Radeon R9 295X2 8 GB Review: Project Hydra Gets Liquid Cooling

Radeon R9 295X2: AMD Did A Lot Of Things Right

As one of the most vocal critics of AMD’s past board designs, I’m satisfied with the choices it made in enabling two Hawaii GPUs on one graphics card.

Radeon HD 6990, Radeon HD 7970, Radeon HD 7990, Radeon R9 290—all of those products were remarkable in their own rights, boasting big specifications that should have rained fire down on the competition. But in every case, they were noisy, or hot, or unfriendly to the components around them. AMD simply wasn’t paying enough attention to design. Meanwhile, Nvidia followed up its plastic-enveloped GeForce GTX 680 with a series of metal-kissed, whisper-quiet reference-cooled boards that delivered performance and elegance.

Really, AMD’s Radeon R9 295X2 is the company’s first card—ever, I’d say—to emphasize the experience of owning high-end hardware. It takes two massive GPUs, runs them at a slightly higher clock rate than their single-processor implementation, cools them more effectively than the reference Radeon R9 290X, and makes less noise in the process. One Radeon R9 295X2 sips power compared to two Radeon R9 290Xes, based on measurements from our very expensive and very precise measurement equipment.

It’s not as polished as some of Nvidia’s cards. The closed-loop cooler can be unwieldy, and in addition to the rubber hoses, there are exposed fan leads you’ll want to tuck away. But AMD is using a cooler from Asetek bolted onto its own PCB, not an in-house thermal solution of its own to build around.

Still, I’ll take it. The metal shroud, back plate, and illuminated logo are all premium touches that transcend this company’s past efforts. Because the 295X2 employs a radiator and 120 mm fan designed to exhaust waste heat from your chassis, you aren’t forced to read my complaints about axial fans. Moreover, if you want to run two of them in a quad-GPU arrangement, power supply capacity and chassis selection should be your only two concerns.

Oh, and budget, of course. AMD tells us it plans to ask $1500 for the Radeon R9 295X2 when the card shows up for sale later in April. Just one should outperform Nvidia’s GeForce GTX Titan Z. But you’ll be able to buy two for the same price as the dual-GK110-based battleship. Clearly, that comparison leaves one super-dreadnought smoldering.

We’re smart enthusiasts, though. What about more economical card combinations?

Let’s start with a look at AMD’s line-up. One Radeon R9 295X2 is almost exactly as fast as two 290Xes. The cheapest models are selling for somewhere between $570 and $600. For around $1200, then, you can have the same two Hawaii GPUs driving 4K resolutions in your ultra-high-end gaming PC. There’s just one problem: all of the partner boards worth buying employ axial fans that fill your case full of Radeon jetwash. Two 290Xes set up quite the cooling conundrum, particularly if you’re trying to overclock your CPU as well. Power users married to the idea of AMD graphics are better off paying the $300 premium for closed-loop liquid cooling, a dual-slot board, and a little extra prestige.

Drawing parallels to Nvidia is harder. The GeForce GTX 780 Ti is a great card, but it sells for $700. It’s good at 2560x1440. Logging memory use suggests that it comes awful close to running out of steam at 4K, though. We’re expecting 6 GB models for an extra $50 right around the time AMD says its new Radeon should start shipping, putting us at the same $1500 for a pair. Two Titan Blacks could be an alternative, though at $2200 combined, AMD’s card makes more sense.

In the end, Radeon R9 295X2 represents an important moment for AMD. Not only is this one product a compelling piece of hardware at a price that can be justified by flush gamers, but the company clearly listened to the feedback we hurled its way and built a board we’d be proud to own. AMD isn’t completely out of the woods, though. We have an estimated price and an estimated date for availability. The past several launches were peppered by misses on both fronts, and we’ve learned our lesson about recommending gear before you can buy it. We’re watching out for delivery on those promises, AMD.

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  • SVMreborn
    The pricing of this beast really impressed me.
  • Marsian Gustrianda
    Many people doubt about Dual GPU Hawaii will be Blow Up. It seems AMD really do well job. Nice Looking Card
  • ohim
    This card is like the Veyron of WV , show the world what you can do (R295x2) but you`ll still relay on the sales of your WV Golf for revenue (270x, 280x)
  • ferooxidan
    Finally the review of this beast! Now continue reading
  • outlw6669
    Impressive performance, temperatures and fairly low noise!
    I would prefer a bit lower price, but this looks like a great card for the gamer that has everything!
  • getochkn
    Surprised you didn't do a mining hashrate test on it to see what it can push out.
  • gunfighter zeck
    the name Dreadnaught originated from Dread Nothing or, fear nothing.
    Boss ship.
  • Maxamus456
    Hope this price stays low and not get bloated from bit con miners like its predecessors.
  • blubbey
    So let me get this straight. It runs pretty cool, quiet, performs well and (for the moment) is able to play a good selection of games at 4k admirably and is priced competitively. Plus if you are going to drop a bit more on watercooling your GPUs (which is a possibility if you're spending $1200+) that gives this card even greater value. Nice work AMD.
  • marciocattini
    Wheres Tom's Hardware seal of approval? =( clearly this card diserves some love!
  • spp85
    Sheeeer muscle power
  • Plusthinking Iq
    this is what i want for all my high end gaming, but i would rather like to see aio water cooling only and a 140mm version that could go silent if needed, full cover water block like the tundra series is some of the best. but single card is the best like a 780ti cooled with a 140mm aio at 500rpm and quiet pump. MAKE IT HAPPEN!
  • ferooxidan
    After reading the article my conclusion is: we need a beefier GPU next year for a truly comfortable 4K gaming experience. OMG games this day really take tolls on our rig. Some games only hit around 40-ish and some even down to 30-ish fps on 4K. Imagine next year AAA titles, even this beast will be tamed.
  • Wisecracker
    Vesuvius erupts !! ... nice job, Toms.

    Conspicuous by their absence are power, temp and noise numbers from the Green Team -- which likely means they got smoked (in a really good way) across the board by dual Hawaii.
  • AMD Radeon
    good guy AMD
  • tristangl
    ok that just prove that 4k gaming for the average joe is still not around the corner
  • chuckydb
    I hope some OEM make the cooler with a double radiator. That card can be cooler and completely silent.
  • JoeArchitect

    "Wheres Tom's Hardware seal of approval..."

    This is addressed in the conclusion of the article:

    "We have an estimated price and an estimated date for availability. The past several launches were peppered by misses on both fronts, and we’ve learned our lesson about recommending gear before you can buy it."
  • St0rm_KILL3r
    Well, at 1440p r9 295x2 = gtx 780ti sli. But at 3840x2160 it totally dominates every gpu. Wondering if gtx 790 will be able to keep up with it.
  • ekagori
    I like what AMD has done, it's good to know they are making a better effort with high end parts. Hopefully all this goodness trickles down to the next generation 20nm consumer friendly products.
  • Steveymoo
    I'm gonna get flamed for this, but AMD still have crossfire issues. A high framerate is cool and all, but micro stutter is still more annoying than a slightly lower fps. I tried Xfire on two r9 290s in BF4, and frankly, you get a less lumpy experience with just one. Granted, Nvidia has their share of SLI issues (like a lack of support for new releases,) but throughout all the years of owning a gtx 460 SLI rig, I'm still convinced Nvidia provides a smoother, more refined overall experience.
  • patrick47018
    It seems like a really good card, good job AMD
  • de5_Roy
    great read, very informative. the card itself looks good, which is a major departure from amd's previous ultra high end cards. :P

    i didn't quite understand if gpu performance and vram capacity was holding back the nvidia cards or vram size and bus-width both, in 4K gaming benches. imo, this might be worth exlporing in a different article.
  • vertexx
    What GPU are the temperature measurements coming from? Given they are connected in series, I would expect one to be hotter than the other.

    Edit: After some additional research on the web, it looks like there is only a 2 degree difference between the two GPUs under load - somewhat surprising.