Performance And Efficiency
In order to extend the comparison, we added several of Nvidia's GeForce graphics cards with and without reference coolers to the charts, including the GeForce GTX 780, 780 Ti, and Titan. Replacing the original thermal compound on AMD’s Radeon R9 290X results in a remarkable performance gain.
During its first loop, the stock Radeon R9 290X is even with Nvidia's GeForce GTX Titan on its third loop. However, it pulls ahead of Gigabyte's factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 780 with its Windforce cooler once we apply our replacement thermal compound. It even comes close to the reference GeForce GTX 780 Ti...at least on its first loop.
Unfortunately, the R9 290X loses ground during the second loop. Its Hawaii GPU is pushed to its temperature limit and gaming performance decreases significantly. The third loop provides the most consistent results, as the card stabilizes on roughly the same average frame rate observed during the second run.
Translated into percentage terms using Nvidia's GeForce GTX 780 Ti as the 100% baseline, you get the following values:
Now think back to the power consumption measurements. The Radeon R9 290X drew less power during the second and third loop. Does this translate to a gain or loss of energy efficiency?
To our surprise the third loop using higher-quality thermal compound turns out to be the Radeon R9 290X's most efficient operational state. In plain English, that means a slightly lower frame rate is accompanied by considerably lower power consumption. This is contrary to what we've seen from the smaller Radeon R9 290, which is able to outperform Nvidia's reference GeForce GTX 780 Ti at an operating temperature of 83 °C once we replaced its original cooler with Arctic's Accelero Extreme III. If you haven't seen that story yet, check out Fixing The Radeon R9 290 With Arctic's Accelero Xtreme III.
The second loop turns out to be least-efficient. Shortly after the card's temperature limit is reached, Power Tune steps in and reins in consumption.
After replacing its thermal compound, the Radeon R9 290X's energy efficiency is just 10 percent behind the three-percent-faster GeForce GTX 780 Ti Windforce GHz Edition during the third test loop and after its limiter kicks in. Thanks to Gigabyte’s excellent cooling solution, its 780 Ti does not exceed a GPU temperature of 70 °C.
Given proper cooling, AMD does pretty well. The Radeon R9 290X could even turn up ahead of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 780 Ti in a measure of frame rate-per-dollar. For now, though, Nvidia's board partners offering custom cooling and factory overclocking maintain a lead over AMD's flagship. That's the last word until AMD's own partners get enough supply of Hawaii GPUs to release modified versions of the 290X leveraging more effective cooling.