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AMD Radeon R9 290 Review: Fast And $400, But Is It Consistent?

Meet The Radeon R9 290

Does it come as any surprise that a second graphics card sporting AMD’s Hawaii GPU, lightly altered, appears identical to the Radeon R9 290X? Given the lack of evolution that went into 290X’s thermal solution, we wholly expected 290 to be indistinguishable. Today’s description gets a whole lot easier as a result.

In short, this is the same 11”-inch-long, dual-slot board with a 75 mm centrifugal fan.

Its top edge prominently features the same eight- and six-pin auxiliary power connectors, and a distinct lack of CrossFire connectors. To that point, Radeon R9 290 benefits from the xDMA engine built into Hawaii’s on-die compositing block. Right out of the box, two of these boards support CrossFire configurations with frame pacing enabled at Ultra HD and multi-screen resolutions. What they don’t yet support is frame pacing in DirectX 9 games like Skyrim or OpenGL-based titles. AMD still claims that the beta driver adding that capability will be available before the end of 2013.

Display output connectivity is the same, too. Modified from my 290X coverage:

The R9 290 card we received has 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 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 290 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 290 can do it for sure, but AMD isn’t certain whether its older display controllers will.

We'll go into more detail in the pages that follow, but it's also worth noting that AMD claims that Radeon R9 290 bears the same 250 W typical board power as the 290X. That was a conservative estimate for the 290X, and the same likely goes for 290, too. Suitably, AMD also arms this board with one eight- and one six-pin power connector.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.