This Is The Radeon R9 290X Done Right
This hefty piece of hardware delivers convincing cooling performance, aided by three quiet fans, minimal DC-DC converter chirping, and power consumption we'd consider reasonable in light of the flagship-class performance it offers.
As of this writing, the R9 290X Lightning is in-stock at Newegg and selling for $700. That ties it as the most expensive Radeon R9 290X-derived card out there. We love the thermals. We love the acoustics, but you'll have to decide if those are worth paying significantly extra for. Just don't settle for a reference-class board. The Radeon R9 290X really needs third-party cooling.
MSI's R9 290X Lightning is the biggest Hawaii-based card we've tested, weighing in at 3.49lbs/1581g. It's a three-slot board that employs a trio of cooling fans, and ships factory-overclocked to 1080 MHz. It includes two dual-link DVI-D outputs, HDMI, and a full-sized DisplayPort.
MSI's R9 290X Lightning is also as expensive most factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 780 Tis. The performance difference between tuned R9 290X and GTX 780 Ti is fairly small. Given a choice between them, the favorite really comes down to user preference. Will you be mining Litecoins? Do you need ShadowPlay support? Is Mantle an important consideration for you? How about G-Sync? Each vendor has its own proprietary advantages.
Our German team published this review first. Over in Europe, pricing is quite a bit different. Energy costs a lot more. Cryptocurrency mining isn't as viable in as many places. And so the prices on high-end Radeon boards aren't as inflated. Given a very competitive position against Nvidia's boards, they gave MSI's R9 290X Lightning the equivalent of our Smart Buy award.
We reserve that honor for a product that demonstrates value. And at least in the U.S., there are plenty of GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards priced at $700, and Radeon R9 290X cards under $600. Enthusiasts needs to decide if $700 for the Lightning is worth paying, but we simply can't call out the same value story here.
If you do spring for the R9 290X Lightning, take care to brace and support it. The card's cooler is massive, and it might present a challenge to ship in a built-up PC.
MSI deserves credit for taking a GPU that began its life as a hot, unpredictable performer and turning its image around. The R9 290X Lightning comes armed with the cooling necessary to keep AMD's Hawaii GPU at a consistent clock rate, and it does its job quietly.
Really, our only issue with the card is its price, which tops the charts amongst Radeon R9 290X boards and exceeds most of the GeForce GTX 780 Ti models as well. PowerColor's PCS+ AXR9 290X, which is also quite compelling, sells for $600. As competing 290Xes come down in price, we hope MSI adjusts what it charges for the Lightning. After all, aside from exhausting all of its waste heat back into your chassis, the card comes close to perfection.