Radeon R9 290X Review: AMD's Back In Ultra-High-End Gaming

The Radeon R9 290X

AMD’s reference Radeon R9 290X is exactly as long as Radeon HD 7970 (11”) and similarly two expansion slots wide. Even the 75 mm centrifugal fan looks like it carried straight over.

Also familiar is the little switch on the card’s top edge. Previously, that might have been used to control maximum clock rates, enabling a minor boost for an extra bit of performance. Given those PowerTune changes we just covered, though, that wouldn't make sense. Instead, that's the switch to toggle between Quiet and Uber mode.

The fan shroud is clearly updated, and I’ve already heard feedback from Tom’s Hardware staffers who really like the more sweeping red and black design. I remain partial to Nvidia’s metal shroud and polycarbonate window though, particularly at this very high-end price point. There are plenty of GeForce GTX 780s with third-party coolers, but a great many ship with the reference ID I wrote about in The Story Of How GeForce GTX 690 And Titan Came To Be. It’d be great to see AMD step up with something similarly inspired.

Despite similar dimensions, Radeon R9 290X is clearly based on a different PCB than AMD’s Tahiti-based cards. Most obvious is the lack of CrossFire connectors. Because Hawaii features an xDMA engine, CrossFire traffic is carried over the PCI Express bus, eliminating the need for those pesky cables. It appears improbable that an aftermarket cooler designed for 7970 would work on R9 290X.

AMD is staying quiet on maximum board power, but claims that R9 290X should push up to 250 W in typical gaming scenarios. Realistically, because PowerTune is constantly making changes, it’s pretty difficult to nail down peak consumption. We recorded a range, though, and found a peak that spanned from 225 to 295 W. Given one eight- and one six-pin auxiliary power connector, plus a 75 W PCI Express slot, those numbers are within the 300 W you probably wouldn’t want to exceed.

The R9 290X cards we received all had two dual-link DVI ports, a full-sized HDMI output, and one DisplayPort connector. Its Hawaii GPU features an updated display controller though, which includes a third independent timing generator. So, although the flagship board comes equipped with one less display output than the R9 280X we recently reviewed, you can actually hook up six screens operating at different resolutions and timings to the R9 290X with an MST hub.

Hawaii’s new display controller will also enable the 600 MHz pixel rates needed to support upcoming single-stream Ultra HD displays at 60 Hz. As you know, currently, the only way to drive a 4K screen is through two HDMI ports or one DisplayPort 1.2 output with MST support. These correspond to a pair of 1920x2160 tiles that come together as a 2x1 Eyefinity array. Next-generation scalars will make 3840x2160p60 possible without tiling—they’ll simply require higher pixel clocks. Radeon R9 290X can do it for sure, but AMD isn’t certain whether its older display controllers will.

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  • beta212
    That's incredible. Especially at high res, I wonder how they do it. But the low price alone is enough to blow the competition away. Seriously think about it, it's around half the price for higher performance!
    - AMD: We're not aiming for the ultra high end.
    I think Nvidia just got trolled.
  • slomo4sho
    Great price point. This card has already broken world records just a few hours after release!

  • esrever
    2 of these for 4k looks amazing but Im a little disappointed by the power consumption when you crank up performance.
  • aznguy0028
    I was thinking about hopping on the 7970ghz when it's on sale, but after seeing this, it's time to break apart the piggy bank for the 290x, what value!
  • Benthon
    Like the conclusion said, you just can't argue about aesthetics and thermals at this price point/performance. Well done AMD, lets see team green's response! Go consumer!
  • tuklap
    This is awesome for us ^_^
  • Shankovich
    Wow, and it's pegged at 73% too. Even if nVidia's "780ti" beats the 290X, it probably won't beat a 290X running at full power. And if mantle does make some big performance boosts, nVidia is going to be in a really tight spot. Looking forward to what they'll do. In the mean time, loving this competition! We all win in the end.
  • julianbautista87
  • anxiousinfusion
    Wait the 290 X... X? is going to be $550?! Forgive me, padre for I have sinned.
  • Darkerson
    Good job, AMD!
  • jkhoward
    I just purchased this card from Newegg.
  • CaptainTom
    Wow AMD. GG! You exceeded every possible expectation! Have fun with your GTX 780 Ti Fanboys!!!!!
  • ilysaml
    Time to Upgrade my HD 6950 to 290X, and my 1080P to 2500x Monitor.
  • lt_dan_zsu
    I've never been more blown away by a hardware review. Never have I seen a gpu beat another gpu at just over half the cost.
  • DarkForce_256
    So what's the deal with the 290?
  • shin0bi272
    it always tickles the hell out of me when an amd card ties or about ties an nvidia card in one game then in an nvidia physx game the amd kicks the crap out of the nvidia card... Of course if you know why that happens in metro you know its more of a fault of the coders not physx but its still funny.
  • jimmysmitty
    $550 is not bad for the fact that it beats the 780 easily and even pressures the Titan.

    Most of the higher resolution gaming wins come from the larger memory bandwidth and of course more vs the 780.

    That's a good sign. Maybe NVidia will drop prices and push this to $400-$450 and I will pick one up when there is a Vapor-X version of course,
  • markbro89
    Where to buy?! Newegg still says coming soon D:
  • DarkForce_256
    So what's the deal with the 290?
  • BigMack70
    Thank goodness AMD had some sense with the pricing. Finally, at long last, Nvidia can stop raping consumers' wallets due to lack of competition.

    This is win-win-win for everyone (except maybe Nvidia).

    Hope we never have to deal with a $1000 single GPU fiasco again. Good riddance.
  • harmaatukka
    I'm not sure if this is meaningful or not when it comes to benchmarking, but in real world running Skyrim over 60 fps breaks the physics of the game. The game becomes unstable with objects flying randomly around and things falling from the sky. The game may CTD as soon as in the starting sequence because you may fly out of the cart.
  • haro87
    Ill wait for the better cooling solutions to come out... seems like to get the most out of the cards cooling is the key
  • richmondHeights
    $550 for the R9 290X... You go red team! "Om nom nom"... that's the sound of Jen Hsun Huang eating his shoes. He's had 7 months to reap in profits for the high end gamer market. Now it's time to lower prices across the board. I'm hoping the GTX 780 gets lowered to $500 and Titan lowered to $650.

    Where will the GTX 780Ti fit? We'll be watching you for the the response nVidia. It better be good or you'll get creamed.

    It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
  • designasaurus
    As usual, AMD has a poor reference cooler. Also as usual, I expect the non-reference boards the manufacturers come up with to solve this issue handily. Sapphire, Asus, etc. will solve this card's weaknesses and charge $0-20 extra for the privilege - still a good deal if you have the patience to wait a bit.