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan 6 GB
Row 9 - Cell 0 Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 3 GB
Row 10 - Cell 0 Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 4 GB
Power SupplyCorsair AX860i 860 W
System Software And Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 8 Professional 64-bit
DirectXDirectX 11
Graphics DriverAMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta 8 (Radeon R9 290)
Row 16 - Cell 0 AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta 7 (All Other AMD cards)
Row 17 - Cell 0 Nvidia GeForce 331.65 Beta (All Nvidia cards)
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Benchmarks And Settings
Battlefield 41920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Ultra Quality Preset, v-sync off, 100-second Tashgar playback. FCAT for 1920x1080 and 2560x1440; Fraps for 3840x2160
Arma III1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x FSAA, Anisotropic Filtering: Ultra, v-sync off, Infantry Showcase, 30-second playback, FCAT and Fraps
Metro: Last Light1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Very High Quality Preset, 16x Anisotropic Filtering, Low Motion Blur, v-sync off, Built-In Benchmark, FCAT and Fraps
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Ultra Quality Preset, FXAA Disabled, 25-second Custom Run-Through, FCAT and Fraps
BioShock Infinite1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Very High Quality Preset, 75-second Opening Game Sequence, FCAT and Fraps
Crysis 31920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: High System Spec, High Texture Resolution, MSAA Low (2X), 60-second Custom Run-Through, FCAT and Fraps
Tomb Raider1920x1080, 2560x1440, and 3840x2160: Ultimate Quality Preset, FXAA, 16x Anisotropic Filtering, TressFX Hair, 45-second Custom Run-Through, FCAT and Fraps
  • slomo4sho
    This is a win at $400! Good job AMD!

    11865199 said:
    However, the two retail Radeon R9 290X boards in our lab are both slower than the 290 tested today. They average lower clock rates over time, pushing frame rates down. Clearly there’s something wrong when the derivative card straight from AMD ends up on top of the just-purchased flagships. So who’s to say that retail 290s won’t follow suit, and when we start buying those cards, they prove to underperform GeForce GTX 780? We can only speculate at this point, though anecdotal evidence gleaned from our experience with R9 290X is suggestive.

    Chris, these results differ drastically from real world results from 290X owners at OCN... I understand that your observations are anecdotal and based on a very small sample size but do you mind looking into this matter further because putting such a statement in bold in the conclusion even though it contradicts real world experiences of owners just provides a false assumption to the uninformed reader...

    The above claim has already escalated further than it should... A Swiss site actually has already rebutted by testing their own press sample with a retail model and concluded the following:

    With the results in hand, the picture is clear. The performance is basically identical between the press copy and graphics card from the shelf, at least in Uber mode. Any single frame per second is different, which is what may be considered normal as bonds or uncertainty in the measurements.

    In the quiet mode, where the dynamic frequencies to work overtime, the situation becomes slightly turbid. A minor performance difference can be seen in some titles, and even if it is not about considerable variations, the trend is clear. In the end, it does an average variance tion of only a few percent, ie no extreme levels. The reason may include slightly less contact with the cooler, or simply easy changing ambient temperature.
  • Heironious
    This is weird, something must be wrong with your system. I have an i5-2500, GTX 780, 16 GB G Skill 1333, 500 GB samsung SSD, Windows 8.1 64 bit, and on Ultra with 4x MSAA I get 80 - 100 FPS....
  • Heironious
    And thats on Multiplayer 64 man servers....
  • cangelini
    This is the single-player campaign.
  • aznjoka
    According to Tom's Benchmarks Nvidia's price drop just became meaningless
  • Heironious
    Multiplayer would add more stress to the CPUs / GPU's. Like I said, something is wrong with their machine. I would prob get higher on single player. Im going to check and find out.
  • DBGT_87
    hope we will not wait so long for the custom cards
  • slomo4sho
    11865222 said:
    According to Tom's Benchmarks Nvidia's price drop just became meaningless

    Now to wait for the non-reference cards at the end of the month!
  • jimmysmitty
    I agree that the stock cooling is pretty bad but in honesty, no matter how nice they make it after market is always better. The Titan may not have had after market but if it did it would have cooled better.

    It looks like a good card for the price as it even keeps up with the $100 more GTX780. This is good as NVidia may drop prices even more which means we could also see a price drop on the 290X and I wouldn't mind a new 290X Toxic for sub $500.
  • guvnaguy
    In terms of potential performance it seems like a great card, but you get what you pay for with regards to chip quality and cooling.

    Best to wait a month or two before buying to see how this all goes down