Benchmark charts look a little bare with only two data points on them. When I reviewed my last water-cooled card, I filled-out those graphs with four unique configurations, including the Quiet and Uber firmware switch settings. This made particular sense in that story because PowerColor's LCS AXR9 290X's Uber mode actually applies an overclock.
VisionTek's CryoVenom R9 290 doesn't offer that provision, and AMD recently narrowed the difference between air-cooled cards by overriding the Quiet mode's fan speed ceiling using its Catalyst driver. Extensive comparisons between the two BIOS settings suggest that there's really no performance difference between them, though Quiet mode does drop to lower power consumption at idle.
So, I decided to start today's review with overclocking, which lets me use the factory and overclocked settings to generate some additional benchmark results.
The air-cooled, retail-purchased Radeon R9 290 from Sapphire is the card to beat for VisionTek's liquid-cooled contender. Using MSI Afterburner, I set the maximum power limit (+50%) and MSI’s custom fan curve (100% at 90 °C) to keep clock rates steady. But I was only able to hit 1100 MHz at those settings. Still, it’s a steady 1100 MHz, which is roughly 50% faster the frequency floor you'll see when the R9 290 throttles all the way down.
I’m incredibly critical of marketing material, so I was dubious of this quote from VisionTek’s product description:
Obtaining maximum performance from the CryoVenom R9 290 couldn’t be easier. You just enter the specifications from the included build sheet in the Catalyst Control Center and in less than a minute, the CryoVenom R9 290 can safely deliver up to 1175 MHz GPU speed...a 24% increase from the stock setting of 947 MHz. The memory clock speed is also increased to 1450 MHz...16% faster than the 1250 MHz stock setting.
So, what did I get?
Hitting a 1160 MHz core clock and 1440 MHz GDDR5 memory frequency is still in the neighborhood of what I was told to expect. Then again, I'm a little fussier than the marketing folks when it comes to things like exact specs and game stability. I did, after all, increase the power limit by 50% to prevent the card from throttling back the instant I needed its maximum performance.